The Unmanageables

REVOLUTIONARY WOMAN OF IRELAND
'They are at once the boldest and the most unmanageable of revolutionaries.' Eamon de Valera

Thursday, March 30, 2006

POBLACHT NA H EIREANN

POBLACHT NA H EIREANN
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THE PROVISIONAL GOVERNMENT OF THE IRISH REPUBLIC TO THE PEOPLE OF IRELAND IRISHMEN AND IRISHWOMEN:
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In the name of God and of the dead generations from which she receives her old tradition of nationhood, Ireland, through us, summons her children to her flag and strikes for her freedom.

Having organised and trained her manhood through her secret revolutionary organisation, the Irish Republican Brotherhood, and through her open military organisations, the Irish Volunteers and the Irish Citizen Army, having patiently perfected her discipline, having resolutely waited for the right moment to reveal itself, she now seizes that moment, and, supported by her exiled children in America and by gallant allies in Europe, but relying in the first on her own strength, she strikes in full confidence of victory.

We declare the right of the people of Ireland to the ownership of Ireland, and to the unfettered control of Irish destinies, to be sovereign and indefeasible. The long usurpation of that right by a foreign people and government has not extinguished the right, nor can it ever be extinguished except by the destruction of the Irish people. In every generation the Irish people have asserted their right to national freedom and sovereignty; six times during the last three hundred years they have asserted it to arms. Standing on that fundamental right and again asserting it in arms in the face of the world, we hereby proclaim the Irish Republic as a Sovereign Independent State, and we pledge our lives and the lives of our comrades-in-arms to the cause of its freedom, of its welfare, and of its exaltation among the nations.

The Irish Republic is entitled to, and hereby claims, the allegiance of every Irishman and Irishwoman. The Republic guarantees religious and civil liberty, equal rights and equal opportunities to all its citizens, and declares its resolve to pursue the happiness and prosperity of the whole nation and all of its parts, cherishing all of the children of the nation equally and oblivious of the differences carefully fostered by an alien government, which have divided a minority from the majority in the past.

Until our arms have brought the opportune moment for the establishment of a permanent National, representative of the whole people of Ireland and elected by the suffrages of all her men and women, the Provisional Government, hereby constituted, will administer the civil and military affairs of the Republic in trust for the people.

We place the cause of the Irish Republic under the protection of the Most High God. Whose blessing we invoke upon our arms, and we pray that no one who serves that cause will dishonour it by cowardice, in humanity, or rapine. In this supreme hour the Irish nation must, by its valour and discipline and by the readiness of its children to sacrifice themselves for the common good, prove itself worthy of the august destiny to which it is called.



Signed on Behalf of the Provisional Government:
Thomas J. Clarke, Sean Mac Diarmada, Thomas MacDonagh, P. H. Pearse, Eamonn Ceannt, James Connolly, Joseph Plunkett

Some Revolutionary Woman of 1916

Hanna Sheehy-Skeffington

Hanna Sheehy-Skeffington was born on 27 May 1877 in Kanturk, Co. Cork. She belonged to a prosperous farming and milling family. Her father, David Sheehy (1844-1932), was a member of the IRB and later an MP, and had been imprisoned no less than six times for revolutionary activities. Her uncle was the renowned Land League priest, Fr Eugene Sheehy. When the family moved to Dublin in 1887, Hanna attended the Dominican Convent in Eccles Street. She was one of the first of a new generation of women to graduate from an Irish university, being conferred with a BA in languages from the Catholic St Mary’s University College for Women in 1899. She went on to study for a period in France and Germany and took an MA in modern languages in Dublin in 1902. She taught for a period in the Rathmines School of Commerce. In June 1903 she married Francis Skeffington (1878–1916), a university registrar who was prominent as a controversial journalist with socialist and pacifist sympathies. He was a vegetarian and a teetotaller. He proved a beloved companion who was both kind and humorous.
Hanna Sheehy-Skeffington was a very talented orator. She was well versed in international as well as Irish national affairs and was influential in literary, political, pacifist, and feminist movements. Her independence of thought and her wit brought acclaim from all. She founded the Women Graduates’ Association (1901). She and her husband were deeply involved in the suffragette movement and, with Margaret Cousins, they founded the militant Irish Women’s Franchise League in 1908. She was much condemned in 1909 for refusing to allow her newborn son, Owen Lancelot, to be baptised.
She contributed articles on education and feminist issues to the Nation newspaper and the Bean na hÉireann journal. In 1912 she and her husband founded the influential paper the Irish Citizen, aiming to promote the rights and responsibilities of citizenship for both sexes. She contributed many articles in support of Irish women’s right to vote. In 1911 she was the founding member of the Irish Women’s Workers’ Union. She was imprisoned for five days in 1912 for breaking several window panes of the War Office in protest at the exclusion of women from the franchise in the Third Home Rule Bill. She was a close associate of the labour leader James Connolly. During the Dublin 1913 lock-out, she worked in the soup kitchen set up in Liberty Hall, the Dublin headquarters of the Irish Transport and General Workers Union. She was jailed again, this time for assaulting a policeman, while attempting to leaflet the Conservative leader, Bonar Law, in Dublin. She went on hunger strike and was released after five days.
A pacifist like her husband, she supported him in his campaign against conscription at the beginning of the First World War, an activity for which he got gaol. During the Easter Rising of 1916 she carried messages to the GPO where her uncle, Fr Eugene Sheehy, gave spiritual aid to the rebels. Her husband, though an Irish nationalist, opposed attempts by the Irish Volunteers and the Citizen Army to overthrow British rule by force. He was arrested on 25 April while trying to prevent looting in Dublin. He was detained that night and the next morning, was taken from his cell by Captain J. C. Bowen-Colthurst of the Royal Irish Rifles. With two other prisoners, Sheehy-Skeffington was taken into the barracks yard and shot without trial. Hanna immediately began to campaign for justice, forcing the Royal Commission to hold an inquiry, which led to the court-martial of her husband’s killer. She refused compensation of £10,000 from the British army for the killing of her husband. On 8 May 1916 Francis Sheehy-Skeffington’s body, which had been buried at Portobello Barracks, was exhumed and reburied in Glasnevin cemetery in Dublin.
Hanna undertook a lecture tour of the USA in December 1916. During the next two years she spoke widely in support of Sinn Féin and of Irish independence. She spoke at over 250 meetings and succeeded in raising significant funds for Michael Collins. She published a pamphlet called British militarism as I have known it, which was banned in Ireland and England until after the First World War. In July 1917 she returned secretly to Ireland. In January 1918, on behalf of Cumann na mBan, she personally presented Ireland’s claim for self-determination to President Wilson. Upon her return to Ireland she was arrested and imprisoned together with Mrs Kathleen Clarke, Countess Markievicz and Maud Gonne-MacBride in Holloway Gaol, London. They were released after a hunger strike.
In 1917 she was appointed to the executive of Sinn Féin. In 1919 she published Sinn Féin in America. During 1920 she acted as judge in the Republican courts in south Dublin. In the same year she was elected Sinn Féin councillor on Dublin Corporation. She was also an executive member of the White Cross Fund set up to aid needy families of Volunteers involved in the War of Independence. With many other suffragettes, she rejected the Anglo-Irish Treaty. She supported Republicans in the Civil War as a member of Women’s Prisoners’ Defence League. She was appointed to the first executive of Fianna Fáil in 1926 but resigned the following year in protest against de Valera who agreed take the oath in order to enter the Dáil.
In 1930 she went on a six-week tour of Russia. A year later, she took over as editor of the Republican File, a republican-socialist journal, after the jailing of its editor Frank Ryan. Subsequently she became assistant editor of An Phoblacht, the organ of the Irish Republican Army. She was jailed yet again for a month for demanding the release of republican prisoners and protesting against partition at a public meeting in Newry, Co. Down.
In 1935, as a speaker for the Women’s Graduates Association, she opposed the Conditions of Employment Bill which feminists considered a draconian measure against women workers. She objected to the place of women in de Valera’s Constitution of 1937. She was a founder of the Women’s Social and Progressive League, a party which came into being after a mass protest of women at the Mansion House, Dublin. It failed to win significant support although it campaigned strongly in the 1938 general election. In 1943, at the age of sixty-six, she stood as an independent candidate in the general elections, demanding equality for women. None of the four feminist candidates received any support from the electorate.
Hanna Sheehy-Skeffington spent the remainder of her life fighting for the rights of the individual, for workers, for the republic, and most consistently, for the feminist cause. She died in Dublin in April 1946 and was buried in Glasnevin. Her sisters, Mary and Kathleen, were married to Thomas Kettle and Conor Cruise O’Brien respectively


Kathleen Clarke

Kathleen Clarke, formerly Kathleen Daly from Limerick, liked people to address her by her married name, Mrs Tom Clarke. Her gravestone reads: Chaitlin Ui Chleirigh, Baintreach, Tomáis S UÍ Cléirigh, a básaíodh i mBaile Átha Cliath, Bealtaine 3 1916. [Kathleen Clarke, widow, Thomas S Clarke, died in Dublin, 3 May 1916.]
She was the first Lady Mayoress of Dublin, a TD, and a Senator but there is no mention of these facts on her gravestone. Yet her contribution was important enough to warrant a State funeral, which was recorded on film.
In 1901 at the age of 23, Kathleen Daly married a man 20 years her senior. Tom Clarke had served a 15 year sentence in England for treason. The couple had three sons - John Daly Clarke (b1902), Tom Junior (b.1908) and Emmet (b1910). Tom Clarke's involvement in nationalist politics culminated in his participation in the 1916 Rising, and his subsequent execution. Kathleen's only brother Edward (Ned) Daly was another of the leaders to be executed.
Kathleen was a founder member of Cumann na mBan. She did not take part in the Rising as she had been selected by the Irish Republican Brotherhood to coordinate the distribution of support for the families of activists. Afterwards she was a key organizer in the aid distributed to prisoners' dependants, which was vital to establishing a network of sympathisers in the years of guerrilla war that followed.
During the War of Independence, she was an active fund-raiser, she sheltered men and women on the run and worked as a District Justice in the Sinn Féin courts in Dublin for the north city circuit, and also as Chairman of the Judges on this circuit. In 1919 she was elected Alderman for Dublin Corporation. In this capacity she served on numerous committees and boards. She was also active in the White Cross, a non-political organisation set up in 1920 to assist the families of Volunteers.
Although she opposed the Treaty, she was Chairman of a committee that tried unsuccessfully to negotiate a pact between Anti-Treaty and Pro-Treaty sides. The Irish Free State authorities imprisoned her for a short time in Kilmainham Jail in February 1923. In 1924 Kathleen went to the United States to lecture and raise funds on behalf of Republicans.
A founder member of Fianna Fáil, between 1928-1936 she served in the Senate. She was Dublin's first female Lord Mayor, 1939-1943. In 1948, at the age of 70, she stood unsuccessfully for the Clann na Poblachta party. Throughout the 1940s she served on numerous hospital boards and the National Graves Association.
In 1965 she left Ireland to live with her youngest son Emmet and his family in Liverpool, although she did return to Dublin in 1966 for the 50th anniversary celebrations of the Rising. She died in Liverpool on the 29 September 1972 aged ninety-four.




Kathleen Florence Lynn

Commanding Officer at City Hall garrison in 1916 and also the founder of St Ultan's, the first infant hospital in Dublin. She chose a profession at a time when many prejudices existed against female doctors. In 1899 she received her medical degree from the Royal University and obtained a post-graduate degree in the US. She was the first female resident at the Victoria Eye and Ear Hospital in Dublin.
In 1904 she became a GP practising from 9 Belgrave Road, Rathmines. She supported the Lock Out of 1913 and as a result joined the Irish Citizen Army. In the 1916 Rising she was Chief Medical Officer in the City Hall garrison, but when the Officer Commanding was shot, she, as next highest-ranking officer, took over the garrison.
She was elected to the Sinn Féin Executive in 1917. Active in the War of Independence, she was arrested in 1918 but was released to assist with the Flu Epedemic.
In 1919 she established St Ultan’s Hospital with the help of her friend Madeleine ffrench Mullen. At the outset, only women staffed the hospital. Kathleen pioneered the use of the BCG vaccination over ten years before it was in general use in Ireland. She promoted the work of Maria Montessori who visited St Ultan’s in 1934, and established a Montessori ward in the hospital.
Elected to the Dáil, but having opposed the Treaty of 1921, she did not take her seat. By 1926 she distanced herself from politics and concentrated on her hospital. She remained as a member of Rathmines Urban District Council until 1930.
Always a humanitarian, she was Vice President of Save the German Children, an organisation which located homes for German children in Ireland during the Second World War.
She continued to work as a doctor until she was over eighty.




Winifred Carney

Winifred Carney was a suffragist and an advocate for trade unions who was working as James Connolly's secretary at the time of the Uprising. She was the only woman who participated in the initial occupation of the Grand Post Office, where the ICA set up its headquarters during the revolt. She was well known not only for her loyalty to the ICA and to Connelly, but also for her reputation of being a crack shot

More Revolutionary Woman of 1916

Helena Moloney
Helena Molony was also an active Irish woman before, during, and after the Easter Uprising. She was involved in the early years of Cumann na mBan and edited the women's newspaper Bean na hEireann. She later served as an officer in the Irish Citizen Army and was part of the armed group that stormed Dublin Castle during the Uprising. She too was imprisoned after the revolt, and attempted to escape using a spoon to dig a tunnel. She failed, and as a result the female prisoners were no longer allowed to eat with utensils. She remained lifelong friends and activists with Constance Markievicz.

Elizabeth O'Farrell
Elizabeth O'Farrell was another Cumann na mBan member who soon became part of the Irish Citizen Army. She served as a courier both before and during the Uprising, and transported many important documents throughout the countryside, spreading the news of the rebellion. When the time came she was chosen to deliver the orders of surrender first to the British commander and then to the ICA troops throughout Dublin. She was one of only five women detained for any length of time in British prisons after the Uprising.
Constance Markievicz
Constance Markievicz was a countess in a well-off aristocratic family. She became active first in the women's suffrage movement and soon after she joined Cumann na mBan and the Irish Citizen Army. She served as an officer during the war and actively participated in militant acts. She was arrested during the war and sentenced to death - as were all of the male ICA officers. The sentence was immediately reduced to life imprisonment because of her sex, and she only served jailtime until December of 1917. The conditions in the British jail in which she was imprisoned were extremely harsh, and she spent the rest of her life fighting to improve the prison system. She is one of the most well-known figures of the Easter Uprising, and much of Irish folklore has been centered around her character ever since.



Detail of women activists 1916,
Madeline Ffrench Mullen front left and Dr. Kathleen Lynn third right. Image courtesy of the Kilmainham Gaol Collection..

Nora (Gillies) O’Daly Eye Witness Account of 1916

Now when so many have set the good example of publishing, in one form or another, their experiences and sensations during that memorable Easter of 1916 and the events prior to that date perhaps I may be forgiven for seeking in the storehouse of my memory, humble and unheroic though my own part was during those thrilling times, to bring to light, ere the recollections become too dim and faded, incidents which may be of interest to others as having connection with that time, which we now look back upon with a smile that is very nearly akin to tears.

Many marvellously self-sacrificing souls took their place gladly by Ireland in her brief struggle, but of all these noble men and women the memory of the heroic figures of Tom Clarke and Sean McDermott stir my heart more poignantly than any. May God be good to them
Sean McDermott never faltered in his striving for freedom, in spite of continual ill health, both these men’s personality was such as to call forth unswerving allegiance and brought out the best in everybody.

Early Training

In 1915 a Branch of Cumann na mBan was started in Fairview, at the inaugural meeting of which I was present. Some ladies of the Executive were there, a committee was formed and our little Cumann began its good work. Our principal study was First Aid. We also did a course in rifle cleaning and sighting, drill and various other things which might prove useful in assisting the men of Battn. 2 to which our Cumann was "attached". Miss Molly Reynolds was our Commandant and Secretary, and we worked hard, attending no matter what the weather and often sitting at Committee meetings when our feet were wet and frozen after plunging through the floods which often inundated Father Matthew Park, where we held our meetings. Comdt. Frank Henderson was in charge of "F" Coy., Battn. 2 during this time, and I was struck by his good nature and cheerfulness. Nothing ever seemed to put him out and he listened to all requests and complaints with his ever ready smile and always did his best to make matters right for everybody.

Seven months of training in Cumann na mBan in brought us right up against the events of Easter Week. On Easter Saturday three girls and myself were detailed off to watch the Magazine Fort in the Park, bringing in all information as to the number on guard change of guard, visits by officers how and when they were made &c., and I believe we accomplished our mission satisfactorily.

Two of us went up and lounged about the place for some hours chatting with the soldiers on guard, thereby gleaning all the information required. In the course of conversation one of the soldiers remarked that "it is only a matter of form guarding this place, as nothing will ever happen here". We felt very satisfied with what we had learned and strolled of shortly after the other two girls appeared on the scene, without exchanging any sign of recognition with them.

Easter Monday Morning

Easter Saturday was spent in completing all preparations for turning out first thing on Sunday morning. What then was our dismay and consternation when we saw the countermanding order the Sunday papers contained. We came to the conclusion that it was probably a hoax, designed for the purpose of causing confusion in the ranks and resolved to act as if it were a fact. I went to Father Matthew Park and there learned that the news was all too heartbreakingly true.
Comdt. Tom Hunter O/C Battn. 2 was at the Park and upon hearing my declaration that I refused to go home without orders from " our own Commandant" turned around and said "but I am your Commandant; I am in charge of Battn 2" I hadn’t the heart to tell him that I was very well aware of the fact, but that it was Commandant Molly Reynolds that I referred to.
After some further conversation I saw the uselessness of waiting around Father Matthew Park, and upon being assured that it was only a postponement I returned to our own house "Clunny" which was at the time a regular arsenal of bombs which had been made on the premises, dynamite, gelignite, rifles, bayonets, ammunition and what not.
A car ought to have called to the house to collect all these munitions of war, but the cancellation order upset these arrangements and the owner of the car had gone off in it to have a nice holiday in the country.

As I was finishing a tardy breakfast on Easter Monday morning two girls came to me with the long-looked-for Mobilisation Order, instructing me to call for two more of our members on route. Miss Bridget Murtagh and Miss May Moore. We were to report to the South side of Stephen’s Green without delay.

This order was duly carried out. A Pillar-bound tram was boarded, and when we arrived in O’Connell Street the G.P.O. had already been taken and we could hear the cheers of the newly arrived garrison. Feeling that matters were going ahead rapidly we boarded another car and found ourselves speedily at our post, but to our surprise and disappointment there was no sign of Battn. 2., which we fondly believed were to join us at this point. The Green was already in possession of a small number of the Citizen Army led by Comdt. Malin and Countess Markievicz.

In Stephen’s Green

After lingering around for some time in the hope of coming in touch with our contingent we entered the green and were met by Mme. Markievicz who said if we cared to "throw in our lot with theirs" we would be welcome, as they were rather short of First Aid. This we eventually did, as no other course seemed open to us, and after all we were fighting for the same cause.
I admit that I for one was disappointed in having to make that decision. Here all were strangers (Mme. Markievicz, of course, I had some acquaintance with) and somehow one cannot feel the same confidence in people previously unknown.

The Green, even to a mind untrained in military matters, looked a regular death-trap, and although I was quite to die to help to free Ireland, I saw no reason in doing so if I could help it before I had accomplished the purpose which had brought me hither, namely, to render all the assistance possible to the wounded and to save life wherever possible.
The idea of bloodshed had always been repugnant to me, although the sight of blood has no effect whatever on my nerves, but I considered England’s domination of this country immoral, built on a system of tyranny, favouritism, lying and fraud. In short I believed Ireland belonged to the Irish people, and was willing to go to any lengths in securing our separation, and set about my task with sublime self confidence and belief in my own capabilities – no wonder one smiles on looking back.

We were admitted to the Green by as well as I can recollect, a Capt. Poole, who upon learning our mission directed us to the little summer-house near the centre of the Green. Then we met for the first time with Miss Ffrench–Mullen, and I remember very distinctly how all my doubts and anxieties were dissipated in a moment when I caught sight of this plucky lady. I thought I had never seen a face so calculated to inspire confidence and trust. Honesty, bravery and a quiet confidence were plainly perceptible in her glance and expression. She welcomed us with joy and relief, and repeated the fact that they were rather short of First Aid assistance. We had our haversacks with us in which were a supply of iodine, bandages and such like indispensable articles.

All the time shots were ringing out from the various points in the city and we were told that the Shelbourne Hotel was occupied by British officers, who were using it as a position for sniping into the Green. Trenches were being dug inside the gate and reinforcements kept arriving in small numbers. We were told by someone that the party that took over the Green numbered 30.
A young lady that was accompanied by a British Flying officer was strolling through the Green and sat on a seat to watch proceedings at their leisure. The girl was told to go home, and her escort that to consider himself under arrest, but the fair maiden replied that they would wait until the manoeuvres were over, that it would not disturb them in the least and it was some time before we could persuade them that matters were serious.

During the course of the evening some prisoners were brought in. One a big military man, who was accompanied by some ladies, looked very aggrieved and when the order to search him was given his face was a study, his reason for the emotion was explained when an enormous wad of bank notes was pulled from his pocket, and his bewilderment was complete when they were immediately returned intact. This officer declared that he was a military doctor (which I doubted after he had expressed his opinion on a man whose arm was in a sling and being contradicted on all points said, "well this man is in pain anyway and should be in hospital"). He was released along with his companions owing to the lack of accommodation and effective guard, and very shortly after his exit from the scene the enemy got our range.

Other prisoners were Mr. L. Kettle and Mr. Ashmore, the latter a British Army Red Cross man, who acted very decently throughout. We had our first casualty that night a young chap named O’Brien having been shot in the neck, where the bullet apparently had lodged. He appeared to be suffering greatly and sinking fast. Our difficulty was that if we lit a lamp to examine our patient we would in all probability draw the enemy fire, so we decided to take him into the potting shed where we managed to attend to him, although we were very cramped for room. Having overcome the immediate danger he was removed to hospital to have the bullet extracted. Some civilians volunteered to carry the stretcher to and stepped forward for their burden saying "God bless the work". How wonderfully encouraging that short phrase was.
Monday night passed by some lying on the seats of the summer-house, the rest of us lay on the cold ground and strange to say a toothache I had suffered from for over a year left me that night never to return. I do not know to this day if I slept, but I remember laughing, in spite of myself at a girl named Bridie Goff, who kept making the most comical remarks anent the snipers who were disturbing her sleep.

On Tuesday morning came the order to evacuate the Green and get into the College of Surgeons. Women and girls were told to go first in batches of twos and threes and to get over the intervening ground as rapidly as possible. Bullets were flying everywhere and sending the gravel up in showers off the path. We managed to get to the College in safety however, and were amazed to find people out sightseeing, some of whom remarked, "Look at them running with no hats on them." Could this happen anywhere but in Dublin?

Arrived in the College we found it in the hands of a small part of the Citizen Army, who were holding it for us. Windows were barricaded and everything possible was done to make the place impregnable. I found my hands full in fitting up a suitable First Aid Department, as I had been put in charge of this section. We had some very serious cases, my first patient (Doherty) having received fifteen wounds. The large blind upon which lantern slides were shown (to illustrate lectures in the College) was drawn down and that end of the lecture room was sectioned off for Red Cross work only, no one but First Aid assistants being allowed past the barrier. These consisted of Miss Rosie Hackett, Miss. B. Murtagh, and myself; later on a Mr. Owen Carton rendered valuable assistance, and still later in the week we were joined by another Cumann na mBan helper, who had been until then engaged elsewhere.

Casualties

On Wednesday evening, we had a visit from a doctor, who when he learned that I had not been known to sleep since I entered the Green insisted on injecting something (I believe opium) into my arm. After a wordy battle I submitted and slept in peace (such peace!) until about four in the morning when I was called to attend on Miss M Skinnider who was very badly wounded. This girl showed wonderful bravery during the whole week and bore her frightful wounds with the greatest fortitude.

I had a rather narrow escape during the week, I cannot remember which day, a shot-gun being accidentally fired and the charge passing quite close to me. I did not realise how "near to it" I was until my attention was drawn by a boy named Keogh (Christian name forgotten). He had a very bad wound in the wrist himself, and had got eight stitches in his wrist without an anaesthetic and he stood it like a hero.

Another man named Murray was very badly wounded, a missile having entered under the eye. He also bore his sufferings without a murmur. He was removed to hospital after receiving First Aid, but died there three weeks later. There were many minor cases. Mr. Partridge had received a wound on the top of his head which I dressed and bandaged. He told me the next day that since the bandage was put on, he was free from a headache, which he had suffered from for years. I remember seeing in some newspaper report afterwards that he had a bandage but no wound. Such is British propaganda!

Contradictory reports

We received all sorts of contradictory reports during the week. On Wednesday we were all conquering according to these which led to my making a disappointing mistake. After the report had come in Miss Ffrench-Mullen came into the room I was in and said "anyone who wants to go home can do so now." Imagine my delight! The construction I put on this was that all Dublin was ours, and we were free to visit our homes and return to our posts without let or hindrance. I thought Miss Ffrench-Mullen looked surprised when I declared my intention of availing myself of this permission and on asking was there no doubt our being able to return to the College was told that I would have to "take my chance of getting back." That, of course settled it. It wasn’t a glorious opportunity of visiting anxious relatives; it was only the last chance for those who had had enough and wanted to get away, so I did not go.

A Teetotal Garrison

One day was so much the same as another in the College that it would be hard to describe the events of the week progressively. Food was never plentiful but from being very scant in the early days (when I saw men coming in off guard being regaled with two cream crackers each before lying down to rest) it became less strictly rationed, as the citizens in the adjacent streets became aware of our necessity and eagerly volunteered to fetch the required foodstuffs. I had charge of the alcohol, which consisted of a couple of bottles which remained untouched, although opened, on the first aid table in case of immediate medical necessity.

There was no a grumble to be heard from any of the men, either those who were wounded or those who had luckily escaped the bullets. Mrs. Sheehy-Skeffington visited us during the week , but did not stay long. I have very kind remembrance of little Rosie Hackett of the Citizen Army, always cheerful and always willing; to see her face about the place was a tonic in itself.

News of Surrender

On Sunday to us came the news of the surrender which had already taken place the previous days at some other posts. There were many who would have preferred the alternative of the enemies bullet, but obedience is one of the first essentials of a good soldier and they obeyed, bitter and hard though it was. We were marched out into York Street, men first, women following. I carried the Red Cross flag, as some extraordinary stories were afloat to account for the presence of women amongst the garrison. We proceeded to Ship Street Barracks. A soldier who was behind me kept creeping up close to hiss in my ear what he believed and hoped would be our ultimate (and sanguinary) fate, although he was several times ordered to "keep four paces to the rear". A crowd ran behind us but at Grafton Street a cordon of soldiers kept them back and we went forward accompanied only by our guards.

On the way soldiers going the opposite direction frequently shouted. "Wot you goin’ to do with this lot?" and the rejoinder was invariably "Ow, goin’ to biyenet ‘em like the rest" This put into my mind the story I was told of a certain Sergeant in the British Army who always used to say as a preliminary to bayonet drill "Nar, wen I ses ‘fix’ down’t fix – but when I ses ‘biyenets’ wipp ‘em out and wopp ‘em on." There was a good many around on that march who would have gladly have wipped‘em out and wopp ‘em on." If they had been allowed to practice on us.

Bloodthirsty British soldiers

We made a short stay in ship Street, and continued our journey in the direction of Richmond Barracks. As we were passing in through the gateway of the latter a special messenger dashed up on a bicycle and gasping something about ‘orders’ snatched the Red Cross flag out of my hand. Why, I wonder? Was the community not to be aware that we had been assisting the wounded? However, his trouble was in vain. I had carried the flag through the whole city.
At Richmond Barracks we were given tea and biscuits and put on parole not to try to escape, so that a guard need not be stationed inside the room. A soldier (a sergeant, I think) was placed outside for our own protection, and this was perfectly justified, as I could judge from a conversation which I subsequently heard carried on on the landing. The officer who took charge of us here acted in the decentest manner possible, but we were not long to remain under his supervision, as the order was given to lodge us in Kilmainham Jail and hither we were finally marched, arriving after dusk and being received by the light of candles, which only served to intensify the gloom and did not prevent soldiers getting as close as possible to tell us as many blood-curling stories as they had time to repeat.

Finally our quarters were allotted, one cell to each four prisoners, and one blanket and one ‘biscuit’ each doled out to us. Our cell doors were banged and we were left to make the best we could of the means at our disposal.

In Kilmainham Prison

Strange to say, with the shifting about from one barracks to another, that ceremony was so familiar, namely, searching, had been completely omitted. Madame was smoking a cigarette when we were brought to an upper landing, and was rudely ordered by the ‘Civilian Governor ‘ to "put out that fag" and very promptly took no notice, whereupon he violently struck it out of her hand. Her self-control was wonderful; she completely ignored him; he might as well not have existed, and after that he did not, as far as we were concerned, for the next day the military took over complete charge.

Our food was brought to us by military deserters in charge of a sergeant. These men were not allowed to place even one foot inside the cell, but used to put the ‘tinnies’, as they called them on the floor and shoot them the cell. They took every occasion they could to inquire if we had any ‘fags’ and although these were never forthcoming the requests did not cease. Sometimes they asked what were we ‘in’ for, and gave us gratuitous information about their own sentences and the sergeant’s character, which latter was portrayed by drawing a finger across the windpipe.
We were waked at 7 a.m. by a bang on the door; for breakfast at 9,30 a.m., we got cocoa without either milk or sugar, and for the first few days, prison biscuits and after that about one-eight of a loaf of bread dry. Dinner at noon consisted of stew and bread or potatoes, but we were not allowed knife, fork or spoons so we had to keep some of the biscuits for the purpose of taking up the meat, etc., and as they were not suitable for anything else, except perhaps doorsteps, they stood the wear and tear admirably. Efforts to break these ‘biscuits’ proved fruitless. Our only other meal was ‘skilly’ at 5 p.m.

The Executions

We were all called by numbers (mine was 202) and had to make "statements" as to why we were with these "fright-full rebels". My only care in making these statements was to incriminate no one else, in which I was successful.
We were not allowed to indulge in Irish dancing at ‘exercise hour’ on penalty of being kept in our cell.

Thus passed a week. On Sunday we were allowed to hear Mass in the jail Chapel in the gallery. That morning Eamonn Ceannt received Holy Communion and the girls who were in the front seats told me that he did so with his hands fastened behind his back.
On Monday as we were preparing to retire for the night our cell doors were flung open and we were ordered into one of the central halls, where we were lined up, 60 of us (all women and girls) and those whose names were called out were to step across to the other side of the hall as they were for release.

I was among those thus named, only five or six being kept back. Amongst those were Dr. Kathleen Lynn, Miss Ffrench-Mullen, Madame Markievicz, and as far as I remember, Countess Plunkett, the latter having being arrested during the week.

It was on the Monday we learned for the first time, with a heavy heart, of the executions which had taken place and the news sent my mind back to an occurrence during our detention and which had remained unexplained up to now. One morning we were awakened at the first grey of the dawn by a shot which appeared to be within the building. This was followed by the ringing of a few hasty steps and a hurried explanation of which I caught the following fragments, "all right, this man" referring to the sentry on our landing, "thought something was wrong, rang alarm bell" and the commotion died away. After that these shots in the grey dawn were the rule rather than the exception, I wonder am I wrong in connecting them with the executions.

In recalling the events set forth I have realised to my regret, my lack of military knowledge, and that I might have produced a more interesting article had I but committed to paper my recollections whilst they were still fresh in my mind.

Fighting Women: A memoir by Countess de Markievicz



You ask me to write you an account of my experiences and of the activities of the women of Easter Week. I am afraid that I can only give you a little account of those who were enrolled like me in the Irish Citizen Army, and those who were with me or whom I met during the Week. Some were members of Cuman na-mBan, and others, just women who were ready to die for Ireland.


My activities were confined to a very limited area. I was mobilised for Liberty Hall and was sent from there via the City Hall to St. Stephen's Green, where I remained.


On Easter Monday morning there was a great hosting of disciplined and armed men at Liberty Hall.


Padraic Pearse and James Connolly addressed us and told us that from now the Volunteers and the I.C.A. were not two forces, but the wings of the Irish Republican Army.


There were a considerable number of I.C.A. women. These were absolutely on the same footing as the men. They took part in all marches, and even in the manoeuvres that lasted all night. Moreover, Connolly made it quite clear to us that unless we took our share in the drudgery of training and preparing, we should not be allowed to take any share at all in the fight. You may judge how fit we were when I tell you that 16 miles was the length of our last route march.


Connolly had appointed two staff officers - Commandant Mallin and myself I held a commission, giving me the rank of Staff Lieutenant. I was accepted by Tom Clarke and the members of the provisional Government as the second of Connolly's "ghosts." "Ghosts" was the name we gave to those who stood secretly behind the leaders and were entrusted with enough of the plans of the Rising to enable them to carry on that Leader's work should anything happen to himself Commandant Mallin was over me and next in command to Connolly. Dr. Kathleen Lynn was our medical officer, holding the rank of Captain.


We watched the little bodies of men and women march off; Pearse and Connolly to the G.P:O., Sean Connolly to the City Hall. I went off then with the Doctor in her car. We carried a large store of First Aid necessities and drove off through quiet dusty streets and across the river, reaching the City Hall just at the very moment that Commandant Sean Connolly and his little troop of men and women swung round the corner and he raised his gun and shot the policeman who barred the way. A wild excitement ensued, people running from every side to see what was up. The Doctor got out, and I remember Mrs. Barrett - sister of Sean Connolly - and others helping to carry in the Doctor's bundles. I did not meet Dr. Lynn again until my release, when her car met me and she welcomed me to her house, where she cared for me and fed me up and looked after me till I had recovered from the evil effects of the English prison system.


When I reported with the car to Commandant Mallin in Stephen's Green, he told me that he must keep me. He said that owing to MacNeill's calling off the Volunteers a lot of the men who should have been under him had had to be distributed round other posts, and that few of those left him were trained to shoot, so I must stay and be ready to take up the work of a sniper. He took me round the Green and showed me how the barricading of the gates and digging trenches had begun, and he left me in charge of this work while he went to superintend the erection of barricades in the streets and arrange other work. About two hours later he definitely promoted me to be his second in command. This work was very exciting when the fighting began. I continued round and round the Green, reporting back if anything was wanted, or tackling any sniper who was particularly objectionable.


Madeleine ffrench Mullen was in charge of the Red Cross and the commissariat in the Green. Some of the girls had revolivers, and with these they sallied forth and held up bread vans.
This was necessary because the first prisoner we took was a British officer, and Commandant Mallin treated him as such. He took his parole "as an officer and a gentleman" not to escape, and he left him at large in the Green before the gates were shut. This English gentleman walked around and found out all he could and then "bunked."


We had a couple of sick men and prisoners in the Band-stand, the Red Cross flag flying to protect them. The English in the Shelbourne turned a machine-gun on to them. A big group of our girls were attending to the sick, making tea for the prisoners or resting themselves. I never saw anything like their courage. Madeleine ffrench Mullen brought them, with the sick and the prisoners, out and into a safer place.


It was all done slowly and in perfect order. More than one young girl said to me, "What is there to be afraid of? Won't I go straight to heaven if I die for Ireland?" However it was, they came out unscathed from a shower of shrapnel. On Tuesday we began to be short of food. There were no bread carts on the streets. We retired into the College of Surgeons that evening and were joined by some of our men who had been in other places and by quite a large squad of Volunteers, and with this increase in our numbers the problem of food became very serious.
Nellie Gifford was put in charge of one large classroom with a big grate, but alas, there was nothing to cook. When we were all starving she produced a quantity of oatmeal from somewhere and made pot after pot of the most delicious porridge, which kept us going. But all the same, on Tuesday and Wednesday we absolutely starved. There seemed to be no bread in the town.
Later on Mary Hyland was given charge of a little kitchen, somewhere down through the houses, near where the Eithne workroom now is.


We had only one woman casualty - Margaret Skinnader. She, like myself, was in uniform and carried an army rifle. She had enlisted as a private in the I.C.A. She was one of the party who went out to set fire to a house just behind Russell's Hotel. The English opened fire on them from the ground floor of a house just opposite. Poor Freddy Ryan was killed and Margaret was very badly wounded. She owes her life to William Partridge. He carried her away under fire and back to the College. God rest his noble soul. Brilliant orator and Labour leader, comrade and friend of Connolly's, he was content to serve as a private in the I.C.A. He was never strong and the privations he suffered in an English jail left him a dying man.


Margaret's only regret was her bad luck in being disabled so early in the day (Wednesday of Easter Week) though she must have suffered terribly, but the end was nearer than we thought, for it was only a few days later that we carried her over to Vincent's Hospital, so that she would not fall wounded into the hands of the English.


The memory of Easter Week with its heroic dead is sacred to us who survived. Many of us could almost wish that we had died in the moment of ecstasy when, with the tri-colour over our heads we went out and proclaimed the Irish Republic, and with guns in our hands tried to establish it.
We failed, but not until we had seen regiment after regiment run from our few guns. Our effort will inspire the people who come after us, and will give them hope and courage. If we failed to win, so did the English. They slaughtered and imprisoned, only to arouse the nation to a passion of love and loyalty, loyalty to Ireland and hatred of foreign rule. Once they see clearly that the English rule us still, only with a new personnel of traitors and new uniforms, they will finish the work begun by the men and women of Easter Week.

(Prison Letters, 1934)

Miss Lilly Stokes' Diary of Easter Week


Easter Tuesday, April 25, 1916

Such excitement! Dublin is in the hands of the Sinn Feiners. They have Harcourt Street and Westland Row Stations, Jacobs Factory, St. Stephen's Green and the G.P.O. where they have cut the telegraph wires, so we are absolutely cut off from the rest of the world.

They have blown up a bridge at Rush and pulled up the line on the way to Kingstown. They have blown up a tram, and of course no trams are running. All the shops are shut, Jacobs was full of Rebels and the Coal Stores too, which touches us on the quick for we have been living on borrowed coal since Friday, our usual routine at Eastertide! Now there is not a tumbler full of coal in the house. Mother has a man out hunting for it or turf, but I don't think he will get it.
I had a long day yesterday, Easter Monday, breakfasting at 8.15 a.m. I was over at the Hostel beside Phoenix Park, North Circular Road Gate, by 9 o'clock. After a heavy morning's cleaning (V.A.D. housemaiding), feeling like a dried hemlock from weariness, I walked down to the Quay tram, thinking it would be a quicker way of getting home. To my dismay, no trams! I thought it was some game of the Quay trams on Easter Monday. I noticed groups of excited looking people and asked if there was any chance of a tram. "No thrams, Miss, the Volunteers has the city, they have all the Stations taken, the Bank of Ireland, the General Post Office, the Castle and the Green, and they have killed two of the "Polis", blown up a thrain and all in it; sure Sackville Street is sthrewn with corpses, doan't make any mistake and get on a thram! There now, did you hear theme? The Volunteers in Guinnesses Bathin' house, shootin' the soldiers - they are after shootin' two in the thram and the ladies in it with them."

This was exciting news, but I did not believe a quarter of it - one heard them shooting from the bathing house all right! I walked along the Quay past Guinness to the first bridge, where I joined a group of men at a Public House corner; it was all barred up, its inmates knocking at me to go on, go on, into safety - they didn't ask me inside! They were shooting pretty fast now from the bathing house, I couldn't see at what, till I saw the soldiers coming out from the Royal Barracks - they were running for the shelter of the Quay wall and bending low running across the bridge. My group got excited: "The Military, the Military comin' out, and their bayonets fixed. Lor' they'll take us for the Volunteers, and the Officers laden with their revolvers!" And as they crossed the bridge, we all began to cheer and wave our hats and shout orders to the soldiers: "Go round to the back, go round to the back, ye'll catch them there, kape in by the wall, ye'll be shot dead." We thought they were going to surround the bathing house but they evidently wanted to get to the Castle and thought they would get there by Parliament Street, but thought better of it as they neared the bathing house and came back by our side street. My crowd were greatly disgusted with them, having paid no attention to their orders. "There now, d'ye see that? Such muddlin', it is aisy believin' the muddlin' at the front".

I thought the safest way home would be to follow the soldiers, when two polite officers stopped and advised me to go round, so I cast back across the river behind the Four Courts, which had also been seized by the Volunteers. From the side streets I could see the soldiers doubling down Thomas Street, firing volleys, and on again - they got to the Castle all right with some casualties. I saw several Volunteer barricades made of cabs and boxes, hand-carts, anything that came handy, and coming up Parliament Street I saw the Volunteers on top of the "Express" office and on the house at the opposite comer of the street they were potting at anybody in uniform; they had killed a wounded officer, back from the Dardanelles, as he was going back to the Castle Hospital, just before I came along.

I was making for St. Stephen's Green, by Grafton Street, when a very befuddled recruiting Sergeant at the Office there stopped me, putting his hand affectionately on my arm. "Listen to me Miss, ye'd better not go that way, the Germans have the Green and are after sendin' off a volley." I thanked him and slipped round by Dawson Street. Outside the Shelbourne they - the Volunteers - had a barricade. As I was passing, a splendid motor came whirling down the east side; it was instantly held up and ordered into the barricade. Out of it stepped a dignitary of the R.C. Church. The Volunteer saluted: "I beg your pardon, My Lord, but it is my orders." In the barricade there was a big dray (its horse shot dead close by), a side car, two motors and a big laundry van, out of which baskets had fallen, their contents lying about. There were only four Volunteers to be seen - we were told others were in trenches behind the Green gates. Another motor came flying into the trap, was held up and ordered in in the same way. Its owner refused and backed the car, the Rebels following threatening him with their guns. We all thought they would shoot him, but they shot his tyres instead. An elderly gentleman beside me turned, and said: "If those ruffians had shot him, I would have shot them", and showed me his revolver up his sleeve. I am glad he did not shoot, for he would certainly have been shot himself. I then went up to Leeson Street to stop any more cars running into the trap. I stopped one and then Mr. Lecky passed in his car and offered me a seat home, which I was glad to accept, being very hungry. I got home at 3 o'clock. Father and Mother had not heard a word of what was going on and had not noticed the firing.

As soon as I got something to eat, I went over to the Ducketts to telephone to Harrie and Maive who were in Howth, to come to Lansdowne Road Station, not knowing that the Sinn Feiners had Westland Row and that no trains were running - by great luck they got a viz to drive them in as far as Amiens Street. (I wonder what happened to all the Easter Monday trippers out there.) Then I returned to Leeson Street to stop the cars, but found that the Tram men were doing that, so I thought I would go round to see what all the heavy firing I had heard in the Ship Street Barracks direction meant. It was quite safe to go, only the Police and Military were in danger and they were confmed to Barracks.

I went and looked at the Trenches at the Green gates; they were chiefly manned by children - lads of 16 or 17.1 was told Ship Street was a wreck but found it normal, except for the excited crowds of women, and the soldiers being on the Barracks roof. Inside the gates they were standing ready, with bayonets fixed. When I got to the Castle I saw horrible signs of the morning's first victims of the Rebellion. Volunteers were still on the roofs of the opposite houses. I went on to see Sackville Street and the Post Office, the windows of which were all smashed and barricaded up with Mail Bags. The mob had begun looting, they had emptied four shops, beginning with Nobletts Sweet Shop; they were looting a hat shop when I passed - a boy was standing in the big window, shooting out straw hats to the mob as if he were throwing cards into a hat. Everyone was throwing hats in the air, wearing pyramids of them or kicking them about. I suppose those sort of hats were no use to them. The Volunteers had nothing to say to the looting. There was another dead horse at the Pillar, belonging to a Lancer who was shot.
I went to the Provost's House, where the Mahaffeys gave me a welcome cup of tea. They had barred and shut themselves in. They told me Mr. Healy of the Irish Times said it was feared that the same state of affairs reigned in all the other towns, but of course nothing was known, the telegraph wires being cut. While at tea, Mr. Alton, the Fellow and an O.T.C. Captain, came in to ask for beer for the 30 Anzacs he had collected to help to defend the College. Being holiday time, most of the O.T.C.s were away, as were General Friend, Birrel (of course) and, I believe, every official but one - some on holidays, others at Fairyhouse Races. The Mahaffy's chef came in and told us he had just seen six men shot in Morehampton Road. I ventured to doubt his story - what would they be doing in Morehampton Roade - and said perhaps he meant Northumberland Road, but he said he would never make a mistake, he knew Dublin very well, so I came home by Northumberland Road, where the volunteers were in possession of several houses, and shooting from the windows had killed four of the G.R. men and wounded seven. I stumbled on the spot where it happened.

April 26 -

Maive, Harrie and I went down town to see how things were - no posts, no papers - it was impossible to stay indoors hearing firing in all directions and not knowing what was happening. We went to Stephen's Green, which was still in Rebel hands, though they were being kept in check by a machine gun on the top of the Shelbourne Hotel, which was all barricaded, its windows being bullet pocked - the windows of several shops smashed. We met Pauline and Kitty, the former troubled, for the "Little One" was expected home that day from Galway and they might not know the state of Dublin down there. I said I would go with her to the Broadstone, and we went by Sackville Street, which was a sight, shop after shop looted (Clery's untouched, full of Sinn Feiners). The street was deep in broken glass, cardboard boxes, bits of window-frames, papers, bashed hats, etc., etc. Across Abbey Street the Volunteers had a barricade of the contents of Keating's shop, hundreds of bicycles, tyres, wheels, everything piled one on the top of another. At the top of Talbot Street another barricade 12 feet high of furniture of every description. All the corner houses have been taken by the Volunteers and have been barricaded with mattresses and pillows. Such young boy faces looking along their gun barrels watching - they had strands of barbed wire across the street, sentries guarding it; one of them was in full uniform, the first I have seen in uniform.

They had barricaded the Post Office a great deal more - the looting was in full swing - Lawrences' Toy shop was ransacked. From the upper windows they were dropping down pictures, frames, cameras, to the crowd below. They were looting other shops round the side street by the Tram Office. I saw squibs being thrown, loot from Lawrences, which probably was the cause of the fire which burnt it to the ground - it was not pleasant to see that mob.
We were told we could not possibly get to the Broadstone as it was in the Volunteers' hands, which proved a false rumour, for the Station had always been in the Station hands; they also had a few Military there. We were told no trains were running, which was a comfort. Three Officers returning from leave were caught in the Broadstone - they got safely out of it disguised as Priests. That makes me think of Bishop Donnelly of Haddington Road yesterday. The Sinn Feiners would not allow the wounded soldiers to be removed from where they fell; he went out and, standing over the wounded, called out that he would remain there till they had all been removed - he is a fine old gentleman.

Coming away from the Broadstone, we met women staggering under the loot they had collected. The Police and Military were still confined to Barracks, waiting for reinforcements, so there was no one to stop the looting. The mass of the people were perfectly peaceful and orderly, puzzled as to what it all meant and how far it would go. All shops within the boundaries shut.
The sound of firing was continuous from all directions. The Rising had been a complete surprise to the greater number of Sinn Feiners. No one knew how many were under arms. They came quietly into town, as Easter Monday trippers, and went in small parties to every part of the town, attracting no attention. At 12 o'clock they seized what houses they wanted. The G.P.O. was full of Sinn Feiners and was easily taken - the Land Commission also, which I suppose helped them to take the Four Courts. They got Harcourt Street Station, Westland Row, Jacobs, Bolands Mill and Bakery, the Green, the College of Surgeons, besides numbers of dwelling houses. They have their green flag with Irish Republic in gold across it flying from the G.P.O. - also on the College of Surgeons.

What they hope to accomplish, one has no idea. The Government were warned that this was brewing for Easter Monday. The names of the leaders were sent to Birrel, but he refused to allow them to be arrested till they had actually broken the law, though they were known to be plotting rebellion. The Police were not even allowed to carry firearms. General Friend got back from England Tuesday morning; that evening the soldiers landed at Kingstown.
Wednesday 26 - Started with heavy gun fire. Mother thought it was: "And those poor kindly Sum Feiners we have lived beside for years, being shot down in the Park, and that they are not Sinn Feiners at all but Larkinites." We heard later it was a gun boat shelling Liberty Hall from the River. A number of Rebels were killed, and in the morning we got down to the Post Office in Dame Street, but could go no further. We could see the O.T.C. on the College roof; they were firing up Dame Street and down Westmoreland Street, at Hopkins and Kellys, from where the Volunteers were firing. The windows of T.C.D. were all sand-bagged - an occasional shot went up Grafton Street to warn the crowd from collecting. The Military shelled and took the Express Office and the Exchange. We secured a paper with nothing in it except the Proclamation of Martial Law. Not a word of news from abroad. We don't know if Kut has fallen, or if America has declared war, what is happening in East Africa or in France. We hear rumours of the German Fleet being out. In the afternoon we went to Ballsbridge and watched the soldiers coming in - thousands of them. A Division had been sent over, it was ready to go to France on Monday. The men thought they were in France when they arrived at Kingstown, calling out "Bon jour" to the people. They had a number of prisoners at Ballsbridge, among them some women; most of them looked the labouring class.

We heard the soldiers had had nothing to eat since they landed. They had had a long march from Kingstown carrying their heavy packs. They looked weary, so Maive, Pauline and I came back and Mother gave us two grand cans of tea, which we took to them by the Elgin Road lane, but alas! we could not give it to them, for they had just begun advancing down Northumberland Road. They had cleared the Rebels out of Carrisbrook House at the corner of Pembroke and Northumberland Roads - there were eight dead inside it. One soldier was killed. We saw the soldiers being sniped at, but none shot, the soldiers returning the fire as they advanced.
The noise of the firing and bombing was tremendous. They took the corner house in Haddington Road after an obstinate fight - they bombed it. They say there were 36 dead men, women and children in it who had all been fighting. It was from that house on Monday they fired on the unsuspecting and unarmed G.R.s who were returning from a Route March, killing four and wounding seven, one of whom - Mr. Frank Browning - died afterwards. There was heavy fighting about Mount Street Bridge. The Sinn Feiners were in the School House and had a machine gun in the corner house of Lower Mount Street and Clanwilliam Place. The Sherwood Foresters stumbled into the trap and were mown down, over 100 of them on the bridge. Poor boys, many of them had only had six weeks training, and some of them had never shot anything but blank cartridge before. They finally bombed out the four Clanwilliam Place houses.

Thursday 27 -

Maive, Lizzie and I started early to get some stores. Nearly all the shops were shut. We had to wait our turn outside a closed and shuttered Findlaters. When we got in, we were only allowed small quantities - however, by the time we got out, we could hardly stagger along with our baskets. All the meat has been commandeered by the Military, as no trains are running. We are in a state of siege.

Mercifully we got a small cart of turf yesterday, and Bess sent us in three bags of coal.
While I am writing there is a heavy gun firing. It can't be far off; for I heard the whiz of its shells. What can it be firing at?

There! I heard a rifle shot in this road. You can't tell in which houses the Volunteers are - they march into any house they please and either turn the inmates out, or make them temporary prisoners. They dropped through the skylight into the Lynches house in Leeson Street at four o'clock in the morning. Old Mrs. Lynch is an invalid. They begged her not to be nervous but said that she and the rest of the household must clear out in an hour, which they did, taking refuge with the Lynches in Merrion Square. Hardly were they there than the Military came banging, searching the house for Sinn Feiners reported to have been seen going in. In the same way the Rebels occupied Judge Andrews' house, Lady Morris's, and the McCanns, all in Lower Leeson Street.

There is a sniper close here, he keeps popping all night, keeping up his spirits. Great shooting going on - here are the soldiers, clearing the streets. I have just run down to succour two ladies on bikes. They tell us they are shelling Bolands, those were the shells I heard.
The soldiers are very suspicious about Mrs. Duckett's house opposite, because it is so shuttered. She has come out to talk to them and is imploring them to come and search her house. She is assuring them there is no danger from anybody in this road: "Except, oh yes, that house - Mrs. Earle's, she is a suffragette, you might look there."

A soldier on a bicycle shouting "Battle Order", Battle Order"! It sounds horrible, but apparently only means to remove packs.

They are searching the houses for that sniper. I whispered from the window to the soldier at our gate: "Shall I make you a cup of tea?" for I had heard them refuse all offers of refreshments as against orders. He closed an eye and signed significantly with his thumb meaning "Yes, if done sub-rosa". I made him a bowl in no time and the Sergeant shared it. He said if I could make some more and put it behind the door of the next door (empty) house, he would send the boys to "search it". They had had nothing but bully beef and biscuit for 48 hours, and had just marched from Kingstown with their heavy packs in the heat. The next door house was searched at least ten times - it looked a very suspicious one for snipers! More would have searched it if they had not been afraid of attracting the Officer's attention.

Still Thursday. All the afternoon they have been fighting round Bolands, shelling and bombing. The latter make a dreadful noise -we have not got it yet. It is near midnight, there is a huge fire blazing in the direction of Stephen's Green; it may be Jacobs, or the College of Surgeons. We hear a big explosion, the blazing sparks thrown high in the air. I can't go to bed with this roar going on, of machine guns, rifle, gun and bomb still in the direction of Bolands.

There are no lights in the streets; our sniper still at it, I am afraid he must be mad, for he certainly can't see anything. I wish I could stop him.

Henry got home last night. He went fishing on Sunday and could not get back till Wednesday, when he bicycled the 50 miles. I hear he has been commandeered for the Castle Hospital where he has to sleep. The Solicitor General is there, too.

The Adelaide Hospital has been isolated for the last two days anybody approaching it being shot at from Jacobs. Yesterday 60 wounded were taken into Baggot Street Hospital - and the fighting had only begun. They can only keep the bad cases - the dead are buried in the Hospital garden or anywhere, without coffins or ceremony - three soldiers are buried in St. Bartholomew's. Maive and Harrie covered the graves with flowers this morning. The Rebels have been cleared out of Stephen's Green -their dead are buried in their trenches.

Friday 28 -

The firing has never ceased - the fire is still raging. We hear that the North side of Sackville Street has been burnt from Talbot Street to the Quay - also Harrie and Maive spent the day collecting every conceivable thing for two new hospitals in Fitzwilliam Street and the Square - people gave generously. Mrs. Duckett's is the gathering place. Mr. and Mrs. Bagwell have been hit, driving in their motor - Mr. George May, Willie Lawson also. The poor Oulton girl of 20 has had to have her leg amputated.

Saturday 29 -

I got up early to try and get some flour and butter in Ranelagh where I had heard it was to be had. There was none and very little of anything left. I got some biscuits, pea flour, chocolate, etc. - most shops sold out and shut - everybody was glad to sell for fear of being looted. Every baker's cart had a crowd round it - streams and streams of people coming out of town in search of bread - no bread or flour in the city. I think Johnston, Mooney are the only bakers baking. The fires are still burning. It is a beautiful sight at night, if one did not know the misery it means. Our sniper still wakeful, he is somewhere in the back lane. I went to Merrion Square and was glad when I got there. I tripped with mincing steps down Fitzwilliam Street and Merrion Square for fear they might take me for a man in disguise.

There are five soldiers and 16 civilians wounded in No. 40; one little fellow of 12 shot through the abdomen while giving a wounded soldier water, and an old man of 80 - he is dying. Several shots have struck No. 40. They have mattressed up the windows of the wards. It is dangerous to look out of the window. A servant girl in Upper Mount Street was shot through her head, at her window, this morning.

The Sinn Feiners were in Dr. Dempsey's house at the corner of Lower Mount Street and Merrion Square. The soldiers sent volley after volley into it, then rushed it. They found blood everywhere, but not a soul in it. The soldiers are convinced that there is an underground passage between the houses, and that everyone in Merrion Square is in league with the Volunteers. No. 40 had to give a very clear and exact account of itself- what right it had to be a hospital! Two maddening snipers have been sniping at each other all day - I don't think much of their shooting! We could see the soldier on the Lower Mount Street roof. The soldiers' bullets make a higher note than the Sinn Feiners'! Lady Woods made me go into lunch and tea; they live next door and are so nice. They are housing all the night nurses, besides lending a quantity of things to the Hospital.

About 6 o'clock a telephone came through to the Hospital from Headquarters that Pearse, one of the leaders, and his men had surrendered unconditionally, in the Four Courts. What a mercy and a relief - it remains to be seen if all the others will follow suit. The G.P.O., Jacobs and Bolands are still in their hands.

When I got home, there was Adrian and a Canadian friend. They had reached Kingstown in the morning and could not get up till late afternoon. Ady had been commandeered to sign passes. When they left England they knew there had been a disturbance but thought it was little more than a strike row (the English papers had made so little of it), and that it was well in hand. Captain Ellis had gathered some inkling of the real state of affairs from men on board, but when he went down to tell Ady, Ady scoffed at him: "Such rot! The Sinn Feiners are only a small party of intelligent thinking men, not more than 1,400 of them." Adrian has not lived in Ireland for nearly three years. It was too bad their coming over, though it was a pleasure to see them, but of course they could not stay, their uniforms were targets; besides, the Military have started a system of passes which makes us prisoners till we get one - they have to be renewed each day.
The G.P.O. has fallen, it was bombed and shelled, which set it on fire. Connolly, the Rebel Commander in Chief, has been taken prisoner. Thirty were killed as they tried to escape. The Volunteers took an Indian medical man a prisoner on Monday. He looked after their wounded; he managed to get all out of the burning building, breaking a way into the Coliseum for them. They had a great store of drugs in the G.P.O. - hundreds of pounds worth and not a drop of morphia among them.

Connolly is Henry's patient, with a fractured ankle and a wound in the arm. He carried on the defence of the G.P.O. for two days. Henry was asked how many men would be sufficient to guard him, considering his condition. He said one. After some hours he went back to see how he was getting on, and found seven soldiers with fixed bayonets in the room, and one outside. Henry protested, and said they must go out. Authority said: "No" it was orders. Henry said he would give up the case. At last, after a couple of hours, somebody came, to verify Connolly's position, and it was found that the order had been, one guard in the room and seven outside, but I suppose the seven were curious! Countess Markievicz is a prisoner in the Castle - she is known to have shot two men.

Sunday 30 -

Ady slept at Mrs. Ducketts. Captain Ellis here - the latter was greatly entertained with Mrs. Duckett and Mrs. Earle, former deadly enemies, Mrs. Earle being a suffragette and an R.C., now friendly over the collection for the Hospitals. Mrs. Earle reminded Mrs. Duckett of the time when she was being watched by detectives as a suffragette, when she told them to: "Shoot her, shoot her, shoot her grey hairs!" "Oh, no! I never said that, I never said grey hairs, I never said that of any man or woman. I'd never say anything so disrespectful." The shooting part did not seem to matter at all. Mrs. Earle is a brave woman. Yesterday she wanted to get some chickens to the wounded in Dun's Hospital, which is one of the worst parts of the fighting; she asked a priest if he would bring them, he refused for it was very dangerous, and tried to dissuade her from going, but she insisted, first asking his blessing. "Ye'll know me, Father, for the woman with a hole in the heel of her stocking, if I don't get through." She went and got a bullet through her hat. "Oh, Miss Stokes darlin', I'm no good, no good to anyone at all since it happened, when a shot went near me this morning, on me way to Chapel, I nearly dropped with the fright." I never met her before, but since Monday, everybody knows everybody; everybody is out on the road talking, or camping on their doorsteps.

After breakfast we went down to Ballsbridge to try and get passes. Harrie wanted to get down to Fitzwilliam Square, where she had promised to cook for an hospital. Ady wanted to go there too, on the chance of seeing Henry. Harrie got her pass, he was refused, and rightly, for it is madness for Officers to go about. Harrie had to run the gauntlet of bullets, it was madness. She crossed the Lock Bridge and by the poor Fane Vernon's house just as it was getting a bombardment of bullets from the Military who, seeing a big bath sponge swinging in the bathroom window to dry, took it for a sniper peeping. Rumour also said there were Sinn Feiners in the house, it being a corner and a likely one for them, the soldiers believed, and riddled the house with bullets. The furniture and pictures were badly injured, mercifully none of them were hurt, except a slight flesh wound Mrs. Fane Vernon got.

We spent the morning sitting on the door steps. Olive came over and Lady La Touche's pretty Canadian niece, who was in great anxiety to get back to England, having had news that her only brother had been wounded in Mesapotarnia, and knowing the anxiety of her people at her being over here. Captain Ellis and Ady at once volunteered to escort her as far as Conway, where they are going to spend the rest of their leave. Mr. Fottrell offered to drive them to Kingstown in his car. After lunch we went down to get their passes. Ady is a great old "fuss bag" - he would not let us hang round Ballsbridge, "obstructing the Military" - a most interesting place, all sorts of things to be seen there; so we had to quietly come home. Luckily he walked on ahead with Father, and when he thought it safe we - Maive, Captain Ellis, the pretty girl and I - nipped back and were just in time to see 70 prisoners from Bolands march past, fine looking fellows, swinging along in good step. Of course they looked shabby and dirty, they had been fighting for seven days. Until I saw them I thought they ought to be shot, but I don't know - it would be terrible waste of material, if it was nothing else - it made one miserable to see them.

The leader in Bolands was a fine looking man called the Mexican, he is educated and speaks like a gentleman. The Military have all the important buildings and the Railway Stations in their hands now, but there are numbers of snipers hidden everywhere still. Captain Ellis thought he saw one sniper in the Lane - he heard the whiz of his bullet and saw a man running round a stable comer, where I thought I had seen signalling while watching the glare of the fires.
Mrs. Earle told me to-day Miss X of 31 cooked for the Rebels in Stephen's Green. The poor Xs, they have just lost a third son at the Front.

Ady and Captain Ellis went off in great spirits with their fair charge.

Monday May 1 -

Maive and I tried for passes. We went early but there was a long queue before us; we waited and waited, until at last there was a move, and then such a rough push that we decided to try our luck without one. While waiting there, a heavily-veiled, ragged, black figure rode up on a bike, also trying for a pass. I thought I recognised Miss X, but her appearance and rags were such I could not be sure, so I addressed her by name, and she answered. I did not know what to do, and consulted Maive. We both thought she should not be allowed to get a pass. At the Bridge I gave her description to an officer, and feel a brute for having done so. He allowed us to pass the Sentry, but the Sentry was so doubtful of our getting out of town again that Maive did not come.
I found they had mounted a maxim on 37 Merrion Square with which they were raking the Grove-White's house in Mount Street Crescent very ineffectually for they never stopped the answering puffs of smoke from the Sinn Feiners. It was absurd waste of ammunition, they had two slits of windows 300 yards away to aim at. Beside the maxim we had a sniper watching them.

We heard there were Rebel snipers on the roof of 42 or in the chimneys. A poor young soldier downstairs who had had his leg amputated screamed at the shooting. I think he was still under the influence of morphia. The old man died last night, also a soldier. Just as Pauline was starting back to Kitty's for lunch, a young civilian was brought to the door on a stretcher. He was dead, shot at Mount Street Crescent; another man with him was badly wounded, and a second man was killed there shortly afterwards. When will this wickedness stop? I did not let Pauline go, it was too dangerous. Lady Woods made us stay to tea; while there, Miss Pigott, who is nursing in 40, came in to say that it was now possible and quite safe to go down to Sackville Street. After some hesitation we all said we would go. One felt reluctant to go and see the misery of the town as a sight. Sir Robert and Lady Woods, Misses Woods and Pigott, Pauline, the two boys and myself went. The streets were crowded with soldiers all chaffing and laughing. They said of us: "I sai, 'ere is a charming Brigade" (our white overalls and veils looked remarkable). People had provided them with soap, towels and water and they were having a grand clean-up on the Merrion Square steps. Their headquarters are in No. 10, they were with the Mahaffys in the Provost's House. The soldiers have been camping out in the streets - luckily the weather has been lovely, but I think they ought to have been billetted.

As we got near T.C.D. the place was thronged. We had to keep to the left hand side of the street, while the returning throng came back by the right. Everyone looked stern and miserable. I had heard Sackville Street was a terrible sight, but I never could have imagined it as bad as it was. Hopkins, the silver smith, is a tumbled heap of stone, then the stark walls of the gutted D.B.C., then piles of bricks which used to be houses. The Hibernian Academy is burnt with the Spring Collection of pictures, many of them loaned and valuable ones. Nothing is saved, but the awful thing is that Mr. Kavanagh is believed to have been burnt in the building. No trace can be heard of him anywhere. Numbers have been burnt - 19 horses belonging to Clery, one lived through it - a miracle. There is nothing left of Clerys except the front decorated wall, no side walls supporting it. It is dreadfully dangerous, as is all the burnt area, for the walls are constantly falling. Henry Street and Moore Street are impassable with fallen masonry.

The barricades were the means of leading the fires from one street to another. How the Volunteers held out in the G.P.O. with raging fires all round them! The heat must have been awful. The iron girders in the Hotel Metropole is all that remains of it, but a velvet chair standing out in the street. The big, new Coliseum Theatre in Henry Street gone, and all the shops between it and the G.P.O. on the other side of the street - as far as I could guess, from Hampdon and Leedoms up. There was a horrible smell everywhere.

Two of the Rebels were found lying hand in hand, dead in Moore Street. One had been shot through the chest and had tried to staunch the blood with his handkerchief. Someone had thrown a green flag over them. One has some idea now how the Belgians and French feel, seeing their towns laid in ruins. Over 180 buildings have been burnt.

We came home through T.C.D. The Commissariat are in the Square, they looked so picturesque, horses and men on the grass under the trees, with the flecks of sunlight dancing on them. The soldiers are watering all the side streets from behind barricades. I had great difficulty getting home - nothing would persuade the Sentry to let me pass the bridge. I told him the Officer had let me pass in the morning. Alas! there was no officer now. The Sentry said perhaps I could get a pass at Lad Lane, the Police Barracks. I tried, but they told me the Military had told them to give no passes to anyone after 1 p.m. I was most moving, but of course I understood they could not melt. To my joy and relief a darling plain-clothes man came to my assistance and said: "If I came with him, perhaps I could get you through," and he did - he had a general pass.

Tuesday 2 -

Women go where they like without passes. Men still have to wait ages for theirs. Sniping still continues. The Military are having a house to house search for Rebels and ammunition. Already 1,000 prisoners have been sent to England.

They have found a lot of guns and ammunition - amongst others, those belonging to our sniper in the Lane, he has escaped. They have been using Dum dum bullets. Henry says the wounds have been very bad, and there are many deaths.

Wednesday 3 -

Pearse, Clarke and D---, leaders were sentenced by Court Martial and shot this morning.





'Soldiers Are We': Women in the Irish Rising

The Easter Rising took place in Dublin ninety years ago this month. Charles Townshend has read hundreds of 'witness statements' from the men and women who took part, made available to the public in 2003 after decades in a government vault.

Soldiers are we, whose lives are pledged to Ireland’ – the stirring first lines of what was eventually to become the national anthem of the Irish Republic – were heard publicly for the first time in 1915. The composer of the ‘Soldier’s Song’, Peadar Kearney, had accidentally shot himself in the foot during rifle practice with the 2nd Battalion of the Dublin Brigade of the Irish Volunteers, and his comrades held a concert in Clontarf Town Hall to raise money to support him while he was incapacitated. They succeeded in selling several thousand copies of the song at a penny each. The event, the accident that caused it, and the song itself – which became an instant symbol of the Volunteer spirit – were all emblematic of one of the most extraordinary political movements of modern times.

The Irish Volunteers had been formed in December 1913 to keep the British government firm in the face of Ulster’s threatened resistance to Irish Home Rule, and in direct reaction to the ever-growing anti-Home Rule Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF). By 1914 the rival militias far outnumbered the government’s military and police forces. Political passions ran high, and the fear of civil war was more intense than at any time since the 1798 rebellion. In 1914, both sets of Volunteers smuggled thousands of rifles into Ireland in large-scale gun-runnings.

The rifles brought in by the Irish Volunteers, known as ‘Howth Mausers’ after the port where many were landed, were obsolete and unwieldy. But they became the most prized symbol of the Volunteer movement. Each Volunteer had to subscribe the funds to buy his own weapon. Ammunition was in short supply, but the Volunteers set up a small rifle range in a Dublin suburban park, and practised as much as their limited funds allowed. Concerts like that in Clontarf Town Hall were a key method of raising funds as well as public awareness of their cause. Self-financed, largely self-trained, and electing their own officers, the Volunteers were a remarkable political army. They were a national, as well as nationalist, movement, but their core strength lay in Dublin, the ‘deposed capital’ (deposed by the 1801 Act of Union that had taken Irish parliamentary representation across to Westminster).

The most crucial event in the Volunteer movement’s short history, the split that followed the outbreak of the First World War, left much of it in tatters as the majority accepted the leadership’s pledge to support the British war effort. In many places the minority were left without leadership or resources. The Dublin Brigade, however, remained impressively coherent and committed. On Easter Monday 1916, April 24th, it seized control of the city and launched the most significant Irish rebellion since 1798. It lasted just a week, but it transformed Irish history.

The astonishing drama of Easter Week 1916 is deeply etched in Irish historical memory. But the direct memory of the participants, the first Army of the Irish Republic, has been harder to recover. The original records of the Irish Volunteer organization have mostly disappeared (many of them buried or burnt in 1916), and no full history of the movement has so far been written. Although a number of former rebels penned personal recollections over the subsequent decades, no official history of the 1916 rebellion or the 1919-21 war of independence was ever compiled. The nearest approach was the establishment of a bureau of military history in 1945, almost thirty years after the rising. Over the next six or seven years, well over a thousand ‘witness statements’ were supplied by former fighters of the Volunteers, Irish Citizen Army (ICA), and the principal women’s organization, Cumann na mBan. These were soon effectively buried in government vaults, and far from providing the basis for an official history, they were closed off to all researchers. The reason seems to have been the fear of controversy. Despite the fact that each statement was prefaced with a note specifying the restrictions to access imposed by the author – in practically every case the answer was ‘none’ – these became regarded as confidential, even secret documents. Only after the death of the last surviving participant were they finally released into the public domain, in March 2003.

The story about the Volunteer concert is drawn from one of these statements, and together they give us a vivid sense of the experience of the early Irish Volunteers. They come in a wide array of styles and sizes, ranging from a handful of pages to more than two hundred. Some are laconic and tightly focused, others expansive – one begins with an indignant account of the ‘tithe war’ of the 1830s. Some writers naturally knew more about what was going on – notably those in the inner circles of the Irish Republican Brotherhood, the secret revolutionary organization whose ‘military committee’ planned the rebellion. Those in the higher ranks of the Volunteers tended to have a wider grasp of affairs, though of course all the senior commanders were executed after the rebellion – with one famous exception, Eamon de Valera, and he chose (despite much urging by others) never to record his recollections of 1916. Nor, sadly, did the most celebrated of the women rebels of 1916, Countess Markievicz. But many women (almost 150) did write witness statements, and in these we get a real sense of liberation through revolution – a liberation that subsequent generations would struggle to replicate.

Women were closely involved in the preparations for, and the conduct of, the military action in Easter week. Cumann na mBan was launched four months after the Irish Volunteers specifically as an auxiliary force. By contrast, the women members of the ICA, never an all-male outfit, planned not only to nurse and cater for the fighters, but to join the fight themselves: ‘to knit and darn, march and shoot’ as one put it. But the boundaries between these groups were, in any case, blurred. Winnie Carney, who came to Dublin to act as secretary to James Connolly, the revolutionary socialist leader and organizer of the ICA, and stayed with him to the bitter end of the fighting, was a member of Cumann na mBan rather than the ICA, and so was Connolly’s own daughter Nora. The badge worn by Cumann na mBan members, it may be noted, featured not a first-aid kit but a rifle, and their organizational rhetoric was unmistakably military.

Yet though Countess Markievicz, an officer in the ICA, was present in Liberty Hall (the trades union headquarters in Dublin) when the final decision to rise was taken, many of the women members were not mobilized. Some of the rebel commanders simply forgot about them, others deliberately excluded them – when Maire Nic Shiubhlaigh, a Dublin stage star, finally forced her way into the heavily-fortified Jacob’s Biscuit Factory, its commander greeted her with the words ‘We haven’t made any provision for girls here.’ So the experience of the two hundred or so women who joined the 1,400 rebels was varied. Most were consigned – willingly enough, perhaps – to catering duties and kept out of danger as far as possible. Rose McNamara, a Cumann na mBan captain who successfully managed the food supply for the Marrowbone Lane Distillery garrison, recorded that only on Friday, four days after the start of the rebellion, was she ‘brought up to the firing line to see two of the enemy soldiers lying dead – on top of one another – outside.’ However, Aine Ryan, doing the same job at the Hibernian Bank on Sackville Street, got into greater danger. She was called across to help an outpost which ‘had no girls at all’; ‘I don’t know how it came about but I found myself and another girl carrying a zinc bath full of food from Reis’s Chambers across to the GPO with our heads bent to the ground.’ This meant crossing Sackville Street (now O’Connell Street), one of the widest in Europe, and a free fire zone for the British troops posted by O’Connell Bridge: ‘we did this at least twice.’

Walter Paget (1865-1935), who was in Dublin during the Rising, made this impression of the scene inside the GPO (National Museum of Ireland)
Some of Rose McNamara’s women comrades in the distillery acted as loaders for the riflemen, and elsewhere women became full combatants. Markievicz was the most flamboyant, but her comrade on St Stephen’s Green, Margaret Skinnider, was equally determined. ‘It was dark there’ (in the College of Surgeons), she wrote, ‘full of smoke and the dirt of firing, but it was good to be in action.’ Going out on a sortie, she was hit by three bullets, which incapacitated her – and just as bad in her view, ruined her beautiful new Citizen Army greatcoat. Women played an even bigger role in the ICA force that nearly captured Dublin Castle. Helena Molony was there, revolver in hand, when the policeman at the Castle gate was shot dead, and the rebels might have rushed into the yard, but did not. ‘In a flash, the gates were closed’ – but she, like others, could not quite understand the reasons for the fatal hesitation. The rebels occupied City Hall instead, and when their commander was killed on its roof, he was succeeded by Kathleen Lynn, one of Ireland’s pioneering female doctors.

Women’s experiences reflected the oddly improvisatory nature of the rebel dispositions, despite the months of planning that had gone on. Molly Reynolds, for instance, was with the forces on St Stephen’s Green when Margaret Skinnider came up ‘and said there were no women in the GPO and she had been sent to look for volunteers for that post.’ Reynolds and another Cumann na mBan walked there, to be met by one of the legendary figures of the Volunteer movement, The O’Rahilly, who took them all around the huge building ‘to select the most suitable place for a casualty station’ – something that could well have been done in advance. They settled on ‘a big open space at the back of the main hall’ where they set up their station ‘using immense basket skips for beds.’ At last some men arrived to take over the medical post, immediately relegating Reynolds herself to auxiliary duty, while other women ‘took up duty in the kitchen while others acted as despatch carriers’.

The commitment of these women was beyond question. Reynolds met several other Cumann na mBan who had come across from Liverpool to get in on the action, and even ‘three or four girls who had walked in from Milltown’ to enter the thick of the battle – these ‘belonged to no organization but were anxious to help’. She records the surprisingly limited scale of the rebel casualties in the GPO, considering the length and intensity of the bombardment its garrison endured (culminating, of course, in the spectacular gutting of the building by incendiary shellfire). One man shot himself in the toe while breaking down a door, another was wounded when a homemade grenade exploded (the rebels’ homemade munitions were notoriously ineffective, though mercifully rarely so dangerous to their users). The most serious wound was suffered by a man on the roof, who was shot in the head and eventually lost an eye; the most famous casualty was James Connolly, who was brought in from a sortie with ‘one-and-a-half to two inches of his shinbone shattered’. This was a fearsome challenge for his amateur nurses, and for the medical student who had to care for Connolly – there being no qualified doctor in the GPO garrison – as he was carried (on a door) out into the bullet-swept back streets during the final evacuation of the GPO.

Like all memory, the testimonies that have come down to us are naturally uneven. Some writers coped better than others with the inevitable effects of the lapse of time since the formative dramas of their youth (most were under thirty in 1916); some statements are plainly unreliable, but very few fail to cast some light on the texture of life at the time. They help to provide answers to some of the key questions that have been repeatedly asked since 1916: what was the plan of the rebellion, for instance, and how many people were in the know? Here, as elsewhere, testimony could be inconsistent or even contradictory, but a surprising number professed to have been in the dark about such plans as there were. Many recorded that their officers had dropped heavy hints that the Easter Day manoeuvres – the Volunteers’ annual ‘field day’ – would be more than a mere exercise. Others were taken by surprise. What seems beyond doubt is that the ethos of soldiership – heartily evoked in Kearney’s rather old-fashioned song – had gone quite deep in the movement’s bare two years of life. The great majority were ready to obey orders and risk their lives in the cause of Irish freedom.

Though it was never likely that the release of these statements would fundamentally change our understanding of the Rising, they do enrich our understanding of some key issues. One of these is the inner conflict within the Volunteer leadership over the issue of insurrection: the question whether the Volunteers should seize the initiative, or wait until the government moved against them. The result of this conflict was the ‘countermanding order’ that cancelled the Easter Day manoeuvres and drove the ‘military committee’ to postpone the rebellion until Monday. The witness statements show more clearly than was previously understood the impact of this delay. Most histories of the Rising portray that Sunday as a day of despairing inaction, but it is now clear that the scale of the mobilization that day was impressive, in spite of the ‘countermanding order’. There can be no doubt that if the Rising had gone ahead as planned that evening, it would have been a much more substantial nationwide event than it finally turned out to be. According to one IRB investigation, outside Dublin no more than twenty-five per cent of ordinary Volunteers turned out to fight on Monday, and they mostly drifted away as their leaders dithered, seemingly confused by conflicting instructions – though as one of the women who carried messages from Dublin to Cork sharply told the commander who complained that he had only twenty men, ‘You can start something with that many’. In Dublin the turnout was much higher, though even there the mobilization plans broke down. The statements show how many individuals followed strange trajectories as they traversed the city trying to work out what to do, sometimes ending up fighting with units they had never known. Dozens gravitated to the GPO building, a post that the rebel leaders never intended should house (as it eventually did) the biggest of all the republican contingents.

For some, who never came under attack, the week turned out to be dull or frustrating; for others – above all in the GPO – it was exhausting and exhilarating. In brief, it was war, a war deliberately embraced by a small group of dedicated men and women. The testimony of these ordinary rebels remind us, if we need reminding, that the decision to risk and take life can emerge, not from pathological hatred, but from simple idealism.


Charles Townshend is Professor of Modern History at Keele University. His Easter 1916: The Irish Rebellion, is newly published in softback by Penguin, price £8.99