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Changing tunes on the Easter Rising

By Jude Collins

When the seemingly-defeated men of 1916 were led away, we’re told, the public mood against them was strong. If that’s true, that mood did an impressive hand-brake turn two years later, when Sinn Féin swept the electoral board throughout Ireland. But while we might debate public opinion at the time, there’s no dodging what the papers said – it’s there in black and white.  Read and weep.


The Belfast News Letter (2 May 1916)

“We said a week ago, with the scant knowledge we then had, that the connection between this disloyal movement and Germany was now complete; that the manner of Sir Roger Casement’s capture proved that German gold and German influence had all along been at the back of the sedition mongers in this country.”


The Irish Independent (4 May 1916)

“No terms of denunciation that pen could indict would be too strong to apply to those responsible for the insane and criminal rising of last week. Around us in the centre of Ireland’s capital, is a scene of ruin which it is heartrending to behold. Some of the proudest structures in what was one of the finest streets in Europe are now reduced to shapeless heaps of smouldering ashes. It is as if foreign invaders, as ruthless as those who have devastated Belgium and Poland had wrought their evil will upon the erstwhile peaceful city of Dublin…Were it not for the glory which has irradiated the Irish arms in the fields where the battle for human freedom is being fought, our heads might now hang low in shame for the misdeeds of those who have been the willing dupes of Prussian intrigue.

The men who fomented the outbreak, and all who were responsible for the devastation surrounding us have to bear a heavy moral and legal responsibility from which they cannot hope to escape. They were out, not to free Ireland, but to help Germany.”


The Irish News (4 May 1916)

“We must pray for God’s mercy to the souls of the dead; but we must also face the grim facts of the situation calmly and fearlessly. The lives of all these victims – “rebels”, “soldiers” of the Crown and innocent members of the civilian community – will not have been sacrificed in vain if the people of Ireland are wise enough and brave enough to shape their future course in the light of the lessons that should be brought home to their minds by the catalogue of the week’s blunders, disasters, crimes and retributions”.


The Irish Times  (10 May 1916)

“A desperate plot was hatched for the disruption of the British Empire by means of an insurrection in Ireland. It was put into execution at a moment when England and Ireland were fighting for life against a foreign enemy. That enemy fomented and helped it with arms”.

Now check out newspaper responses from 1966, when the fiftieth anniversary of 1916 was commemorated. Yes, yes, I know – you could use other words but let’s settle for ‘ironic’.


The Irish News  (12 April 1966)

“When do the British journals that have given such space to the Easter Week Rising give their pages to the cause of a United Ireland? They have no deep sympathy for a free, undivided Ireland, now or at any time. 1916 has simply been commercialised in Britain. That is her way of paying tribute to the men who died for freedom. In her heart Ireland is still “the most distressful country” and she will gibe at her as such when the 1916 Jubilee celebrations are at an end.”


The Irish Times  (14 April 1966)

“There were reasonable fears that the celebrations might spark off explosions, but the weekend has come and gone, and such altercations as have reached the public’s attention were very minor indeed. On the other side can be claimed now a mood of reappraisal in some cases, in others a desire to know. It has been apparent since the State began that balance and maturity were essential on the vexed history of the State’s origins. Perhaps we have reached the stage now. If, as the President said yesterday, Emmet’s epitaph cannot yet be written, the reason why can at least be discussed without dust and heat. And that is something.”


The Belfast News Letter  (18 April 1966)

“The members of the RUC have no easy task even in normal times; on occasions when the peace of the community is threatened, as it was yesterday, it becomes not only difficult, but also delicate. The firmness, good humour and, above all, the fairness with which the police acted all helped to keep the pot from boiling over, and for this every member of the community who values the better feeling which has developed in recent years owes them a deep debt of gratitude.”


Can’t wait for 2016…







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