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

  • Introduction
  • General Studies and Background
  • Early Historical and Eyewitness Accounts and Memoirs
  • Official Crown Records
  • Patrick Pearse
  • James Connolly
  • Roger Casement
  • William Butler Yeats
  • Sean O’Casey

British and Irish Literature 1916
Clair Wills
  • LAST REVIEWED: 20 September 2012
  • LAST MODIFIED: 20 September 2012
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199846719-0001


The Easter Rising of 1916 is seen as the most significant single event in modern Irish history. On Monday, 24 April 1916, a group of Irish Volunteers, led by members of the secret revolutionary organization called the Irish Republican Brotherhood, together with two hundred members of the socialist Irish Citizen Army, assembled at Liberty Hall in the center of Dublin. A nationwide armed uprising against British rule planned for the previous day had been called off in confusion, but some of the leaders of the rebel faction had decided to continue with the rising in Dublin and to seize a number of key locations in the city. These included the General Post Office (which would become the headquarters of the rebellion); the Four Courts; St. Stephen’s Green; strategic buildings, such as Boland’s Mill and Jacob’s Biscuit Factory; and the roads controlling entry to the city from the nearby port. Six days later the rebels surrendered the buildings to the Crown forces after suffering heavy gun bombardment; the conflagration caused by incendiary bombs had destroyed much of the center of the city. Fifteen of the leaders were executed in the following months, and public opinion, which had been against the Volunteers at the start, turned decisively in support of the rebels. The Easter Rising shaped the social and political culture of modern Ireland, and for that reason alone it has assumed great importance in debates about 20th-century Irish literature and culture. But it was in part also a literary and cultural event in itself. Several of the leaders of the insurrection, including Patrick Pearse, Thomas MacDonagh, Joseph Plunkett, and James Connolly, were poets, dramatists, and literary and cultural critics. This bibliography includes studies of the year 1916 as a historical event alongside studies of the politics of the Irish cultural revival that in part led up to it. It offers lists of the literature that responded to the Easter Rising and critical debate on that literature as well as a guide to the historical and cultural debates on the rising that developed through the 20th century.

General Studies and Background

General studies of the Easter Rising fall into two main groups: historical scholarship on the political background and the events themselves and cultural analysis of the social and literary movements in early-20th-century Ireland. Two 21st-century historical accounts of the rising offer a broad and reliable overview. Townshend 2005 is often considered the authoritative account; McGarry 2010 makes more extensive use of the firsthand accounts of the rising in the Irish Bureau of Military History Archive, which houses hundreds of statements gathered from participants between 1947 and 1957. Augusteijn 2002 offers a range of useful historical perspectives on the rising. Although Caulfield 1965 is dated, it provides a very readable account augmented by firsthand reports unavailable elsewhere. Kiberd 1995, Levitas 2002, and Mathews 2003 analyze the literary and cultural background to the rising, focusing on links between cultural movements and the historical events. O’Leary 1994 is still the primary source for analysis of the Irish language revival in the context of the rising.

  • Augusteijn, Joost, ed. The Irish Revolution, 1913–1923. Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave, 2002.

    An excellent series of essays on the historiography, definition, and impact of the rising as a whole. Several essays are devoted to the propaganda of the revolutionaries and to the reasons why ordinary Volunteers, including women, became involved in the movement.

  • Caulfield, Max. The Easter Rebellion. London: New English Library, 1965.

    A vivid popular narrative of the events of the rising published just before the fiftieth anniversary. Caulfield augmented the available histories with more than 150 interviews with insurgents and members of the Crown forces.

  • Kiberd, Declan. Inventing Ireland: The Literature of the Modern Nation. London: Jonathan Cape, 1995.

    Kiberd’s overview of Irish national literature is required reading for anyone interested in 20th-century Irish writing. The section “Revolution and War” offers a brief historical outline of the period from the fall of Charles Stewart Parnell to the treaty, followed by chapters on the rising and immediate literary responses (including by William Butler Yeats), on Sean O’Casey, and on Irish literary responses to World War I.

  • Levitas, Ben. The Theatre of Nation: Irish Drama and Cultural Nationalism, 1890–1916. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002.

    Investigates the role of the Irish literary revival in the politics of identity debated in Ireland in the years from the death of Charles Stewart Parnell (in 1891) to the rising. Analyzes the development of the Abbey Theatre and the work of William Butler Yeats, Lady Gregory, and J. M. Synge but also numerous minor writers. Offers a comprehensive discussion of Irish theater in the years immediately prior to the rising.

  • Mathews, P. J. Revival: The Abbey Theatre, Sinn Féin, the Gaelic League, and the Co-operative Movement. Cork, Ireland: Cork University Press, 2003.

    Although Mathews’s book focuses on the turn of the century and the work of William Butler Yeats and J. M. Synge in particular, his analysis of the links between different cultural movements, including the Irish literary theater, the Gaelic League, and the agricultural cooperative movement, offers a helpful map of Irish cultural politics in the years leading up to the rising, including and placing groupings of intellectuals involved in republicanism, socialism, and anti-imperialism.

  • McGarry, Fearghal. The Rising: Ireland; Easter, 1916. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010.

    A comprehensive retelling of the history of the rising. Acknowledging the problems of oral history as empirical evidence, McGarry investigates the insights that the firsthand accounts provide into the mentalities of those involved in the rising. He also devotes considerable space to analyzing the rising as it occurred outside Dublin, in provincial Ireland.

  • O’Leary, Philip. The Prose Literature of the Gaelic Revival, 1881–1921: Ideology and Innovation. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1994.

    A landmark study of the history and cultural debates informing the Irish language revival. O’Leary traces the development of prose writing in Irish from initial publications in the early 1880s up to the watershed of the rising using copious newspaper and journal sources. A final chapter discusses the impact of the rising on Irish prose up until the signing of the Anglo-Irish Treaty in 1921.

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

    A well-researched narrative and analysis of the events as a whole, balancing Crown and rebel perspectives and offering a judicious treatment of the political background to the rising. Townshend’s study is regarded as the authoritative historical account of the rising and should be the starting point for those wishing to approach the political history of the event.

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