On this day in 1916, the Easter Rebellion began on the streets of Dublin. The British police extinguished the rebellion a few days later. Called “the poet’s rebellion,” it was led by six patriotic poets and men of letters, including Patrick Pearse and James Connolly. They organized a group of about 400 dissidents, dressed in makeshift uniforms and carrying antiquated rifles, to march through Dublin’s main streets to the imposing General Post Office at the center of the city. They barged inside and read their “Proclamation of Independence” to a baffled crowd. It read, in part: “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. … The Irish Republic is entitled to … the allegiance of every Irishman and Irishwoman … cherishing all of the children of the nation equally and oblivious of the differences carefully fostered by an alien government, which have divided a minority from the majority in the past.”
The rebellion seemed hopelessly unsuccessful until the British government valorized many of the rebels by executing them a few weeks later. The Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw wrote, “It is absolutely impossible to slaughter a man in this position without making him a martyr and a hero, even though the day before he may have been only a minor poet.” The executions set in motion a movement for Irish nationalism, and in 1921 Ireland finally achieved independence from Great Britain — except for the six northernmost counties of the island that comprise Northern Ireland.
William Butler Yeats wrote a poem called “Easter 1916” where he said,
“All changed, changed utterly:
A terrible beauty is born.”