I’m currently looking forward to the launch of the latest 1916 work from Paul O’ Brien this Thursday at Kilmainham Jail, not least having flicked through the book today in the NUI Maynooth bookshop.
For a one week insurrection, I am constantly amazed at the amount of material published on the 1916 Rising. Hitting fever-pitch in 2006, things have continued at a steady pace since. Much more than ‘broad sweep’ accounts however, it is the particular and specific studies that are of interest to me.
Blood On The Streets became one of my favourite 1916 studies. The battle of Mount Street Bridge was, to say the least, bloody brutal. Wednesday the 26th of April was one of the most eventful days of the insurrection, with the shelling of Liberty Hall (completely empty bar one cleaner)commencing that morning. The rebels were holding up reasonably well across the city, despite a severe disadvantage with regards numbers. Sean Heuston’s efforts at the Mendicity Institute on Ushers Quay being a perfect example of a small band of rebels keeping large government forces at bay. That day however will be remembered as the day when four battalions of the Sherwood Foresters (Many of whom believed themselves to be on French soil at first) would encounter hell by Mount Street Bridge, not least from the (initial) 4 volunteers at home in 25 Northumberland Road. A far superior number of Sherwood Foresters, attempting to advance towards Trinity College, were ultimately stalled for days by a tiny band of rebels.
General Sir John Maxwell himself noted that:
“Four officers were killed and fourteen wounded and of the other ranks, 216 were killed and wounded”
Paul O’ Brien’s account of the battle is a comprehensive and long overdue one, where the reader feels they themselves are there in Clanwilliam House, or 25 Northumberland Road. Such is the effect of somebody focusing on such a key event in itself, rather than giving it a passing role in a broader study.
Hopefully, this account of the South Dublin Union garrison will be more of the same. One of the most interesting sites from during the week, not just in terms of the action that occured there- but the characters involved. Commandant Eamonn Ceannt was in charge of the 4th Batallion on the day, with Cathal Brugha and W.T Cosgrave next in line. It’s miraculous Cathal Brugha emerged from the battle here at all in truth, and it was here that Nurse Margaretta Keogh was to become the first female casualty of the week
The priceless 1916 Rebellion Handbook observed that
“The rebels took up suitable sniping positions at Dolphin’s Barn, Marrowbone lane, Watling street, Kingsbridge, Kilmainham, Rialto and Inchicore, while a party which seized Messrs Roe’s malting stores near Mount Brown also gave trouble”
The account of the assembly of the 4th Batallion, as noted in Dublins Fighting Story, provides fascinating insight into the chaos and disorganised nature of the rebellion at first. The Batallion had a roll call of about 1,000 Volunteers before the Rising. Where were they on the day?
There is an amazing tale of when Cathal Brugha -boasting twenty five wounds (Of which five were after cutting through arteries) and feared dead by many of his comrades- burst into song. Ceannt rushed to see the sight of Brugha slouched against a wall with his pistol to his shoulder still.
“The two heroes laid aside their weapons. The commandant came on bended knee the moment he saw the dreadful condition of his comrade- lying in a pool of his own blood four square feet in extent- embraced him, pressed him to his heart in a very passion of affection and tenderness. They exchanged greetings, very briefly, and the fond eyes of the commandant were flooded with tears”
In the end, the British would focus their attention on the General Post Office and the Four Courts, and the South Dublin Union garrison would ultimately not hear of the surrender until Sunday. Two miles west of the headquarters of the Provisional Government, Ceannt and his men – severely outnumbered by government forces from the nearby Richmond Barracks- would hold out for the length of the insurrection.
An individual study of such a key flashpoint of the 1916 Rising is most welcome. I look forward to obtaining my copy! If you’re there on Thursday say hello.