DUBLIN FLAMES KINDLED A NATION'S SPIRIT
Extract from The Irish Independent 1916
Fifty years ago in Dublin, seven men with a dream led out a small army of Irishmen and women - that Ireland might be free. The dream was an age-old one, half-formed and rough shaped at first but becoming more clearly-defined down the years. The United Irishmen gave it substance, Wolfe Tone delineated it, Emmet, the Young Irelanders and the Fenians strove to achieve it.
In the 20th century the Irish language revival movement nurtured it anew - the dream of a free Ireland, owing allegiance to no other authority except her own; a Republic in which the Irish people would resume their rightful heritage as owners and rulers of the land.
This was the dream of Pearse, Connolly, Clarke, Plunkett, MacDonagh, MacDermot and Ceannt. By force of arms they set out to make reality of the dream. After their fight and their deaths things were never the same again in Ireland. The nation had been set upon a road on which there could be no turning back. Age-old traditions never again could be reneged.
"If we today", said Pearse, "are fighting for something either greater than or less than the thing our fathers fought for, either our fathers did not fight for freedom at all or we are not fighting for freedom. If I do not hold the faith of Tone and if Tone was not a heretic, then I am. If Tone said: 'break the connection with England' and if I say: 'Maintain the connection with England.' I may be preaching a saner gospel than his, but I am obviously not preaching the same gospel."
But there was no mistaking the object for which the men of 1916 fought and died. It is clearly and uncompromisingly set out in the Proclamation of the Republic:
This Proclamation was signed in blood by the seven leaders of the Rising. Scores of others also sacrificed their lives for it, hundreds more suffered imprisonment and internment, thousands forfeited freedom, comfort and careers to carry its term into effect.
Are we today fully mindful of what occurred in that Easter Week of 1916? Have we forgotten the dream for which these men died? We could do worse, perhaps, than perform now a national examination of conscience.
We might ask ourselves such questions as these:
Where is the Republic dreamed of by Pearse and Connolly?
How much of Ireland is owned by the people of Ireland?
To what extent are the destinies of the Irish people within the control of the Irish people?
Does the Irish Republic hold the allegiance of every Irishman & Irishwoman?
What price the religious and civil liberty guaranteed in Proclamation?
Can we truthfully say we afford equal rights and equal opportunities to all our citizens?
Do we pursue the happiness and prosperity of the whole nation and of all its parts?
Do we cherish all the children of the nation equally?
The answers to these questions may be disquieting. They may even be considered out of place as we commemorate the Golden Jubilee of the Rising just now. But if we are to be honest, we must answer these questions and we cannot try to evade the significance of the answers in a flood of rhetoric and a flood of flags. We would be less than true to the memory of the men of 1916 if we shirk this duty now.
The purpose of the articles and pictures in this supplement is to honour the soldiers of Easter Week and to recall with pride their ideals and actions. If, in the perusal of its pages, we are also led to an assessment of situation in Ireland today and, perhaps, to a comparison of the dream with the reality, then this commemorative publication will have performed a useful function and achieved an aim in keeping with the inspiring events described within.
"Believe that we too love freedom and desire it. To us it is more desirable than anything in the world. If you strike us down now, we shall rise again and renew the fight. You cannot conquer Ireland; you cannot extinguish the Irish passion for freedom; if our deed has not been sufficient to win freedom then our children will win it with a better deed." - P.H. Pearse.
"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.."
No braver words than these have been spoken in Ireland in our time; no single event in modern Irish history has been more significant in its results than this Proclamation of the Irish Republic on Easter Monday, 1916.
The rising has been called a poets' insurrection, but poetic vision did not exclude the ability to plan and organise a great adventure and carry it though in the face of difficulties that brought it, at the outset, almost to the brink of disaster.
It was a return to an old and honourable means of trying to achieve national freedom, and it came after half a century in which the use of arms for that purpose had been ridiculed and discredited. The only organised body which had not lost faith in the use of arms in this period was the Irish Republican Brotherhood, a small, secret organisation which had been in existence since 1858.
In August, 1914, immediately after the outbreak of the European war, the Supreme Council of the I.R.B. decided that another armed effort to end British rule in Ireland would be made before the war ended. A Military Council was set up to plan the Rising.
It consisted at first of Eamonn Ceannt, P.H. Pearse and Joseph Plunkett. Later Tom Clarke and Sean MacDiarmada joined it, and, in January 1916, after his much-debated "disappearance", James Connolly became a member. Thomas MacDonagh was added in April 1916 and these seven men were the signatories to the Proclamation.
Successful insurrection in arms is not possible without a trained military force. In the establishment of the Irish Volunteers on a nationwide basis, and of the Irish Citizen Army in Dublin, the Supreme Council saw timely opportunity of training, and to some extent, a force sufficient to give insurrection s reasonable hope of success.
Without any disclosure of its existence or its plans, the Council, through its members, influenced the policy of the Volunteers organisation and exercised a measure of control over it. Two years of serious training produced a well organised body of disciplined men, whose ambition was to serve Ireland in arms - in Ireland. The day of plotting by small groups was over - the day of national action was at hand.
Many difficulties beset the Military Council in its planning. Apart from the hazards inherent in all revolt against a long established regime, apparently enjoying the acquiescence of the population, the necessity for secrecy was reinforced, in the case of the Military Council, by the fact that they were endeavouring to move into action a body of men whom they had not complete control.
That was a situation forced upon them by the knowledge that the Chief of Staff of the Volunteers Executive, were opposed to a direct offensive action against the British forces of occupation at that time.
There was an opinion shared by many of the Volunteers themselves and, on the practical plane, it had much to support it because of the inadequacy of arms and training and the general lack of resources, or of any reliable indications that there would be much popular support for such a drastic venture.
Up to July 1916, the Military Council had no control over the Irish Citizen Army, and they were gravely perturbed by Connolly's apparent intention to strike along with his 200 men, an event, which would have been disastrous to their plans.
The circumstances of his "disappearance" in January 1916, are still obscure but there is little doubt that on that occasion they took him into their counsels and disclosed their intentions to him.. They had, just before then, fixed Easter Sunday as the date for the rising. Thereafter Connolly worked in loyal co-operation with them and the participation of the Citizen Army was assured.
Arrangements were completed with Germany, through John Devoy and the Revolutionary Director of Clan-na-Gael in New York, for the sending of a quantity of arms and ammunition by steamer to Fenit, in Tralee Bay, to reach there between 20th and 23rd April - that is between Holy Thursday and Easter Sunday.
Pearse, in his capacity as Director of Organisation of The Irish Volunteers, issued an order on 8th April for a general mobilisation and manoeuvres of all units of the Volunteers on Easter Sunday.
This was published with the approval of the Volunteer Executive; but without the knowledge of that body, he issued further secret instructions to the Brigade Commandants in the country detailing the positions, which their forces were to carry out in the Sunday manoeuvres.
In the South and West these positions were designed to cover the arms landing and place various Brigades in convenient positions to receive the expected arms. The general plan of operations for the country had been worked out by the Military Council at the end of 1915.
Late on Wednesday of Holy Week MacNeill learned for the first time that an Insurrection was being planned for Easter Sunday. Next day he put the question directly to Pearse and Pearse told him that it was true. MacNeill determined to try and stop the Rising.
He told Pearse that, short of informing the British authorities, he would do everything in his power to prevent it. He issued general orders countermanding any orders issued by Pearse in relation to the Easter Sunday mobilisations.
Early on Friday morning. after they had become aware of McNeill's order, Pearse, MacDiarmada and MacDonagh interviewed MacNeill again and told him of the expected arrival of the cargo arms. Thereupon, MacNeill was understood to have withdrawn his opposition, saying that if arms were being imported a fight was inevitable and they were all in it.
Despatches were sent out to the country intimating that agreement had been reached in Dublin and arrangements for Sunday were to go ahead as originally ordered. It appeared to the Military Council on Friday night that one of the greatest difficulties had been overcome.
But, unknown to them then, a disaster had occurred that afternoon which threw all their plans into confusion. The arms ship Aud, which had successfully run the blockade of British patrols, arrived in Tralee Bay on Thursday night and waited in vain for the arranged signals and the pilot who was to bring her into Fenit pier.
No one in Kerry expected the arms before Sunday. The Military Council had for some reason altered the date of arrival to the evening of Sunday, but this message did not reach Germany until after Captain Spindler had sailed, and his vessel was not equipped with wireless.
On Friday evening the Aud was captured by British naval forces and that night she was steaming under escort towards Cork Harbour, off which Captain Spindler and his crew sank her next morning with her cargo of 20,000 rifles.
On Friday morning Sir Roger Casement with two companions had been put ashore from a German submarine at Banna Strand, a little north of Fenit. No one in Ireland knew of his coming; he was taken into custody by the police before help could reach him.
When news of the loss of the arms ship reached MacNeill on Saturday he reversed his earlier decision and reissued his order cancelling the movement of any Volunteers on Sunday, believing that a Rising without the arms was doomed to failure. Complete disruption and confusion had fallen on the plans of the Military Council.
When the full Military Council assembled in Liberty Hall on Easter Sunday morning they faced a situation as daunting as that which confronted Emmet in 1803 or Tone on the storm lashed waters of Bantry Bay.
With the loss of the arms ship all hope of military victory vanished. Had the arms landed and successfully distributed the flag of the Republic might have floated over a very large part of the country by Monday night.
The Volunteers might have overwhelmed the police in their isolated barracks as effectively as the Fingal men did as Ashbourne, and, had the country been swept of this armed force. Britain might have had on her hands a problem of military reconquest far more formidable that that of 1898.
But it was not to be. Another Insurrection seemed doomed to the same tragic failure as its predecessors. Had the vision of the Military Council failed then, had they been humiliated by the disruption of the plans, there would have been no Rising at Easter, 1916. The British, preparing to strike, had that day almost completed arrangements for the arrest of the leaders and the suppression77 of the Volunteers.
Faced with the ruin of their plans for a nation-wide Rising, the leaders made a decision of high courage and inspired vision. They decided to rise at noon on Monday. This decision had more significance than the mere choice between inaction and that "leap in the dark" as Connolly called it, which al men must take who plunge into insurrection. Implicit in it is a sense if history - of the imperative need for a blood sacrifice to restore the life to a dying nation.
Without arms little could be done in the country, and in fact it was only at Wexford and Galway, and at the home of the Kents near Castleyons, that Volunteers came into action.
But the Dublin Brigade and the Irish Citizen Army could fight on a modification of the original plan for the city. Gallantly the men of Dublin justified the confidence of their leaders.
To prevent any isolated offensive action by Volunteers on Sunday, orders were issued by Pearse confirming MacNeill's cancellation of any movements on that day. Late on Sunday couriers were sent out with Pearse's final orders for action at noon on Monday.
Dublin was ringed around by military barracks occupied by British forces, with none close to its centre except Dublin Castle. Inside that ring the insurgent army established an outer ring of posts in strong buildings around the heart of the city.
Headquarters was at the General Post Office (GPO), where Pearse as Supreme Commander and Connolly as Commandant General of the Dublin District were located. Commandant Edward Daly's 1st Battalion was at the Four Courts, with outposts at the Mendicity Institute, North Brunswick Street,Church Street and North King St. Commandant Thomas MacDonagh's 2nd Battalion occupied Jacob's Biscuit factory and a number of outposts.
Commandant Eamonn de Valera's 3rd Battalion had headquarters at Boland's Mills with outposts from Westland Row to Ringsend and at Mount Street Bridge. Commandant Eamonn Ceannt's 4th Battalion occupied the South Dublin Union, Marrowbone Lane Distillery and adjoining posts. A combined Citizen Army and Volunteer force under the command of Countess Markievicz and Commandant Michael Mallin took up positions at St. Stephen's Green and the College of surgeons.
On mobilisation total strength did not exceed 1,000 men, but this was considerably augmented during the week. It is reliably estimated that the total number participating on the Irish side was about 1,800 comprising 1,600 Volunteers and 200 Citizen Army personnel.
Opposed to them the British had in Dublin on Monday a fighting force of almost 2,500 officers and men, and before the end of the week they had brought in additional troops which raised their strength to 5,500 men.
After the occupation of the General Post Office at noon the building was put in a state of defence; outposts were established in commanding positions, many in street corner houses covering the approaches to it; street barricades were erected, and boring commenced through the walls of adjoining buildings, so as to make each block a defensive unit.
At 12.30 the tricolour flag was hoisted at the Henry Street corner of the G.P.O. and a banner bearing the inscription "Irish Republic" was flown at the Prince's Street corner. A little later, Pearse, surrounded by an armed guard, emerged into O'Connell Street and read the Proclamation.
Meanwhile all the other occupied positions were being put into a state of defence. From the moment when the army of the Irish Republic occupied its ring of posts around the heart of the city - around the heart of the historic nation, it could almost be said - its position was one of defence. To defeat it, aggressive, offensive action was the only possible British policy. In that, the Rising was a synthesis of the age-long struggle for freedom.
The British plan was simple and they pursued it consistently during the week; it was to throw a cordon round the Irish positions; extending on the north side of the Liffey from Parkgate to the North Wall, and on the south from Kingsbridge to Ringsend, and then to strike at the centre of the resistance in the G.P.O., using their superior strength to capture or isolate the other insurgent positions.
The first concern of the British was to secure Dublin Castle, then almost unguarded, which they did on Monday evening by getting 180 into it through the Ship Street entrance. This enabled them to reach Trinity College on Tuesday and gain a position which threatened the G.P.O.
One of the first Irish causalities was at the gate of Dublin Castle, where Sean Connolly was killed. Occupation of the Castle was not part of the plan for the Rising; Captain Connolly's detachment had been detailed to occupy the City Hall and the "Daily Express" building opposite it, but here as elsewhere strength was insufficient.
An effort was made to reinforce this small garrison by a detachment from the G.P.O. early on Tuesday morning, but it was not successful, and by Tuesday night the position was regarded as untenable and the garrison withdrawn.
The reinforcement comprised a party of Volunteers from Maynooth who had marched into Dublin on Monday, and some men of the Hibernian Rifles who had reported at General Headquarters.
The first shots were fired from the G.P.O. about 1.15 p.m. on Monday. The British 6th Reserve Cavalry Regiment came into O'Connell Street from the north. As they neared Nelson Pillar a volley from the roof and windows poured into their ranks. They suffered some casualties and the survivors retreated.
Another early clash occurred on Monday on the north side of the city. About 3.30 p.m. a party of Volunteers bringing supplies from Father Matthew Park, Fairview, to the G.P.O., came under machine -gun fire from the direction of the Great Northern Railway.
Some of the party took up defensive positions near Ballybough Bridge, while the remainder convened the stores to the G.P.O. British infantry advancing towards Annesley Bridge from the Bull Training Camp came under heavy fire from positions hastily occupied in corner houses on North Strand, in Spring Garden Street and Annesley Place, and in Leinster Avenue.
In the fight the British machine-gun was put out of action and the whole body retreated. An hour later they had made no further effort to advance and the Volunteer party continued to the G.P.O. There they were detailed to occupy positions at Fairview Strand and Clonliffe Road corner.
Commandant Ceannt's positions in the extensive buildings of the South Dublin Union were attacked on Monday by the British cordon pushing up from Kingsgridge.
The attack was repulsed, but the garrison, too thinly spread in the large grounds, was withdrawn to the Nurses' Home at night. This was a strong building which had been well fortified. Sean Heuston's post in the Mendicity Institute was eliminated on Tuesday.
Additions to the G.P.O. garrison strength during Monday made it possible to extend the outposts covering it by the occupation of other building early on Tuesday. In one of these - Reis's - a radio broadcasting set was erected, and from Tuesday afternoon to mid-day on Wednesday news of the Rising and of the progress of the fighting was broadcast. On another - the Imperial Hotel - the Irish Citizen Army flag was flown on Wednesday.
The British utilised the Loop Line railway to establish the northern end of their cordon in and around Amiens Street Station. Troops brought from the Curragh to Kingsbridge by special trains were moved into these positions. A strong party of them emerged on Tuesday afternoon to repair the damaged Great Northern Railway line at the Sloblands and came under heavy fire from the Annesley Bridge post.
In two hours' fighting thay had numerous casualties. But the British strength at this point forced a withdrawal of the outlying Fairview and Annesley Bridge posts late on Tuesday evening, although it made no impression on the nearer G.P.O. outposts on the north side. In fact the decisive attack on the G.P.O. came from across the river - from the south.
This attack with artillery brought up from Athlone - was made possible by the early British grip on Dublin Castle and Trinity College. By driving a wedge into the Irish ring of defensive positions at this point the British achieved a twofold purpose.
They established a foothold from which to attack the G.P.O., and they made it unnecessary for the moment to do more than contain the forces in Boland's, Jacob's and the South Dublin Union. Nevertheless, it was not until Friday that their gunners got the range on the G.P.O. accurately.
From Wednesday onwards rifle and machine-gun fire on the G.P.O. and its outposts, particularly those at the junction of O'Connell Street with the Quays, became heavy and ceaseless. Much of it came from Trinity College and the tower of Tara Street Fire Station across the river.
Artillery located at Tara Street shelled Liberty Hall, which had been evacuated since Monday, and from a position in the river below Butt Bridge the gun boat Helga joined in the artillery barrage. In the afternoon a heavy gun at the junction of D'Olier and College Streets demolished the upper part of the post at Kelly's corner, and its little garrison was forced to withdraw to the Metropole.
Endeavouring, on the Northside to push forward towards O'Connell Street from Parkgate, the British forces encountered very stubborn resistance from Commandant Daly's posts in the Four Courts and the North King Street area.
There was heavy fighting in this district, in the course of which a number of buildings were set on fire, but, apart from some changes to position, the area was firmly held by the insurgents.
Two British infantry brigades were landed at Dun Laoghaire late on Tuesday evening. Next morning they were forced to march on Dublin because Commandant de Valera's 3rd Battalion were astride the railway line and denied them the use of it.
The 5th and 6th Battalions, Sherwood Foresters, came in on the Blackrock, Stillorgan, Donnybrook Road and arrived in time to take part in the heavy fighting at the South Dublin Union. The 7th and 8th Battalions. marching in via Ballsbridge, were halted by three Volunteer outposts covering Mount Street Bridge. This was the scene of the bloodiest fighting of the Rising.
In the epic defence of this position, 12 men of the Irish Republican Army pinned down two battalions for nine hours and inflicted appalling casualties on them. The British admitted losses of 234 officers and men killed or wounded - in fact more than half their total casualties in the Rising.
This was, for them, an unnecessary waste of troops, since there were several undefended routes into the city which could have been used; it was equally foolish but far more stubbornly sustained effort than sending the Lancers into O'Connell Street on Monday.
Carisbrook House was overrun early in the fight which reduced the defenders to nine - two in 25 Northumberland Road and seven in Calnwilliam House. Lieut. Malone was killed in No. 25, and, after three hours fighting, two Volunteers were killed in Calnwilliam House. No. 25 was overrun and the assault on the sole remaining post became fiercer.
After five hours' fighting its defenders were reduced to four when another Volunteers was killed, but the others fought on. About 8.00 p.m. a party of the Royal Naval Reserve brought up a one pounder gun on a lorry, and with incendiary shells set the building on fire. An hour later the four survivors of this gallant defence retired from the blazing ruins, nine hours after they had fired the first shots.
On Thursday it was clear that the main British objective was the G.P.O. and its outposts. The heavy fighting in the North King Street and Four Courts was an effort, unsuccessfully as it proved, to eliminate these obstacles to the principal objective.
Across the river the South Dublin Union garrison held out in severe fighting in which Cathal Brugha was very seriously wounded. There was no very determined assault on the main Republican positions in Jacob's and Boland's.
On Friday the Fingal Volunteers, then the 5th Battalion of the Dublin Brigade, under the command of Commandant Tom Ashe, carried out a most successful action at Ashbourne, Co. Meath. Here 48 Volunteers, in a five-hour battle, out-fought and completely defeated a force of about 70 Royal Irish Constabulary.
When, early on Friday, British gunners got the range on the G.P.O. it was the beginning of the end. By evening, much of O'Connell Street, under a ceaseless barrage of incendiary shelling, had become a raging furnace of flame and smoke. The front of the G.P.O. was burning fiercely; the building could no longer be defended, and it was decided to evacuate.
Members of Cummann-na-mBan, who had worked so devotedly during the week, were with the exception of the nursing section, ordered to leave. The wounded were conveyed to Jervis Street Hospital.
Connolly, who had received a serious leg wound on Thursday, remained in command. At 8.40 p.m., the garrison retreated to a house at the Moore Street end of Henry Place. In the retreat O'Rahilly was killed.
From the first light on Saturday and all through the forenoon the battle raged with mounting intensity. General Headquarters lost contact with the other commands, each of which was now isolated. A gallant stand had been made, but organised resistance was no longer possible.
At 3.45 p.m. Pearse signed an order for general unconditional surrender. On Sunday, 30th April, the Rising ended in military defeat for the Republican forces.
In the 15 ruthless executions of the next 12 days all the signatories to the Proclamation and the eight other leaders made the supreme sacrifice. No nobler blood than theirs has fallen on Irish earth in the long struggle for freedom.
The military failure of the Rising proved to be no less significant than the effects of its impact upon the nation's mind. It was the expression in action of an idea essentially spiritual, the translation of an old and vital aspiration into living history.
In Easter Week the historic Irish nation was reborn. For men who shared in that shining deed Pearse, in one of his last messages, asked the remembrance of Ireland, present and to come. He did not ask in vain. "They shall be remembered for ever"