April 07, 2015

Easter Tuesday 1916 by James Stephens

James Stephens by Sir William Rothenstein
Ninety-nine years ago the Dublin writer James Stephens lived and worked and wrote in and about Dublin. He was there on Easter Monday when the Rising leaders and rebels commandeered the GPO and other landmark buildings across Dublin in a failed attempt to overthrow British rule. He recorded the Saturday and Sunday that preceded the bloodshed, and gave and an account of Day One, Easter Monday 1916 here. He carried on and documented each of fighting that followed. And here you can read in full his experience of the Easter Tuesday, Day Two of the Easter Rising, the 6 days that would change Ireland forever. Compared with Easter 2015 when skies are open blue, the weather of 1916 was markedly more inclement. James Stephens began:
"A sultry, lowering day, and dusk skies fat with rain. 
I left for my office, believing that the insurrection was at an end. At a corner I asked a man was it all finished. He said it was not, and that, if anything, it was worse. 
On this day the rumours began, and I think it will be many a year before the rumours cease. The Irish Times published an edition which contained nothing but an official Proclamation that evily-disposed persons had disturbed the peace, and that the situation was well in hand. The news stated in three lines that there was a Sinn Fein rising in Dublin, and that the rest of the country was quiet. 
No English or country papers came. There was no delivery or collection of letters. All the shops in the City were shut. There was no traffic of any kind in the streets. There was no way of gathering any kind of information, and rumour gave all the news. 
It seemed that the Military and the Government had been taken unawares. It was Bank Holiday, and many military officers had gone to the races, or were away on leave, and prominent members of the Irish Government had gone to England on Sunday. 
It appeared that everything claimed on the previous day was true, and that the City of Dublin was entirely in the hands of the Volunteers. They had taken and sacked Jacob's Biscuit Factory, and had converted it into a fort which they held. They had the Post Office, and were building baricades around it ten feet high of sandbags, cases, wire entanglements. They had pushed out all the windows and sandbagged them to half their height, while cart-loads of food, vegetables and ammunition were going in continually. They had dug trenches and were laying siege to one of the city barracks. 
It was current that intercourse between Germany and Ireland had been frequent chiefly by means of submarines, which came up near the coast and landed machine guns, rifles and ammunition. It was believed also that the whole country had risen, and that many strong places and cities were in the hands of the Volunteers. Cork Barracks was said to be taken while the officers were away at the Curragh races, that the men without officers were disorganised, and the place easily captured. 
It was said that Germans, thousands strong, had landed, and that many Irish Americans with German officers had arrived also with full military equipment. 
On the previous day the Volunteers had proclaimed the Irish Republic. This ceremony was conducted from the Mansion House steps, and the manifesto was said to have been read by Pearse, of St. Enda's. The Republican and Volunteer flag was hoisted on the Mansion House. The latter consisted of vertical colours of green, white and orange. Kerry wireless station was reported captured, and news of the Republic flashed abroad. These rumours were flying in the street. 
It was also reported that two transports had come in the night and had landed from England about 8,000 soldiers. An attack reported on the Post Office by a troop of lancers who were received with fire and repulsed. It is foolish to send cavalry into street war. 
In connection with this lancer charge at the Post Office it is said that 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?" 
There were other angry ladies who threatened Volunteers, addressing to them this petrifying query: 
"Would you be hurting the poor horses?" 
Indeed, the best people in the world live in Dublin. 
The lancers retreated to the bottom of Sackville Street, where they remained for some time in the centre of a crowd who were carressing their horses. It may have seemed to them a rather curious kind of insurrection--that is, if they were strangers to Ireland. 
In the Post Office neighbourhood the Volunteers had some difficulty in dealing with the people who surged about them while they were preparing the barricade, and hindered them to some little extent. One of the Volunteers was particularly noticeable. He held a lady's umbrella in his hand, and whenever some person became particularly annoying he would leap the barricade and chase his man half a street, hitting him over the head with the umbrella. It was said that the wonder of the world was not that Ireland was at war, but that after many hours the umbrella was still unbroken. A Volunteer night attack on the Quays was spoken of, whereat the military were said to have been taken by surprise and six carts of their ammunition captured. This was probably untrue. Also, that the Volunteers had blown up the Arsenal in the Phoenix Park. 
There had been looting in the night about Sackville Street, and it was current that the Volunteers had shot twenty of the looters. 
The shops attacked were mainly haberdashers, shoe shops, and sweet shops. Very many sweet shops were raided, and until the end of the rising sweet shops were the favourite mark of the looters. There is something comical in this looting of sweet shops--something almost innocent and child-like. Possibly most of the looters are children who are having the sole gorge of their lives. They have tasted sweetstuffs they had never toothed before, and will never taste again in this life, and until they die the insurrection of 1916 will have a sweet savour for them. 
I went to the Green. At the corner of Merrion Row a horse was lying on the footpath surrounded by blood. He bore two bullet wounds, but the blood came from his throat which had been cut. 
Inside the Green railings four bodies could be seen lying on the ground. They were dead Volunteers. 
The rain was falling now persistently, and persistently from the Green and from the Shelbourne Hotel snipers were exchanging bullets. Some distance beyond the Shelbourne I saw another Volunteer stretched out on a seat just within the railings. He was not dead, for, now and again, his hand moved feebly in a gesture for aid; the hand was completely red with blood. His face could not be seen. He was just a limp mass, upon which the rain beat pitilessly, and he was sodden and shapeless, and most miserable to see. His companions could not draw him in for the spot was covered by the snipers from the Shelbourne. Bystanders stated that several attempts had already been made to rescue him, but that he would have to remain there until the fall of night. 
From Trinity College windows and roof there was also sniping, but the Shelbourne Hotel riflemen must have seriously troubled the Volunteers in the Green. 
As I went back I stayed a while in front of the hotel to count the shots that had struck the windows. There were fourteen shots through the ground windows. The holes were clean through, each surrounded by a star--the bullets went through but did not crack the glass. There were three places in which the windows had holes half a foot to a foot wide and high. Here many rifles must have fired at the one moment. It must have been as awkward inside the Shelbourne Hotel as it was inside the Green. 
A lady who lived in Baggot Street said she had been up all night, and, with her neighbours, had supplied tea and bread to the soldiers who were lining the street. The officer to whom she spoke had made two or three attacks to draw fire and estimate the Volunteers' positions, numbers, &c., and he told her that he considered there were 3,000 well-armed Volunteers in the Green, and as he had only 1,000 soldiers, he could not afford to deliver a real attack, and was merely containing them. 
Amiens Street station reported recaptured by the military; other stations are said to be still in the Volunteers' possession. 
The story goes that about twelve o'clock on Monday an English officer had marched into the Post Office and demanded two penny stamps from the amazed Volunteers who were inside. He thought their uniforms were postal uniforms. They brought him in, and he is probably still trying to get a perspective on the occurrence. They had as prisoners in the Post Office a certain number of soldiers, and rumour had it that these men accommodated themselves quickly to duress, and were busily engaged peeling potatoes for the meal which they would partake of later on with the Volunteers. 
Earlier in the day I met a wild individual who spat rumour as though his mouth were a machine gun or a linotype machine. He believed everything he heard; and everything he heard became as by magic favourable to his hopes, which were violently anti-English. One unfavourable rumour was instantly crushed by him with three stories which were favourable and triumphantly so. He said the Germans had landed in three places. One of these landings alone consisted of fifteen thousand men. The other landings probably beat that figure. The whole City of Cork was in the hands of the Volunteers, and, to that extent, might be said to be peaceful. German warships had defeated the English, and their transports were speeding from every side. The whole country was up, and the garrison was out-numbered by one hundred to one. These Dublin barracks which had not been taken were now besieged and on the point of surrender. 
I think this man created and winged every rumour that flew in Dublin, and he was the sole individual whom I heard definitely taking a side. He left me, and, looking back, I saw him pouring his news into the ear of a gaping stranger whom he had arrested for the purpose. I almost went back to hear would he tell the same tale or would he elaborate it into a new thing, for I am interested in the art of story-telling. 
At eleven o'clock the rain ceased, and to it succeeded a beautiful night, gusty with wind, and packed with sailing clouds and stars. We were expecting visitors this night, but the sound of guns may have warned most people away. Three only came, and with them we listened from my window to the guns at the Green challenging and replying to each other, and to where, further away, the Trinity snipers were crackling, and beyond again to the sounds of war from Sackville Street. The firing was fairly heavy, and often the short rattle of machine guns could be heard. 
One of the stories told was that the Volunteers had taken the South Dublin Union Workhouse, occupied it, and trenched the grounds. They were heavily attacked by the military, who, at a loss of 150 men, took the place. The tale went that towards the close the officer in command offered them terms of surrender, but the Volunteers replied that they were not there to surrender. They were there to be killed. The garrison consisted of fifty men, and the story said that fifty men were killed."
Read about Day One here.

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