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This view shows the damage caused by the Irish Republican Army's armed rebellion against British rule that took place on Easter Day in 1916. Alamy Stock Photo

The Irish For What was Ireland like the weekend before the 1916 Rising?

Darach Ó Séaghdha looks at what was in the news and in the ether in Irish society at the time of The Rising.

ALTHOUGH IT TOOK place on the 24 April, we commemorate the 1916 Rising at Easter time. This is mostly on account of the symbolism of resurrection and Passover, but also because practical military considerations were a factor in the holiday weekend being chosen.

It wasn’t some random Monday in April pulled out of the blue. It was intentionally Easter when all was changed utterly and a terrible beauty was born.

But what was Ireland changed from that Monday? Major events where the music stops on Reeling In The Years take us by surprise and cast a strange light on the trivial and temporary things we were worrying about an hour earlier.

british-regulars-sniping-from-behind-a-barricade-of-empty-beer-casks-near-the-quays-in-dublin-during-the-1916-easter-rising British Regulars sniping from behind a barricade of empty beer casks near the quays in Dublin during the 1916 Easter Rising. Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

The morning of 9/11 radio shows and tabloids were unduly concerned with Britney Spears dancing with a snake on TV. The London bombings of 2005 cut short the celebrations of that city being chosen to host the Olympics barely an hour earlier.

What were the citizens of Ireland concerning themselves with in the weekend before the Easter Rising? A look at the newspapers of the time (courtesy of the Irish Newspaper Archive and the British Newspaper Archive) can give us a hint.


In soccer that week, Arsenal absolutely hammered Chelsea 9-0. This was probably the match the chaps at the barracks were chatting about when they got the call that the GPO had fallen.

The war in Europe

Unsurprisingly, World War One turns up directly and indirectly in all the newspapers of the time, with a number of articles directing a scolding tone towards Ireland’s relatively low number of recruits.

The Northern Whig notes that Australia, with a population at the time of 4.45 million, had sent 234,000 men to fight while Ireland, with a marginally lower population of 4.38 million, had only sent 100,000. Since 1916, Australia’s population has risen to 25 million while Ireland has noted more modest growth.

easter-rising-the-ruins-of-the-gpo-headquarters-of-the-republicans-in-sackville-street-after-shelling-by-the-british-army-destroyed-the-interior-of-the-building Easter Rising, The Ruins of the GPO, headquarters of the Republicans in Sackville Street after shelling by the British Army. Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

On the 22nd of April 1916, The Dublin Daily Express published an extract of a letter home from an officer serving near St Eloi: “If you see or know any of these conscientious objectors, go and shoot them… a man in my company wrote to his wife this is no place for a married man with nine children. Imagine his feelings on reading of some of the rotters who actually get off combatant service because it is against their beastly teaching.”

The United States had not yet entered the war, and an opinion piece in the Kilkenny Moderator claimed with disgust that the most popular song in America is “I Didn’t Raise My Boy To Be A Soldier”.

Also from America is another piece of news with particular interest to Ireland: former President Taft’s remarks at a St. Patrick’s Day banquet in Chicago. Taft praised the contribution of the Irish to American life. “Socialism and anarchy have found no lodgement among Irishmen”, he said, adding “they are not full of diatribes against the existing order… they are not seeking to invent a new society and turn the present one topsy-turvy”. Well, Taft was about to eat his words.

Music, theatre and books

New books advertised in the days before the Rising include “Irish Verbs Simplified” by Shan Ó Cuív, the scholar famous for his work in revising the spelling of Irish words; the V in his surname was controversial at the time among Irish speakers who didn’t think the letter belonged in Irish. Thankfully they’ve all gotten over it in the 108 years since.

The Rising interrupted most theatrical performances in Dublin City on account of the concentration of theatres near battlegrounds. Meanwhile, “the Ohio Minstrels”, a blackface music and comedy troupe from Belfast, toured the north of the island putting on shows to raise funds for soldiers. The Abbey Theatre was running a production of Kathleen Ni Houlihan [sic] at the time, leading Yeats to later remark “Did that play of mine send out/certain men the English shot?”.

easter-rising-dublin-street-barricade-electric-tramway-car-burned-by-the-republicans-at-the-corner-of-north-earl-and-sackville-streets Easter Rising, Dublin Street Barricade, Electric Tramway Car burned by the Republicans at the corner of North Earl and Sackville Streets. Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

One concert of particular note was performed the night before the Rising. Ógláigh na hÉireann advertised that “all those who wish to enjoy a real Irish night should come… to 41 Parnell Square” adding that “proceeds would be devoted to arming and equipping the defenders of that small Nationality — Ireland”.


It was typical in the social and personal sections at the time to advise if certain socialites, debutantes or eligible bachelors of note had arrived or left On this note, the Irish Independent noted that Lord De Vesci and Sir Horace Plunkett had left London on Good Friday to enjoy the Dublin scene on Easter week.

I can only imagine the surprise on their faces as they hopped off the boat in their top hats and tails only to find the city at war.

The gossip columns of the time were alight with stories of divorces on foot of dalliances on foot of the arrival of women into offices. Particular coverage went to Albert Pickard, a well-known music hall proprietor who was ordered by a judge to pay his ex-wife a thousand pounds a year (£109k in today’s money). He had fallen for that siren of the age: the “office girl”.


War meant more women entering the workforce, which led to practical changes in fashion. Additionally, as male fashion designers were sent to the Front, opportunities were created for women to design clothes for women. The lower take-up of military service in Ireland meant that some of these changes happened more slowly on this island than in Britain.

dublin-baking-company-building-completed-in-1915-after-being-ruined-by-british-shelling-of-rebels-during-the-easter-rising-1916-image-shot-041916-exact-date-unknown Dublin Baking Company building, completed in 1915, after being ruined by British Shelling of rebels during the Easter Rising 1916. Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

Perhaps this lag in style between the islands inspired an acidic piece in the Irish Independent noting that Dublin had succumbed to the most trying, unflattering fashion craze in two decades: a wide skirt with a short, loose jacket, topped off with “a sarcasm of a hat”. As it happened, a very different fashion craze was about to take hold, as Countess Markievicz would advise female volunteers to “wear a short skirt and carry a revolver”.


Finally, a number of papers report on arrests in Tralee following the seizure of a boat laden with firearms. One of the arrested men was reported as being a sorter at the Dublin Post Office, another a captain with the Irish Volunteers.

Hindsight is a wonderful thing.

Darach Ó Séaghdha runs @theirishfor Twitter account and the @motherfocloir podcast.

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