The Irish Volunteers are an Irish nationalist militia who have rejected calls from moderate Irish politicians to support the British war effort. Their existence is tolerated by the authorities, who fear that any attempt to suppress them could push them into rebellion.
So the British pay no great heed when Patrick Pearse, the Volunteers’ Director of Military Operations, issues an order for a general mobilisation on Easter Sunday, the 23rd of April. The Volunteers have mobilised before to hold parades and marches, most recently on St. Patrick’s Day, the 17th of March. The authorities assume that this will be another of these colourful but harmless affairs.
The British are wrong. Unbeknownst to them (and to Eoin MacNeill, the Irish Volunteers’ Chief of Staff), Pearse intends that Easter Sunday will see the Volunteers stage a rebellion in an attempt to bring an end to bring an end to British rule in Ireland. Pearse is secretly a member of the Irish Republican Brotherhood, an oath-bound society dedicated to the cause of Irish freedom. Its members have infiltrated the Volunteers and hold many senior positions. They are confident that on Easter Sunday the rank and file will follow their orders to take on the British army and strike a blow for Ireland’s independence.