On Easter Monday, 24 April 1916, over 1,000 poorly-armed Irish separatists occupied prominent buildings across the centre of Dublin, triggering a week-long battle for what was then one of the major cities of the United Kingdom.
Confronted by over 20,000 British troops, many of Irish nationality, the rebels had no chance of military success.
The popularity of volunteering reflected not only the depth of the political crisis but the appeal of military values across the political spectrum in pre-war Ireland.
Britain’s grip on Ireland was further weakened by the Curragh “mutiny” when British army officers resigned to protest the Liberal government’s apparent willingness to impose home rule on Ulster’s unionist majority.
They were supported by other smaller groups including Na Fianna Éireann, a republican scouting organisation, and Cumann na m Ban, a militant nationalist organisation for women that functioned as an auxiliary to the Irish Volunteers.
It was a small, secret faction within the IRB, known as the military council, that orchestrated the rebellion.
The Irish Volunteers, the largest of the three organisations, was also divided on the merits of a rebellion.
A considerable proportion of its 10,000-15,000 militants (representing fewer than 10 percent of the original body) opposed an unprovoked rebellion.
Although regarded by some as moribund, the IRB had been revitalised following the return from the United States of veteran Fenian, Tom Clarke (1857-1916), and the emergence of a younger generation of revolutionaries.
However, many Fenians – conscious of the insurrectionary debacles of 18 – opposed the idea of mounting a rebellion undertaken without public support or likelihood of success.