Brian John Spencer’s dispatch on Day Six of the Easter Rising of 1916…

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Edward ‘Ned’ Daly 

The weather on Saturday, like the events of that week, remain remarkably unseasonal. “It is astonishing that, thus early in the Spring, the weather should be so beautiful,” wrote James Stephens in his diary for Day Five of the Easter Rising. 

Still there was no bread, milk, meat or newspapers in the city. Many Dubliners, like the refugees and newly homeless of Europe, are desperate. Yet many remain upbeat, in contrast with the apocalyptic finale of fighting. James Stephens wrote:

“The people in the streets are laughing and chatting. Indeed, there is gaiety in the air as well as sunshine, and no person seems to care that men are being shot every other minute.”

At just after 6 o’clock that morning men are shot. The South Staffordshire Regiment are cut down as they attack a Fourt Courts support garrison on North King Street. Snipers shoot from rooftops and crevices, the dead and injured troops litter the street. All morning North King Street is “a death zone,” write Mollyneux and Kelly.

At republican Headquarters at Plunkett’s butcher shop at 16 Moore Street, newly appointed Commandant Seán McLoughlin presents his battle plan to Headquarters staff. A diversionary attack on the north side British barricade would allow the main body to advance to the Four Courts. Joseph Sweeney who carried one end of James Connolly’s stretcher described the scenes:

“Eventually we got him to a house that they had selected for a headquarters, and I then moved further on, towards the top of the street. By this time there was very little in the way of command. You simply moved with anybody you knew.”

It’s a stalemate. If the British approach the rebels it will be slaughter. If the rebels attack the British it will be a bloodbath. It’s the Western Front in Dublin. Over the top and certain death.
It’s a stalemate of rebel morale also. As it was on Friday, some rebels are shattered, others are certain of victory. In the other rebel garrisons, the situation and morale are varied. Supplies and position determine the outlook.

Civilian casualties are mounting. The most heart wrenching scenes unfold, innocent men and women around the city, in isolated cases, are gunned down as they flee or search for food. Confusion mixes with desperation to bring death. In Moore Street and on the quays innocent civilians suffer the fate of an exposed rebel. On the quays a woman is shot dead, her children pull at her.

As they punched and burrowed their way towards the top of Moore Street something awful happened, as Joseph Sweeney recounted:

“The door of the house we were trying to get into was locked, and we could hear people moving about inside. We asked them to open the door, and they wouldn’t. Then somebody shouted in to get out of the room, and he put a gun up to the door and blew open the lock. When we got in we found it had killed an old boy inside.”

Amid the fighting “suddenly the order was given to cease fire, and for fully three hours there was a mysterious silence” wrote Redmond-Howard.

Some time after noon the republican HQ in Moore Street sends out a white flag, Sean MacDermott hung it from the house. A nurse then left the rebel Headquarters carrying a white flag and approached the British barricade. Miss Elizabeth O’Farrell is the nurse of Cumann na mBan waving the white flag of surrender, she has signalled the countdown to the end of the action.

O’Farrell carries the flag to the British barricade at the bottom of Moore Street on Parnell Street. Elizabeth O’Farrell speaks with the British Military Command and tells them that Pearse wants to treat with him

She is taken as a suspected to a shop on Parnell Street (number 70 or 71) to await the arrival of General Lowe from the British Army. General Lowe will only have an unconditional surrender. O’Farrell recounts the experience on Parnell Street as she spoke to the British officer:

I said: “The Commandant of the Irish Republican Army wishes to treat with the Commandant of the British Forces in Ireland.”

Officer: “The Irish Republican Army – the Sinn Feiners you mean.”

I replied: “The Irish Republican Army they call themselves, and I think that a very good name, too.”

Officer: “Will Pearse be able to be moved on a stretcher?”

I said: “Commandant Pearse doesn’t need a stretcher.”

Officer: “Pearse does need a stretcher, madam.”

I again answered: “Commandant Pearse doesn’t need a stretcher.”

To another officer: “Take that Red Cross off her and bring her over there and search her – she is a spy.”

The officer, as ordered, proceeded to cut the Red Cross off my arm, also off the front of my apron, and then took me over to the hall of the National Bank (now the Bank of Ireland) on the corner of Great Britain Street (now Parnell Street) and Cavendish Row, where he searched me and found two pairs of scissors one of which he afterwards returned to me, some sweets, bread, and cakes, etc. Being satisfied that I wasn’t dangerous he then took me of all places in the world to Tom Clarke’s shop as a prisoner – all this procedure occupied about three quarters of an hour. I was kept in the shop for about another three quarters of an hour, when another military man came to me – whom I learned was Brigadier General Lowe. He treated me in a very gentlemanly manner. I gave General Lowe my message, and he said he would take me in a motorcar to the top of Great Britain Street, and that I was to go back to Mr. Pearse and tell him “That General Lowe would not treat at all until he Mr. Pearse Would surrender unconditionally,” and that I must be back in half-an-hour, as hostilities must go on, Then the officer whom I first interviewed wrote a note to this effect for General Lowe.”

It is about two-thirty now and Elizabeth goes back to the rebel HQ. O’Farrell is with them for half-an-hour. Returning with a message from Pearse, Lowe says, “tell Mr. Pearse that I will not treat at all unless he surrenders unconditionally.” Lowe would recommence hostilities if she did not return in 30 minutes. 

The Provisional Government held a short council, then Pearse accompanied O’Farrell back to General Lowe. 

Pearse with O’Farrell approach the British barricade. Pearse and Brigadier General Lowe share a heated exchange. Pearse surrenders to General Lowe and his son. At the right side of Pearse is O’Farrell and at the right side of Lowe is his son John. It is just after 3.30 by now. 

Lt John Lowe Lowe (later the actor John Loder), the son of Gen WHM Lowe, was on leave from the army and visiting his parents when the Rising broke out. He was made temporary aide-de-camp for his father for the duration of the Rising. John Lowe wrote the unconditional-surrender note that was dictated by his father, then delivered to Pearse. Lowe junior stood beside his father as Pearse surrendered, something Lowe jr remembered in his interview with Robert Lee (BBC-RTE documentary, 1980): 

“A nurse in Red Cross uniform came in to my father’s headquarters with a message from Pearse, who was the revolutionary commander in chief, saying he wished to surrender. So then my father told me to take a letter out which I did. We met Pearse, I was wearing cavalry twill which was a very smart material then breeches and they were sort of a light creme coffee colour. He arrived and said to my father he wished, was empowered, to surrender. So my father said alright and turned to me and said, take Mr Pearse to Kilmainham Jail.”

An hour later Pearse is driven away and O’Farrell returns to the rebel fort with instructions. Pearse’s unconditional surrender reads:

‘In order to prevent further slaughter of unarmed people, and in the hope of saving the lives of our followers, now surrounded and hopelessly outnumbered, members of the Provisional Government present at headquarters have agreed to unconditional surrender, and the commanders of all units of the Republican forces will order their followers to lay down their arms.’

Later that fateful Saturday evening the Royal Irish Constabulary posted in all parts of the country the note signed by Commander P. H. Pearse.

General Lowe gave the following instructions for how the republican rebels on Moore Street should surrender:

‘Carrying a white flag, proceed down Moore Street, turn into Moore Lane and Henry Place, out into Henry Street, and around the Pillar to the right hand side of Sackville Street, march up to within a hundred yards of the military drawn up at the Parnell Statue, halt, advance five paces and lay down arms.’

The “mysterious silence” that Redmond-Howard wrote about to be the above – “proved to be an armistice, during which terms of formal surrender were concluded with the insurgent leaders, and a short while after four, Sackville Street beheld the sight of all that were left of them, the gallant but misguided six hundred, marching into captivity.” One eye-witness watched the surrender from a window in the Gresham Hotel, he retold what unfolded to Redmond-Howard:

“It is a sight I shall never forget. That thin, short line of no more than a hundred men at most, some in the green uniform of the Volunteers, some in the plainer equipment of Larkin’s Citizen Army, some looking like ordinary civilians, some again mere lads of fifteen, not a few wounded and bandaged, the whole melancholy procession threading its way through long lines of khaki soldiers—but downhearted? No; and as they passed, I heard just for a couple of seconds the subdued strains of that scaffold-song of many an Irishman before them—’God save Ireland’—waft up to me.”

In spite of the defeat, as it had all week, the morale and determination of the rebels is implacable as Redmond Howard wrote:

“Roughs, dockers, labourers, shop-assistants—all kinds and conditions of men, even the lowest class in the city—yet all exactly the same in the look of defiance which will haunt me to my dying day.”

By afternoon the South Staffordshires have taken more and more of North King Street; but still they lose casualties in the unfamiliar network of alleys against an enemy with intimate knowledge of the area.

Fighting is now further back from the Four Courts in North Brunswick Street (it and North King Street are two parallel streets a few yards apart).

By now the entire city seems almost silent compared to the volcano of violence that marked the last 3 days of rebellion in particular. James Stephens wrote:

“The rifle fire was persistent all day, but, saving in certain localities, it was not heavy.”

There is rumour that the GPO has been evacuated and that terms of surrender are being discussed. For the first time since hostilities broke out Dorothy Stopford Price and her party leave the Lodge. She wrote in her diary:

“At 4pm Sir Matthew rang up to say the leaders have surrendered unconditionally all over. At 4 pm the two cars left the Lodge, the first was the Viceregal car containing Lady Freddie and her mother and Capt Murray Grahame, and in Sir Matthew’s driven by one of the Viceregal chauffeurs, were Mrs Nathan, the two children and myself, with as much luggage as we could cram in…

As we went along all seemed much as usual, except that no one was at work, every one was standing at their cottage doors and gossipping, and looking interestedly at anything passing. Round about the Park and Island Bridge there were a number of soldiers and before we got through the closed gates we had each car to show a pass. Otherwise you would not realize that anything out of the common was happening.”

Redmond-Howard shared his thoughts on the rebels as he saw them after a week of fighting and the surrender:

“Whatever they were, these men were no cowards—and even the soldiers admitted this readily; they had shown courage of the finest type, worthy of a nobler cause; and had they been man for man at the front and accomplished what they had accomplished in the face of such odds, the whole Empire would have been proud of them—the whole world ringing with their praise; for, as a soldier prisoner afterwards said, ‘Not even the hell of Loos or Neuve Chapelle was like the hell of those last hours in the General Post Office’.

Instead of that, they were doomed to the double stigma of failure in accomplishment and futility in aim—but every Irish heart went out to them, for all that, for were they not our own flesh and blood after all?

At either end a lad carried an improvised white flag of truce—at their head, Pearse in full uniform, with sword across one arm in regular surrender fashion. For a moment the young British officer in command seemed perplexed at the solemnity of the procession and at the correctness and courtesy of the rebel leader; and he hesitatingly accepted the sword from his hands.

The next moment the spell was broken: the man was a captive criminal, and with two officers, each with a loaded revolver pointing at his head, the chief and his gallant band disappeared from my view.”

Redmond-Howard shared an important insight into the rebels:

“Yet what John Dillon resented most, as indeed every moderate man in Ireland resented it, was the insinuation that the rising had been nothing more nor less than an orgy of murder by a band of criminals, so that it accordingly rendered every single Sinn Feiner liable to be shot at sight, whether he had actually taken part in the insurrection or not.”

He also 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… On the whole the thing was on a far higher ethical plane than the methods employed by the Fenians, as well as more widespread.”

He also wrote something of great contemporary relevance to the situation as it currently exists in Ireland:

“The extreme Irish loyalist merchant, of course, would have none of this; he denounced them all with the words “cowards, murderers, and criminals” in the full sense of the terms, and anyone who differed from him had Sinn Fein sympathies, and was on the list of suspects, which was rather unfair, not so much to the Sinn Feiner himself, who knew he could not have got any justice from him in any case, but unfair to the soldier and unfair to England. Thus, while elderly retired colonels and academic professors called for drastic vengeance on the scoundrels, what impressed such men as Colonel Brereton, who had actually had the experience of falling into their hands in the G.P.O., was “the international military tone adopted by the Sinn Feiners” and their peculiarly high standard of character.”

At around seven o’clock Commandant Daly and the 1st Battalion of the Irish Volunteers reluctantly surrender, receiving Pearse’s orders from Miss Elizabeth O’Farrell. The message was passed to the garrisons and dispatches that surrounded the Fourt Court such as those near North King Street. 

The volunteers were stunned. Morale was high and the hunger for battle absolute, they felt they could have fought on for weeks. Elizabeth O’Farrell explained how Commandant Daly took the news of surrender:

“I gave him the order and told him of the Headquarters surrender. He was very much cut up about it but accepted his orders, as a soldier should.”

The writer and friend of James Joyce, James Stephens wrote:

“At half-past seven in the evening calm is almost complete. The sound of a rifle shot being only heard at long intervals.”

The 1st battalion Volunteers of the Four Courts handed their rifles to the Dublin Fusiliers. At around a quarter to eight the rebels from the Four Courts marched up Sackville Street and were lined up outside Crane’s. A around and nearing 8 pm the Moore Street rebels came up the other side of the street and were lined up about Mackey’s.

“We were addressed by Sean MacDermott who praised everybody for the fight they had put up and said of course we’ll all be executed but it’s up to you fellas to carry on the struggle afterwards.”

Joe Sweeney, a rebel aged just 19, recounted to Robert Kee:

“We were addressed by Sean MacDermott who praised everybody for the fight they had put up and said of course we’ll all be executed but it’s up to you fellas to carry on the struggle afterwards.”

The battle for Dublin was over here, but in the distance shots fired and echoed sporadically.
At Jacob’s biscuit factory, headquarters of 2nd battalion Volunteers, and at other rebel garrisons, the silence brings unease and trepidation. Silence brings foreboding and fear of attack.

James Stephens went to bed at two o’clock in the morning, leaving the window open “from which a red flare is yet visible in the direction of Sackville Street.”

That night, in the outlying districts, the struggle went on. The rumour of surrender was in the air, but in some cases the rebels, expecting no mercy, preferred to die fighting, and in the end it was only by the interference of the clergy that further destruction and desolation was avoided.

In bed he says “shots are ringing all around and down my street, and the vicious crackling of these rifles grow at times into regular volleys.” For Saturday night Mrs. Hamilton Norway wrote:

“The whole of Sackville Street north of the GPO right up to the Rotunda was on fire and blazing so furiously that the fire brigade were powerless ; nothing could go near such an inferno. There was nothing to be done but let the fire exhaust itself.”

James Stephens finished in a reflective mood:

“These days the thought of death does not strike on the mind with any severity, and, should the European war continue much longer, the fear of death will entirely depart from man.”

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Brian is a writer, artist and law graduate.

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