Commemoration of 1916

Learn how successive generations of Irish people have remembered and portrayed the Rising according to their political beliefs and contemporary events.

The 1916 Rising was a seminal event in the history of 20th century Ireland. The Rising was regarded by republicans, then and since, as a glorious fight for freedom and a major step on the road to independence. However, unionists only saw a ‘stab in the back’, at a time when Britain was at war. 

Defended by George Bernard Shaw as “a fair fight in everything except the enormous odds my countrymen had to face”, it was condemned by the Irish Times as “rapine and bloodshed”. 

Leabhar na hAiséirghe, by Art O’Murnaghan

In 1923, a committee was formed to commemorate those who had died in 1916 and the War of Independence. Public subscriptions funded the project and it was decided to commission an illuminated vellum book, Leabhar na hAiséirghe (Book of the Resurrection).

O'Murnaghan was born in Southampton in 1872. Of Irish descent, he moved to Dublin in 1898 and became an enthusiastic member of the Gaelic League. A self-taught artist, he excelled as an illuminator, calligrapher and stage designer. He worked on the project initially from 1924 to 1928, taking up to a year to complete each page.

When he resumed work in 1937, the original committee had disbanded, and funding was provided by Joseph McGarrity, a wealthy Irish-born Philadelphia art patron. By 1952, O’Murnaghan had completed 26 exquisite pages, inspired by ancient Irish manuscripts, oriental art and the artist’s own mysticism.

Remembering 1916 through the 20th century

The disillusionment caused by civil war, partition and economic hardship ensured that early commemorations of 1916 and the War of Independence were rather low-key.

In 1936 Eamon de Valera was instrumental in having the Roll of Honour drawn up. This was a list of all the 1916 garrisons, signed by the survivors or, in the case of the deceased, by the senior surviving officers.

The 25th anniversary in 1941 included an exhibition in the National Museum of Ireland and the issuing of medals for both 1916 and War of Independence veterans.

The most dramatic commemoration was for the 50th anniversary in 1966. Military parades, pageants, re-enactments, films and exhibitions commemorated the events of 1916.

In the decades that followed, events in Northern Ireland overshadowed the annual commemoration and the Easter military parade was discontinued in the 1970s.

The 75th anniversary in 1991 was a considerably more subdued occasion. The 90th anniversary in 2006, for which this exhibition was prepared, was marked in a less reserved fashion, and included numerous events, celebrations and a substantial military parade.

1916 and its Place in Irish History

The Easter Rising of 1916 and the War of Independence that followed in 1919 - 1921 had a profound influence on the shaping of modern Ireland. At the outset of World War I the Irish Parliamentary Party, dedicated to autonomy for Ireland within the British Empire, appeared unassailable. Following the General Election of 1918 the party disappeared from the Irish political scene. In that same election Sinn Féin, dedicated to the establishment of an independent Republic, was returned as the virtually unopposed voice of Irish nationalism. The great swing in public opinion that brought about this change can only be explained in the context of 1916 and its aftermath.

The 1916 Rising has been analysed by academics and military historians, commemorated in song and ballad, revered and reviled. While there has been disagreement regarding its effects and results, there can be no doubt about its central place in the history of modern Ireland.