On Easter Monday, 24 April 1916, a Bank Holiday, armed men and women occupied buildings in Dublin and proclaimed an Irish Republic. The text of this proclamation may be seen in CO 903/19, part 2. This action occurred against the background of the First World War: many thousands of Irishmen were in the trenches, and the Irish Parliamentary Party supported the war effort. Home Rule for Ireland, which was technically on the statute book since 1914, had been postponed at the outbreak of war.
2. Direction of the rising
The causes and effects of the 'Easter Rising' or 'Irish Rebellion' have been widely discussed. The participants were made up of two groups. The Irish Volunteers were a nationalist paramilitary group opposed to Irish participation in the war. The Citizen's Army, numbering about 300, was a socialist group, formed around the time of the 1913 Irish general strike.
The leaders of the Rising formed a secret group within the Irish Volunteers. In addition to being members of the Irish Volunteers they were secretly members of the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB), also known as Fenians. The records in CO 904, popularly known as the "Dublin Castle Records", are a major source of information. Intelligence profiles of leading nationalists, including figures like Eammon De Valera, later President of Ireland, are in CO 904/193-216. This material includes a range of contemporary political posters and handbills.
3. Intelligence reports
Reports from two highly placed agents within the Irish Volunteers; 'Chalk' and 'Granite', are in CO 904/23, part 3. They reported to the Dublin Metropolitan Police (DMP) Detective Office (G. Division). The agents had not succeeded in infiltrating the inner circle of IRB leaders within the Irish Volunteers. This in part explains the initial surprise achieved by the rebels. Similarly, CO 904/23, part 2 gives a detailed analysis of the numbers and arms of the Irish Volunteers.
4. Events of the week
Confusion and countermanding orders resulted in a small proportion (about 1,300) of the Irish Volunteers participating. Events were largely confined to Dublin city. The Intelligence Notes in CO 903/19 part 2 provide a daily account of the week's events, and have been published. The rebels seized several strategic buildings the city, with the General Post Office, in Sackville (now O'Connell) Street as their headquarters. The authorities, initially surprised, reinforced the troops and weaponry available. The use of artillery proved to be the decisive factor. Direct hits and incendiary shells destroyed parts of the city. By Monday, 1 May, the rebellion was effectively finished.
There are also reports from around the country. Individual Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) Inspectors reports in CO 904/99 provided the background material for CO 903/19. Papers in WO 35/67, WO 35/68 and WO 35/69 contain a variety of military and police reports from the Easter period. British Army regiments and their strengths are listed in CO 903/19: Intelligence Notes.
5. Courts martial and internment of rebels
The military authorities declared martial law on Easter Monday. Examples of the original posters declaring martial law are in CO 904/23 Part 2. Over 3,000 people were subsequently arrested. Of these, about 1,800 were interned in England, most being released by Christmas.
One hundred and seventy-one people were tried by Court Martial and they are listed in CO 903/19 Intelligence Notes. Ultimately, 15 men were executed between 3 and 12 May 1916. Records of their Courts Martial are in WO 71/344-349 and in WO 35/67. These records detail the proceedings, evidence against the defendants, their statements and proclamations. These records also provide an insight into the motivation of the rebels. For details of the death of Francis Sheehy-Skeffington (one of the more celebrated civilian casualties) and the subsequent court martial of Captain Bowen-Colthurst, see WO 35/67, WO 374 and HO 45/10824/319388. There are also extensive records concerning Roger Casement: please search Discovery, our cataloguea search tool with descriptions of tens of millions of documents from the UK central government, law courts, and other national bodies, (using 'Casement' as the keyword) for details.
For lists of civilians prosecuted in the 1916-1921 period, see WO 35/94-119. These lists are arranged by case number: the index to these cases is in WO 35/120. Similarly, WO 35/132 is a register of cases tried.
6. Further reading
F S L Lyons, Ireland Since the Famine, Weidenfeld & Nicholson, 1971
R F Foster, Modern Ireland 1660-1972, Penguin, 1988
F X Martin, ed. Leaders and Men of the 1916 Rising, Methuen, 1967
B Mac Giolla Choille, Ed. Intelligence Notes 1913-1916, State Paper Office, 1966