As my commemoration of the 1916 Easter Rising closes out for the year, I feel that it is important to acknowledge that this conflict, like any other, had a downside. Many Irish people suffered unimaginable pain and loss because of the death and destruction that rained down on Dublin during that fateful week. There’s no real way to discern how many lives were touched by the dark side of revolution nor is it possible to gauge how long that devastation lasts. We can look at statistics and see numbers of injuries, buildings lost, and fatalities – but they do not tell us how many left Dublin or Ireland altogether because of those things, or how many families are still touched by the loss, pain, or injuries of their ancestors.
What we do know is that over 425 people died in the rising (not including the executions of the leaders) and 38 of them were children. Another thousand more were injured. More than half off these injuries and deaths were innocent bystanders and civilians. 179 buildings were damaged beyond repair or utterly razed. One hundred thousand people – roughly a third of the entire population – were given assistance in the aftermath of the conflict.
It’s easy to recite numbers. It’s harder to calculate the real costs and the number of people who may have lost everything and everyone they loved. There’s no accurate number for how many people had to move or emigrate due to the uprising or how many suffered mentally. I’m not even going to try. What I will do is honor them – and I will continue to be mindful that every action has a cost.
These tragedies ultimately led Patrick Pearse to surrender. When he witnessed a family being gunned down in the street with his own eyes, he couldn’t bear it. In that instant, he called a cease-fire and made preparations to stand down. He sent Kathleen O’Farrell, one of the women in the GPO, on a mission to notify the English forces that he wanted to negotiate an end to the conflict. At first, they would not speak with her because she was female, which did not stop them from pointing their guns and bayonets in her direction. Eventually they sent her back with a message that was very clear – there would be no terms or negotiations – only a complete surrender would stop the slaughter from going any further.
Ms. O’Farrell was sent back and forth between the commanders multiple times. The last time she had Pearse with her to officially surrender. In the pictures that resulted, she is completely removed and only her shoes are visible because like the English, the media did not want to show a woman in such a pivotal position.
Despite their dismissal of her, it was then requested that she travel to every outpost and deliver the news personally to each leader. She did this with a heavy heart and I’m not sure there was a braver woman on that last day, 99 years ago. Many refused to lay down their weapons and wanted to continue the fight – but eventually their leaders got them under control and the surrender was absolute.
This did not end the fight for Irish freedom though – that would continue for many years to come. Some would contend that it is still going on today. What these men and women of 1916 did accomplish was laying a road toward that goal. The executions of the leaders and the imprisonment of thousands became a catalyst for the eventual liberty of most of Ireland. This week I have commemorated the events that were the rebirth of a nation, but today I will remember those lost during that week as well. I don’t believe it’s fair to honor one and not the other.