1916 Rising — a political event or a religious one?

Would it be better to remember the seminal event in modern Irish history on its anniversary or according to phases of the Moon?

In the hundred years since the 1916 rising, this State has only once commemorated the event on its anniversary.

You might find that surprising, but it’s true. On every other occasion, the official commemoration happened up to a month before the anniversary, though it won’t happen after the date until the year 2038.

Patrick PearseThis year, our official ceremonies will take place on the 27th March, a full four weeks before the anniversary of the uprising. Next year, they’ll be on the 16th April, and the following year it will be the 1st April.

In 2066, the commemoration will be on the 11th April, and we all look forward to attending.

How do I know this?

Well, there’s no mystery to it. You can work out every date in the future for yourself with the formula our government uses to calculate when we should commemorate the seminal political event of modern Ireland.

Here it is: We commemorate the 1916 Rising on the day after the first Sunday following the first full moon after the 20th March.

Simple, isn’t it?

Now, of course, as everyone knows, that’s how the Roman Catholic church calculates Easter Monday and as everybody knows the Rising took place at Easter 1916, so why not commemorate it at Easter? The answer, of course, is that Easter is not the anniversary.

It would be easy if we had a Christmas Rising.

25th December. The end. No confusion.

But with 1916, we face a hard question: was it an Easter Rising or a rising that happened at Easter?

Was it a political event or was it religious?

We truly, desperately need to make a decision about this so that everyone on this island can decide where we stand, and I say this not only for myself, but for all those who profess religious views.

Was it an Easter Rising or a rising at Easter? Pearse’s writings make it clear that he saw the Rising as primarily a religious event in which blood would be shed to cleanse the new Ireland. In one poem he compares himself to Jesus and his mother to the Virgin Mary.

Dear Mary, that didst see thy first-born Son

Go forth to die amid the scorn of men

For whom He died,

Receive my first-born son into thy arms,

Who also hath gone out to die for men,

And keep him by thee till I come to him.

Dear Mary, I have shared thy sorrow,

And soon shall share thy joy.

In his speech at Rossa’s grave, Pearse made it very clear.

And we know only one definition of freedom: It is Tone’s definition; it is Mitchel’s definition; it is Rossa’s definition. Let no one blaspheme the cause that the dead generations of Ireland served by giving it any other name and definition than their name and definition.

It couldn’t be clearer. Anyone who attempted to redefine the Pearse vision of freedom was committing blasphemy, and to that end, he co-opted the dead in the form of Tone, Mitchel and Rossa.

In modern times, we read such statements with a shiver of fear. These days, when political activists describe opponents as blasphemers, we call them religious fundamentalists but that was then and this is now. It was a pity that Pearse chose Mitchel, a racist and supporter of slavery, as a paragon of freedom but perhaps it reveals a naive side to Pearse rather than a dishonest one. On the other hand, some would ask, if he could sink to such crass idiocy as thinking Mitchel championed freedom, what else might he be wrong about?

One way or the other, however, Pearse leaves no doubt that the struggle was inspired by his God, that he himself was to be a martyr, perhaps even the new Messiah, while his brother Willie was a convenient Baptist to be beheaded at the behest of the new Salome, Kathleen Ni Houlihan.

But Pearse was just one man. If people weren’t looking for a new Jesus he would never have been elevated from Patrick in life to Pádraig fifty years after his death. We create our own mythologies but now as the 100th anniversary of the 1916 Rising approaches, we need to decide once and for all if our Republic is based on a religious war or on a political uprising motivated by a desire for fairness and equality.

Were those revolutionaries serious when they claimed to cherish all the children of the nation equally?

This is not a trivial question. It goes to the very heart of what our nation is and how it perceives itself. It needs to be answered honestly by everyone and perhaps most of all by the government.

We need to decide whether we prefer to commemorate the seminal event in modern Irish history on its anniversary or according to the phases of the Moon.

Once we make that decision, we’ll know where everyone stands in our new republic.



It took Patsy McGarry writing in the Irish Times to jolt me out of my complacency on this.


32 thoughts on “1916 Rising — a political event or a religious one?

  1. I think I read a few years ago that the Rising was planned for Easter Sunday, not only because it was Easter Sunday but also happened to be St George’s Day. ‘Twas seen as symbolic to both the RC church and the Brits, kind of 2 for the price of 1.

  2. There is a similar ambivalence with St Patrick’s Day.

    Unlike most if not all other post-colonial countries, Ireland doesn’t have an Independence Day. Instead we have a quasi-religious substitute celebrating what might be best described as shamroguery.

  3. It was a rising of working class against rich speculators and west Brit Irish civil and irish public servants who legally stole from the working class to feather there own nests at the expense of the down trodden ordinary irish worker,people thrown off there land by absent landlords,evicted by the upperclass,a government who took from those who had little to give to those who have too much.Its a bit like what the situation is in this country today.Whether you look to consider it religious or political does not define us as a nation,whether it’s celebrated on it’s actual date or Easter means nothing the only thing that defines a nation is what has been done to the Irish people since it happened,this is the question.when being irish in Ireland means nothing at all.Luke Kelly summed it up in his poem For What Died The Sons Of Roisin. Where are our leaders now.They killed our patriots and left the Irish west Brit civil and public servants in place, nothing has changed only now we can’t aim our criticism at any foreign government.Rich versus Poor nothing else.not religious or political.

  4. Well Bock,if you find my comments “Fascinating”but can’t understand that all the recent Times articles are like this blog merely misdirection and an attempt to undermine the sacrifice of these patriots and the celebrations.As I said what difference when it’s celebrated but that it is celebrated,whether on a religious occasion or the actual date, once people understand what these people chose to sacrifice themselves for.you seem to have missed this when you read my retort.perhaps you need more time to ponder my words like you did on the original article written by Mr Mc Garry.Now sit back and re- read what I have said.see the bigger picture. get the Times quasi intellectual analysis of the events and there attempts to vilify and castigate the people involved and there misdirection out of your head.the Times readership were and are the old school brigade,west British,who don’t want the heroes of 1916 celebrated.They didn’t want a rising then and don’t want it celebrated now ,so let’s redirect issues like this.It Does Not Matter.Go celebrate these people,there endeavour ,there sacrifice,there heroism,people like this do not exist anymore.Well not in Ireland.So take your silver spoon out of your mouth and the times newspaper out of your ears and enlighten yourself.Bet your “fascinated ” now.

  5. In other words, you’re instructing me to talk about what you want.

    That’s not going to happen, Peter.

    If you have nothing to contribute here, why don’t you just admit it?

  6. Hi Bock,please understand,you asked for a view in relation to the timing of the 1916 celebrations and should there be a separation between it been held at Easter or on the actual date,that the timing defines us as a nation.To understand the question you must first understand why it’s being asked and by who and what defines a nation.I just expanded to show the overview of what went on and why the Times is asking these questions.I am not instructing you to do anything or comment.I am giving my view and addressing the underlining issues hidden behind such questions. This is what I have to contribute.It’s not what the question is it’s what it’s misdirecting attention too.here ended the lesson.

  7. Yes indeed Peter. It was obvious from the start that you were trying to deliver a lesson, though not very successfully.

    What a pity you couldn’t take part in a conversation instead.

  8. Pearse’s letters and papers leave one with a very clear impression that he regarded matters in a religious light. The “blood sacrifice” theme imbued the Catholic spirituality of the late Nineteenth Century (as it did the evangelical theology of the Protestant churches of the time).

    Few Protestants I know have much interest in the centenary – it is regarded very much as a “Catholic” event.

    It will be interesting to see how the War of Independence, which included blatantly sectarian killings, will be commemorated.

  9. Hi Ian.I am not sure what point your trying to make.Pearses letters ” Blood Scarifice” you say represents catholic spirituality and also the evangelical theology of the protestant churches at the time.So his views were that of the time not a biases of one teaching over the other.

    The Protestant people were the ruling classes alined to the British,the catholic people were the poor working class who rebelled against them, simple a class war.Of course your Protestant friends would have no interest in the celebrations as it was a victory for the poor who also happened to be catholic.Do you think many Catholics celebrate the 12th of July ,king Billy.what do we witness then but tribalism.let’s not forget the protestant ruling class kept the Catholics poor.you could call it both religious because the devide in society was on the lines of religious belief.”when the philosophy,that one man is superior and another inferior,War.History will tell you the heroes are only on the winning side.you mention sectarian killing taken place in the war of independence,how could it not happen in a war situation.wars are always used to avenge and for revenge and people are targeted once they are considered to be alined to a certain group.all wars generate a certain blood lust.this is war.look what happened during the civil war,brother against brother,and this is also our history.I am sorry you protestant friends are not interested in the celebrations,as it is a part of there heritage also.whether
    they choose to believe it or not it has shaped what they
    are today.

  10. Peter, as you have a much better grasp of the events and indeed society at the time of the Rising could you please clarify if

    1 All catholics were poor working class
    2 All protestants were wealthy ruling class

    A number of the leaders of the rising were university educated, quite a feat for poor working class catholics at the time.

    Perhaps more people from a non loyalist back ground should participate in the 12th July events. I don’t agree with the biggotry or violence but it does commemorate a significant event in this islands history, if we started to examine and accept the past we may welll be able to plane a future. Just a thought.

  11. The real issue is how are we going to celebrate the “Easter” Rising when the pubs are closed on Good Friday

  12. Peter,

    The “blood sacrifice” motif made it clear that Pearse regarded the rising as a religious event.

    Why don’t you read Sean O’Casey’s autobiography and discover what life was like for the huge number of Protestant working class people in Dublin? Why don’t you read the history of the Royal Dublin Fusiliers and learn about the tens of thousands of Catholic working class men who were serving in the British army in 1916? Why don’t you read the biographies of the 1916 rebels and see how many of them were middle class Catholics?

    I don’t know about Protestants in the North, but few Protestants in the Republic have any interest in what many see as a sectarian commemoration. And look up ‘Census 2011’ before making the absurd suggestion that all Protestants are wealthy.

  13. Hi No 8,I am sorry if you were misled by my view.Of course not all Catholics were poor,look at the riches of the catholic church in Ireland,also not all Protestants were rich,it goes to say,however the Majority of protestants were the decision makers,business people,landlords,managers,both middle and upper,and there exististed a class devide based on religion,employment based on religion,health care based on religion,housing based on religion,segregation based on religion.However the Protestant people were not the majority of the Irish population.I also don’t agree with bigotry,or violence.I think its how you perceive yourself,your heritage,how you were brought up will determine your involvement in the celebrations.A Protestant bigot might perceive the celebrations as a catholic event and a catholic bigot might perceive the celebrations as the catholics beating the protestants.Thats why i said from the start it was not a religious or political rebellion it was a class war between rich and poor. Sad now in a time when christianity is in decline.in a world where people are being beheaded for being Christian.by the way do you think the people carrying out atrocities against Christians stop to ask what branch of christianity are you from.So little the difference between catholic and Protestant and we still can’t come together.But alas that was the way were reared mostly in Ireland segregated.
    Hi Ian,hope I have addressed most of your questions above.I am aware that many an Irishman both catholic and Protestant took the queens shilling.There were also many press-ganged into military service for the crown.When people are poor they will work for any master,money is money,food is food.Why do Protestants in the south consider the celebrations sectarian,if it changed their lives for the better not being a subject of the queen,how is it sectarian,is it not for the underdog the rise of the poor against the rich,do they not consider,perceive themselves as Irishmen,or were your friends families better served by the empire.

  14. Hi No 8,Sorry if you took my reply wrong,of course not every Protestant was rich,no more than every catholic was poor,however the protestants were in the majority when it came to wealth,decision making,landlords,middle and upper management,but they were not the majority of the population.From the time of Cromwell,the plantation of Ulster and the might of the british empire behind them they had been the landowners and policy makers in Ireland.My point from the start was that the rebellion was a class war not a religious or political war because it was the poor against the rich.History at the time of 1916 had made the protestants the ruling class.I agree with you about bigotry and violence,a lot of these events are hijacked by such people.
    Hi Ian,hope the above answered some of your queries.I am aware that many Irishmen took the queens shilling,a lot of Irishmen were also press-ganged into service to the crown.I am sorry that your Protestant friends choose to view the celebrations as a sectarian,unfortunately bigotry still exists on both sides,this is down to who you perceive yourself to be,what your heritage is ,how you were reared.If you were reared in a family that lost position,land,or status as a result of 1916 it is easy to call it sectarian fall back on that old bigotry stance.If you were reared in a family that improved their situation of course it’s a celebration.Why if your family are Protestant and you fought the injustice of crown inflicted poverty do you not think there is a place for you in the celebration,after all were are all Irish anyway.
    Sad to think ,at a time when people are being beheaded for being Christian,we are having a debate about catholic and Protestant.Do you think the people carrying out the atrocities against Christians ask which branch of Christianity are you from.But that’s another conversation

  15. How, in any possible way, did the 1916 rebellion improve the position for the Catholic working classes?

  16. @Ian, because they were now downtrodden by the church and their fellow Irishmen who happened to be catholic, what was not to like?

    @Peter, what about the university educated leaders of the class based up rising?

  17. No. 8, thank you.

    I often wondered why working class people in both jurisdictions so readily endorsed their respective leaderships, living lives of abject poverty is presumably easier if you know it is your own side who is oppressing you.

    There is no historical evidence to show that the Easter Rising was anything other than a disaster for working class people.

  18. Peter – Had the instigators of the 1916 rising been able to foresee what we’ve done with the ‘freedom’ of the 26-county Republic, with rampant homelessness, evictions, families destroyed by emigration, a dysfunctional health system, a dysfunctional policing system, a dysfunctional taxation system, a dysfunctional planning system, a dysfunctional local government system, a dysfunctional legislature, ruination of our environment, wildlife and national monuments, derelict and abandoned buildings in every town and village, murderous subversives claiming to carry on their name and tradition – let alone the civil war they precipitated – do you think they’d have bothered?

  19. I suspect that Peter has moved on. But if he returns he will first have to address the moderator question put to him before he answers anyone else.

  20. THe BOlted NUt, Sounds like here in Australia. Maybe the USA as I have been there aswell.

    Bock, Pity that Peter has gone. He sounded very logical and informed.

  21. Hi Ian,the 1916 did very little to improve the situation for working class catholic.I suppose the first improvements for the working class started to take place in the 1920s with the tenament clearance.for years,despite calls for something to be done absentee landlords took rents for tenements without putting anything back into repairs.We had the worst slums in Europe at that time.The main benefactors of the rising were the farmers,as the government choose to promote agriculture as the free trade option for Ireland’s Open economy which needs to export due to a small domestic Market.instead it should have had a More balanced policy to exploit natural resources,to generate a surplus to fund development and job creation.

  22. Hi BOLted NUt,your right,they were idealist,they would be turning in there graves to see what has become of the Irish.Unfortunately we no longer live in a democracy we live in a PLUTOCRACY.That is why our leaders watch as the banks we bailed out evict Irish people off the land out of there houses,mass emergration of Irish people,mass immigration so even if Irish people want to return there are no jobs all taken by immigrates,and no goverment plan to deal with to help the Irish.Houses and businesses flooded because planned relief works not undertaken all funds going to pay national debt.we are now like the American Indians with our leader Geronimo Kenny and we the Irish people “We Will Endevour to Persevere”.The American Indians have reservations I suppose we the indigenous People of Ireland will be confined to Gealteach areas in the not to distant future.

  23. Hi Peter

    Your comments have been held back until you answer comment #16. This is normal when a website moderator addresses you.

  24. Mr.Bock ,Sir,
    I don’t want to offer any argument here as I regard myself only moderately informed on this period of Irish history but I do disagree that the 1916 rising or any of the struggle for independence in those years was a religious war. It was not a religious war.

    There are three basic details that I can identify to justify my stance.

    (1) The Proclamation of Irish independence itself did not make any indication that any kind of religious state, would be founded. A theocracy was not the objective nor was it even vaguely hinted at. It spoke of a secular state “under the protection of the Most High God”. It also spoke of religious toleration,embodied in the Tricolour, which is not really the hallmark of theocracy.

    (2)The timing of the Easter Rising had nothing to do with a religious sign. The Rising was actually expediated because of a security leak resulting in it being premature and poorly manned. The original plan had a later date.

    (3) The army, the Irish Volunteers, was not a religious army even though it had men of very high religious ideals leading it but it did not enforce any kind of religious discipline nor did it have a religious objective.
    Note this in sharp contrast to past armies that were religious, Jewish and Christian.

    The Jewish Macabees were religiously disciplined with a religious objective.

    The crusades were a religious military force with a religious discipline and objective, the Knights Templar being the apex of it.

    The French army under Joan of Arc is another example –VERY religiously disciplined and a religious objective although it also had nationalist objectives. (The objective was a theocratic France, not the secular France of today).

    Oliver Cromwell and the New Model Army is another. Soldiers went into battle singing Psalms. A Puritan theocracy was essential nature of the post-monarchy Commonwealth.

    The slavery opponents, John Brown and Harriet Tubman inspired their soldiers religiously.

    The true objective as I would understand it was just to throw off the yoke of an oppressive foreign power that used us for their own benefit and build our own nation. Slums and squalor and violence and poverty were the norm then EVERYWHERE and quite understandably no immediate solution could be envisioned at that time. I might add here of my own discernment that slums and squalor in particular,were largely, but not entirely a by-product of the 19th century British Empire. Perhaps the Irish had already worked this one out for themselves.

    Another “bequest” of the 19th century British Empire that was well known at the time was the “successful” extermination of an entire race of humanity — Tasmanian Aborigines.
    (I’m here right now).
    Maybe the Irish had not forgotten the opportunistic attempt in 1845 to exterminate them.
    (“White chimpanzees” according to one C of E, the Rev.Kemsley.)

    Concentration camps: The so called “Hell holes of South Africa” being the first, complements of the British Establishment.

    Yes,sure, the British had a lot to commend themselves to others and that is the world that Ireland was a part of.
    In another few years, the Cairo Gang, the Black and Tans —- need I go on?

    Finally,I find a piece written by you yourself: “Why is Britain full of fascist thugs” Revealing!

    Patsy McGary: Take him with a grain of salt.

  25. Are these not the questions posed –

    “Was it a political event or was it religious?

    Was it an Easter Rising or a rising at Easter? Pearse’s writings make it clear that he saw the Rising as primarily a religious event”

    I get confused when someone is genuinely trying to answer a question that’s asked. It’s like the goal posts keep getting moved for no reason…

    Maybe it’s a rhetorical question, where the answer is, clearly it was a political uprising, that’s strangely being commemorated at Easter.. but nonetheless the question was posed and it’s a worthwhile question of course.

    “Tasmanian Aborigines.
    (I’m here right now). ” Are you of Tasmanian aborigine descent do you mind me asking Ebenezer? You refer to us Irish also.. Just curious. :)

  26. Mr.Bock,Sir,
    Please don’t hammer me for attempting to seriously reply to you.
    I was not amused on the gravitational waves story when you accused me of “faux humour” which by the way is a new word in my vocabulary. I looked it up on Google.
    Somewhat understandably, you may perceive me as a “funny kettle of fish” but as I am Dublin through and through and of humbler education standard maybe that explains it.
    (as you may see us).

    I RESPECTFULLY suggest that you read your composition again as perhaps you have become unfamiliar with the content in view of your high output of other writings on so many topics.

    Pearse himself was essentially a man of mission with intense religious conviction as his motivating force as indeed were some of the others such as Joseph Mary Plunkett. This religious approach was entirely a personal matter with individuals and there was no attempt to impose it upon the Volunteers collectively.
    Not all even had religious purpose for their participation. For example, James Connolly whose reasons for being involved were very likely more to do with the Trade Union Movement and the up and coming Socialism of that time.
    Probably the main overriding reason for everything was conscription of the Irish into the Great War.(Up to this point Irish participation was voluntary). All the other men down to the lowest rank would have had all sorts of personal reasons and there was no idea in anyone’s head that they were engaging any level of “holy war”.

    Over on the sideline, slums, squalor and poverty were everywhere in all cities. It was normal. There was no escaping it anyway.

    Now, today, has it been turned into a religious event since?
    The answer here is a vigorous NO! That churches and religious institutions participate in the commemorations does not make it a religious event any more than national events attended by churches elsewhere are religious. None of the churches approved of the rising at the time, indeed they condemned it so they can hardly decently praise it now by “canonizing” it.

    The reason why it is celebrated at Easter is only because Easter is the long holiday period anyway and it is the most appropriate time to include it.
    The reason why the Rising took place at Easter was because of a serious security leak which forced everything to move immediately before being fully prepared.
    (Patsy McGarry seems to be unaware of this).

    Arthemis, Thanks once again for coming to my rescue.

    No, I am not of Tasmanian aborigine decent. I am full Irish. I am just in Australia at the moment until about May. (The heat of this place — 42 degrees!! pew!!)

    I just mentioned the extermination of these people in my last thread as this was well known and still in extended living memory in 1916. The Great Famine of 1845 which was an opportunistic attempt to do the same thing to us was also in old living memory. The concentration camps in South Africa were also another recent world first that might have helped the Irish to think about independence.

    Best wishes. Jehanne.

  27. Hi bock,not sure what you mean by withholding my comments until I answer #16 ?.I looked back on the comments and #16 comment is a comment from me.please advise what I need to do.

  28. Mr.Bock, Sir,

    Your closing words: “…..our new republic”.

    I’m intrigued. What new republic?

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