This was no blood sacrifice
The Easter Rising
By Michael Foy and Brian Barton
Sutton Publishers Ltd.
``The outbreak of the Rising caught the Irish Administration by surprise and it was soon in almost complete disarray,'' write Foy and Barton in their study of the Easter Rising of 1916, ``Britain's Irish garrison consisted of 2,400 troops scattered over nine barracks. But at 12 noon on Easter Monday just 400 were available for immediate service against about 1,000 rebels and even Dublin Castle was virtually unguarded.''
Foy and Barton's account further dispels the myth of the Rising as a heroic gesture of resistance which from the outset was inevitably doomed. Its carefully collated detail of the military engagement between the Rebels and the British forces on the streets of Dublin offers an exciting insight into the difficulties facing both sets of combatants.
Each chapter is set in a different location, St. Stephen's Green, Jacob's factory, the Four Courts and of course the General Post Office. But it's perhaps the small details which make this account spring into life:
``In the Post Office Pearse stayed on his feet for the entire week and even a sleeping draught had no effect on him. Sleeplessness made many men more dangerous to themselves and their comrades than the enemy as they became prone to misjudgements, hallucinations and sudden reactions when startled.''
Neither side fought on a full stomach. On the rebel side, provisions were patchy and distribution difficult. While the British deployed their troops with such haste that adequate lines of supply were not properly in place leaving their soldiers ``half starved''.
The relatively low casualty rate in relation to the vast expenditure of ammunition during the Rising, argue Foy and Barton, can be explained by the fact that ``many combatants on both sides proved to be abysmal marksmen. One British artillery unit ``almost demolished Under Secretary Nathan's lodge in Phoenix Park by landing a shell in the garden'', while ``two 18-pounder guns outside Trinity College had no directors or ranging instruments of any kind and were placed in the charge of newly recruited gunners who had never before fired a round''.
The account offers only pen portraits of the main protagonists, and unfortunately these sometimes slip into caricature. Constance Markievicz, described as ``colourful, exotic and theatrical'', probably fares the worst.
The account opens with details of the Rebels' planning and ends with details of the court martials and executions that followed their defeat. An account of Markievicz's trial by prosecution counsel William Wylie, the son an Ulster Presbyterian minister, is included without qualification.
``Wylie,'' we are told, ``found her performance a repellent and undignified spectacle.'' The account jars with other, less hostile, accounts of Markievicz's state of mind and preoccupation at the time.
In Dublin Castle Hospital, James Connolly breaks the news of his pending execution to his family. An account by his daughter Nora recalls: ``Mama said `Oh no!' again and then crying bitterly, `But your beautiful life, Jim, your beautiful life!' And he said: `Wasn't it a full life, Lily, and isn't this a good end?' And she still cried.''
BY LAURA FRIEL