100 years today on the morning of what was then Easter Monday 1916, a group of armed insurrectionists seized a number of buildings around Dublin. These insurrectionists were members of the Irish Volunteers, the Irish Citizens Army and Cumann na mBan. This included the General Post Office on Sackville Street (now O’Connell Street). Soon after two unfamiliar flags were raised above the GPO and a proclamation read out which declared that Ireland was now a Republic. For most of the following week Dublin would be engulfed by the Rising.
GPO 1916 (Photo: National Library of Ireland)
Original Copy of the 1916 Proclamation (Picture: National Library of Ireland)
This insurrection was the 1916 Rising and it would become the defining moment in the struggle for Irish Independence. By the time the Rising came to an end, 485 people had lost their lives. The majority of these were civilians who had been caught up in the crossfire, including 28 children. 107 Crown forces were killed, including Irish soldiers serving in the British army. 17 policemen lost their lives during Easter Week, only four of them in Dublin. Of the Rebels, 58 were killed. 16 men were executed for their role in the Rising, including Thomas Kent in Cork and Sir Roger Casement in London.
Much has been written about the events of that week and even a century on there is still plenty of debate about whether the Rebels were justified in their actions and how they should be remembered. A recent Remembrance Wall unveiled in Glasnevin Cemetery on April 3rd caused plenty of controversy because it listed the names of all those who died, including Rebels, Civilians and Crown forces. The names are displayed chronologically.
Glasnevin Necrology Wall (Picture: UTV.ie)
In some respects we are also still attempting to untangle myth from fact when it comes down to who was involved and what actions they took. Fortunately much work has been done in the last few years, particularly by genealogists. Multiple new record sources have been made freely available online.
One of the best sources to consult is the Bureau of Military History. They have uploaded copies of witness statements taken from those involved in 1916. They also have press cuttings from the period. If you are looking to confirm whether a particular family member was involved in the events of 1916 then it is worth consulting the pensions collection in the Irish Military Archives. The information contained on both these websites can be extremely helpful in determining whether a family member did indeed see action during the period and where they were involved.
Extract from sworn statement made by Oscar Traynor TD, former Officer Commanding Dublin Brigade IRA, before the Advisory Committee, Military Service Pensions Act, in support of Mathew Stafford’s application for a military service pension under 1934 act
Undated letter from Eugene Gilbride verifying Linda Kearns MacWhinney’s position as an officer with Sligo Brigade IRA at the time of her arrest on 20 November 1920
The National Library of Ireland and the National Archives have also uploaded much of their collections connected to 1916. Of particular note are the Property Losses (Ireland) Committee 1916 compensation files in the National Archives. These files contain compensation claims from those whose homes or businesses were destroyed during the Rising. They can be extremely valuable if you had family living in Dublin at the time who weren’t directly involved in the fighting but still suffered as a result.
One of the best websites that has come online in recent years is the Letters of 1916 project. This is the first public humanities project in Ireland. It’s goal is to create a crowd-sourced digital collection of letters written around the time of the Easter Rising (1 November 1915 – 31 October 1916). This isn’t limited to Dublin or the Rising, but includes letters from all around the country and on a number of topics. Members of the public are invited to contribute through uploading their own letters from the period and also to assist with transcribing the letters.
Not to be outdone, Ancestry.co.uk and Findmypast.ie have both made their own contributions.
Ancestry have released Courts Martial Files and Intelligence Profiles connected to the period. They also have access to the Military Service Pension Index and the National Army Census of 1922.
Findmypast.ie have made available their Easter Rising & Ireland under Martial Law, 1916-1921 collection. The 75,000 records include reports and military intelligence detailing the events of Easter week 1916. These records are free to search until April 27th.
This is only a brief listing and there are many other great resources out there. The National Library is currently involved in compiling an archive of many of the websites which were set up to honour 1916.
Regardless of how we view the Rising and those who participated, we can at the very least find out a lot more information on what was actually happening during the period.
Update: I just realised that I neglected to include this fantastic podcast by my friend Lorna Moloney for the Genealogy Radio Show on Radió Corca Baiscinn. It offers a genealogical introduction into the lives of the signatories of the 1916 Proclamation.