DUBLIN — Thousands of soldiers marched solemnly through the crowded streets of Dublin on Sunday to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Easter Rising against Britain, a fateful rebellion that reduced parts of the capital to ruins and fired the country’s flame of independence.
The Easter parade through Dublin featured military ceremonies at key buildings seized in 1916, when about 1,200 rebels sought to ignite a popular revolt against Ireland’s place in the United Kingdom.
The five-hour procession paused at noon outside the colonnaded General Post Office on O’Connell Street, the rebel headquarters a century ago, where commander Patrick Pearse formally launched the revolt by proclaiming to bemused Dubliners the creation of a “provisional” Republic of Ireland.
A soldier in today’s Irish Defense Forces, Capt. Peter Kelleher, stood in front of the restored post office on Sunday to read the full text of Pearse’s 1916 proclamation.
“In the name of God and of the dead generations from which she receives her old tradition of nationhood, Ireland, through us, summons her children to her flag and strikes for her freedom,” Kelleher said to an audience that included Ireland’s leaders and scores of grandchildren of the rebels.
British forces, among them many Irishmen focused on fighting Germany in World War I, were caught off guard by the seizure of largely unprotected buildings in 1916.
But Britain quickly deployed army reinforcements, who were cheered by some locals as they marched into Dublin. Artillery based at Trinity College and a gunboat on the River Liffey, which bisects the city, shelled the post office and other strongholds of the rebels, forcing their surrender within six days.
The fighting left nearly 500 dead, most of them civilians. About 126 British soldiers, 82 rebels and 17 police officers were slain.
Many Dubliners opposed the insurrection as an act of treason in a time of war, but public sentiment swiftly swung in the rebels’ favor once a newly arrived British commander decided to execute Pearse and 14 other rebel leaders by firing squad in Dublin’s Kilmainham Jail.
Easter Rising veterans led Ireland’s 1919-1921 war of independence, their ranks swelled by combat veterans returning to Ireland from World War I trenches. As the newly founded Irish Republican Army fought police and soldiers in the predominantly Catholic south, Protestants in northeast Ireland carved out a new Britain-linked state of Northern Ireland.
A treaty accepted by most southern rebels established an Irish Free State in 1922 that grudgingly recognized the reality of the island’s partition. The new Irish state survived a fratricidal 1922-23 civil war between IRA factions.
Ireland remained neutral in World War II and declared itself a republic on Easter Monday 1949.
Sunday’s commemorations are the centerpiece of an estimated 2,500 events nationwide this spring and summer reflecting on the uprising’s legacy.
The anniversary date is imprecise, given that Easter falls on a different date each year and that the 1916 rebellion actually started on Easter Monday — an official holiday in Ireland — and not on the Sunday. The uprising began April 24 and ended on April 29, 1916.