Ireland: ‘A Terrible Beauty Is Born’

Students being drilled at St. Enda’s, the school founded by Patrick Pearse, Dublin, circa 1910. The teacher leading them is probably Con Colbert, who was later executed for his part in the Easter Rising.
Pearse Museum, Dublin
Students being drilled at St. Enda’s, the school founded by Patrick Pearse, Dublin, circa 1910. The teacher leading them is probably Con Colbert, who was later executed for his part in the Easter Rising.

R.F. Foster’s Vivid Faces is a study of the “backgrounds and mentalities of those who made the revolution” in Ireland in 1916. On the morning of Easter Monday, April 24, 1916, members of the Irish Volunteers, a nationalist military organization, and the Citizen Army, a group of trade union volunteers, numbering in all about four hundred, marched into Sackville Street—now O’Connell Street—in Dublin and seized the most notable public building, the General Post Office. Uncertain in number, they were certain in aim: to declare a sovereign Irish republic that was independent of Great Britain. In another part of the city, then allies Éamon de Valera, Éamonn Ceannt, the Countess Markievicz, and other nationalist leaders assembled their troops close to various buildings, such as Boland’s Mills, and took possession of them.

Shortly after noon, Patrick Pearse, in effect the leader of the insurgents, came out of the General Post Office and read a one-page statement, headed (in Irish) “Poblacht na hÉireann,” followed by “The Provisional Government of the Irish Republic to the People of Ireland.” The statement, addressed to “Irishmen and Irishwomen,” began:

In the name of God and of the dead generations from which she receives her old tradition of nationhood, Ireland, through us, summons her children to her flag and strikes for her freedom.

Five brief paragraphs followed. The first called upon the support of Ireland’s “exiled children in America” and “gallant allies in Europe,” these last unnamed but evidently referring to the German government, which was expected in feeble theory to invade Ireland with troops, artillery, and ammunition on behalf of the new Irish government. The second paragraph maintained that “six times during the past three hundred years” the Irish people had asserted, in arms, their right “to national freedom and sovereignty.” Standing on that right, “and again asserting it in arms in the face of the world,” the Provisional Government proclaimed “the Irish Republic as a Sovereign Independent State.”

The third paragraph guaranteed “religious and civil liberty, equal rights and equal opportunities to all its citizens,” notwithstanding “the differences carefully fostered by an alien Government, which have divided a minority from the majority in the past.” The British government, that is, which had divided Protestants in the north from Catholics throughout the island. Paragraph four: until a permanent national government is established, we “the Provisional Government, hereby constituted, will administer the civil and military affairs of the Republic in trust for the people.” Finally the peroration: the…


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