April 05, 2016

A narrative account of the Easter Rising 1916

The seven signatories to the Irish Proclamation

Read my account of Sunday April 23 1916 here. The rebels are thrown into chaos by Eoin MacNeill's countermanding order, which read:
‘Owing to the very critical position, all orders given to Irish Volunteers for tomorrow, Easter Sunday, are hereby rescinded, and no parades, marches, or other movements of Irish Volunteers will take place. Each individual Volunteer will obey this order strictly in every particular.’

James Stephens, writer and close friend of James Joyce and Commandant Thomas MacDonagh

Read my account of Easter Monday, April 24 1916 hereThe rebels have taken the whole city before British officials have even awoken to the fact a rebellion in the second city of Empire is afoot. 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."
Conor Cruise O'Brien said:
"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 British are missing in action, only around 400 are mobilised in the city that morning. Making the most of their absence, Monday and Tuesday are spent by the rebels barricading their garrisons and preparing the city for battle. 


James Connolly

Read my account of Easter Tuesday, April 25 1916 hereThe citizens live in expectant anxiety. Shots ring out everywhere and movement is very dangerous, and stray bullets even make taking shelter hazardous. The writer James Stephens wrote that rain "was falling persistently" that morning. L.G. Redmond Howard spent the day in the hotel opposite the GPO watching the scenes:
"As the afternoon wore on Sackville Street began to assume two totally distinct characteristics—one of tragedy and the other of comedy. South of the Pillar the scene might have been a battlefield; north of the Pillar it might have been a nursery gone tipsy, for by this time all the children of the slums had discovered that a perfect paradise of toys lay at their absolute mercy at Lawrence’s bazaar, and accordingly a pinafore and knickerbocker army began to lay siege to it, the mothers taking seats upon the stiffened corpses of the lancers’ horses to watch the sight of thousands of Union-jacks made into bonfires. 
The scene was indescribable for chaos: there were men locked in deadly combat for the sake of Empire and Fatherland, and here were the very children they were fighting for—some dying for—revelling in a children’s paradise of toys—balloons, soldiers, rackets, and lollypops, as if it had all been arranged for their special benefit… 
All the while, in the opposite direction, Red War was at its height: the rifle-fire along the quays was terrific, and ambulances were rushing backwards and forwards and relays of Volunteers were issuing from the central depĂ´t to the firing-line."
The activist Francis Sheehy-Skeffington, out trying to form a civilian police to stop the looters, was arrested on this day. 


Liberty Hall

Read my account of Wednesday hereThis day 'the Helga' begins shelling Liberty Hall, suspected to be the rebel headquarters. But it is empty. The Volunteers and Citizen Army left here on Monday morning, marching to the GPO and the other garrisons.  

James Stephens wrote that Wednesday morning "was bright and warm as a midsummer day", but all around they could hear shooting and shelling. British troops begin to flood into the city, by train and boat from the north and the east.

The battle of Mount Street Bridge begins that afternoon as a score of rebels hold off two battalions of Sherwood Forreaters, causing death and casualties. 

This is named the "Dardanelles of Dublin" since it is a narrow approach route from Kingstown harbour to the city centre. 

On Tuesday evening martial law was proclaimed, and by Wednesday these controls apply to all of Ireland.
The General Post Office

Read my account of Thursday April 27 1916 hereBy Thursday the British have the balance of combat and by Thursday night the British have the rebels in their pocket. 

Their strategy has been to throw a cordon on of troops around he city. By contracting the cordon they can separate and isolate each garrison until they are hemmed in with no contact and nowhere to go. 

Troops continue to pour into the city, and Mary Louisa Hamilton Norway wrote:
"We now have 30,000 troops and plenty of artillery and machine-guns, so the result cannot be uncertain."
Thursday is known as the "Sack of Sackville Street" when the GPO and surrounding buildings were pounded by mortars and shells. Private Peter Richardson of the Connaught Rangers was taken prisoner by the insurgents, and he recorded his experience in the GPO that Thursday:
"I have done my bit at Loos with the Irish Brigade but the like of the bombardment we were under at the GPO I never witnessed. On Thursday the whole front was ablaze."
Dorothy Stopford Price who spent the week in the lodge in Phoenix Park wrote:
"The night is very still but there is a tremendous angry red sky, a great blaze on the quays somewhere. A wonderful and awful sight, I have never seen such a blaze. What can it be."
L.G. Redmond-Howard wrote:
"That end was in every way as dramatic as the beginning—a melodrama worthy of the Lyceum at its best—and for thirty hours, as the artillery thundered, the sky was one huge blaze of flame, which, at one time, threatened to engulf the whole northern centre of the city in a sea of fire."
The O'Rahilly

Read my account of Friday April 28 1916 hereBy Fridy dublin is a wreck. Everything to the south of the river carries on, while all to the north of the city is an urban wasteland. The Western Fromt has come to Dublin, the capital is an Ypres-on-the-Liffey, and remains so for a decade.

Only a fortnight before this and Ireland was the “one bright spot”, Sackville Street was one of the finest boulevards in the western world. Redmond-Howard wrote:
"Now Dublin lay a heap of crumbling buildings, whose smoking ruins looked like the track of the Huns."
James Stephens wrote that "The sun is shining, and the streets are lively but discreet." Rebel morale holds high and fighting across the city remains intense. At North King Street there is a massacre of civilians, a bloody repression that turns Irish-"Britishers" strongly against the British. 
The rebels leave the GPO by 8 o'clock, with Pearse leaving last. The O'Rahilly is killed near Moore Street as he led a sortie to establish a new position. The rebels plan to make it to the Four Courts for a last stand. 
They punch throw the buildings, moving gradually up Moore Street. They finish the night with new headquarters at 16 Moore Street. 
Commandant Ned Daly

Read my account of Saturday April 29 1916 here. The weather remains very pleasant. "It is astonishing that, thus early in the Spring, the weather should be so beautiful,” wrote James Stephens. 

By noon the rebels attempt to surrender, and by 3 o'clock it is all over. Rebel nurse Elizabeth O'Farrell plays a key role, carrying the flag and relaying between General Lowe and Pearse. 

The Four Courts under Ned Daly follow  that afternoon. 

Pearse is taken to Arbour Hill and Connolly is taken to the prisoner hospital at Dublin Castle.

The captured rebels sleep that night on a small oval green at the bottom of Sackville Street by the Rotunda Hotel. 

The 5 other rebel garrisons on the south side are still fighting. 


Nurse Elizabeth O'Farrell

Read my account of Day 7 of the Rising, Sunday April 30 1916 hereJames Stephens wrote:
"The Insurrection has not ceased. There is much rifle fire, but no sound from the machine guns or the eighteen pounders and trench mortars."
Mrs Hamilton Norway wrote:
"The shooting is by no means over, as many of the Sinn Fein strongholds refuse to surrender. Jacob’s biscuit factory is very strongly held."
Cumann na mBan nurse Elizabeth O'Farrell spends much of Saturday helping to finalise the surrender. 

All the rebel leaders and rebels were initially strongly against the surrender, and protested vigorously. But with the work of O'Farrell and the Capuchin priests they were convinced that Pearse had indeed surrendered and that it was the best course. The rebel Joe Doolin said:
"Eamonn Ceannt called his men together and he told them of the surrender of the Headquarters unconditionally, the men told him and some of them were scarcely satisfied to surrender but he said: 'I’ll say this, when Thomas Clarke that served fifteen years in British dungeons surrendered I don’t think it is any shame on us to surrender'."
John Redmond
By Monday May 1 1916 all the rebel garrisons have surrendered, but until Tuesday rebel outposts cling on. Mother of a British soldier and diarist Mary Martin wrote on Monday:
"We are told that the fighting is practically over in town but there is still some sniping etc. in Ballsbridge district this seems to be the most disturbed of all."
On Tuesday May 2 1916 the Capuchin priest Father Aloysius went to see Pearse, he described the journey:
"We drove through the city in the direction of Charlemont Bridge. We were told that the soldiers had a couple of calls to make. The sniping from the roofs, however, was so bad that when we got as far as Charlemont Bridge we were obliged to turn back."
The regular British troops and Irish rebels had respect for one another. L.G. Redmond Howard wrote:
"I heard one young Lancashire Tommy say: “The poor beggars! They only obeyed the word of command, and they fought like heroes,” but he was cut short by an English officer."
The rebels were not popular. Martin Walton, a 15 year old rebel, later remembered:
"After the Rising… It was a terrible time. There were still thousands of Irishmen fighting in France and if you said you had been out in Easter Week one of their family was liable to shoot you."
However the British response to the Rising quickly turned the people into the hands of the insurgents. A prominent nationalist businessman said to MP Stephen Gwynn:
"The fools! It was the first rebellion that ever had the country against it, and they turned the people round in a week."
John Redmond said in the Commons in October:
"We have taken a leap back over generations of progress, and have actually had a rebellion, with its inevitable aftermath of brutalities, stupidities and inflamed passions."
Easter Week 1916 was only the beginning of the start, the firing shot. Nineteen year old rebel Joe Sweeney who spent all week in the GPO, explained that the executed rebel leaders saw the Rising as only the First Act in the New Departure:
"We were addressed by Sean MacDermott who [said]… it’s up to you fellas to carry on the struggle afterwards."
Martin Walton described life after the Rising, it is one of clear intention and preparation, the fight will go on:
"After the Rising we started to reorganize immediately – to look for guns, try and buck up the language, the Gaelic League and any other organizations that weren’t banned and that we could get into."


Read about events on Easter Sunday here, Easter Monday Day 1 of the Rising here, Easter Tuesday Day 2 here, Day 3 here, Day 4 here, Day 5 here, Day 6 here, Day 7 here, and Monday and Tuesday afterwards here.
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