The real orchestrators of the Rising, however, were the IRB – or at least the inner circle of that organisation that comprised its Military Council.Within this group, Thomas Clarke was undoubtedly the key operator.
Thomas Clarke, one of the key operators in the IRB Military Council and in the planning of the Rising.
(Image: National Library of Ireland) The First World War & Ireland's Opportunity It was the veteran Clarke, aided by the youthful Sean Mac Diarmada, who drove the planning and preparations for the insurrection.
Buoyed by the enthusiasm for militaristic organisation and drilling that accompanied the Home Rule crisis of 1912-14, their opportunity to strike finally came with the outbreak of European War in August 1914.
On , speaking in the House of Commons shortly after the Easter Rising and with the execution of its leaders still ongoing, John Dillon, a leading Irish Parliamentary Party MP voiced his admiration, if not approval, of those who took had taken part in the insurrection. ' in the grand chamber, Dillon told his fellow MPs that he was ‘proud’ of these men, who, despite being ‘foolish’ and ‘misled’ had nevertheless 'fought a clean fight, and they fought with superb bravery and skill, and no act of savagery or act against the usual customs of war’.
Dillon’s viewpoint was neither popular nor widely shared and in the days and weeks following the Dublin disturbances the rebels found themselves more pilloried and pitied than applauded and praised.
But who were these rebels and what events had led them to taking the action they had?The answer to the first part of this question is more straightforward than the second.While the principal organisers of the rebellion were the seven men who put their names to the Proclamation read by Patrick Pearse in front of the GPO on Easter Monday, the rank and file of insurgents were drawn from the memberships of several separate organisations: the Irish Volunteers, founded in November 1913 as a response to the prior formation of the Ulster Volunteer Force to defend rights of Ireland, and which, by the time war broke out, had come to function as a means of applying extra-parliamentary pressure towards the securing of Home Rule for Ireland; the Irish Citizen Army led by James Connolly founded to defend striking workers during 1913 Lockout in Dublin; the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB), part of the Fenian movement, whose roots lay in the mid-19th century and whose previous efforts at uprising, in 18, had ended in dismal failure.These organisations acted not alone, but with the important assistance of a network of smaller organisations such as Na Fianna Éireann and Cumann na m Ban, the latter a women's milita founded in parallel to the male only Volunteers.Volunteers drilling near Mountbellew Co Galway (Image: [London, England], ) In strictly numerical terms, the Irish Volunteers were the most significant contributors to the Rising: the Volunteer movement had split following the outbreak of the First World War and the pledging of John Redmond’s support for the British war effort.Of the 10,000 men, about 8% of the movement at its full strength, who remained with the faction led by UCD Professor Eoin Mac Neill (who would oppose the Rising on the grounds that it lacked any possibility of success), approximately 1,300 participated in the event of Easter week, with the James Connolly-led Irish Citizen Army contributing a few hundred more.