Ireland: The Easter Rising, 1916

Today’s post is written by David Langbart, Archivist at the National Archives at College Park.

The Easter Rising of April 24-29, 1916 is one of the most momentous events in modern Ireland’s history. The Rising, which took place in Dublin, was an effort by the Irish to throw off the yoke of British rule and establish an independent Ireland. It was timed to take place while Great Britain was preoccupied with the ongoing World War I fighting on the Continent. The rebellion was crushed after only a few days, but an independent Ireland emerged in 1922.

At the time of the Rising Ireland was not independent so the official United States presence consisted only of three consulates. One of those offices was in Dublin and thus had a front-row view of events. While consular officers dealt primarily with consular matters (trade promotion; issuing passports and visas; handling matters involving births, marriages, and deaths of Americans abroad; and the like), when something on an order of magnitude such as the Rising took place they were expected to report to both the Department of State and the nearest U.S. embassy.

The consulate in Dublin, however, sent no reports on the Easter events. The two other consulates in Ireland, located in Belfast and in Cork, sent no reports bearing directly on the Rising and related events either. As a result, on August 22, 1916, 115 days after the end of the Rising, the Department of State sent the following instruction (and admonition) to the consulate in Dublin with similarly worded communications to the consulates in Belfast and Cork:

An inspection of the Department’s files fails to reveal any reports from your office in regard to the political disturbances and general conditions in Ireland during the past few months and it is learned from an inquiry of the Embassy in London that practically no information on the subject has been supplied by your office to the Ambassador. Inasmuch as the interest of the Embassy and of the Department in an accurate account from time to time of the occurrences in your district is so obvious, the Department is at a loss to understand its failure and that of the Embassy to receive detailed reports from you. It is, therefore, desired that you will report at once the date such reports were made and, if not, the reason therefore.

Department of State to Consulate Dublin #140, August 22, 1916, File 841.00/26a, 1910-29 Central Decimal File, RG 59: General Records of the Department of State
Ironically, this instruction to Dublin crossed paths with that consulate’s Despatch #160, dated August 21, 1916, which forwarded the “Sinn Fein Rebellion Handbook.” That 244-page publication, compiled by the “Weekly Irish Times”, had gone on sale beginning August 19.

Ultimately, the three consulates responded to their instructions as follows:

  • Belfast, Despatch #207, September 22, 1916: A 6-page report “Political Conditions in Ireland”
  • Cork, Despatch #230, October 14, 1916: An 84-page report “Political Disturbances and General Conditions in Ireland”
  • Dublin, Despatch #182, November 29, 1916: A 34-page report “The Sinn Fein Rebellion in Ireland, Easter Week, 1916”

These documents are filed in the 1910-29 segment of the Department of State Central Decimal File under the following file numbers: 841.00/31, 841.00/32, and 841.00/33 respectively. They are reproduced on National Archives Microfilm Publication M580, roll 6.


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