12 April 2020
1916 - Seven Days, Seven Men, Seven Hills
Éamonn Mac Thomáis extends the confines of his series Three Shouts on a Hill to include seven hills in Dublin which are closely linked to the 1916 Easter Rising - First published in An Phoblacht/Republican News, 8th April 1982
I KNEW the story of the 1916 Easter Week Rising at a very early age. Long before I came to the use of reason at seven years of age I could name, off by heart, the seven men who signed the Proclamation.
My key to the memory of the names was two Ps, three Cs and two Macs; Pearse, Plunkett; Clarke, Connolly, Ceannt; MacDonagh and MacDermott. But I also had other daily reminders.
My favourite shop was Clarke’s on Bulfin Road. My aunt that lived on the Sugar Loaf Mountain was Jinny Connolly and Plunkett’s of Islandbridge was the place where we got the free lumps of ice on our way to the Phoenix Park. Pierce Redmond’s grocery shop on Emmet Road always reminded me of Pádraig Pearse and Redmond’s Hill. Ceannt’s name was easy as I had to pass Ceannt’s Fort on Mount Brown Hill on my way to school in Basin Lane convent.
The two Macs were the easiest to remember. In my childhood the word ‘Mack’ was a very common one; anyone whose name was not known was called ‘Mack’: “Hey, Mack, what time is it?”
My next memory test came in remembering other words and names connected with the Rising, or “the Rebellion” as my mother called it. Grace Gifford, who married Joe Plunkett in Kilmainham jail a few hours before his execution by a British firing squad. The Countess, whose name we did not even try to pronounce (‘Market Vitz’, or something like that). But we did not need the surname, the word ‘Countess’ held us in a magic spell.
John MacBride’s name was easy to remember as it was on a sheet of music with a photograph of him and two green, white and orange flags at each side. Underneath were the words of the song Wrap the Green Flag Round Me, Boys.
On one occasion I wrapped the bedsheet round me and looked at myself in the wardrobe mirror, trying to imagine how MacBride would look wrapped in a green flag. I remember that I was not impressed and thought that MacBride was a Roman, like the ones we used to see at the fourpenny rush in the local fleahouse that the owners called a picture palace.
My first tour of the 1916 Easter Week garrisons was in 1937 at the age of nine years. The twenty-first anniversary of the Rising was held in great style. Flags and bunting decorated the city, the buildings were all floodlit and Kilmainham Jail was open to the public.
My ma and my aunts took me on a private tour. I kicked up like hell about the long walks and got a few clouts for running up and down the hill-graves in Arbour Hill. The place I liked best was Redmond’s Hill. Maybe it was because Cobbolo’s ice cream shop was around the corner in Cuffe Street. Ice cream in those days came out of a bucket and the big thick wafer was dripping with red raspberry juice that was only beautiful. I was nearly killed for letting the juice roll down on to my white Sunday shirt and was only saved by the College of Surgeons and the story of the Countess and Michael Mallin.
• The Irish Citizen Army outside Liberty Hall
The ma brought us over to the green railings to show us the spot where Philip Clarke of the Citizen Army gave her his brand new bike to bring home to his wife in Cork Street. When my mother got back to the Green with a parcel for Philip from his wife, poor Philip was dead and Mallin and the Countess had taken over the College of Surgeons. The ma spent the rest of the week running messages for the men in Jacob’s factory under MacDonagh and MacBride.
As the years rolled by, and I grew to manhood, I became the friend of many men and women who took part in the Easter Week Rising and the fight for Irish freedom. Around many firesides in Dublin I got their story first-hand from the men and women involved.
Their story began on Easter Sunday, 23 April 1916.
The Military Council met at Liberty Hall at 9am and issued fresh orders that the Rising would begin at 12 noon on Easter Monday. At 12 noon on Sunday the Proclamation was agreed on and it was printed in Liberty Hall. My friend Helena Molony was one of the first people to read it to those gathered around.
News was already to hand about the scuttling of The Aud arms ship off Daunt’s Rock, County Cork, by order of her captain, Karl Spinder; the arrest of Roger Casement at McKenna’s Fort by the RIC and MacNeill’s countermand orders that the Volunteers were not to parade. Sunday, the first day, was one of messages, by bike, by tram, by train, by motor car and by foot.
On the second day, Easter Monday, 24 April 1916, there was only partial mobilisation in Dublin because of MacNeill’s countermand. Only for the message brigade, no one would have turned up but, despite the small numbers, it was decided to go ahead.
At 11:30am in Liberty Hall, the Citizen Army bugler sounded the fall-in for the Army of the Irish Republic. At 12 noon the main body marched out of Liberty Hall, headed by Commandant-General Pearse and Commandant-General Connolly, and occupied the General Post Office in Sackville Street. From the steps of the doorway, Pearse read the Proclamation of the Irish Republic to onlooking citizens:
“In the name of God and of the dead generations from which she receives her old tradition of nationhood . . .”
A small party of Citizen Army men and women, led by Captain Seán Connolly (one of my mother’s best friends) attacked Dublin Castle, firing the first shots of the Rising. They took over City Hall and the buildings opposite in Parliament Street. During the early part of the fighting, Captain Seán Connolly was hit by a hail of machine gun bullets and died in the arms of Helena Molony. Dr Kathleen Lynn attended to the other wounded.
After fierce fighting, the attacking party withdrew. In the attack on Dublin Castle, Charles D’Arcy, aged 15 years, Lieutenant Seán O’Reilly, George Geoghan and Louis Byrne also gave their lives for Ireland,
Only a handful of men and women, yet they did what Silken Thomas failed to do with his army of 600 men. They could well have taken the Castle that Easter Monday morning as it was only guarded by ten men but the plan was merely to keep it at bay and that they did with courage and bravery which won the admiration not only of the republican forces but also of the Castle masters as well.
The next time you pass down Cork Hill, look at the Upper Castle Gate and remember with pride the names and deeds of the gallant men and women who fought there in 1916.
MOUNT BROWN HILL
• Eamonn Ceannt
The Fourth Battalion, under the command of Eamonn Ceannt and Cathal Brugha, met at Emerald Square, Cork Street. Only one third of the unit turned up due to MacNeill’s countermand. The first party of 12 cyclists followed by 30 men on foot went along the banks of the Grand Canal and entered the South Dublin Union grounds by the Rialto gates at the top of Watery Lane.
Brugha left with the second party and made his way, via James’s Street, to the main entrance of the Union. Con Colbert followed with another party to take over Watkins’ brewery in Ardee Street and put an outpost in Marrowbone Lane distillery. Another outpost was put in Roe’s distillery at the top of Mount Brown Hill.
The men were well dug in and the first attack came from the large British garrison who were stationed in Richmond Barracks. The British took over the Guinness brewery in James’s Street as headquarters and sent about one thousand soldiers to surround and attack the Union. After the week’s battle, several British soldiers lay dead and Cathal Brugha had 25 bullet wounds. Nurse Keogh was killed on the steps of one of the buildings as she was going to assist a wounded British Tommy.
When the surrender came, Ceannt did not want to join in. Only after long talks with MacDonagh and MacBride did he agree to march out under the white flag. Brugha was taken to the Castle hospital and was sent home to die. But Cathal Brugha did not die in Easter Week nor in the weeks or years that immediately followed. He was cut down by Free State guns in 1922, the words “No surrender!” on his lips.
Sir Francis Vane, the head of the British forces, could not believe that Ceannt and Brugha had held the Union with less than 50 men and thought that there were at least a thousand men.
Ceannt was very disappointed with the surrender and left his dying letter written in his cell in Kilmainham Jail as a guide to future revolutionaries: “Never treat with the English enemy. Fight on till the end.”
The Second Battalion under Thomas MacDonagh took over Jacob’s biscuit factory and sent a party of Volunteers to assist Commandant Mallin and the Countess in the Stephen’s Green area. Jacob’s high building gave MacDonagh’s men a few easy shots into St Patrick’s Park, where the British were parading, and into the grounds of Dublin Castle. John MacBride, who was passing by at the time, decided to join in the fight and was appointed second-in-command.
Jacob’s proved to be a very good garrison, with an ample food supply of biscuits cakes and flour. The British did not attack as the Volunteers had the advantage of height. The week was spent sending help to Mallin in the Green, which took the brunt of the fighting.
The British took over the Shelbourne Hotel and mounted machine guns on the roof, picking off many Citizen Army men in the open Green park. Lack of numbers, again due to MacNeill, made it impossible to man the hotel and Mallin and the Countess were forced to take over the College of Surgeons, where they held out bravely until the surrender order came at the end of the week.
The British wanted to execute the Countess but, because of the fuss they themselves were kicking up over the German execution of the English spy Nurse Cavell, feared world opinion.
• Aftermath of the raid on Linenhall Barracks
If you walk down Macken Street (named after Peadar Macken, who was accidentally shot in Boland’s Mill in 1916), you will come to a street named Misery Hill. It gets its name from the lepers of old, who came here to die. Many republicans were executed in the same place in 1798 and 1803.
The area around here was under the command of Eamon de Valera and the Third Battalion. Boland’s Mill was the main headquarters, with outposts at Mount Street Bridge, Westland Row railway station, Misery Hill, and the train line out as far as Blackrock,
The Battle of Mount Street Bridge, which was held by 13 men against thousands of Sherwood Foresters, must rank as the finest battle in the annals of world history. Clanwilliam House, under the command of George Reynolds, held seven men; the schools held two men; the parochial hall held two men; and Number 25 Northumberland Road held two men.
The British reinforcements, coming from England, landed at Dún Laoghaire (Kingstown) and some of them thought they were in France. They marched on Dublin and when they got to the crossroads at Ballsbridge they rested. Then they made their mistake: instead of taking Pembroke Road they took Northumberland Road.
Lieutenant Michael Malone and Volunteer Grace Gifford were waiting in Number 25 and, as the troops came into range, several volleys rang out and several British soldiers fell dead. The battle here went on for 30 minutes until Malone was killed in action while he allowed Grace to escape out a back window. The British lost over one hundred men at this point in the battle.
They regrouped and marched on and soon came under the fire of the remaining 11 Volunteers. Joe Clarke, who was in the parochial hall, told me that the British were so close that at one stage he stuck his revolver out the window to fire and hit a British soldier on the head with his gun. The British fell back and heavy mortars were fired at Clanwilliam House. The house was soon ablaze but the Volunteers kept their positions at the windows with Reynolds shouting: “They shall not pass! They shall not pass!”
A short while later, Reynolds gave the order to evacuate but he himself stayed on, muttering to himself: “They shall not pass.” Four Volunteers escaped: Willie Ronan, Jimmy Doyle, James Walsh and Thomas Walsh. On their way out, they saw the dead bodies of their comrades, Richard Murphy and Patrick Doyle. George Reynolds died later that evening as the house was engulfed in flames.
Joe Clarke was arrested. He was placed against a door and a British soldier prepared to execute him. Luckily for Joe, the bullet missed, going into the door just above his head. Joe lived on to the age of 94 and when he died he was the oldest revolutionary in the world, the greatest Fenian of all time in Ireland. It was indeed an honour to have been his friend and comrade in later life.
ST THOMAS’S HILL
A few men were playing football near the Magazine Fort on St Thomas’s Hill in the Phoenix Park when the ball went over the wire fence. “Would you mind getting us the ball?” said one man to the sentry. As the sentry turned, the men ran in and soon the fort was in the hands of the Volunteers. The plan was to take as much ammunition and guns as possible and blow up the powder store.
The job was soon done but instead of blowing up the fort they set it on fire. The haul was taken to the Four Courts, to Ned Daly and the First Battalion.
Ned Daly and his men had met in Blackhall Street. His task was to set up headquarters in Church Street with outposts in North King Street, the Mendicity Institution and Constitution Hill.
The First Battalion wrote a glorious chapter in the story of Easter Week. Seán Heuston’s post at the Mendicity Institution was only supposed to hold out for two hours yet they held out for three days against terrible odds. All the outposts fought bravely but special mention must be made of Reilly’s Fort, the raid on Linenhall Barracks, and the men in the North Dublin Union.
When Pearse, Connolly, Plunkett, Clarke and MacDermott were burned out of the GPO, it was to Daly and the men of the First Battalion that they were making their way when they got caught in Moore Street.
• The GPO on Dublin’s O’Connell Street
When the butcher Maxwell came over as general in charge of all British troops, he gave the order for wholesale slaughter to be carried out in the North King Street area. The troops entered North King Street from the Bolton Street end and raided house after house. When they could not find any Volunteers, they took out their spite on the local innocent people. Daly and his men had withdrawn to the Four Courts but under ‘Butcher’ Maxwell’s orders, the North King Street massacre took place.
Michael Noonan and George Ennis were murdered at Number 174; Thomas Hickey, his son Christopher, and Peter Connolly at Number 170; Michael Hughes and John Walsh at Number 172; Patrick Bealen and James Healy at Number 177; Peter Lawless, James MacCartney, James Finnegan and Patrick Hoey at Number 27; and John Beirnes murdered in nearby Coleraine Street. These names and their stories are forgotten by Ireland. We can well imagine their last moments.
J. J. Reynolds, a brother of George Reynolds of Clanwilliam House, wrote a small book entitled A Fragment of 1916 History. In it he gives the story of how the Irish fought and how the British fought in Easter Week.
The British buried their victims in the cellars of the houses. When ever I walk down North King Street, I can feel the gloomy air around the places where the British did their dirty work in Dublin.
Across the road from Richmond Hill is the main entrance to the Old Richmond barracks. Today it is St Michael’s Estate and St Michael’s CBS school. In 1916, this was the scene of all the court-martials, the picking out of prisoners, the jumping-off ground for the firing squad, the quicklime grave, and the concentration camps of England and Wales.
This is where I went to school as a child and I used to play in the yard where the prisoners walked. Once a month I was paraded in the big gym with the whole school and the names of the bold boys were read out from a black diary. My name was always in the top ten. We got our medicine in front of the whole school – six ‘biffs’ on each hand.
In the same big gym the Specials came from Dublin Castle with little black notebooks. In the names of the first 14 were my two Ps, my three Cs and my two Macs; with Colbert, Heuston, Mallin, Willie Pearse, O’Hanrahan, Daly and MacBride; and Sir Roger hanged in England; Thomas Kent shot in Cork; Monaghan, Sheehan and Keating drowned at Ballykissane pier; and The O’Rahilly and Shortis, shot dead in Moore Lane.
My first shout, on Redmond’s Hill, is a shout of thanks to the men and women of 1916. Not forgetting the men and women of Wexford, Louth and Meath and the other men who came from other counties and overseas.
My second shout, on Cork Hill, is a special shout of thanks to Pearse and Connolly for leaving such a crystal clear message, a gospel of freedom, republicanism, socialism and separatism.
My third shout, on Misery Hill, is a shout of thanks to old Joe Clarke, a shout of thanks to Nurse O’Farrell and Julia Grennan, a shout of thanks to Helena Moloney and Dr Kathleen Lynn, a shout of thanks to Brian O’Higgins, the Count Plunkett and a host of others in my mind, and prayers for a heritage and tradition unparalleled anywhere else in the world.