In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section The 1916 Easter Rising

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Historiography
  • Reference Works
  • Published and Online Sources
  • Memoirs and Contemporary Accounts
  • Biographies
  • Political Cultures
  • Military and Local Studies
  • The Great War and International Contexts
  • Global and Transnational Histories
  • Gender Issues
  • Suppression and Aftermath
  • Cultural and Literary Studies
  • Memory and Commemoration

Military History The 1916 Easter Rising
Fearghal McGarry
  • LAST REVIEWED: 21 February 2023
  • LAST MODIFIED: 21 February 2023
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199791279-0225


On Easter Monday, 24 April 1916, over one thousand Irish rebels occupied prominent buildings across Dublin, triggering a battle for control of what was then a major UK city. Confronted by over twenty thousand British soldiers, many of Irish nationality, the rebels had little chance of military success. The insurrection collapsed within six days, resulting in some five hundred fatalities and destroying much of the commercial heart of the city. Over the next days and weeks, the British authorities executed fifteen ringleaders and arrested over three thousand suspects. Organized by the Irish Republican Brotherhood and carried out by members of the Irish Volunteers, Irish Citizen Army, and Cumann na mBan, the insurrection was a minor military episode in the context of the First World War. But as a symbolic act of armed propaganda, centered on the proclamation of an Irish republic, Easter 1916 transformed Ireland. Although the uprising was initially unpopular with many nationalists, it undermined the Irish Parliamentary Party and derailed its moderate goal of Home Rule (political devolution within the UK state). The success of Sinn Féin in the 1918 UK general election and Britain’s refusal to concede its demand for an Irish republic led to the War of Independence (1919–1921) and Irish Civil War (1922–1923). For sources on the latter, see the separate Oxford Bibliographies article Irish Civil War. After independence, popular accounts of the Easter Rising presented its organizers as heroic patriots who embraced martyrdom to secure Irish independence. From the early 1960s, nationalist interpretations were challenged by more scholarly revisionist accounts, which questioned the justification, rationale, and effectiveness of the rebellion. The outbreak of the Northern Irish Troubles in 1969 ensured that historiographical reevaluations of the Easter Rising and broader Irish Revolution became the subject of public controversy. For the literature on the wider Irish Revolution, see the separate Oxford Bibliographies article The Irish Revolution, 1911–1923. In recent years, the success of the 1998 Belfast/Good Friday Agreement has taken the heat out of these debates, with post-revisionist historiography shifting the focus from the morality of republican violence to overlooked aspects of the rebellion, such as the role played by women and the experiences of people from ordinary backgrounds. Despite the decline of Catholicism and nationalism as markers of Irish identity in recent decades, social memory of the independence struggle continues to inform ideas of Irish statehood. The centenary of the Easter Rising in 2016 saw its commemoration take on renewed significance, albeit with post-nationalist pluralist interpretations, which emphasized progressive emancipatory impulses, overlapping with more traditional narratives of the fight for Irish freedom.

General Overviews

Until recently there were few scholarly accounts of the Easter Rising. Most early accounts were written by journalists, republicans, or other politically engaged commentators. Popular accounts, such as Caulfield 1963, emphasized the insurrection’s dramatic qualities, which formed an important part of its impact on Irish and international opinion. The best overview is Townshend 2005. Foy and Barton 2011 focuses on military aspects, while McGarry 2016 emphasizes lived experiences. Essays in Doherty and Keogh 2007 provide broader context.

  • Caulfield, Max. The Easter Rebellion. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1963.

    Influential account by a sympathetic journalist that draws on interviews with 150 republican and Crown forces veterans. While its evidential value is undermined by implausible verbatim dialogue, absence of footnotes, and uncritical tone, this vivid narrative provides useful detail.

  • Doherty, Gabriel, and Dermot Keogh, eds. 1916: The Long Revolution. Cork, Ireland: Mercier Press, 2007.

    Essays range from the rebellion’s origins and international dimensions to its commemoration in 1966 and 2006. Includes Owen McGee’s useful assessment of the role of the Irish Republican Brotherhood in bringing about the rebellion and Michael Wheatley’s nuanced analysis of Irish Parliamentary Party responses.

  • Foy, Michael, and Brian Barton. The Easter Rising. Stroud, UK: History Press, 2011.

    A detailed account focusing on military aspects. The planning of the insurrection and fighting at each rebel garrison are surveyed. This updated edition includes testimony from the Bureau of Military History.

  • McGarry, Fearghal. The Rising: Ireland; Easter 1916. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016.

    Based on witness statements from revolutionary veterans recorded by the Irish state’s Bureau of Military History during the 1940s and 1950s, this survey focuses on rank-and-file perspectives, foregrounding lived experiences and the human costs of the rebellion.

  • Townshend, Charles. Easter 1916: The Irish Rebellion. London: Penguin, 2005.

    The most comprehensive and authoritative overview. Places military aspects of the rebellion within broader ideological and political contexts, providing a reliable guide to republican and British calculations and miscalculations.

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