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Ireland marks centenary of Easter Rising that led to independence

Hundreds of thousands of people lined the streets of Dublin to mark the 100th anniversary of the Easter Rising

Published: Updated:

Hundreds of thousands of people lined the streets of Dublin on Sunday to mark the 100th anniversary of the Easter Rising, a rebellion against British rule that paved the way for independence.

Ireland staged the largest commemorative event in its history to mark the six-day revolt, when rebels seized buildings across the capital and declared an Irish republic on Easter Monday 1916.

Members of the global Irish diaspora and descendents of the rebels were among those who turned out to watch a parade by almost 4,000 members of the armed forces and emergency services, complete with tanks and military aircraft.

President Michael D. Higgins began the day’s events by laying a wreath at Kilmainham Gaol, where 14 of the 16 rebel leaders executed by the British were killed by firing squad.

Under a clear blue sky, he later laid another wreath at the General Post Office (GPO), the rebel headquarters during the revolt, before leading a minute’s silence for all those who died.

A military band played “Danny Boy”, and an army officer read out the 1916 proclamation declaring “the right of the people of Ireland to the ownership of Ireland”.

“It is quite emotional,” said Patrick Morrison, a 72-year-old who travelled from the US state of Pennsylvania with his grandson for the commemorations.

The government sought to stress the “inclusivity” of the events, highlighting the 250 civilians and 130 British armed forces who died alongside more than 60 rebels.

“It is important that we bear witness this centenary year to all those who gave their lives during Easter 1916,” Prime Minister Enda Kenny said.

Boost for independence

The uprising began on April 24, 1916, when over 1,000 militants took over prominent buildings in the city centre.

Britain sent reinforcements and began shelling the city, sparking days of fighting that ended when the rebels surrendered on April 29.

Public opinion was initially against the rebels, but the arrests of thousands of people in the subsequent crackdown caused outrage and a surge in support for independence.

Within six years, Britain had agreed to the creation of an independent nation, though without the northeastern part of the island, which still remains part of the United Kingdom as Northern Ireland.

The Rising “gave people the courage to believe we could achieve total independence”, Eamon O’Cuiv, deputy leader of political party Fianna Fail and grandson of 1916 rebel Eamon de Valera, told AFP.

The rebels were ahead of their time with their promise of equality and religious liberty, but President Higgins noted that “in many respects we have not fully achieved the dreams and ideals for which our forebears gave so much”.

Ireland currently has a caretaker government, after an election last month failed to give any single party a parliamentary majority, leading to deadlock.

‘Inclusive’ commemoration

On an island where political violence is hardly a distant memory, the anniversary prompted debate over how best to mark the armed nature of the uprising.

Northern Ireland’s first minister Arlene Foster, the leader of the pro-British Democratic Unionist Party, refused to attend any events commemorating what she described as “a very violent attack on the state”.

Police also warned that militants were planning to mark the centenary with attacks on police and army targets in the province, which was once plagued by sectarian violence.

Britain’s minister for Northern Ireland, Theresa Villiers, welcomed Dublin’s efforts to ensure the commemorations were “inclusive and designed to promote reconciliation”.

But Gerry Adams, leader of the left-wing Sinn Fein party, accused the Irish government of “betraying” the rebel leaders as he attended an Easter Rising event in Belfast.

“The southern state is not the Republic proclaimed in 1916,” he said, according to local media, adding: “A united Ireland means the unity of the people of this island.”