April 10, 2015

Day Five of the Easter Rising - By James Stephens

James Stephens, James Joyce and John Sullivan talking on Rue Raspail, Paris.
James Stephens, fellow Dubliner, writer and and friend of James Joyce, spent all of Easter 1916 in the Irish capital, the theatre of the republican Rising. He documented his experience of life in the city among the lead and the cordite his book 'The Insurrection in Dublin'. I have republished his account of Easter MondayEaster Tuesday, the Wednesday and the Thursday. You can read his account of the Friday, Day Five of the Rising, April 28 1916 below. He wrote:
"This morning there are no newspapers, no bread, no milk, no news. The sun is shining, and the streets are lively but discreet. All people continue to talk to one another without distinction of class, but nobody knows what any person thinks.
It is a little singular the number of people who are smiling. I fancy they were listening to the guns last night, and they are smiling this morning because the darkness is past, and because the sun is shining, and because they can move their limbs in space, and may talk without having to sink their voices to a whisper. Guns do not sound so bad in the day as they do at night, and no person can feel lonely while the sun shines. 
The men are smiling, but the women laugh, and their laughter does not displease, for whatever women do in whatever circumstances appears to have a rightness of its own. It seems right that they should scream when danger to themselves is imminent, and it seems right that they should laugh when the danger only threatens others. 
It is rumoured this morning that Sackville Street has been burned out and levelled to the ground. It is said that the end is in sight; and, it is said, that matters are, if anything rather worse than better. That the Volunteers have sallied from some of their strongholds and entrenched themselves, and that in one place alone (the South Lotts) they have seven machine guns. That when the houses which they held became untenable they rushed out and seized other houses, and that, pursuing these tactics, there seemed no reason to believe that the Insurrection would ever come to an end. That the streets are filled with Volunteers in plain clothes, but having revolvers in their pockets. That the streets are filled with soldiers equally revolvered and plain clothed, and that the least one says on any subject the less one would have to answer for. 
The feeling that I tapped was definitely Anti-Volunteer, but the number of people who would speak was few, and one regarded the noncommital folk who were so smiling and polite, and so prepared to talk, with much curiosity, seeking to read in their eyes, in their bearing, even in the cut of their clothes what might be the secret movements and cogitations of their minds. 
I received the impression that numbers of them did not care a rap what way it went; and that others had ceased to be mental creatures and were merely machines for registering the sensations of the time. 
None of these people were prepared for Insurrection. The thing had been sprung on them so suddenly that they were unable to take sides, and their feeling of detachment was still so complete that they would have betted on the business as if it had been a horse race or a dog fight. 
Many English troops have been landed each night, and it is believed that there are more than sixty thousand soldiers in Dublin alone, and that they are supplied with every offensive contrivance which military art has invented. 
Merrion Square is strongly held by the soldiers. They are posted along both sides of the road at intervals of about twenty paces, and their guns are continually barking up at the roofs which surround them in the great square. It is said that these roofs are held by the Volunteers from Mount Street Bridge to the Square, and that they hold in like manner wide stretches of the City. 
They appear to have mapped out the roofs with all the thoroughness that had hitherto been expended on the roads, and upon these roofs they are so mobile and crafty and so much at home that the work of the soldiers will be exceedingly difficult as well as dangerous. 
Still, and notwithstanding, men can only take to the roofs for a short time. Up there, there can be no means of transport, and their ammunition, as well as their food, will very soon be used up. It is the beginning of the end, and the fact that they have to take to the roofs, even though that be in their programme, means that they are finished. 
From the roof there comes the sound of machine guns. Looking towards Sackville Street one picks out easily Nelson's Pillar, which towers slenderly over all the buildings of the neighbourhood. It is wreathed in smoke. Another towering building was the D.B.C. Café. Its Chinese-like pagoda was a landmark easily to be found, but to-day I could not find it. It was not there, and I knew that, even if all Sackville Street was not burned down, as rumour insisted, this great Café had certainly been curtailed by its roof and might, perhaps, have been completely burned. 
On the gravel paths I found pieces of charred and burnt paper. These scraps must have been blown remarkably high to have crossed all the roofs that lie between Sackville Street and Merrion Square. 
At eleven o'clock there is continuous firing, and snipers firing from the direction of Mount Street, and in every direction of the City these sounds are being duplicated. 
In Camden Street the sniping and casualties are said to have been very heavy. One man saw two Volunteers taken from a house by the soldiers. They were placed kneeling in the centre of the road, and within one minute of their capture they were dead. Simultaneously there fell several of the firing party. 
An officer in this part had his brains blown into the roadway. A young girl ran into the road picked up his cap and scraped the brains into it. She covered this poor debris with a little straw, and carried the hat piously to the nearest hospital in order that the brains might be buried with their owner. 
The continuation of her story was less gloomy although it affected the teller equally. 
"There is not," said she, "a cat or a dog left alive in Camden Street. They are lying stiff out in the road and up on the roofs. There's lots of women will be sorry for this war," said she, "and their pets killed on them." 
In many parts of the City hunger began to be troublesome. A girl told me that her family, and another that had taken refuge with them, had eaten nothing for three days. On this day her father managed to get two loaves of bread somewhere, and he brought these home. 
"When," said the girl, "my father came in with the bread the whole fourteen of us ran at him, and in a minute we were all ashamed for the loaves were gone to the last crumb, and we were all as hungry as we had been before he came in. The poor man," said she, "did not even get a bit for himself." She held that the poor people were against the Volunteers. 
The Volunteers still hold Jacob's Biscuit Factory. It is rumoured that a priest visited them and counselled surrender, and they replied that they did not go there to surrender but to be killed. They asked him to give them absolution, and the story continues that he refused to do so—but this is not (in its latter part) a story that can easily be credited. The Adelaide Hospital is close to this factory, and it is possible that the proximity of the hospital, delays or hinders military operations against the factory. 
Rifle volleys are continuous about Merrion Square, and prolonged machine gun firing can be heard also. 
During the night the firing was heavy from almost every direction; and in the direction of Sackville Street a red glare told again of fire. 
It is hard to get to bed these nights. It is hard even to sit down, for the moment one does sit down one stands immediately up again resuming that ridiculous ship's march from the window to the wall and back. I am foot weary as I have never been before in my life, but I cannot say that I am excited. No person in Dublin is excited, but there exists a state of tension and expectancy which is mentally more exasperating than any excitement could be. The absence of news is largely responsible for this. We do not know what has happened, what is happening, or what is going to happen, and the reversion to barbarism (for barbarism is largely a lack of news) disturbs us. 
Each night we have got to bed at last murmuring, "I wonder will it be all over to-morrow," and this night the like question accompanied us."

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