Our friendly and excellent guides are available as Step On Guides for any visiting tour or coach operators who may like a unique, entertaining and educational tour of Irish History and the events of Easter Week 1916.

Monday, October 10, 2011


I was asked by an American visitor who was taking my guided Easter Rising Coach Tour, what if the rebels had succeeded in April/May 1916? It has been a question that I have given much thought to and as I attempted to answer the question I came up with even more questions.

Following the split with John Redmond’s National Volunteers, The Irish Volunteers had about 13,500 trained members but were lightly armed. Even if the Aud had successfully landed their cargo of weapons on Holy Thursday, there were no heavy guns or grenades only explosives they had stolen from quarries and some police barracks. The question is if all 13,500 had mustered on either the Sunday or the Monday would the bridgehead established by such a force been enough to halt the British. British forces on the streets of Dublin despite their commitment to the western front numbered over thirty thousand by the end of the Rising. If the rising appeared to be gaining the upper hand would this have affected the attitude of Irishmen serving with British regiments both in Ireland and at the frontline in France and Flanders?

The problem with success for the leaders of the rebellion would not have been to placate the population but to overcome Unionist objections in Ulster. With the rebels lauding the success of the Howth gun running mission that landed 1000 rifles imported from Germany, it was over shadowed by the Ulster Volunteers importation of 10,000 rifles also from Germany. Germany was hoping to agitate trouble that would have caused the British to either commit more troops to Irish streets or set up a second front.

Would attitudes of the ordinary Irish person have changed if the rebel forces had got the upper hand or would the population have supported more forcibly the British forces? Many households who had men serving in the British Army depended on the pay that was being earned for impoverished families and the loss of this and resultant food shortages would have made keeping the peace difficult for the rebels.

The Curragh Mutiny of 1914 had shown the British Government that Irish troops were not willing to take on the Unionists in Ulster and would have disobeyed any direct orders. The strength of the Unionists in Ulster can not be underestimated or the influence of Sir Edward Carson. Carson had already announced that a Provisional Government was in place in Belfast to take control of the six Ulster plantation counties should Home Rule be activated in Dublin. The implementation of Home Rule had been delayed by the outbreak of World War One and over a quarter of a million Irishmen at the request of Redmond had joined the British Army to fight the Germans believing this support would speed up the ending of the war and encourage the British Government to follow through on the implementation of Home Rule.

The spectre of civil war between the Ulster Unionists and Irish nationalists had been a growing threat until the outbreak of World War in 1914 focussed some peoples attention elsewhere. Belfast was a rich industrious city with ship building, thriving linen and distilling industries and munitions factories with a powerful rich elite completely diverse from the ghettos and tenement slums of Dublin. Home Rule as Carson saw it would be ‘Rome Rule’ and that it would create economic, social and religious disadvantages from Unionists. Carson had the support of the Conservative Party in Britain and its then leader Andrew Bonar Law. Liberal Prime Minister Henry Asquith had succumbed to pressure from Redmond for the support of the Irish Parliamentary Party MPs to keep Asquith in power, the price of this support being Home Rule.

This I believe could possibly had been a different time line to that of Kilmainham Gaol and the executions of Pearse, Connolly and the others.

April 24th 1916 - The Easter Rising begins at noon. 10,000 volunteers flood onto the streets of Ireland. Dublin Castle is captured and Under Secretary Nathan held prisoner. Cork is seized and a number of British naval vessels are captured but instead of utilising these assets the ships are scuttled. Galway, Wexford and Athlone are also seized and reinforced.

April 25th – May 3rd - Heavy fighting at the Curragh and Newbridge and mush of Kildare and Offaly. The British Army maintain the high ground in Tipperary.

May 2-3rd - The Ulster Volunteers mobilise and Carson declares himself Prime Minister for an Ulster Provisional Government and opposes a partitioned country. He holds secret talks with the British military authorities in Ireland.

May 5th - Increasing casualties across Ireland and a German offensive in France force the British Government to begin to withdraw their forces to Ulster. The main regiments are redeployed to Europe but heavy weaponry is left with the Ulster Volunteers. The Ulster Volunteers were 100,000 strong with 25,000 rifles prior to Easter 1916.

May 10th - An Ulster Volunteer force seizes Dundalk and Drogheda in County Louth. Donegal Sligo and Leitrim also fall. Irish regiments in the British Army in France begin to dessert and attempt to return to Ireland. Many are captured and executed by the British army.

May 15th - Padraig Pearse goes on a nationwide tour to generate support and help morale. His force is still lightly armed. Many of the Irish born British soldiers left in Ireland begin to take sides with many of them siding with the Unionists.

May 20th - Under pressure from The British Government, The US President recognises Edward Carson’s Government as the new Irish Government. Carson warns Pearse to surrender or die.

May 20th – June 1st - Heavy fighting and casualties on both sides as battles rage in Cavan, Monaghan and Meath.

June 13th - Pearse is killed in an ambush in County Dublin by Unionists living in the city. Rioting takes place as protests about food shortages and lack of Army pay become more militant.

June 20th - The Provisional Government in Dublin is captured by the Unionists who moved unhindered once they crossed the River Boyne. The leaders are executed. There are celebrations on the streets of Dublin. Loyal Unionist units are created along the East coast to act as the police and military.

June 30th - Battles continue to rage in Munster as the Ulster Volunteers hold the line from Dublin to Thurles to Galway.

July 12th - Carson declares victory. Belfast is named the new capital of Ireland and a Provisional Government is created without a Catholic representative. Carson announces conscription in Ireland. A guerrilla war continues for many years I centered on Cork, Kerry and Limerick.

1918 - Following the ending of the war, Ireland reintegrates with Great Britain and returns to the Empire and direct rule is re-established from London with Carson appointed Lord Lieutenant.
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