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…This undershirt was worn by James Connolly in the General Post Office in Dublin during Easter Week of 1916. Because of these wounds Connolly had to be strapped to a chair in order to be executed by firing squad for his role in the abortive insurrection…
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This undershirt was worn by James Connolly in the General Post Office in Dublin during Easter Week 1916. The blood is from a flesh wound on his upper arm; he was far more severely wounded in the leg and had to be strapped to a chair at his execution by firing squad for his role in the abortive Rising. Connolly, born in Edinburgh of Irish parents, was a key figure in the ferment of radical agitation that preceded the rebellion. He was an organiser for the Irish Transport and General Workers’ Union (ITGWU) and helped found the Labour Party in 1912. He was imprisoned during the Lockout in 1913, when Dublin’s employers shut out workers who would not give up membership of the ITGWU.
Able and charismatic as he was, Connolly might have remained a marginal figure. The Irish parliamentary party, reunited under John Redmond, remained the dominant force in nationalist politics. The Great War, however, changed everything. Redmond’s support for the war left a space for revolutionary nationalism to occupy. A small breakaway group from the Irish Volunteers came under the control of the Irish Republican Brotherhood, which secretly planned a rising for which it hoped to have German support. Connolly, with his tiny Citizen Army, did likewise. In the event just 1200 rebels, with no effective German aid, occupied public buildings in Dublin for six days in April 1916.
The main casualties were civilians, 230 werekilled, compared with 132 soldiers or policemenand 64 rebels. Yet the official response to the insurrection—execution of fifteen rebel leaders and mass arrests of nationalists—helped turn the dead rebels into martyrs. In the 1918 general election Redmond faced a resurgent Sinn Féin, a reconstitution of a small, non-violent nationalist party that had been mistakenly blamed for the Rising. Sinn Féin took less than half the vote but won 73 of the 105 Irish seats at parliament. Its MPs then seceded from Westminster and established the first Dáil, which met in Dublin in January 1919, declaring an independent Irish republic.
The Dáil, however, was increasingly pushed aside by what was by then known as the Irish Republican Army, which later that month shot dead two policemen in Tipperary. The conflict that began with these shootings continued, with the IRA using guerrilla tactics and the London government sending in irregular units—the Black and Tans and Auxiliaries, whose often atrocious behaviour further alienated much of the population—until a truce was declared in July 1921. In the meantime, the Government of Ireland Act of 1920 had established a six-county Northern Ireland. A treaty signed on 21 December 1921 established the twenty-six county Free State as a self-governing entity within the British Commonwealth.
The treaty was supported by Michael Collins and Arthur Griffith but opposed by Éamon de Valera; it was ratified by the Dáil in January 1922 by 64 votes to 57. The defeated minority revolted, leading to a short but bloody Civil War. It was not the birth that Connolly and his comrades had imagined for an Irish state, but most of Ireland did, at last, have an independent government.