From the American citizenship of one of the signatories of the Irish proclamation for Independence to the old-fashioned different time zones in the United Kingdom. Surprising facts about the Easter Rising you may not know.
On Easter Monday, April 24, 1916, the Easter Rising, one of the most important events in Irish history, began. Here's a look at some little-known facts about the pivotal Irish event.
Five of the seven signatories of the Irish proclamation had visited America, but only one was an American citizen. Thomas Clarke had lived in America for years before returning to Ireland. His American citizenship did not save him from execution.
Original proclamations of Easter 1916
There are 30 original copies of the Proclamation of Easter 1916. One sold for $1 million in 2006. In New York, the American Irish Historical Society houses one. The Proclamation was published in two parts and contained different point sizes as the printer did not have enough fonts.
Who decided would be executed on 1916
General John Maxwell, supreme commander in Dublin, decided who would be executed.
On May 2, secret military courts sentenced Patrick Pearse, Thomas Clarke, and Thomas MacDonagh to death. Thirteen more would follow. British Prime Minister Asquith warned Maxwell the killings could rebound on the British, but Maxwell ignored him. One woman was sentenced to death, Countess Markievicz, but her sentence was never carried out. Roger Casement was hanged in August 1916 in London, the last to be killed.
A young Michael Collins
Michael Collins was in the GPO but played a smaller role than might have been expected. Just 26, he was an aide to Joseph Mary Plunkett, who was dying of consumption at the time. Collins at first thought the Rising was a failure, but when he returned from internment in Wales he realized he was wrong as a new spirit of solidarity with the Easter Rising was spreading.
A Swede and a Finn at the GPO
A Swede and a Finn fought with the Irish in the GPO. They were crewmen on a foreign ship and felt solidarity with the Irish.
A 1916 participant who remembered the men stated he saw the two trying to enter the GPO. “There were two strange-looking men outside and I went to the window and I saw two obviously foreign men. Judging by the appearance of their faces I took them to be seamen. I asked what they wanted.
"The smaller of the two spoke. He said: 'I am from Sweden, my friend from Finland. We want to fight. May we come in?' I asked him why a Swede and Finn would want to fight against the British.
"I asked him how he had arrived. He said he had come in on a ship, they were part of a crew, that his friend, the Finn, had no English and that he would explain.
"So I said: 'Tell me why you want to come in here and fight against England.' He said: 'Finland, a small country, Russia eat her up.' Then he said: 'Sweden, another small country, Russia eat her up too. Russia with the British, therefore, we against.'
"I said: 'Can you fight. Do you know how to use a weapon?' He said: 'I can use a rifle. My friend – no. He can use what you shoot fowl with.' I said: 'A shotgun.'
"I decided to admit them. I took them in and got the Swede a rifle, the Finn a shotgun. I put them at my own windows."
A Hollywood star
A famed Hollywood actor fought for the British. Did you know that one of the British officers who took the surrender of Padraig Pearse went on to become a famous Hollywood actor, who numbered among his five wives the even more famous Hedy Lamarr?
Major John Lowe is present in one of the most famous and commonly reproduced photographs taken during the Rising – the moment of Pearse’s surrender as captured on Saturday, April 29. The picture shows the Commander of Dublin Forces in Ireland, Brig Gen WHM Lowe, (Maj Lowe’s father) facing a clearly un-humbled Pearse, who is offering his surrender. On Pearse’s right is Elizabeth O’Farrell (a nurse with Cumann na mBan), who carried the subsequent surrender dispatches to rebel commandants. On the left of the photo, to Brig Gen Lowe’s right, is his aide-de-camp and son, Major John Lowe.
Pearse subsequently surrendered unconditionally, and Major Lowe escorted him to Kilmainham Gaol (Jail). John Lowe’s army service didn’t end in Ireland; he served in Gallipoli, Egypt, and the Somme before being taken prisoner by the Germans in 1918. When the war ended, Lowe tried his hand at acting in the German film industry – thereby starting down a career path that would eventually lead him to change his name in order to keep his acting career quiet from his disapproving father. So John Lowe became John Loder, eventually moving to Hollywood, CA where he gained fame in movies, on stage and TV.
The world's first-ever radio broadcast
The rebels were responsible for the world’s first-ever radio broadcast.
In 1916 wireless communication was in its infancy and, in general, signals were targeted to particular receiving stations. The idea that a signal might be just broadcast into the atmosphere in the hopes that someone might pick it up was a fairly radical one. On Easter Monday, however, rebel leader Joseph Mary Plunkett sent seven men from the GPO across O’Connell Street to occupy the Dublin Wireless School of Telegraphy. The school had been shut down and sealed by the authorities at the start of the war, and the equipment was dismantled. By Tuesday morning, however, the rebels managed to get a damaged transmitter working, and they began to send out messages in Morse code: “Irish Republic declared in Dublin today. Irish troops have captured city and are in full possession. Enemy cannot move in city. The whole country rising.”
From then until the building had to be abandoned under machine-gun and sniper fire the next day, the message was broadcast at regular intervals. This is widely accepted as being the world’s first radio broadcast and, although it was indeed intercepted by several receivers, the rebels never knew if their message was being picked up because they couldn’t get any receiving equipment to work.
Dublin v London 1916 time zones
Dublin and London were in different time zones in 1916?
From 1880 until 1916, Ireland and Britain maintained different time zones – Britain, of course, followed Greenwich Mean Time (GMT), but Ireland followed Dublin Mean Time (DMT), which was precisely 25 minutes behind GMT. The Statute's (Definition of Time) Act, 1880, which legally defined the difference between GMT and DMT, was superseded by the Time (Ireland) Act, 1916, which was “An Act to assimilate the time adopted for use in Ireland to that adopted for use in Great Britain.” In other words, DMT was abolished. This change came into effect on October 1, 1916. However, the Rising began four months earlier on April 24, at approximately 12 o’clock – Dublin Mean Time. Therefore, when modern commemorations of 1916 begin at midday outside the GPO, they’re actually 25 minutes early.
First shot fired in Co Laois
The first shot fired in the Easter Rising was actually in Co Laois.
Did you know that the first shot of the rebellion was fired in Laois? Unsurprisingly, the first shot of the Rising has more than one claimant. One claim that has many supporters is that the first shots came from the Volunteers of Laois, who destroyed a section of railway track at a place called Colt Wood on the night of April 23 – the day before the Rising began in Dublin.
A monument to the event was erected near Colt Wood in 1996, in an area called Clonadadoran on the N8 highway between Portlaoise and Abbeyleix. The monument bears three plaques: a copy of the Proclamation; a picture of a derailed train; and a dedication that names the Volunteers and reads: “On Easter Sunday night, 23rd April, 1916, acting under the direct orders of Patrick Pearse, the Laois Volunteers participated in the demolition of a section of the Abbeyleix-Portlaoise railway line at a location near here.
The purpose of this exercise was to prevent British military reinforcements from reaching Dublin via Waterford after the Rising had started. This demolition was followed by the firing of the first shot of the 1916 Rising.”
Other activities engaged in by the Laois Volunteers included an attempted similar demolition of the Carlow-Kildare railway line and a raid on the Wolfhill Royal Irish Constabulary Barracks.
Thomas Clarke's name amiss?
Why did Thomas Clarke's name appear first on the proclamation?
It remains one of the biggest mysteries around the Proclamation as it seemed to indicate he was of higher rank than Pearse. It has never been answered satisfactorily.
*Facts six to nine are excerpted from "Things You Did Not Know About Easter 1916" by Mick O'Farrell. To purchase this excellent book, go here.
*Originally published in May 2016. Updated April 2021.
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