April 08, 2015

Day Three of the Easter Rising - By James Stephens

Troops of the Ulster Volunteer Force move into Dublin to support the British Forces during the Easter Rising of 1916.
The Dublin writer James Stephens was in Dublin for the whole of the Easter Rising in 1916. He documented what he saw and experienced in 'The Insurrection in Dublin.' I have republished his account of Easter Monday and Easter Tuesday, and below you can read his account of Day Three of the rebellion. James wrote:
"It was three o'clock before I got to sleep last night, and during the hours machine guns and rifle firing had been continuous.
This morning the sun is shining brilliantly, and the movement in the streets possesses more of animation than it has done. The movement ends always in a knot of people, and folk go from group to group vainly seeking information, and quite content if the rumour they presently gather differs even a little from the one they have just communicated. 
The first statement I heard was that the Green had been taken by the military; the second that it had been re-taken; the third that it had not been taken at all. The facts at last emerged that the Green had not been occupied by the soldiers, but that the Volunteers had retreated from it into a house which commanded it. This was found to be the College of Surgeons, and from the windows and roof of this College they were sniping. A machine gun was mounted on the roof; other machine guns, however, opposed them from the roofs of the Shelbourne Hotel, the United Service Club, and the Alexandra Club. Thus a triangular duel opened between these positions across the trees of the Park. 
Through the railings of the Green some rifles and bandoliers could be seen lying on the ground, as also the deserted trenches and snipers' holes. Small boys bolted in to see these sights and bolted out again with bullets quickening their feet. Small boys do not believe that people will really kill them, but small boys were killed. 
The dead horse was still lying stiff and lamentable on the footpath. 
This morning a gunboat came up the Liffey and helped to bombard Liberty Hall. The Hall is breeched and useless. Rumour says that it was empty at the time, and that Connolly with his men had marched long before to the Post Office and the Green. The same source of information relates that three thousand Volunteers came from Belfast on an excursion train and that they marched into the Post Office. 
On this day only one of my men came in. He said that he had gone on the roof and had been shot at, consequently that the Volunteers held some of the covering houses. I went to the roof and remained there for half an hour. There were no shots, but the firing from the direction of Sackville Street was continuous and at times exceedingly heavy. 
To-day the Irish Times was published. It contained a new military proclamation, and a statement that the country was peaceful, and told that in Sackville Street some houses were burned to the ground. On the outside railings a bill proclaiming Martial Law was posted. 
Into the newspaper statement that peace reigned in the country one was inclined to read more of disquietude than of truth, and one said is the country so extraordinarily peaceful that it can be dismissed in three lines. There is too much peace or too much reticence, but it will be some time before we hear from outside of Dublin. 
Meanwhile the sun was shining. It was a delightful day, and the streets outside and around the areas of fire were animated and even gay. In the streets of Dublin there were no morose faces to be seen. Almost everyone was smiling and attentive, and a democratic feeling was abroad, to which our City is very much a stranger; for while in private we are a sociable and talkative people we have no street manners or public ease whatever. Every person spoke to every other person, and men and women mixed and talked without constraint. 
Was the City for or against the Volunteers? Was it for the Volunteers, and yet against the rising? 
It is considered now (writing a day or two afterwards) that Dublin was entirely against the Volunteers, but on the day of which I write no such certainty could be put forward. 
There was a singular reticence on the subject. Men met and talked volubly, but they said nothing that indicated a personal desire or belief. They asked for and exchanged the latest news, or, rather, rumour, and while expressions were frequent of astonishment at the suddenness and completeness of the occurrence, no expression of opinion for or against was anywhere formulated. 
Sometimes a man said, "They will be beaten of course," and, as he prophesied, the neighbour might surmise if he did so with a sad heart or a merry one, but they knew nothing and asked nothing of his views, and themselves advanced no flag. This was among the men. 
The women were less guarded, or, perhaps, knew they had less to fear. Most of the female opinion I heard was not alone unfavourable but actively and viciously hostile to the rising. This was noticeable among the best dressed class of our population; the worst dressed, indeed the female dregs of Dublin life, expressed a like antagonism, and almost in similar language. The view expressed was— 
"I hope every man of them will be shot." 
"They ought to be all shot." 
Shooting, indeed, was proceeding everywhere. During daylight, at least, the sound is not sinister nor depressing, and the thought that perhaps a life had exploded with that crack is not depressing either. 
In the last two years of world-war our ideas on death have undergone a change. It is not now the furtive thing that crawled into your bed and which you fought with pill-boxes and medicine bottles. It has become again a rider of the wind whom you may go coursing with through the fields and open places. All the morbidity is gone, and the sickness, and what remains to Death is now health and excitement. So Dublin laughed at the noise of its own bombardment, and made no moan about its dead—in the sunlight. Afterwards—in the rooms, when the night fell, and instead of silence that mechanical barking of the maxims and the whistle and screams of the rifles, the solemn roar of the heavier guns, and the red glare covering the sky. It is possible that in the night Dublin did not laugh, and that she was gay in the sunlight for no other reason than that the night was past. 
On this day fighting was incessant at Mount Street Bridge. A party of Volunteers had seized three houses covering the bridge and converted these into forts. It is reported that military casualties at this point were very heavy. The Volunteers are said also to hold the South Dublin Union. The soldiers have seized Guinness's Brewery, while their opponents have seized another brewery in the neighbourhood, and between these two there is a continual fusilade. 
Fighting is brisk about Ringsend and along the Canal. Dame Street was said to be held in many places by the Volunteers. I went down Dame Street, but saw no Volunteers, and did not observe any sniping from the houses. Further, as Dame Street is entirely commanded by the roofs and windows of Trinity College, it is unlikely that they should be here. 
It was curious to observe this, at other times, so animated street, broad and deserted, with at the corners of side streets small knots of people watching. Seen from behind, Grattan's Statue in College Green seemed almost alive, and he had the air of addressing warnings and reproaches to Trinity College. 
The Proclamation issued to-day warns all people to remain within doors until five o'clock in the morning, and after seven o'clock at night. 
It is still early. There is no news of any kind, and the rumours begin to catch quickly on each other and to cancel one another out. Dublin is entirely cut off from England, and from the outside world. It is, just as entirely cut off from the rest of Ireland; no news of any kind filters in to us. We are land-locked and sea-locked, but, as yet, it does not much matter. 
Meantime the belief grows that the Volunteers may be able to hold out much longer than had been imagined. The idea at first among the people had been that the insurrection would be ended the morning after it had began. But to-day, the insurrection having lasted three days, people are ready to conceive that it may last for ever. There is almost a feeling of gratitude towards the Volunteers because they are holding out for a little while, for had they been beaten the first or second day the City would have been humiliated to the soul. 
People say: "Of course, they will be beaten." The statement is almost a query, and they continue, "but they are putting up a decent fight." For being beaten does not greatly matter in Ireland, but not fighting does matter. "They went forth always to the battle; and they always fell," Indeed, the history of the Irish race is in that phrase. 
The firing from the roofs of Trinity College became violent. I crossed Dame Street some distance up, struck down the Quays, and went along these until I reached the Ballast Office. Further than this it was not possible to go, for a step beyond the Ballast Office would have brought one into the unending stream of lead that was pouring from Trinity and other places. I was looking on O'Connell Bridge and Sackville Street, and the house facing me was Kelly's—a red-brick fishing tackle shop, one half of which was on the Quay and the other half in Sackville Street. This house was being bombarded. 
I counted the report of six different machine guns which played on it. Rifles innumerable and from every sort of place were potting its windows, and at intervals of about half a minute the shells from a heavy gun lobbed in through its windows or thumped mightily against its walls. 
For three hours that bombardment continued, and the walls stood in a cloud of red dust and smoke. Rifle and machine gun bullets pattered over every inch of it, and, unfailingly the heavy gun pounded its shells through the windows. 
One's heart melted at the idea that human beings were crouching inside that volcano of death, and I said to myself, "Not even a fly can be alive in that house." 
No head showed at any window, no rifle cracked from window or roof in reply. The house was dumb, lifeless, and I thought every one of those men are dead. 
It was then, and quite suddenly, that the possibilities of street fighting flashed on me, and I knew there was no person in the house, and said to myself, "They have smashed through the walls with a hatchet and are sitting in the next house, or they have long ago climbed out by the skylight and are on a roof half a block away." Then the thought came to me—they have and hold the entire of Sackville Street down to the Post Office. Later on this proved to be the case, and I knew at this moment that Sackville Street was doomed. 
I continued to watch the bombardment, but no longer with the anguish which had before torn me. Near by there were four men, and a few yards away, clustered in a laneway, there were a dozen others. An agitated girl was striding from the farther group to the one in which I was, and she addressed the men in the most obscene language which I have ever heard. She addressed them man by man, and she continued to speak and cry and scream at them with all that obstinate, angry patience of which only a woman is capable. 
She cursed us all. She called down diseases on every human being in the world excepting only the men who were being bombarded. She demanded of the folk in the laneway that they should march at least into the roadway and prove that they were proud men and were not afraid of bullets. She had been herself into the danger zone. Had stood herself in the track of the guns, and had there cursed her fill for half an hour, and she desired that the men should do at least what she had done. 
This girl was quite young—about nineteen years of age—and was dressed in the customary shawl and apron of her class. Her face was rather pretty, or it had that pretty slenderness and softness of outline which belong to youth. But every sentence she spoke contained half a dozen indecent words. Alas, it was only that her vocabulary was not equal to her emotions, and she did not know how to be emphatic without being obscene—it is the cause of most of the meaningless swearing one hears every day. She spoke to me for a minute, and her eyes were as soft as those of a kitten and her language was as gentle as her eyes. She wanted a match to light a cigarette, but I had none, and said that I also wanted one. In a few minutes she brought me a match, and then she recommenced her tireless weaving of six vile words into hundreds of stupid sentences. 
About five o'clock the guns eased off of Kelly's. 
To inexperienced eyes they did not seem to have done very much damage, but afterwards one found that although the walls were standing and apparently solid there was no inside to the house. From roof to basement the building was bare as a dog kennel. There were no floors inside, there was nothing there but blank space; and on the ground within was the tumble and rubbish that had been roof and floors and furniture. Everything inside was smashed and pulverised into scrap and dust, and the only objects that had consistency and their ancient shape were the bricks that fell when the shells struck them. 
Rifle shots had begun to strike the house on the further side of the street, a jewellers' shop called Hopkins & Hopkins. The impact of these balls on the bricks was louder than the sound of the shot which immediately succeeded, and each bullet that struck brought down a shower of fine red dust from the walls. Perhaps thirty or forty shots in all were fired at Hopkins', and then, except for an odd crack, firing ceased. 
During all this time there had been no reply from the Volunteers, and I thought they must be husbanding their ammunition, and so must be short of it, and that it would be only a matter of a few days before the end. All this, I said to myself, will be finished in a few days, and they will be finished; life here will recommence exactly where it left off, and except for some newly-filled graves, all will be as it had been until they become a tradition and enter the imagination of their race. 
I spoke to several of the people about me, and found the same willingness to exchange news that I had found elsewhere in the City, and the same reticences as regarded their private opinions. Two of them, indeed, and they were the only two I met with during the insurrection, expressed, although in measured terms, admiration for the Volunteers, and while they did not side with them they did not say anything against them. One was a labouring man, the other a gentleman. The remark of the latter was: 
"I am an Irishman, and (pointing to the shells that were bursting through the windows in front of us) I hate to see that being done to other Irishmen." 
He had come from some part of the country to spend the Easter Holidays in Dublin, and was unable to leave town again. 
The labouring man—he was about fifty-six years of age—spoke very quietly and collectedly about the insurrection. He was a type with whom I had come very little in contact, and I was surprised to find how simple and good his speech was, and how calm his ideas. He thought labour was in this movement to a greater extent than was imagined. I mentioned that Liberty Hall had been blown up, and that the garrison had either surrendered or been killed. He replied that a gunboat had that morning come up the river and had blown Liberty Hall into smash, but, he added, there were no men in it. All the Labour Volunteers had marched with Connolly into the Post Office. 
He said the Labour Volunteers might possibly number about one thousand men, but that it would be quite safe to say eight hundred, and he held that the Labour Volunteers, or the Citizens' Army, as they called themselves, had always been careful not to reveal their numbers. They had always announced that they possessed about two hundred and fifty men, and had never paraded any more than that number at any one time. Workingmen, he continued, knew that the men who marched were always different men. The police knew it, too, but they thought that the Citizens Army was the most deserted-from force in the world. 
The men, however, were not deserters—you don't, he said, desert a man like Connolly, and they were merely taking their turn at being drilled and disciplined. They were raised against the police who, in the big strike of two years ago, had acted towards them with unparallelled savagery, and the men had determined that the police would never again find them thus disorganised. 
This man believed that every member of the Citizen Army had marched with their leader. 
"The men, I know," said he, "would not be afraid of anything, and," he continued, "they are in the Post Office now." 
"What chance have they?" 
"None," he replied, "and they never said they had, and they never thought they would have any." 
"How long do you think they'll be able to hold out?" 
He nodded towards the house that had been bombarded by heavy guns. 
"That will root them out of it quick enough," was his reply. 
"I'm going home," said he then, "the people will be wondering if I'm dead or alive," and he walked away from that sad street, as I did myself a few minutes afterwards."
Source here.

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