Did Ireland’s greatest suffering create its greatest accomplishment?

For the past couple of weeks, Irish men, Irish women and Irish-Americans experienced the 100th anniversary of the 1916 Easter Rising. Reminiscing on the likes of Padraig Pierce, James Connolly and John Devoy, one can only wonder if the Great Famine of the 1800s led to the downfall of the world’s greatest empire. Could any of it have been accomplished without a refreshing perspective found in America from those forced to flee their homes?

Ever since the Norman invasion of Ireland in 1171 A.D. and later the conquering of Ireland by King Henry II of Britain, Ireland never experienced peace or sovereignty. From the dominant rule of King Henry II to the “elite protestant land owners” who invaded Ulster (Northern Ireland) in the 16th century the Irish, especially Catholics, have been regarded as second-class citizens, stripped of their land and basic human rights. The past 700 years, Ireland saw many foiled rebellions take place. The Irish found new hope during the enlightenment era, learning from the American and French revolutions. This lead to a failed rebellion in 1798. The act of 1801 granted the ownership of Ireland to Great Britain and saw the new hopes of freedom vanish. Under British rule once more, the Irish found themselves falling deeper into poverty. The year of 1845 changed Irish history forever.

From 1845-1851, Ireland suffered through the Great Famine. One million died while one million left the country. The majority of those who fled the famine found themselves in America with the new opportunity to work and save money. Professor Robert Schumel of Notre Dame said, “Here in America, you have the opportunity to express the hatred for the British, they formed groups that would be important prior to the Rising.” John Devoy, exiled to America in 1871, led the Fenian Brotherhood in New York City. Devoy, a journalist, wrote to Irish communities encouraging them to help their native country, he was able to gather $100,000 in America. With this money, Irish rebels bought weapons and ammunition from Germany, England’s own foreign foe during World War I.

Needless to say, if the Irish did not have to flee the cruel British law in 1845 or have had so many exiled to America, the Easter Rising would not have gotten funded. Although the rebels of 1916 eventually surrendered because of high civilian casualties, the Easter Rising sparked determination and hope for a new, sovereign Ireland. This could not have been accomplished without the aid of the high population of Irish and Irish Americans living in NYC, Boston and Chicago.

Padraig Pierce once brilliantly stated in the proclamation of 1916, “…having resolutely waited for the right moment to reveal itself, she now seizes that moment, and supported by her exiled children in America.”

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