When Fearghal McGarry was a boy he was physically punished for not being able to name the leading rebels who brought bloodshed to Dublin in their bid to create an Irish Republic.

He has long since seen the error of his ways and his definitive account of the Easter Rising now has a new preface in a new centenary edition published by Oxford University Press.

McGarry's riveting in-depth analysis of the events leading up to the Rising, and its aftermath, draw on a vast collection of witness statements from the Bureau of Military History.

While the author always remains a reliable commentator, he allows first-person accounts detailing the revolutionary experiences of members of Sinn Fein, the Irish Republican Brotherhood and the Irish Volunteers to take centre stage.

The Easter Rising remains the most controversial event in modern Irish history and McGarry asks whether its leaders aimed to seize power or merely engage in a symbolic act of blood sacrifice.

Separatist leaders felt the Rising should take place while the First World War was being fought, as it could compel the British to negotiate, if it coincided with a big German offensive in France.

The Rising was most certainly not universally popular as McGarry makes clear. While some Irishmen were planning a coup, others were fighting for the King in France.

This division of loyalty is perfectly illustrated when Joseph Byrne, home on leave from the Royal Irish Rifles, joins the Rising with his two Volunteer brothers and his mother then burns his British uniform.

As McGarry recalls, key city centre buildings including the General Post Office and Jacob's Factory were taken without a fight.

Then first-hand accounts are cited to reveal what happens inside over the coming days.

Looters are shot by both sides and Irish women fight to join their rebel husbands behind the barricades.

"This ain't no half-arsed revolution," said one excited Volunteer to bewildered Post Office officials as they stormed the GPO.

Although there were amateurish aspects to the insurrection, the professionalism of the Volunteers at times easily matched that of their British counterparts.

After battalions of young soldiers from Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire were sent in to tackle the rebels more than 200 were killed or wounded after they were ambushed from the rooftops at Mount Street Bridge.

Their losses would not have been so great if the commanding officers had not insisted on securing the bridge instead of finding an unguarded route into the centre of Dublin.

The tactics which led to the slaughter at Mount Street Bridge, according to McGarry, can be attributed to the influence of the Great War.

A youth who witnessed the fight recalled: "The place was literally swimming with blood".

The author, Reader in History at Queen's College, Belfast, concludes: "The sight of waves of soldiers repeatedly charging towards well-fortified positions at the sound of an officer's whistle was undeniably reminiscent of the Western Front, as was the refusal of the army to authorise anything other than a full frontal assault."

Political commentators on all sides will continue to invoke the Easter Rising for tactical gain.

Here, in this illuminating study, McGarry allows those who took part in the Rising, and those who witnessed it, to speak for themselves.

The Rising: Ireland: Easter 1916 by Fearghal McGarry is published by Oxford University Press, price £20