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The book explores the background to the rising, the development of the Fenian tradition running in parallel with the parliamentary tradition, the effect of the cultural revolution of the early twentieth century in forming the minds of the men who made Easter week, the gradual demoralisation of the Irish Parliamentary Party, and the crucial effects of the Great War.
The book covers the events of the rising on a day-by-day basis, starting on Easter Sunday — the date originally set for the start — and continuing through to the surrender the following Saturday. In an epilogue, Killeen summarises the executions and the fate of the major survivors on both sides. He also locates the rising in the Irish historical memory, contrasting its high ideals with the reality of the new state to which it helped give birth.