On my recent trip to Ireland, the country was celebrating the 100th anniversary of the Easter Rising of 1916. This was when a handful of regular Irish folks — poets, writers and teachers — decided to fight for Ireland to escape British rule.
The people of Ireland didn’t initially support the rebels. In fact, many of them had joined the British Army in World War I. But after the rebels were executed at Kilmainham Jail, the Irish saw the value in what they had done. And the rebels are now hailed as brave leaders and trailblazers for Ireland.
Padraig (Patrick) Pearse, one of the seven rebels who signed the Proclamation calling the Irish to fight for freedom, was a teacher and orator who championed the Irish language and set up a special school to promote it. Gaelic had declined as British law forbid the teaching of the Irish language for years, and many of the original Irish speakers lived in poor areas which were hit hard by the Great Famine. So the language almost disappeared. But it was brought back into the Irish school system in 1922 after the Rising took place. Pearse once said, “A country without a language is a country without a soul.”
Although it was just a small group of people who rose up initially in Ireland, the New York Times covered the story on its front page for eight days in a row. And the Proclamation was the only one of its time to speak to men and women as equals. The first line said, “Irishmen and Irish women, 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.”
Initially the British were taken off guard by the rebels as it was a holiday weekend but once reinforcements arrived, there were almost 20,000 British soldiers against less than 2,000 Irish. Sixty-four Irish rebels perished and 132 British soldiers died. But about 250 Irish civilians died as well and more than 2,000 were injured. It was the deaths and injuries to the civilians that led Padraig Pearse to surrender.
The story of the Easter Rising really touched me. The idea that a small group of people believed in something enough to die for it. They changed the course of history and put in motion a chain of events that led to Ireland becoming its own country. A place rich in culture, language and music that I was immersed in as a child of Irish immigrants. A history that I try to share with my own children today.
It made me think of what the great Irish writer William Butler Yeats once said, “But I, being poor, have only my dreams; I have spread my dreams beneath your feet; tread softly because you tread on my dreams.”
They dreamt of something different and they gave their lives to see those dreams come true. May we all have the courage to stand up for what we believe in and realize, as Steve Jobs once said, “the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.”