Brian John Spencer revisits Easter Monday 1916

Google+ Pinterest LinkedIn Tumblr +

The seven signatories of the Irish Proclamation

Maurice Joy wrote in her account of Easter Monday 1916 that Dublin that morning “seemed as peaceful as any place on earth.”

In contrast with the city at large, Liberty Hall was abuzz with activity from day break. All morning it was converged upon by Irish rebels – Volunteers, Irish Citizen Army men and women, the youth of Na Fianna Éireann (some armed only with pikes) and the women of Cumann na mBan.

Nora Connolly went to Liberty Hall at 8am to collect a message from Padraic Pearse to deliver to the Volunteers of the North. While they waited Thomas MacDonagh came into the room in full uniform. He greeted Nora and the others “in his gay, kindly way and pretended to jeer at us for leaving the city.”

Thomas McDonagh

Her father James Connolly, “the guiding brain” of the Rising, then came in to the room with a large poster. Unrolling and spreading it across the table he said:

“Come here, girls, and read this carefully. It would be too dangerous to allow you to carry it with you, but read it carefully and tell the men in the North of what you have read.”

Nora and the girls gathered round to read The Irish Proclamation, among the first to lay eyes upon the document that a century later still rings out like a whistle.

Pearse in his uniform came in, his military overcoat made “him look taller and broader than ever.” Pearse called Nora and her company over to him.

“He handed me an envelope and said, “May God bless you all and the brave men of the North.” He said it so solemnly and so earnestly that I felt as if I had been at Benediction.”

The men would rise at noon that day. Nora departed Dublin at 9am for Tyrone only to find the men had already received and obeyed MacNeill’s demobilizing order.

In Clonmel, County Tipperary, Sean Treacy and the Volunteers had planned to rise and attack local police stations and military barracks. Yet here, and all across the country, the men obeyed MacNeill.

Fluttering above the crowds at Liberty Hall was the green emblem first hoisted when the four Labour leaders were deported. As noon approached a bugle sounded for the Irish Citizen army to depart in formation, they and then later the others spread out across the city to the strong points.

Everywhere militants in rank penetrated the key locations of Dublin – members of the Volunteers, the ICA and others – around 1, 250-1,500 in total.

Between 11am and 12.30pm the Irish rebels stormed and secured 7 strategically key locations (and close-lying buildings) around the Irish capital.

The rebels now held a cordon of strongpoints around the city. Every prominent building and every strategic position* was taken before the authorities at the Castle woke to the fact that there was a rebellion. They occupied:

  1. The Four Courts
  2. St Stephen’s Green
  3. Jacob’s biscuit factory
  4. The South Dublin Union (now St James’s Hospital) (under Eamonn Ceannt)
  5. The nearby Jameson Distillery, Marrowbone Lane
  6. The Mendicity Institute and Boland’s Mills and nearby Bakery (and two streets away…)
  7. Mount Street Bridge over the Grand Canal (Ballsbridge), to the junction of Northumberland Road and Pembroke Road (leafy suburbs of wealth and ease)

These buildings were garrisoned and turned into fortresses. The cordon of fortressed-buildings allowed the rebels to command key British approach routes into the city and to defend the head-quarters at the General Post Office.

The manager of the GPO Mr. Hamilton Norway had just overseen a total renovation of the post office from top to bottom. 

Clery’s was a big drapery establishment opposite the GPO. It was the headquarters of the Citizen Army and their flag, the Plough and the Stars, flew from above. 

Monday and Tuesday would be spent in the main barricading the buildings and the streets, with everything from cars to pianos, and preparing the field for a battle which was to last until late on Saturday evening. L.G. Redmond-Howard described the process:

“About twelve [on Easter Monday]the Sinn Feiners, without directly encouraging loot, unconsciously helped it by the order to “barricade the side streets,” and for hours nothing could be heard but the crash of furniture being pitched into the street below from second, third, and fourth story windows, till the barricades were eight or ten feet high, composed of chairs, tables, desks, sofas, beds, and all kinds of furniture and stores.

In one place, “Kelly’s” of Abbey Street, hundreds of cycles and motor cycles were piled up—at least five thousand pounds’ worth—and brand-new motor-cars were then run into it, thus forming a steel wall of solid machinery.”

The rebel garrison at the Four Courts allowed the rebels to command the approach to the city centre from Marlborough and Royal Barracks.

The rebel garrison at South Dublin Union gave rebels command of the approach to the centre from Richmond Barracks and Kingsbridge Station.

The garrison at Jacob’s biscuit factory and St Stephen’s Green gave the rebels command of the access routes from Portobello and Wellington barracks, and also Harcourt Street train station.

The garrison at Bolands Mill, and Mount Street Bridge in its shadows, gave the rebels command of the access routes of reinforcements from Kingstown.

With a ring of rebel strongpoints in Dublin centre the rebels now had a commanding control of the city.
To further barricade each strong-point, rebels also took surrounding buildings.

The 3rd battalion, Irish Volunteers, under Éamon de Valera (a virtually unknown mathematics teacher) took Bolands Mill at 11am. To strengthen this position Lieutenant Michael Malone led a small number of Volunteers from “C” company, 3rd battalion, towards Mount Street Bridge – a key artery and crossing point into the city, giving it the name the “Dardanelles of Dublin.” From here they could seriously trouble British reinforcements entering Dublin. They occupied six private residences along this narrow entry strait. 

Eamon de Valera

Eamonn Ceannt, with the 4th Battalion Irish Volunteers, established nearby defence outposts to serve the Union at Jameson’s Distillery in Marrowbone Lane and in two other nearby brewerys.

At O’Connell Bridge Volunteers took and fortressed Kelly’s Fishing tackle shop, which commanded the left entrance to Sackville Street on the south side. The same was made of Hopkins’s jewellery shop on the opposite corner. This was repeated as corner-houses were entered at the point of the revolver and turned, so that every bridge across the canal which bounds Dublin on the south had a fortress guard.

The Custom House by the railway was left untouched, for control and defence of the docks could be done from the factories, such as Boland’s bakery, a huge building that overlooked the railway approach.

The ways all along to Clontarf, Glasnevin, and Drumcondra were held with outposts, the insurgents held practically undisputed sway.

The various railways were of supreme importance and attacks were made upon the principal stations. Only some were taken, like Harcourt Street and Broadstone Station, but later abandoned.

The wireless station was seized, and all day long messages were flashed to the four corners of the world announcing the establishment of an Irish Republic.

However, for all the strategic brilliance, to the fatal detriment of the rebels, there were two glaring omissions.

They failed to take the Telephone Exchange, in Crown Alley off Dame Street, having secured the telegraphs so comprehensively. Had they secured the telephone system that would have rendered the British network in Dublin absolutely powerless, unable to send messages or telegrams for troops.

They failed to secure Trinity College, the strategic key to Dublin City. It was almost immediately secured by the Officers’ Training Corps, allowing British forces to form a wedge between the rebel centre at the General Post Office from the outlying bodies on the south side.

Brigadier General Lowe made Trinity College a centre of the British response to the Rising, later garrisoned with troops and heavy artillery.

This was no “grubby rebellion” as Jim Allister would have it called. In the months and weeks before nearly every maoeuvre had been rehearsed by the Volunteers under orders of Connolly and Pearse and other rebel officers. Every man and woman knew their position, their role, and the exact moment they were to perform it.

Many of the British troop reinforcements had only a few months experience, compared to the Volunteers who had been drilling and marching and training and planning since November 1913. Redmond-Howard wrote:

“Not a few of the soldiers were struck by the self-control of the Volunteers, and the sense of discipline that pervaded their ranks; nor was it surprising, considering that while some of the Derby boys had only been in khaki for a couple of months the Volunteers had been in training ever since the beginning of the war, going through route marches, manoeuvres, and sham fighting week by week and, towards the end, night by night.”

John F Boyle described the average Irish rebel:

“The male insurgents belonged to all classes.

Numbers of these especially in the Citizen Army were ordinary dock labourers and working-men…

Very different were the young men belonging to the Irish Volunteers. Many of them hailed from the country districts and occupied positions in Dublin as grocers’ assistants and behind drapery counters.”

The volunteers wore dark green tunics and puttees resembling in all but colour the regular uniforms of the British soldiers. The full uniform of the Irish Volunteers included a cap, Sam Browne belt and pack.

Many fought like the Boers in South Africa, with civilian working cloth with a bandoliers swung over the top.
The insurgents possessed a wide arrange of arms: Mauser and Holton rifles, army weapons, automatic rifles, sporting guns, revolvers, and automatic pistols of every conceivable type.
There were few munition factories in Dublin or in Ireland, but from the rebels came men able to make bombs and hand grenades. These were improvised and of a of a primitive kind, old tins being used.
An inventory taken of the occupations of several hundred prisoners removed from the Richmond Barracks after the Rising tells us that a broad range of men filled the ranks of the insurgents. Every type from actors and coopers, to weavers and wood-workers. Redmond-Howard encountered a rebel on Tuesday, writing a vivid account and giving an insight into the mindset of the average rebel:

“I took occasion to get into conversation with one of the guards, a rough-looking fellow, upon the aims of the revolution, but could elicit nothing very intelligent, save that “England always hated Ireland, and that now was the time to free her, or within a couple of years everyone would be slaves and conscripts”.”

That Easter Monday the city was stripped of its military command. The great number of officers from the Curragh and the Dublin garrison were at the Fairyhouse races or on leave. There was only the ordinary guard at the Castle.

The “military as a whole is “missing in action” at the Fairyhouse Races,” wrote Derek Molyneux and Darren Kelly. Conor Cruise O’Brien wrote in an essay ‘The Shaping of Modern Ireland’:

“As for the middle class as a whole, there is some reason to believe that on Easter Monday, 1916, the main focus of its interest was not the GPO but Fairyhouse Racecourse.”

The writer James Stephens, friend of Thomas MacDonagh and registrar at National Gallery of Ireland, was in the city that Monday and recorded in his diary:

“There were not very many people in the streets. The greater part of the population were away on Bank Holiday, and did not know anything of this business.”

There are 2,500 troops in the city, with roughly 400 on permanent alert spread across different barracks in the city.

Reinforcements are immediately sent for, from the Curragh and England. Artillery is ordered from Athlone. Composite units are on the streets by the afternoon and English troops arrive early on Wednesday. A mile from the city centre at the Royal Baracks at just after one, Companies of Dublin Fusiliers scramble together.

Lieutenant Gerald Neilan (34 and from Ballygalda, Co Roscommon) of the 10th Battalion, Royal Dublin Fusiliers was killed that afternoon. Neilan was shot and killed at the Mendicity Institute, a poorhouse on the Liffey quays. His death was remembered by Irish Home Rule MP Stephen Gwynn in his book ‘John Redmond’s Last Years‘ (1919): 

“The first volley which met a company of this battalion killed an officer [Lieutenant Gerald Neilan]; he was so strongly nationalist in his sympathy as to be almost a Sinn Féiner. Others had been active leaders in the Howth gun-running. It was not merely a case of Irish men firing on their fellow-countrymen; it was one section of the original Volunteers firing on another.”

That day Gerald’s brother Arthur was fighting in the Four Courts. 

The Irish regiments of the British army stationed in Dublin were the first to respond to the rebellion. “The earliest battles were Irish versus Irish”, wrote Neil Richardson, a military historian. 

On Easter Monday, there are twice as many Irish men in the British army as there are rebels. As reinforcements arrived that proportion grew, so that three times as many fighting Irish were in British uniform.

Thousands of Irish men in khaki served during Easter Week, and 41 were killed.

At Jacob’s biscuit factory, with two towers and thick imposing walls that render it a readymade fortress, the insurgents met with, now infamous, hostility. The Old IRA Volunteer Martin Walton who fought in 1916 and arrived at Jacob’s on Tuesday, described the scenes:

“After some odd adventures I got as far as Jacob’s and by god there was a hostile crowd there waving Union jacks, calling upon the lads inside, “Come out you lot of effing slackers. If you want to fight go and fight in France.” They were waving Union jacks and god knows what.”

By evening time, Molyneux and Kelly record that many of the local civilians “are pelting them with stones and whatever they can get their hands on.”
The Citizen Army under Constance Markievicz and Michael Mallin took St Stephen’s Green. The decision was a military disaster; for being surrounded by tall buildings, the park was soon turned into a death trap.

At noon the Volunteers seized upon the Magazine Fort in Phoenix. However it was empty, meaning they would have to depend entirely upon Germany for larger ammunition, but would never come.

The first letting of blood came just before noon. A policeman, an Irishman, was shot dead at the main gate of Dublin Castle.
The actors were in place and now the curtains were raised from the stage. This was now a theatre of war, and the stage was inner Dublin city. Events quickened in pace.
On the exact stroke of midday the Volunteers in Sackville Street were suddenly seen to stop short of and opposite the Post Office.

The GPO was stormed by over 150 Volunteers and members of the Citizen Army. From this imposing building with its striking Greek portico, they established the headquarters of the Rising. Mrs Hamilton Norway, whose husband was manager of the GPO, wrote that “when the rebels took possession they demanded the keys from the man who had them in charge. He quietly handed over the keys.”

Mr Hamilton Norway had ordered for a military guard to attend the GPO but they had no ammunition and were useless. L.G. Redmond-Howard wrote that “its position and character was admirably suited for a general headquarters.”
James Connolly, military commander of the operations, was there with four other members of the IRB Military Council: Patrick Pearse, Tom Clarke, Seán Mac Dermott and Joseph Plunkett. Wild scenes and panic unfolded inside the post office as the rebels crossed the counters and held the officials up at gun-point. Having cleared the building they moved outside at around 12.20pm, and Patrick Pearse, with Connolly and an armed guard with him, delivers the Proclamation to a small and bemused crowd. It may be small and derisory in moment, but the symbolism of the act is huge.

L.G. Redmond-Howard, a nephew of John Redmond, who witnessed the reading of the Proclamation by Pearse wrote:

“There was practically no response whatever from the people; it seemed the very antithesis of the emancipation of the race, as we see it, say, in the capture of the Bastille in the French Revolution… Instead of eagerly scanning the sheets [of the Proclamation]and picking out the watchwords of the new Liberty, or glowing with enthusiastic admiration at the phrases or sentiments, most of the crowd bought a couple as souvenirs – some with acute business instinct that they’d be worth a fiver each someday, when the beggars were hanged.”

Pearse, on behalf of the ‘Provisional Government’, declared to the world and to all of history, Ireland was a Republic. The seven signatories of the Proclamation are:

  1. Thomas J. Clarke
  2. Seán Mac Diarmada
  3. Thomas MacDonagh
  4. P. H. Pearse
  5. Éamonn Ceannt
  6. James Connolly
  7. Joseph Plunkett

Mrs. Hamilton Norway who experienced the week of combat from the Royal Hibernian Hotel on Dawson Street, Dublin, wrote:

“A young man has come to stay in the hotel who saw the taking of the G.P.O. He was staying at the hotel exactly opposite the building and went into the GPO to get some stamps. As he was leaving the office a detachment of about fifteen Irish Volunteers marched up and formed up in front of the great entrance. He looked at them with some curiosity, supposing they were going to hold a parade; two more detachments arrived, and immediately the word of command was given, and they rushed in through the door. Shots were fired inside the building, and, as the young man said, he “hooked it ” back to the hotel, which was one of those burnt a few days later. The whole thing occupied only a few moments, as, being Bank Holiday, there was only a small staff in the building.”

Floor after floor of the Post Office was systematically cleared and occupied, then once in possession of the entire Post Office they fortified the building. The sound of breaking glass and masonry filled the air. Some officials were allowed to disperse, others were placed under arrest.

By one o’clock two flags fly from the roof of the GPO. One is the tricolour – the colours are green, white and orange like the French standard. The other is green cloth emblazoned with the words ‘Irish Republic’ in gold. Eamon Bulfin who raised the flags remembered the experience:

“The thing I remember most about hoisting it is that I had some kind of hazy idea that the flag should be rolled up in some kind of a ball, so that when it was hauled up it would break out.”

L.G. Redmond-Howard wrote:

“At the “Metropole” [I] took up a position of vantage upon the balcony, and was able to secure a unique snapshot of the hoisting of the new flag of the Republic, and took another of the cheering of the crowd—though this was very insignificant and in no way represented any considerable body of citizens, any of the better class having disappeared, leaving the streets to idlers and women and children or else stray sightseers.”

He continued:

“This was certainly a thing that struck me, and I realized at once that the movement was at that time a dismal failure as far as the vast majority of Nationalist Ireland was concerned.”

Mrs. Hamilton Norway adventured out on Monday to see the scene at the post office and wrote:

“Over the fine building of the GPO. floated a great green flag with the words “Irish Republic” on it in large white letters. Every window on the ground floor was smashed and barricaded with furniture, and a big placard announced ”The Headquarters of the Provisional Government of the Irish Republic.” At every window were two men with rifles, and on the roof the parapet was lined with men.”

Mistaking Dublin castle for a packed garrison, a while after one o’clock the rebels storm and occupy the adjacent City Hall instead. In the confusion outside the Castle, James O’Brien an unarmed DMP policeman from Limerick, is shot at the gate. Two supporting positions are also established on the adjacent street. The Under-secretary, Sir Matthew Nathan, alerted by the shots, helped close the castle gates.

By this stage it is just after one thirty in the afternoon. By St Stephen’s Green a second DMP policeman is shot dead just before 2 o’clock; Michael Lahiff, a 28 year old Irish speaker, from the West of Ireland. The rebels in the park have begun to dig trenches. Lillian (Lil) Stokes, from a prominent Dublin family, wrote:

“I went and looked at the Trenches at the [St Stephen’s] Green gates; they were chiefly manned by children – lads of 16 or 17… Inside the gates they were standing ready, with bayonets fixed.”

James Stephens documented the six days of hostilities and described Easter Monday 1916 as a day with “the rumour of war and death in the air.”

James Stephens worked from an office just off Merrion Square. Stephens spent the morning in total ignorance of what was happening in this native city.

Leaving for his lunch at one O’Clock he walked past Merrion Row and St. Stephens Green and “noticed that many silent people were standing in their doorways.” This was “an unusual thing in Dublin outside of the back streets.” But he continued on his journey unperturbed.

It wasn’t until he was returning from his lunch that enough was out of place for his curiosity to be aroused. He approached and spoke to a group of people who had been “regarding steadfastly in the direction of St. Stephen’s Green Park”. Then he was “told that there had been a great deal of rifle firing all the morning.”

James continued on his walk. As he drew near the Green “rifle fire began like sharply-cracking whips.” Soon afterward he witnessed lawless scenes in front of the Shelbourne Hotel as the rebels hijack a passing car, ejecting its driver and passengers at gun-point.

The man with the revolver “was no more than a boy, not more certainly than twenty years of age”. This was “turmoil, and blood, and at figures that ran towards… and ran away.” It was “a world in motion.” He moved on. James Stephens said:

“For an hour I tramped the City, seeing everywhere these knots of watchful strangers speaking together in low tones, and it sank into my mind that what I had heard was true, and that the City was in insurrection.”

At a quarter to two British lancers transporting ammunition are ambushed by the Four Courts. Around the courts there is a network of old and dilapidated streets, lanes, and alleys – no place for cavalry. Half an hour later similar scenes unfurl as the British cavalry charges down Sackville Street towards the GPO. A “scene of slaughter” wrote Molyneux and Kelly. L.G. Redmond-Howard wrote:

“Immediately after this a tramway car was blown up with dynamite at the corner of North Earl Street, making a sort of barricade against any possible approach from Amiens Street Station, where the Belfast trains were expected to arrive.”

Rebels repulse troops from the Mendicity Institute on the quays, with reinforcements from Richmond Barracks also suffering casualties from the rebels at the South Dublin Union. If the Royal Irish Regiment can take out the Union they can gain a route into the city.

Stephens wrote that “It had been promised for so long, and had been threatened for so long. Now it was here.” Garrisoned at Jacob’s, Volunteer Seosamh de Brún wrote:

“Like me [Paddy Callan] did not expect to be engaged in Revolution at least so suddenly. We expected the offensive would be forced on us.”

James Stephens further described the civilian-eye-view of events:

“I had seen it in the Green, others had seen it in other parts—the same men clad in dark green and equipped with rifle, bayonet, and bandolier, the same silent activity. The police had disappeared from the streets.”

Mrs Hamilton Norway described the scene:

“All round the Green, just inside the railings among the shrubberies, the rebels had dug deep pits or holes, and in every hole were three men.”

As he walked “continually and from every direction rifles were crackling and rolling.” Almost as soon as the Rising began, so the looting started. Mrs. Hamilton Norway wrote:

“[In the Easter Monday] afternoon the mob broke all the windows in various streets and looted all the shops. The streets were strewn with clothes, boots, furniture, tram cushions, and everything you can imagine.”

L.G. Redmond-Howard described the scenes:

“The looting had already begun, and children were wandering through the streets with toys and food and sweets.”

Fintan O’Toole wrote:

“My own family were probably distinguished by the looting in 1916. The largest participation by ordinary people in dublin was in the looting of shops.”

At 4 o’clock reinforcements of troops poured into the city through Kingsbridge Railway Station (now Dublin Heuston). A lethal game of sniper tennis across the Liffey went on as shooters exchange fire from each side of O’Connell Bridge.

At a quarter to five the elderly Home Defence Force, nicknamed the “Gorgeous Wrecks” for their armbands are emblazoned with the letters GR (Georgius Rex), returning from maneouvres march into a rebel ambush under the command of Mick Malone and Jimmy Grace. This is the infamous Northumberland Road ambush, the road that leads to Mount Street Bridge. Though the “Gorgeous Wrecks” carry rifles, they are without ammunition. When news spread of this there was very violent public outcry. Residents rushed to attend to the dead and wounded.

Continuing his observation of proceedings from the hotel on Sackville Street, L.G. Redmond-Howard wrote:

“Time after time I felt inclined to weep with very shame at the whole thing… the contrast between the dream that had inspired these men and the reality that they had brought forth… things were maturing, and as they matured the ridiculous element faded and the tragic element began to come into the picture.”

By now Stephens had returned to the office, and dismissing his staff for the day he closed the public institution. Going upstairs he paced the room, his state was “amazed, expectant, inquiet.” He left the premises at 5 o’clock.

James Stephens walked towards the Green with a friend and stood by the Shelbourne where affairs had grown silent. Here he witnessed more awful scenes of lawlessness unfold. When a regular city sweeper approached the barricade by the Green to reclaim his cart, ignoring the warning, he was shot. His name was Michael Cavanagh, an Irishman.

“Ten guns were pointing at him, and a voice repeated many times: “Go and put back that lorry or you are a dead man. Go before I count four. One, two, three, four -”

A rifle spat at him, and in two undulating movements the man sank on himself and sagged to the ground. I ran to him with some others, while a woman screamed unmeaningly, all on one strident note. The man was picked up and carried to a hospital beside the Arts Club. There was a hole in the top of his head, and one does not know how ugly blood can look until it has been seen clotted in hair. As the poor man was being carried in, a woman plumped to her knees in the road and began not to scream but to screetch.”

The sentiment of the city seemed to side against the rebels. Following the murder of the city sweep Stephens described the public reaction:

“At that moment the Volunteers were hated. The men by whom I was and who were lifting the body, roared into the railings:

“We’ll be coming back for you, damn you.””

Furthermore, Stephens’s account of the lancer charge on the GPO gives us an insight into the popular and local mindset:

“The people, and especially the women, sided with the soldiers, and that the Volunteers were assailed by these women with bricks, bottles, sticks, to cries of: “Would you be hurting the poor men?””

Vinny Byrne of the Old IRA who was fighting with the rebels on the first day said:

“As we came out on the street there was a terrible hullabaloo of women and men, they were like they had sons and people in the British army. They called us all the names you could think of.”

As the day passed the streets became busier, “the knots were increasing about the streets, for now the Bank Holiday people began to wander back”, wrote James Stephens.

All afternoon infantry and cavalrymen have tried to re-capture City Hall. With incessant fire and hand-grenades being thrown the scene is “pandemonium” and the “area is in complete chaos” write Molyneux and Kelly.

On Sackville Street by evening there was a carnival of looting as shops were pillaged and burnt. The insurgents have tried to stop the looting by firing over the heads of the perpetrators. They were unperturbed.

By nine-thirty the British have retaken City Hall, but snipers remain on the roof.

That night the southside of the city is in total darkness; the rebels had earlier taken control of the Gasworks and dismantled the machinery.

Sitting in his flat and listening through the windows towards the Green and obliquely towards Sackville Street, he wrote about the close of Easter Monday:

“Free movement was possible everywhere in the City, but the constant crackle of rifles restricted somewhat that freedom. Up to one o’clock at night belated travellers were straggling into the City, and curious people were wandering from group to group still trying to gather information.

I remained awake until four o’clock in the morning. Every five minutes a rifle cracked somewhere.”

Redmond-Howard wrote, continuing his description of happenings around Sackville Street:

“As the early hours of the morning approached the crowd began to disperse, the most enthusiastic singing the latest music-hall songs, and soon O’Connell Street became black and deserted, save for a few specks of candlelight moving about in the GPO, which was otherwise in complete darkness, and a few guards marching up and down beneath the great Greek portico.

We retired then to our own room to watch and think. Never to my dying day shall I ever forget those long hours of midnight stillness, broken only by the distant rattle of the rifles in the direction of Phoenix Park, where the two forces had by this time come into contact.

One could easily distinguish the crack of the respective rifles: the Government weapons had a harsher and lower note, but for each “spit” of the rebel guns one could hear the dread rattle of the military machine guns; and then we knew that there could only be one possible end—defeat, ignominious and complete.

Before us, hardly fifty yards away, stood the Post Office, lit up by the street arc lamps in pale blues and greens, and looking for all the world like the drop-cloth of a theatre; and there were we, it might have been the dress circle of some gigantic opera house, and the feeling—the feeling was excruciatingly morbid. We felt like cynical critics sent to review a drama foredoomed to fiasco, yet with the difference that the actors were all real and that the tragedy would be enacted in the blood of hundreds of innocent lives.

We were watching the climax of years of planning and the culminating point of so many lifetimes of idealism, effort, and sacrifice, however mistaken.

We knew they would fail: we knew the penalty of the failure—the traitor’s death or the convict’s cell; but we were held to the spot, to see just how “dramatic” the fiasco would be.

The very thought was a continuous torture, and it haunted us like a ghost or a madness.

We knew they were our own flesh and blood that had rebelled: it would be strangers who would conquer, and yet we knew that order was right: and this too was a torture-thought.”

Mrs Hamilton Norway wrote:

“All the evening we heard firing in all directions of the city… All night the firing continued. Between 1 and 2 am it was awful, and I lay and quaked. It was all in the direction of the Castle.”

Redmond-Howard then finished his account of Easter Monday 1916:

“As the early hours of dawn approached we could see milk and bread carts driving up at top speed, the driver with the cold muzzle of a revolver at his ear and his captors seated behind him.

Sometimes flash signals would shoot across the sky, and at others a man at the “Metropole” corner of the GPO would open a basket and release carrier pigeons, so complete was their organization.”

By close of Easter Monday the rebels held almost total control of the city of Dublin. As James Mitchell, Ulster Volunteer and Covenant signatory, from East Belfast who witnessed the rebellion from the Gresham Hotel wrote:

“All police and military were confined to barracks and the mob had complete possession of the principle thoroughfares.”

Share.

About Author

Brian is a writer, artist and law graduate.

Leave A Reply