SIX DAYS OF THE IRISH REPUBLIC
A NARRATIVE AND CRITICAL ACCOUNT OF THE LATEST PHASE OF IRISH POLITICS
L. G. REDMOND-HOWARD
NEPHEW AND BIOGRAPHER OF THE IRISH LEADER
"LIFE OF JOHN REDMOND," "SIR ROGER CASEMENT," "AN IRISHMAN'S HOME," "THE NEW BIRTH OF IRELAND," ETC.
LONDON: MAUNSEL & CO. LTD.
40 MUSEUM STREET, W.C.
DUBLIN: E. PONSONBY LTD.
116 GRAFTON STREET
ONE OF THE FEW HONEST ENGLISHMEN WHO ARE ENGLISH ENOUGH TO BE ASHAMED OF THE STORY OF ENGLISH RULE IN IRELAND
(Passed by Censor)
The following pages are an attempt at a simple narrative and criticism of what must appear the most inexplicable occurrence in Irish history.
The climax of a century of arguments, futile only because of the proverbial dullness of the race to which they were addressed, the rising has lifted the Home Rule controversy at one stroke from the region of the village pump into the very midst of the counsels of Europe, for it was a challenge—of madmen, if you like—to the greatest Empire in the world, at the very moment of its gravest crisis, upon the most fundamental portion of its policy of interference with the affairs of the Continent, namely, England's claim to be the champion of small nationalities.
Unless Ireland can be shown to be held by her own free consent, in perfect contentment, the whole of our contention falls to the ground—for our policy in Ireland is only in microcosm our policy of Empire; and Germany will be able to point the finger of scorn and ridicule at us, and prove thereby to France and Russia that, tyrants at home, we only used them to fight a battle we dared not fight alone.
I say nothing here of the motives that inspired the rebels, nor the immediate causes that provoked them to rise, nor the nature of the methods by which they were "stamped out"; I only state the moral of their failure, and I must take this opportunity to thank Lord Decies, the official Press censor, for the freedom with which he has allowed me to speak at what I feel to be a very critical juncture in the history of my country and of our common Empire; for I have gone upon the principle that it is far better to distribute the blame all round than to try and make the Sinn Feiners the scapegoats of faults which each party contributed towards the catastrophe.
There never was, I believe, an Irish crime—if crime it can be called—which had not its roots in an English folly; and I repeat here what the late Mr. Stead always impressed upon me: Ireland is our school of Empire, and the mistakes which would lose us Ireland would lose us the Empire.
It is England's move next: we have protested in blood; the eyes of Europe await her decision.
At the same time I cannot help blaming Irishmen as well for the catastrophe, for politicians of all parties have been tending towards isolating their followers in the old ancestral bigotries, instead of drawing them together in sympathy, as Mr. William O'Brien has been advocating for years, with the result that we are now threatened with permanent constitutional separation for another generation.
It is a mistake which all the younger men deplore, and which could easily have been avoided by bringing in the men of Ulster into the national deliberations, as they have every right, in the name of their Southern followers, and then giving them the option to veto the application of any measure to their own districts—which would have been the best guarantee of justice which the Nationalists could have given and the most they had a right to expect of England, whose political position of dependence upon the Irish vote is a scandal of empire.
These things, however, are beyond the scope of the present pages, and I shall confine myself with thanking those of my many friends who have helped me in compiling this volume—notably Councillor Keogh, who was with me during the Battle of Mount Street Bridge, and others, whose criticisms helped me considerably. Likewise I must thank my publishers and Mr. O'Keefe, of O'Keefe's Press-cutting Agency; and Mr. George Atkinson, who designed the cover, and Mr. Crampton Walker; and also Mr. Marsh, the manager of the Coliseum, with whom I had several dangerous adventures while in Sackville Street; and lastly, those among my Sinn Fein friends who enabled me to get an inner view of a movement to which I have endeavoured to do the best of justice—that of a true statement of their intentions.
L. G. REDMOND-HOWARD. T.C.D., 1916.
CHAPTER THE FIRST
A BOLT FROM THE BLUE 1
CHAPTER THE SECOND
JUST BEFORE THE BATTLE 14
CHAPTER THE THIRD
CHAPTER THE FOURTH
CHAPTER THE FIFTH
CHAPTER THE SIXTH
SINN FEIN—GERMAN GOLD 69
CHAPTER THE SEVENTH
MINDS AND MEN 82
CHAPTER THE EIGHTH
REMOTER CAUSES OF THE REBELLION 98
CHAPTER THE NINTH
REFLECTIONS TOWARDS RECONSTRUCTION 120
SIX DAYS OF THE IRISH REPUBLIC
CHAPTER THE FIRST
A BOLT FROM THE BLUE
Those who were in Dublin on Easter Monday 1916 were privileged to witness a scene which for dramatic setting and for paradoxical conception is certainly the most extraordinary of any of the long line of rebellions in Irish history, for at a time when it seemed almost universally admitted that "Separatism" was from an economic, racial, and military point of view utterly impossible, there suddenly arose without warning, without apparent reason, and as if from nowhere, a body of men, fully armed and completely organized, who within the space of a single hour had captured every strategic point in the capital, and to its utter amazement held it up in the name of a new "Republic," in much the same way as a highwayman of old used to hold up coaches on Hounslow Heath.
It was in very deed a bolt from the blue. The first intimation that the general public got of the rising was the sudden spread of the wildest rumours—"Dublin Castle has just been taken by the Irish Volunteers," "The Post Office has been captured by the Sinn Feiners," "Soldiers and police are being shot at sight," "Larkin's Citizen Army are firing on women and children," but, for the most part, these rumours were discredited as impossible, at most being put down as some accidental clash between military and civilians, and it was only as people rushed into the street and heard the stories of the encounters first-hand that they began to realize that anything unusual was taking place.
Bodies of armed men had indeed been remarked in unusually large numbers in the streets all the morning, increasing and concentrating towards twelve, but everyone had grown so accustomed to these demonstrations for the past three years, since they had been inaugurated in Ulster by Sir Edward Carson, that nobody had taken any particular notice.
People merely remarked that it was rather strange, in view of the abandonment of the "Easter manoeuvres" which had been organized for Sunday, and which had been cancelled at the last moment, late on Saturday night, by special order of Professor Eoin MacNeill, editor of the Irish Volunteer, which ran: "Owing to the very critical position, all orders given to Irish Volunteers for to-morrow, Easter Sunday, are hereby rescinded, and no parades, marches, or other movements of Irish Volunteers will take place. Each individual Volunteer will obey this order strictly in every particular."
It was supposed, therefore, that the numbers were due to the new recruits which had been the outcome of the protest against the deportation of the Sinn Fein leaders some time previous to this, and moderate people hoped that the Sinn Fein authorities were about to show the same discretion in the matter of an armed demonstration in Dublin which the authorities had shown in the matter of the proposed inclusion of the military in the St. Patrick's Day parade in Cork.
Possibly they may have had secret information—for they had their spies in every department—that the long-meditated disarmament had been determined upon, and immediately decided to anticipate the offensive by a strong defensive of their own choosing. At any rate, Monday found them fully prepared, each in his proper place.
Accordingly, on the exact stroke of midday the Volunteers in Sackville Street were suddenly seen to stop short opposite the Post Office. "I was outside the building at the time," said an eye-witness of that now historic event, Mr. E. A. Stoker, the well-known Grafton Street jeweller, "and noticed a mixed crowd of, I should say, roughly, about one hundred men and boys, all armed, and half the number carrying old portmanteaux and parcels of every description. It is said that Connolly was leading.
"He called, 'Halt! Left turn! Come on.' The crowd then ran into the Post Office. I also followed. Several men crossed the counter and held revolvers at the officials' heads.
"One youth, intensely pale and nervous, put a revolver at my breast and said, 'Clear out.'
"I replied, 'What's up?'
"He said, 'Hands up, or I'll blow your heart out.'
"Up went my hands, and he backed me out to the entrance, and within five minutes everyone else had been bundled out in the same unceremonious way, and they were in possession."
Once in possession of the Post Office—which from its position and character was admirably suited for a general headquarters—the next thing was to fortify the place, for there was no knowing what had happened to the other enterprises which had been timed to take place simultaneously, or when the authorities would send out an armed force for its recapture. Next, a number of shots—all blank—were discharged with the purpose of clearing the streets of sightseers and inquisitive idlers. These had the desired effect, after which floor after floor of the Post Office was systematically occupied, the officials being either placed under arrest or allowed to disperse, as each case suggested fit to the commander, and the air began to reverberate with the sounds of crashing glass and masonry as the lower windows were turned into fortified loopholes with the aid of furniture and bags.
Meanwhile a small group of policemen stood near the Nelson Monument helpless, but one must evidently have telegraphed for help, for within a few minutes a small detachment of mounted lancers came riding up.
People stood breathless in expectation.
The insurgents just allowed the first line to get abreast of the Pillar, and then they opened fire; and at once a couple of saddles were emptied and the rest at once turned and galloped for all they were worth up in the direction of the Rotunda.
One poor fellow was killed outright and a horse shot dead; after which a great cheer went up from the crowd in the G.P.O., who proceeded to take off the harness and carry it in triumph back to headquarters, one of the rebels in uniform taking the young lancer's sword.
Immediately after this a tramway car was blown up with dynamite at the corner of North Earl Street, making a sort of barricade against any possible approach from Amiens Street Station, where the Belfast trains were expected to arrive.
By this time I was on the scene of the crisis myself, having only heard the news on my way into Trinity, which had been quickly occupied by the O.T.C., who were thus able to practically cut the chief line of communication of the rebels and command a huge area of important streets which would otherwise have presented the utmost difficulties to the advance of regular troops.
Only the military were allowed in College, and, anxious to be on the spot at what everybody then expected would be no more than an hour or so's brisk encounter, I took a car to the "Metropole" in order to be present when the Post Office was taken—the hotel actually adjoining and overlooking the building.
My own experience must have been that of thousands of people in Dublin, but I quote it, as I will quote it again, because I can personally testify to it.
Everyone at the hotel was in a state of consternation, for hardly six yards away the windows of the Post Office were crashing to the ground in the street, and at everyone bags of refuse were being piled up, and the muzzles of rifles were commanding all the windows of the hotel guests.
Several soldiers were staying at the "Metropole," and as I saw the Sinn Feiners watching us, I suggested their changing the khaki into mufti, if only for the safety of the civilians—for on all sides soldiers were being shot at sight by snipers—a suggestion which found acceptance, for most of the officers were young subalterns on leave, and therefore unarmed.
For a long time we could not tell what was going to happen; every minute we expected the soldiers or the constabulary, and peered anxiously out, but it seemed as if they were never coming, and men in the hotel were anxiously consulting what to do and women packing up their jewels.
The one man who all the while kept as cool as a cucumber was Mr. Oliver, the manager of the "Metropole."
At last there came a martial tap, tap at the glass door of the hall entrance, from an officer arrayed in green and gold, wearing cocked hat and feathers and high top-boots, with a sword in one hand and a revolver in the other.
Behind him were two minor officials, each armed with a loaded rifle of modern pattern, with bayonets fixed.
I was at Mr. Oliver's side at the time, and we could see that only a pane divided us from a whole line of them ranged along the pavement. Resistance was useless, and Mr. Oliver gave orders to admit them.
"We intend to commandeer your food supply," said the man in the cocked hat, "and I must ask you to show me the way to your provisions."
For a second Mr. Oliver hesitated. "Suppose I refuse?" he said.
"In that case I will take them and you too," was the reply, and then, addressing the two men, he added, "Men, do your duty," and they ransacked the place, while I took down a list of the goods they took.
Eventually the officer signed a receipt for the goods taken in the name of the Irish Republic, and Mr. Oliver, much to my disappointment, pocketed the precious document.
They left, and after a few minutes came back with a ten-pound note. Again I presented myself, and ventured one or two questions.
The looting had already begun, and children were wandering through the streets with toys and food and sweets.
"Surely," I said to the officer, "you do not approve of all this indiscriminate theft?"
"No, certainly not," was his dignified reply.
I next asked the meaning of all the rising, and to this he simply replied:—
"It means that Ireland is free, that English government is at an end, and that we have established an Irish Republic. As it is, we hold the whole city, and within a few days the provinces will be ours as well."
I still pressed for a pronouncement on the real aims and objects of the new Government, and was referred to headquarters.
Accordingly, I took my courage in both hands and walked past the soldiers opposite the Post Office and the sandbagged windows, and asked the guard at the main door if I could have an interview with their President.
At first I thought I was going to get it, but I suddenly noticed a change come over the man, and saw guns covering me in a most uncomfortable way.
I argued my case with some of the minor officials, and pleaded the importance of such a pronouncement, but, taking me possibly for a spy, I was ordered off, and told that my safest way was to get back to my hotel, where no harm would come to me as a civilian if only I left the men of action alone.
As soon as I realized the impossibility of penetrating the headquarters, I returned to the "Metropole" and took up a position of vantage upon the balcony, and was able to secure a unique snapshot of the hoisting of the new flag of the Republic, and took another of the cheering of the crowd—though this was very insignificant and in no way represented any considerable body of citizens, any of the better class having disappeared, leaving the streets to idlers and women and children or else stray sightseers.
This was certainly a thing that struck me, and I realized at once that the movement was at that time a dismal failure as far as the vast majority of Nationalist Ireland was concerned. There was practically no response whatever from the people: it seemed the very antithesis of the emancipation of a race as we see it, say, in the capture of the Bastille in the French Revolution. They looked on partly with amazement, partly with curiosity—waiting for something dramatic to happen.
The point struck me with particular pathos—there they were posing as the saviours of their country, and yet there they were already doomed before they had even struck a single blow—and doomed by the verdict of their own countrymen.
As I was making the remark to one of the men in the hotel, a boy with a handful of sheets issued from the Post Office—they were the proclamation of the new Republic of Ireland.
Instead of eagerly scanning the sheets and picking out the watchwords of the new liberty, or glowing with enthusiastic admiration at the phrases or sentiments, most of the crowd "bought a couple as a souvenir"—some with the cute business instinct "that they'd be worth a fiver each some day, when the beggars were hanged."
I give another pathetic story told to me, though I cannot vouch for it. It was that young Plunkett was deputed to go to the base of Nelson's Pillar and there read out the new charter of liberty to the emancipated citizens.
He read it with deep emotion to a pack of squabbling women and children—and he had hardly half finished the document when suddenly there was a crash, followed by the sound of breaking glass.
At once the crowd turned round and looked in the direction whence it proceeded, and one old woman, half sodden with drink, exclaimed with delight, "Hooroosh!—they're raiding Noblet's toffee-shop." Whereupon the newly emancipated slaves of a foreign tyranny rushed to partake in the orgy of sweetmeats which came tumbling out into the street.
It was to me the saddest picture of the whole revolution, and even if not true, was certainly typical of much of the pathos which crowned this mixture of humour and tragedy.
The document in question, however, was by no means undignified, taken as an explanation of the ideals that animated the rebels, but it was simply ridiculous when judged by the hard common-sense standards of stern reality, though it was probably never meant for anything more than a rhetorical protest in the name of the fast-ebbing sense of Nationality.
This Utopian outburst perhaps speaks best for itself, and I quote it in full:—
POBLACHT NA H-EIREANN. THE PROVISIONAL GOVERNMENT OF THE IRISH REPUBLIC TO THE PEOPLE OF IRELAND.
Irishmen and Irishwomen: In the name of God and of the dead generations from which she receives her old traditions of nationhood, Ireland, through us, summons her children to her flag and strikes for her freedom. Having organized and trained her manhood through her secret revolutionary organization, the Irish Republican Brotherhood, and through her open military organizations, 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 place 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 past three hundred years they have asserted it in 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 of all its parts, cherishing all 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 Government 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 none who serves that cause will dishonour it by cowardice, inhumanity, 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 MACDIARMADA. THOMAS MACDONAGH. J. H. PEARSE. EAMONN CEANNT. JAMES CONNOLLY. JOSEPH PLUNKETT.
But to continue the narrative. According to a young woman cleric in the G.P.O. the Sinn Feiners had chosen the place for their headquarters partly because they were already familiar with the place, which was proved by the way they settled down each to his own work the moment they entered it, and partly because they had already made it a storehouse.
All this while much the same process was going on all over the city. The attack upon the Castle was hardly less dramatic than that upon the G.P.O., but it seems to have been undertaken by fewer troops of Volunteers and carried out less cleverly, so that it eventually fell back into the hands of the military. I believe it was originally intended to burn the place to the ground, as symbolical of the centuries of tyranny with which it has been associated. Strategically it might not have been of such value to the insurgents, but the moral effect of its capture would undoubtedly have been enormous upon the provinces if they had been able to telegraph it within the first few hours of the rising.
The Castle, however, had never formed the main point of attack; it was at most an emotional side-issue. The scheme for the defence of Dublin was a far greater conception, and there was hardly a bookseller in the city, as I learnt later from Fred Hanna, of Nassau Street, whose shop had not been visited during the past few weeks by one or other of the insurgent leaders with the object of securing all the standard works on strategy and military operations—which rather goes to prove that the step had been long in contemplation.
The idea seems to have been to draw a cordon around the city by securing first of all the chief railway stations and the larger dominating buildings, such as Jacob's biscuit factory, and then to man the corner houses that overlooked the main roadways at the point where they crossed the canals, and thus prevent all approach of the military till messengers should be dispatched from Dublin to tell the counties to rise.
Probably the greatest disappointment to the rebels was the capture of the famous Magazine Fort in the Phoenix Park.
It was generally understood that this was crammed to the very door with guns and ammunition—heavy guns especially—and the most elaborate preparations had consequently been made for its capture, the idea probably being that once Ireland had heard of the capture of Dublin there would be a general movement from the country towards the capital, and that the new recruits could be fitted out from the magazine and then dispatched to provincial headquarters. It was probably for this reason the long line of the quays along the Liffey had been kept clear—the Four Courts being a sort of halfway fort.
The loss of the Magazine Fort—or rather the failure of their expectation in its regard, for it was found to be practically empty when searched—meant that they were bound to depend entirely upon Germany for the larger ammunition. The railways were of course of supreme importance, and simultaneously with the raid of the Post Office, Jacob's, and the Castle, attacks were made on all the principal stations.
At twelve prompt Westland Row was occupied without a struggle and the doors closed, sentinels being placed on the bridge spanning the street below—arousing no little local curiosity, for the news had not circulated through the town by this time.
Harcourt Street Station was also taken over and an attempt made to fortify it, but this was abandoned after some time, quite early in the afternoon. Broadstone Station also fell before the insurgents; but neither the attempt upon Amiens Street or Kingsbridge, where the soldiers from Belfast and the Curragh would necessarily arrive, succeeded. The military did not secure the former without a struggle, having to stand a siege, while the latter's approaches were kept clear by means of an engine, on which several armed snipers were placed, and which was kept moving continually up and down, sweeping the country of any Sinn Feiners who might attempt to approach in order to tamper with the permanent way.
This was rendered necessary because immediately the rebels got possession of a line their first steps were to destroy signalling points and junctions, and in one or two instances, such as on the Kingstown line, actually tore up the permanent way, while in several other places attempts were made to blow up the bridges with dynamite.
Had it not been for this the whole coup might have been ended on Monday or Tuesday at latest, instead of dragging on day after day.
Every bridge across the canal which bounds Dublin on the south was commanded by corner-houses, entered at the point of the revolver and turned, in spite of all protest, into fortresses in an almost mediaeval fashion.
Liberty Hall, from whence floated the green emblem which had first been hoisted when the four Labour leaders were deported, was a sort of central storehouse of munitions, and was strongly guarded, but strange to say the Custom House on the other side of the railway was left untouched.
This was probably because the docks were sufficiently defended by the factories, like Ringsend and Boland's bakery, vast straggling buildings on either side of the railway approach, and which were not only occupied, but stored with food and ammunition and loopholed and sandbagged to stand a fortnight's siege if necessary.
The one great mistake made by the rebels appears to have been the occupation of Stephen's Green, a huge open square, which, surrounded as it is by tall buildings on all four sides, was bound to become a death-trap, and eventually did so become.
At exactly the same time as the Post Office was occupied, Volunteers entered the famous square, which might almost be called a park, and ordered the civilians out at the point of the revolver. They then proceeded to entrench themselves and make barricades of any convenient object, seizing trams, cabs, benches, and even holding up motor-cars and turning them to this purpose.
In the carrying out of this several civilians were shot at and wounded, either by accidental shots meant for soldiers or for refusing obedience to the new self-constituted authorities.
Great carts, filled presumably with ammunition, were next escorted into the Green, and then the doors were locked and barred and tied very strongly, and finally the ropes greased—which shows how carefully almost any eventuality had been planned.
Whether their danger on the Green dawned upon them in time I cannot say, but when they saw themselves dominated by the great roof of the Shelbourne Hotel—about half an hour after the seizure of the open square for a camp—a rush was made for the hotel, which luckily had just been captured in the nick of time by a few of the military, who immediately began to fire on the rebels below, at the same time guarding the doors. A short while afterwards the main body of new Sinn Fein arrivals were noticed to make their way, instead, to the Royal College of Surgeons at the opposite end, which became one of their most stoutly defended strongholds under the famous Countess Markievicz.
Two further mistakes of the most vital importance were made in the rebels' plan for the capture of Dublin, however, which were eventually to be the deciding factor of the whole situation, and to which more than anything they must be said to owe the sudden collapse of their movement as well in the capital as in the provinces. The first was the omission to capture the telephone system after securing the telegraphs so completely.
This meant not only that the military authorities could still keep in touch with the few troops that still remained in Ireland, but it meant that the authorities at the Castle were able to get into touch with London.
One can hardly imagine the chaos that would have ensued if, for example, a delay of a couple of days had had to intervene between the occurrence of the rising and communication with London—which might have been quite possible, since they held the wireless stations as well as the cables, and German submarines were supposed to be watching the mail boats.
The other great mistake was to allow Trinity College, which was the strategic key to Dublin City, to fall into the hands of a few of the Officers' Training Corps, who must be given the credit of saving the capital from total capture and Grafton Street from pillage.
For as long as this was held by soldiers all the internal lines of communication of the rebels were blocked and they themselves threatened on all sides.
Otherwise the republicans had complete control of the city: the police were confined to barracks, civilians were on all sides at the mercy of a perfectly organized and armed body of revolutionaries all in touch with a headquarter staff, and the military, somewhere beyond the outskirts of the city, were—nobody knew exactly where, and the whole population on all sides hushed in expectation of the inevitable battle.
For it had ceased to be a mere riot: it had become a revolution.
CHAPTER THE SECOND
JUST BEFORE THE BATTLE
Those who went through that period of anxious expectancy between Monday afternoon and Wednesday morning, knowing themselves absolutely at the mercy of what appeared to be a "secret society suddenly gone mad and in possession of the reins of government," will never forget the experience.
The whole thing was so sudden, so unprecedented, so inexplicable that the intelligence simply refused to perform the ordinary functions of thought.
Everywhere civilians were being bullied into obedience at the point of the bayonet: young boys in their teens brandished revolvers in the high roads: rough, brawny dockers walked about endowed apparently with unlimited authority, and in the dark recesses of the General Post Office, beyond the reach of law or argument, the mysterious Republican Brotherhood—omnipotent.
All the while stories were coming in of hairbreadth escapes, of stray shots, apparently from the sky, picking off unfortunate wayfarers, and of whole parties of officers on their way back from the races in their cars being captured and held up by the Volunteers—and every story went one further than the one before it, till one was ready to believe almost anything.
Personally, I kept within the "Metropole," expecting every minute that the "climax" of the situation would be reached, but still the soldiery did not arrive, and we began to come to the belief that in all probability the authorities were only waiting until dusk.
I could not tear myself from the windows. That instinct of expectation gripped me like a vice, and continued to do so for twenty-four solid hours—and if I quote my own experience it is only as an example of what others all around me went through.
It was now about four o'clock, and still I looked out into the street below—the people were beginning to go wild with excitement, for every now and then the Sinn Feiners would fire blank cartridges, and each time they did so, with the one cry "The soldiers are coming!" a mass of several thousand men, women, and children would rush now to one end of Sackville Street, now to the other. After Noblet's it was the Saxon Shoe Company and Dunn's hat-shop's turn to be looted, and one could see little guttersnipe wearing high silk hats and new bowlers and straws, who had never worn headgear before: bare-footed little devils with legs buried in Wellington top-boots, unable to bend their knees, and drunken women brandishing satin shoes and Russian boots till it seemed as if the whole revolution would collapse in ridicule or pandemonium. For there was no animosity in the crowd at first, just as there was no enthusiasm—certainly no avarice or desire for theft—only sheer demoralization and mischief for mischief's sake: but every hour it became worse. Sometimes there was absolutely no point in the loot. I saw an urchin of nine brandishing with pride More's "Utopia" and Wells's "New Machiavelli," which he compared with a rival urchin's—a girl's—bunch of newspapers on "Poultry" and "Wireless," and solemnly exchanging their treasures.
I saw a tussle between two drunken harlots for the possession of a headless dummy taken from a draper's shop, and noted a youngster go up to the very steps of the Provisional Government House of the New Republic of Ireland and amuse the armed rebels with impersonations of Charlie Chaplin.
In another portion of the street I saw a drunken sailor mad with hate make a furious assault upon a woman, and then, when the crowd yelled in horror, suddenly change his mind from murder and kiss his victim: while in yet another portion of the street a woman of about sixty was kneeling with hands outstretched to heaven, clasping a rosary and crying her prayers to the Mother of God in heaven for "Ireland to be a nation once again!"
Time after time I felt inclined to weep with very shame at the whole thing; for as I passed a group of young English revue girls who had come along to see the "show," I heard one exclaim, "A little bit of heaven, and they call it Ireland!" and everyone laughed; and another threw out the gibe: "Irish, and proud of it, eh?"
They were not meant as insults—no, certainly not—merely the happy laughing cynicism of the common-sense view that would be taken of us by hundreds of cartoonists; but I must say they went through me as hardly anything else I witnessed, for they showed in such a terrible light the contrast between the dream that had inspired these men and the reality that they had brought forth.
Meantime, however, things were maturing, and as they matured the ridiculous element faded and the tragic element began to come into the picture.
Every few minutes dispatch riders would come up on motor-cycles to the Post Office, and emerge a few minutes later with sealed orders. A long line of motor-cars "held up" at the point of the revolver was also requisitioned and placed at the disposal of the rebels in a queue before the Post Office side-entrance. Then came the supplies of food and ammunition on huge lorries from the country districts, each with its escort of six young farmers fully armed, with double bandoliers filled to bursting-point with cartridges; and as I stood outside the Freeman offices, just at the side-gate of the "fortress," I was amazed at the regularity of the whole proceeding: password, cheques, guards, orders, everything, in fact, went off without the slightest hitch. And no wonder—as I found out later—for during the past few weeks nearly every manoeuvre had been rehearsed in mufti by the Volunteers, acting under the orders of their chiefs, and each man knew his position, his work, and the exact minute at which he was to perform it.
In this way, at a given signal it had been possible to hold up the whole city of Dublin with the ease of a highwayman holding up a coach on a lonely common in Georgian days.
I shall never forget the awful growing stillness of that afternoon as the hours flew by, for all traffic was at an end. Now and again in the general silence one heard the crack of a rifle, the hoot of a captured motor and the cry "Stop, in the name of the Irish Republic!" from the Volunteers, and the ghastly howling of the mob as more shop-fronts gave way—but all these sounds came spasmodically and only intensified the surrounding stillness. And all the while everyone was expecting the arrival of the military, and saying, "When will the soldiers come?" Then, "Will the soldiers come?" and later, "Will the soldiers never come?"
Soon dusk began to come on more rapidly, and we conjectured that the authorities must have determined to wait till dark. The Volunteers, too, felt this, and took up positions on the roof and strengthened their outposts, every hour or so a dozen or two Volunteers fully armed going off from the Post Office.
The "Metropole" being situated alongside the Post Office, I could not get any direct view of what I knew would be the centre of the battle, and so I determined to move across to the "Imperial," which, situated vis-a-vis the Post Office on the top of Clery's Stores, commanded the fullest view of the rebel headquarters.
There I found everyone, including the manager, Mr. Woods, in the same state of bewilderment as at the "Metropole."
I mentioned who I was, and was told that a priest in the smoking-room had just heard that John Redmond had been captured by the Sinn Feiners and had, in all probability, been shot—but this was only one of the thousand rumours that were by this time flying about the city, another being that the Castle was in flames, with the Lord-Lieutenant in the middle of the inner yard, and yet another describing the heroic death of Father O'Doherty of Marlborough Street, who was supposed to have been shot through the head in full vestments, having endeavoured to remonstrate, cross in hand, with the rebels, in order to persuade them to lay down their arms in the name of God.
The street was now (9.30) in a perfect state of pandemonium, for a fire had begun in the premises of the Cable Shoe Company, which immediately adjoined Clery's, and hence was an imminent danger to us.
I rushed down, and to my amazement found that the place, already looted, had been set on fire deliberately, and that there was not one of the crowd of two hundred spectators who seemed to be aware of, or even to care about, the fate of the flat over the shop, which from the look of the curtains appeared to be inhabited.
The cellars were crackling as if they contained some fatty, resinous substance, purposely placed there with incendiary intent, and the smoke was blinding and suffocating. The door of the side entrance was locked and I could not force it, so I called for a few volunteers to try to break it down by ramming it with some planks that were lying about, and though we did not succeed in breaking it, we were able to arouse the attention of the sleepers, and a dentist popped his head out and told us there were women and children in the house.
Some by this time had run off for the fire-engine, and others, realizing the danger, helped us to carry the inmates to safety, one woman being actually in her confinement and frightened almost to death. After that we rescued a few personal belongings with difficulty, but the smoke was too terrible to do more, and the stairs were perfectly hot; and so I went back with the owner to the hotel, where the family were put up and given clothes, having been forced to rise from their beds.
Soon after this I met Mr. Marsh, the manager of the Coliseum, who told me that the rebels had just commandeered the building, which immediately backs the Post Office, and had placed a guard at the door to prevent looting.
As a matter of fact, as we afterwards found out, it was merely to secure the building as a means of retreat in case of a rout of their headquarters at the Post Office—with the result that the building is now burnt to the ground by naval shells, which pursued the rebels in their retreat.
Sleep on such a night was of course out of the question—we did not know at what time the military would arrive—but in any case we secured a room on the second floor, looking into the street, for we were determined to see the thing out, still never dreaming but that the whole thing would be over within a few dramatic hours. Meanwhile the street below became worse and worse. On all sides now the looters came up from the black depths of the slums like packs of hungry wolves, so that every minute we expected that Clery's underneath would be the next to go. Indeed, over at Mansfield's opposite we heard one of the crowd telling the looters to go over and smash William Martin Murphy's windows—Murphy was one of the directors of Clery's—and reminding them that it was he, Boss Murphy, was the real enemy of the people—"the man who caused the lock-out in the days of Jim Larkin"; but the looters, having tasted the blood of theft, were far too avaricious by this time to think of politics in their orgy, and instead began to make a raid on a tobacco-shop, and next a small jeweller's. One could see small boys, too, going to the outskirts of the crowd to sell the booty, so that those who had not the pluck to steal salved their consciences by buying the loot, in most cases getting some fifteen or twenty shillings' worth for as many farthings.
About twelve the Sinn Feiners, without directly encouraging loot, unconsciously helped it by the order to "barricade the side streets," and for hours nothing could be heard but the crash of furniture being pitched into the street below from second, third, and fourth story windows, till the barricades were eight or ten feet high, composed of chairs, tables, desks, sofas, beds, and all kinds of furniture and stores.
In one place, "Kelly's" of Abbey Street, hundreds of cycles and motor cycles were piled up—at least five thousand pounds' worth—and brand-new motor-cars were then run into it, thus forming a steel wall of solid machinery, upon which, later in the "war," the rebels poured petrol and set the whole pile alight, with the result that the neighbouring houses, hotels, and eventually the Hibernian Academy, with its five hundred pictures, were burnt to the ground.
As the early hours of the morning approached the crowd began to disperse, the most enthusiastic singing the latest music-hall songs, and soon O'Connell Street became black and deserted, save for a few specks of candlelight moving about in the G.P.O., which was otherwise in complete darkness, and a few guards marching up and down beneath the great Greek portico.
We retired then to our own room to watch and think. Never to my dying day shall I ever forget those long hours of midnight stillness, broken only by the distant rattle of the rifles in the direction of Phoenix Park, where the two forces had by this time come into contact.
One could easily distinguish the crack of the respective rifles: the Government weapons had a harsher and lower note, but for each "spit" of the rebel guns one could hear the dread rattle of the military machine guns; and then we knew that there could only be one possible end—defeat, ignominious and complete.
Before us, hardly fifty yards away, stood the Post Office, lit up by the street arc lamps in pale blues and greens, and looking for all the world like the drop-cloth of a theatre; and there were we, it might have been the dress circle of some gigantic opera house, and the feeling—the feeling was excruciatingly morbid. We felt like cynical critics sent to review a drama foredoomed to fiasco, yet with the difference that the actors were all real and that the tragedy would be enacted in the blood of hundreds of innocent lives.
We were watching the climax of years of planning and the culminating point of so many lifetimes of idealism, effort, and sacrifice, however mistaken.
We knew they would fail: we knew the penalty of the failure—the traitor's death or the convict's cell; but we were held to the spot, to see just how "dramatic" the fiasco would be.
The very thought was a continuous torture, and it haunted us like a ghost or a madness.
We knew they were our own flesh and blood that had rebelled: it would be strangers who would conquer, and yet we knew that order was right: and this too was a torture-thought.
Hour after hour passed, and when I was not at the window Marsh was on watch, and when he was asleep I mounted my pensive guard.
Incidents never ceased, but the incidents were as nothing compared with the reflections they aroused.
Hour after hour unarmed Volunteers came in from the country, stayed in an hour or so, and then moved out armed. Carts and cars of ammunition and food arrived and gave the password and were admitted. As the early hours of dawn approached we could see milk and bread carts driving up at top speed, the driver with the cold muzzle of a revolver at his ear and his captors seated behind him.
Sometimes flash signals would shoot across the sky, and at others a man at the "Metropole" corner of the G.P.O. would open a basket and release carrier pigeons, so complete was their organization.
At daybreak we found our room covered by a guard, with rifles pointed at our heads, the light shining over their backs full into our faces: but we made no movement, and an hour or so later moved to another portion of the roof.
Next the street was cleared and barbed wire stretched across.
About six o'clock we saw Connolly emerge at the head of a band, and we could hear one of his subordinates call out Mr. Connolly this and Mr. Connolly that, and the commander-in-chief give his orders in a clear, resonant, and fearless voice.
About eight we thought our last hour had come, for, looking towards the base of Nelson's Pillar, we saw men running from a thin blue spiral of smoke rising up, followed by a terrific explosion. They were trying to blow up the monument.
So Tuesday had come, but it found the situation no further advanced: the military had not come: the rebels had had time to entrench and fortify themselves: the city was really fully in their possession: but the battle had begun.
We could now hear it in the direction of the Castle and the Four Courts, and we thought it could only be a matter of a few hours before they would reach Sackville Street, for we could hear the military machine guns raking Dame Street from Trinity College.
As a matter of fact, a machine gun had been hoisted upon the roof of the Hibernian Bank, which commanded the old Houses of Parliament, upon which the rebels had climbed, and in the space of a few seconds wiped out the whole contingent.
As the afternoon wore on Sackville Street began to assume two totally distinct characteristics—one of tragedy and the other of comedy. South of the Pillar the scene might have been a battlefield; north of the Pillar it might have been a nursery gone tipsy, for by this time all the children of the slums had discovered that a perfect paradise of toys lay at their absolute mercy at Lawrence's bazaar, and accordingly a pinafore and knickerbocker army began to lay siege to it, the mothers taking seats upon the stiffened corpses of the lancers' horses to watch the sight of thousands of Union-jacks made into bonfires.
The scene was indescribable for chaos: there were men locked in deadly combat for the sake of Empire and Fatherland, and here were the very children they were fighting for—some dying for—revelling in a children's paradise of toys—balloons, soldiers, rackets, and lollypops, as if it had all been arranged for their special benefit.
An air-gun battalion was now formed of the young highwaymen—two guns each, one on each shoulder—followed up by a toy anti-aircraft gun on wheels, and the whole cavalcade brought up by a Noah's Ark the size of a perambulator.
The captain, about eight years of age, wore a blue silk waistcoat (with its price ticket) and a new grey silk hat. The band then formed up in Indian file, marched up to the G.P.O., saluted majestically, and then impertinently fired their pellets slap-bang into the faces of the insurgents, and then broke up and ran for all they were worth.
All the while, in the opposite direction, Red War was at its height: the rifle-fire along the quays was terrific, and ambulances were rushing backwards and forwards and relays of Volunteers were issuing from the central depot to the firing-line.
Probably never in the world's history had there been such a strange combination of pathos and humour, and it will haunt everyone who saw it to their dying day: and if mere passive spectators felt the clash of divergent emotions how much more must these, for all their idealism must have appeared to them as crashing down at the first touch of reality.
It was so much the repetition of Emmet's revolt, ending in riot and loot and degradation—nay, worse, it seemed a very pantomime.
Suddenly, as the sound of maxims grew louder, a terrific black cloud rose into the sky. A fire had broken out in the heart of the bazaar and the flames had just reached the fireworks, and for a solid half-hour the whole gaze of rebel and civilian alike was centred upon Lawrence's, which presented the appearance of a diminutive Crystal Palace, with Catherine wheels, Roman candles, Chinese crackers going forth in all directions. At last, in a big blue, green, red and yellow bouquet, the main stock went bodily into the air, scattering the crowd of men and women head-over-heels over the dead horses, and all was still.
What the scene must have been like to the leaders, I do not dare to imagine: but it was so symbolical of the whole eruption that I cannot forbear to describe it.
It was shortly after this—about 4.30—that Mr. Marsh and myself came off the roof, where we had been four solid hours watching, tired, sad, and sick at heart. I was a mass of tingling nerves, for the whole thing was set in the background and framework of the penal days and the times of the famine. He was as cool as an icicle—he even suggested chess, and had a pocket set—but, chess in revolution?—what next!
We were not at a loss for our next course, however, for we had no sooner sat down to lunch—three hours late—than we noticed two of the Sinn Feiners who had long watched us on the roof suddenly come across the street.
For one moment we made sure we were going to be taken out and shot for spies: for we had kept our eyes fixed on them twelve hours, and of course, as the telephone system still worked, could have kept in continual communication with the military authorities—it was the Sinn Feiners' one oversight, to leave the telephone intact—but we were soon reassured, for Mr. Woods came up and announced that the hotel had been taken over by the rebels.
The next moment the dining-room was invaded by a crowd who might have stepped direct off the French Revolution scenes of the "Scarlet Pimpernel" or "The Only Way," but their officer was perfectly courteous.
"Finish your meal, gentlemen," he said; "there is no hurry, but I must ask you to leave with all possible speed." And then, addressing his men, he added: "Now, then, two men to every window; take furniture, tables, chairs, anything, and barricade away—we may have to stand siege."
"Is there any immediate danger?" I ventured; "and if so, where do you wish us to go?"
"No immediate danger whatever, sir, save from your own resistance," was his reply. "Civilians are all perfectly safe: we are only fighting the troops of England.
"There is no cause for excitement or flurry," he added; "you may find our men firing over your heads as you pass into the street, but take no notice.
"These are partly our own signallers giving us warning, and also they are intended to clear the streets of loiterers. You will have safe conduct out of the city by the north, where our guards have orders to allow all citizens to pass—I can only counsel you to move as far from the city as possible, as it is more than probable that our positions will be shelled from the sea at any time, and gas bombs may be used in order to save the buildings, which I need not say would be equally fatal to civilians as to ourselves."
With that he asked the way to the fire-escape and the roof, which one of us showed him, and then we hastily made parcels of anything we wished to take with us.
I took occasion to get into conversation with one of the guards, a rough-looking fellow, upon the aims of the revolution, but could elicit nothing very intelligent, save that "England always hated Ireland, and that now was the time to free her, or within a couple of years everyone would be slaves and conscripts."
There seemed to be a rumour, too, that John Redmond had consented to conscription for Ireland and that it was to be passed at the secret session—but I could gather nothing definite, and before I could get further details a superior officer came and severely reprimanded him for allowing himself to be drawn into conversation at all.
There was nothing for it, therefore, but to march out, and as I could not cross a bridge to get back to the south side of the city, I accepted an offer of hospitality for the night with Mr. Marsh—provided I was willing to walk to Howth for it, nine miles away.
The rain was drizzling as we made our way into Sackville Street. Lawrence's was a blazing furnace, and on the roof we could see a woman and child, caught by the fire, trying to reach the ladders of the fire brigade, which were short; the side wall was tottering, there were screams, but I turned my head: I felt too sick to look, save at the gaping crowd, that even disgusted the rebels, who fired several blank shots among them in the vain attempt to scatter them.
As soon as we reached the Parnell Monument, close to the Rotunda, we turned to the right, and made our way through the long lines of tenements—refugees.
There was quite a string of refugees, as one might have seen fleeing from Ypres, for we knew that the place was now doomed to be shelled—it only remained the chance of a tossed coin where the blows would fall.
The rain poured down, but the seven of us, including the manager of the Coliseum and the manager of the "Imperial," who made up our party, trudged on, on, on. Every cross-road had its Sinn Fein sentries, every point of vantage was loopholed for miles around, and it was a mere stroke of luck that Annesley Bridge had not been blown up and so cut off Amiens Street Station, which held 300 troops, from the north. We only saw two soldiers in nine miles, and these were at a pier-head at Dollymount, half way.
When we arrived at Howth we were wet as fish and black as miners, for we finished the last couple of miles upon a charitable coal-cart.
The next morning was bright and warm as a midsummer day, but in the distance across the bay we could hear the sound of the naval guns thundering out shot and shell.
They had given the rebels till eight to surrender—and they had refused. It was no longer a riot—it was civil war.
CHAPTER THE THIRD
Monday and Tuesday were for the most part employed in clearing the streets and preparing the field for the battle which was to last continuously until late on Saturday evening, but it seems a pity, looking back on the situation, that the time was not employed in trying to avoid such a fatal issue; and that it would have been possible is proved by the example of Cork, where all conflict was avoided by a timely negotiation between the rebels and the ordinary civil and ecclesiastical authorities.
However, of this more later; it was decided to treat the matter in the sternest possible manner, which was just, as it turned out, what the Sinn Feiners wanted, and the military authorities, as it were, fell into the trap prepared for them by those astute politicians: for that they foresaw the political effects of ruthless suppression is now an admitted fact.
On Tuesday, April 25th, therefore, the day following the coup, the citizens of Dublin—or such as were not totally isolated—read in their morning Irish Times (the Express and the Freeman having ceased publication) two proclamations announcing the official English view of the rising, and people noted particularly the words that traced the attempt to subvert the supremacy of the Crown "to the foreign enemies of their King and country"—in a word, it was to be put down purely and simply to Germany.
As regards details, however, the inhabitants had to content themselves with the simple statement that "yesterday morning an insurrectionary rising took place in the City of Dublin"; that "the authorities had taken active and energetic measures to cope with the situation, which measures were proceeding favourably"; but this official condolence in their plight was rather discomforting, as the whole city was still in the possession of the insurgents.
Next, another proclamation was issued declaring the county of Dublin under martial law, warning all peaceable and law-abiding subjects within the area of the danger of frequenting or being in any place in the vicinity of which His Majesty's forces were engaged in the suppression of disorder, and enjoining upon them the duty and necessity of remaining so far as practicable within their own homes so long as such dangerous conditions prevailed, and proclaiming that all persons found carrying arms without lawful authority were liable to be dealt with severely by virtue of such proclamation.
All this, of course, was anything but reassuring, especially in view of the danger everybody felt of a provincial rising and the whispers of a German invasion; but towards the evening another statement was issued to the effect that the trouble was confined to Dublin and one or two other districts only in a minor way.
Yet the trouble was by no means even at its height.
All Tuesday the Sinn Feiners had been preparing for the inevitable battle, but these preparations merely took the shape of consolidating the positions already occupied.
At O'Connell Bridge, for example, Kelly's shop at the corner of Bachelors' Walk was garrisoned, and Hopkins's jewellery establishment at the opposite corner was similarly occupied.
In Lower Abbey Street, opposite Wynn's Hotel, a formidable barricade was erected, composed partly of paper taken from the Irish Times store.
The wireless station was also seized, and all day long messages were flashed to the four corners of the world announcing the establishment of an Irish Republic, which messages were picked up at sea by special envoys who had been forewarned, and sent on till they finally reached New York and Petrograd.
The amazement of Russia and America must have been considerable—especially Russia's.
Yet it was not all preparation, for already the troops, or such as could be brought up in time, had come into contact with the Sinn Feiners on the outskirts of the town; but the chief activity appears to have been the strengthening of the position in Trinity College, which allowed the troops to form a wedge between Westland Row at one end and Dame Street on the other, thus cutting off Stephen's Green from Sackville Street.
On Monday night the danger in this quarter had been from the eastern side, but on Tuesday morning it was the College Green entrances that appeared most open to attack, and which were accordingly strengthened by sandbags within the windows of the main entrance and wings.
Irish Volunteer scouts on bicycles tried several times to get past through Grafton Street, but they could not get past the Colonial sharpshooters posted in the College, and tried by way of side streets, which were more or less covered by their own snipers, but in vain also.
Machine guns swept right up Dame Street on the one hand and on the other through Westmorland Street as far up as O'Connell's Statue at the end of the bridge; but this was as far north as the military got, for all along to Clontarf, Glasnevin, and Drumcondra the insurgents held practically undisputed sway.
Another minor position of great importance was the clearing of Stephen's Green by means of a maxim from the "Shelbourne."
The first actual entry of the military in force from an outside area took place on Tuesday evening, when a body of Royal Dublin Fusiliers forced their way into the centre of the city by Cabra Road. The insurgents had placed barricades both on the Park Road and on Cabra Road, near the point at which Charleville Road links up these thoroughfares. Houses overlooking the barricades were occupied by the insurgents, and some brisk fighting took place before the way was cleared for the military advance. A well-directed shell or two demolished the barricades, and within a short time the defenders, under the thunder of artillery, machine guns and rifle-fire, were forced from these positions. There were a couple of civilian casualties resulting from the shrapnel. Attempts by the insurgents to blow up the Cabra Bridge and the bridge crossing the Midland Railway on the North Circular Road beyond Phibsborough Church were unsuccessful.
It was not until Wednesday morning, as we have already seen, that the city realized that an attack in full force was contemplated, and if necessary heavy artillery would be used to dislodge the rebels.
Up to that it had been thought that at the worst gas shells might be dropped upon the enemy strongholds and that the city would be spared: but it early became evident that the disproportion would be too great in the street fighting, which everyone now saw was becoming inevitable.
Accordingly, during the early hours of Wednesday morning a party of six volunteers from Trinity—including both civilians and members of the O.T.C.—went forth to dig holes below the cobbles for the gun-trails. The position was at the Tara Street end of Butt Bridge, and the object, in order to be ready to begin early the shelling of Liberty Hall, which was looked upon as the centre and symbol of the anarchy.
After much difficulty two 18-pounders were brought up and machine guns were placed on the tower of the Fire Station and the Tivoli, and then, when all was ready, the bombardment began. Evidently the rebels had got wind of this intention, however, and though much damage was done, practically no casualties were scored, the rebels getting away through the basement or along the roofs.
The Helga, an old police patrol boat belonging to the Fisheries Department, next contributed, though the task was an extremely delicate one, owing to the position of the Custom House and the Railway Bridge, having eventually to retire further down the river and adopt a dropping instead of a direct fire.
For over an hour this naval bombardment continued without eliciting any reply.
It seemed to be generally hoped that the very threat of artillery would be sufficient to cow the rebels, but this was far from being the case. There was a perfect rabbit warren of retreat, and when the troops rushed forward with bayonets fixed and cheering triumphantly, their onrush was unchecked and they found themselves established in—ruins.
The rebel loss was a considerable gain to the troops, for it meant that the military would find themselves connected up with Amiens Street Station; but this was not so easy: they needed more reserves to accomplish a junction, and it was in order to secure these that the "Battle of Mount Street" bridge was fought, an engagement which has been called the "Dardanelles of Dublin," because the place commanded the direct approach of the troops from Kingstown, and I quote my own experience to illustrate the kind of struggle that went on at every entrance to the city.
The "battle" was in every way typical of the kind of fighting which we were destined to witness for the rest of the week, and I was lucky enough to get back from Howth, a journey which I had to cover on foot, just in time to see it from a few minutes after the start.
The Sinn Feiners had got Clanwilliam House—a corner residence—wonderfully barricaded, and the Sherwood Foresters, who had just taken Carisbrook House and Ballsbridge after considerable losses, were now advancing to cross over the canal and so enter the town and relieve the O.T.C. in Trinity.
Clanwilliam House not only dominated the bridge, but also the whole of Northumberland Road.
Along this road the troops had to pass, and they crouched down in long rows of heads—like great khaki caterpillars—in a most terribly exposed order, so that if the rebel shot failed to hit the first head it was bound to hit the second head, provided the rifle was anywhere in the vertical line. For the most part the soldiers were boys in their early twenties, utterly ignorant of the district, with orders to take the town, which was reported in the hands of a body of men whose very name was a mysterious puzzle in pronunciation, and not an enemy in sight, only a mass of civilian spectators up to within fifty yards of them and directly in front, blocking the street—the rebel enemy meanwhile inside private houses to the right and left of the narrow bridgehead, they knew not where.
I arrived on the scene a few minutes after the start of the engagement, but already one could see the poor fellows writhing in agony in the roadway, where the advanced line had been sniped by the terrible leaden bullets of the Sinn Feiners.
For half an hour or so I was a passive spectator, though intensely interested by the sight of a real battle going on under my very eyes at a distance hardly more than that of the gallery from a large music-hall stage; but suddenly I felt a complete change come over me, which I yet fail to explain to myself. The usual cowardice of the spectator seemed to leave me, and I wanted to rush over and help, but I was assured that it would mean instant death to come between the line of combatants—"The Sinn Feiners would fire on anyone, the blackguards." This I refused to believe, and spoke to a Methodist clergyman, who soon shared my views, and together we made our way to Dun's Hospital, where the doctors and nurses in white stood in the doorway. Within a couple of minutes' conversation we had all spontaneously decided to venture under the Red Cross and put it to the test. They gave me the white coat of an ambulance worker, and within five minutes we were all on the bridge together.
Anticipating us all, however, were two little girls of sixteen and seventeen—Kathleen Pierce and Loo Nolan by name—who rushed out of the throng with water in a jug for one of the wounded Tommies who was lying across the bridge bleeding.
A great shout went up from the crowd as they saw this, and both combatants ceased firing, and, after having given the soldiers a drink, they came back amidst the cheers of soldiers, crowd, and Sinn Feiners alike, and they are now known as the bravest colleens in Ireland—God bless them! But little as they realized it, the danger was considerable, and it must ever reflect to the credit of Sir Patrick Dun's Hospital, that scene of the young nurses who flocked out in a body, in spite of the hail of bullets which passed over them and around them on every side. For, try as they would, the two sides could not completely cease fire when every second and every yard was a question of life and death, defeat or victory.
Never shall I forget the experience—the whole staff of doctors gave a hand, together with a clergyman, the Rev. Mr. Hall, of St. John's Voluntary Aid Detachment. I was with Councillor Keogh myself, and poor Hylands, who was afterwards killed, with whom I bore a stretcher, continually bringing in wounded between us. In little over an hour we brought in about seventy poor fellows, who lay about all along the road and canal banks, heavy packs upon their backs.
At last, however, when we had cleared the road of wounded, about dusk, there came a shout from Captain Melleville: "Now, lads, up and all together!" Immediately there was a simultaneous rush across the bridge—a tactic which should have been adopted from the very first. Some dropped, but the numbers were too many for the handful of snipers.
We moved aside to give them room, and the next moment the bombers were in the garden of Clanwilliam House—one poor fellow falling and blowing the top of his head off at the gate with his own grenade.
There was a "Crash! crash! crash!" as the windows burst with the concussion, and within a few seconds the sky was lit up with the flare of the burning houses and the air rent with the screams of the Sinn Feiners as they faced cold steel. It was a ghastly scene!
The smell of roasting flesh was still around the blazing buildings at ten o'clock, when we brought in the last of the dead—some of them mere boys of thirteen—and laid them out in dread rows like a Raemaeker cartoon.
One lad of twelve whom I carried in I afterwards interrogated as to why he was out in such an exposed position. He wanted to give a poor Tommy a drink, and got sniped as he was preparing to get down to the water of the canal.
The Dardanelles had been forced, however, and the highway into Dublin secured.
All Wednesday night the whole town was kept awake by the snipers, who now became one of the main features of the turmoil; they seemed to be everywhere, but it was almost impossible to locate them.
Troops lined the streets in the direction of Merrion and Fitzwilliam Squares, and were picked off from windows and roofs all night in the most bewildering fashion, while the slum courts in the centre of the large blocks of buildings re-echoed with the sharp click of the old rebel mausers, till the military were tempted to fire on any strange figure looming up in the distance.
During the night several transports had arrived, we now heard, and the troops soon began to land in force.
All Thursday I spent with the Red Cross at Sir Patrick Dun's, which was crowded with casualties, poor fellows! one raving and asking "Is the school taken?—is the school taken?": for this point had been the strategic point in the Battle of Mount Street Bridge. It was pathetic.
All day long the troops arrived, but whenever crossing the side streets, which were slums honeycombed with snipers, they would have to "double" and rush across in single file; but each time one or two were picked off by the deadly snipers, all firing from cover, with thick lead bullets that spread and made dreadful wounds—some, inches wide. In the yard the Raemaeker picture of the dead soldiers—Sinn Feiners—was broader by some half-dozen: for several had died of wounds during the night. The small boy who had been sniped while trying to get the soldiers a drink lay stiff now, and my mind went back to the scene of the night before as I made a little space of a couple of yards in the corner of the crowded ward, with everyone lying on the floor, while the good priest anointed him just before he died.
All day long and all around there was a perfect hail of bullets from the snipers, some going right through the hospital grounds from Boland's bakery, which, sandbagged and loopholed, was filled with Sinn Feiners. It was a terrible fight, for of course it was next to impossible for the soldiers to distinguish them, being all in civilian clothes so that they just had to doff their bandoliers and they could go about from house to house in safety. Sometimes they did this purposely, having arms in several places. Hence the order had to go out that all civilians would have to stay indoors, and after that all suspicious characters were shot at, with the terrible result that innocent civilians were killed on all sides.
Accordingly, while on our way to pick up a body I went with one of the stretcher-bearers and a priest and a parson to warn them to keep indoors.
One poor fellow we brought in, shot through the breast, was apparently a civilian, but on examination we found on him a curious document, undoubtedly proving him a Sinn Feiner.
The story of this document, which was perhaps the final decisive factor that precipitated the rising, is perhaps best told in the words of the Royal Commission:—
On the 19th of April a special meeting of the Dublin Corporation was held at the Mansion House to discuss the police rate. Alderman Thomas Kelly, in the course of a speech attacking Mr. Justice Kenny (who had alluded at the opening of his Commission to the state of disorder in Dublin and had urged military action), made a statement to the effect that he had received that morning from the editor of New Ireland a circular which he would read. It was from a man named Little, New Ireland Office, 13, Fleet Street, Dublin, April 16, 1916, and ran:—
"The following precautionary measures have been sanctioned by the Irish Office on the recommendation of the General Officer Commanding the Forces in Ireland. All preparations will be made to put these measures in force immediately on receipt of an Order issued from the Chief Secretary's Office, Dublin Castle, and signed by the Under Secretary and the General Officer Commanding the Forces in Ireland. First, the following persons to be placed under arrest:—All members of the Sinn Fein National Council, the Central Executive Irish Sinn Fein Volunteers, General Council Irish Sinn Fein Volunteers, County Board Irish Sinn Fein Volunteers, Executive Committee National Volunteers, Coisde Gnota Committee Gaelic League. See List A 3 and 4 and supplementary list A 2.... Dublin Metropolitan Police and Royal Irish Constabulary Forces in Dublin City will be confined to barracks under the direction of the Competent Military Authority. An order will be issued to inhabitants of city to remain in their houses until such time as the Competent Military Authority may otherwise direct or permit. Pickets chosen from units of Territorial Forces will be placed at all points marked on maps 3 and 4. Accompanying mounted patrols will continuously visit all points and report every hour. The following premises will be occupied by adequate forces, and all necessary measures used without need of reference to headquarters; after which followed a list.
"Alderman Kelly, in continuing, said that the document was evidently genuine, and that he had done a public service in drawing attention to it, in order to prevent these military operations being carried on in a city which he declared was under God the most peaceable in Europe.
"This document was an entire fabrication. Copies of it found since the outbreak are shown by identification of type to have been printed at Liberty Hall, the headquarters of the Citizen Army. It is not known who was the author of this invention, or whether Mr. Little was in any way responsible for it. Many copies of this forged document were printed and distributed, and it was widely considered by the people to be genuine, and no doubt led to the belief by the members of the Irish Volunteers and Citizen Army that they would shortly be disarmed. This undoubtedly became one of the proximate causes of the outbreak."
All Thursday seems to have been devoted principally to the bringing in of reinforcements, which, by this time, were pouring in from England.
Instead of using them for isolated attacks on the different strongholds, they appear to have been concentrated as an ever-narrowing cordon around the central position of the rebels at the Post Office.
Hence, by Thursday evening the tables had been completely turned upon the rebels, and instead of dominating the city, the city on every side hemmed them in; and the Law Courts, the College of Surgeons, Jacobs's biscuit factory and Boland's bakery, though amply supplied with food and ammunition, had been all practically isolated one from another—in the last-named place the rebels forced the bakers, at the point of the bayonet, to continue making bread.
The military were also in possession of Brunswick Street, and portions of Talbot Street and North Earl Street, while from D'Olier Street a fusillade swept O'Connell Bridge, and from T.C.D. a 9-pounder began to batter down Kelly's corner house and send shells along Bachelors' Walk.
Everybody now expected the collapse of the rebels, who were being captured on all sides, and crowds of British pressmen, with special facilities for the edification of neutral countries, began to arrive.
Certainly never had journalists ever had such a finale to send flashing along the wires; for a cordon of soldiers completely encircled the city on every side, and grew gradually tighter and tighter around the Post Office, the heart of the rebel position. From all sides shells now began to drop into Sackville Street, and we knew that it was the beginning of the end.
That end was in every way as dramatic as the beginning—a melodrama worthy of the Lyceum at its best—and for thirty hours, as the artillery thundered, the sky was one huge blaze of flame, which, at one time, threatened to engulf the whole northern centre of the city in a sea of fire.
Driven from Kelly's corner, which commanded the left entrance to Sackville Street, the insurgents still held Hopkins's corner on the other side, and on this the artillery next concentrated not only high explosive shells but incendiary bombs as well, and the whole place became a mass of blazing ruins, the flames leaping across Lower Abbey Street like a prairie fire.
Whether this was intentional or inevitable, one thing was certain, and that was that nothing could stand up against it—it meant utter annihilation as far as human lives were concerned, absolute ruination as far as material property.
That strong measures had been found necessary, however, had been proved by the appointment of a military dictator in General Sir John Maxwell, with plenary powers, and the announcement of Mr. Asquith in the House that the situation had still serious features, and that there seemed to be indications of the movement spreading to other parts of the country, especially the West.
Yet one thing must have been particularly pleasing to announce, and that was the total isolation of the movement as a political campaign, both Sir Edward Carson and Mr. John Redmond disclaiming all responsibility, while in Drogheda the National Volunteers, according to a telegram from the Viceroy, actually turned out to assist the military.
This background of peace only served to intensify the catastrophe which became known as the Sack of Sackville Street, and it is probable that only the gap made by the fire which occurred on Tuesday afternoon at Lawrence's bazaar saved the northern portion of the city.
It was under cover of the blazing buildings that the troops advanced upon the central position of the Sinn Feiners, one of the pickets being inside Clery's while the embers beneath his feet were still red, as I was told: but it was not until Saturday morning that the actual final shelling and capture of the place was begun.
For this purpose only light shells, happily, were used, and some incendiary bombs, which soon set fire to the roof of the beautiful historic landmark.
It was expected that at least a thousand of the rebels were entrapped, but it was later found out that during the week they had made a complete tunnel right back as far as Arnot's Stores, blasting their way with the aid of dynamite, in the use of which they seem to have been coached by a Berlin expert, who was afterwards captured.
The last struggles of the rebels have been variously described, but they seem rather early to have made an attempt in force to evacuate the building from the back, and some hundred and fifty are described as taking part in the stampede, which was turned into a rout by the machine guns of the military.
A single shell which exploded right in the barricade in front of the Coliseum building, which faces a side street, had the effect not only of closing it by the wreckage of the two corner buildings, but also of burying one of the rebel leaders.
Everyone then expected that the place would be taken at the point of the bayonet and a terrible hand-to-hand struggle ensue, as the troops would thrust the despairing rebels back into the fortress, which was rapidly turning into a furnace, when suddenly the order was given to cease fire, and for fully three hours there was a mysterious silence.
Had the place been taken, had the men surrendered, or was it only a truce, as one rumour had it, in order to enable the city to get in foodstuffs?—for the food problem had by this time become most acute in several of the isolated districts.
It proved to be an armistice, during which terms of formal surrender were concluded with the insurgent leaders, and a short while after four, Sackville Street beheld the sight of all that were left of them, the gallant but misguided six hundred, marching into captivity.
"It is a sight I shall never forget," said one eye-witness who beheld the surrender from a window in the Gresham Hotel. "That thin, short line of no more than a hundred men at most, some in the green uniform of the Volunteers, some in the plainer equipment of Larkin's Citizen Army, some looking like ordinary civilians, some again mere lads of fifteen, not a few wounded and bandaged, the whole melancholy procession threading its way through long lines of khaki soldiers—but downhearted? No; and as they passed, I heard just for a couple of seconds the subdued strains of that scaffold-song of many an Irishman before them—'God save Ireland'—waft up to me.
"Roughs, dockers, labourers, shop-assistants—all kinds and conditions of men, even the lowest class in the city—yet all exactly the same in the look of defiance which will haunt me to my dying day.
"Whatever they were, these men were no cowards—and even the soldiers admitted this readily; they had shown courage of the finest type, worthy of a nobler cause; and had they been man for man at the front and accomplished what they had accomplished in the face of such odds, the whole Empire would have been proud of them—the whole world ringing with their praise; for, as a soldier prisoner afterwards said, 'Not even the hell of Loos or Neuve Chapelle was like the hell of those last hours in the General Post Office.'
"Instead of that, they were doomed to the double stigma of failure in accomplishment and futility in aim—but every Irish heart went out to them, for all that, for were they not our own flesh and blood after all?
"At either end a lad carried an improvised white flag of truce—at their head, Pearse in full uniform, with sword across one arm in regular surrender fashion. For a moment the young British officer in command seemed perplexed at the solemnity of the procession and at the correctness and courtesy of the rebel leader; and he hesitatingly accepted the sword from his hands.
"The next moment the spell was broken: the man was a captive criminal, and with two officers, each with a loaded revolver pointing at his head, the chief and his gallant band disappeared from my view."
CHAPTER THE FOURTH
Late on that fateful Saturday evening upon which the Post Office fell, the Royal Irish Constabulary were posting in all parts of the country the following note signed by Commander P. H. Pearse.
"In order to prevent further slaughter," it ran, "of unarmed people, and in the hope of saving the lives of our followers, now surrounded and hopelessly outnumbered, members of the Provisional Government present at headquarters have agreed to unconditional surrender, and the commanders of all units of the Republican forces will order their followers to lay down their arms."
Yet so confident were the rebels of success in some of the besieged fortresses that they positively refused to believe that their commanders had given in: moreover, the difficulty of obtaining access to some of the insurgents also tended to prolong the conflict, especially in the more outlying districts, and so the struggle went on.
In some cases the rebels, expecting no mercy, preferred to die fighting, and it was only by the interference of the clergy that further destruction and desolation was avoided.
Jacobs's factory, for example—second only to Guinness's Brewery in size, and occupied at first by some 1,500 rebels, who had taken possession while the workers were on holiday—put up a strenuous fight, and though it was by now surrounded by the military, the men, firmly protected and encouraged by the feeling that headquarters depended upon them, refused all offers to surrender.
Several priests had previously made the attempt to influence them, but had been quietly and courteously refused, and only succeeded eventually about 4 p.m. on Sunday, when the Volunteers finally evacuated the premises.
The majority of the exits had by Sunday become occupied by the military, who had gradually turned the place into a death-trap, and from this the rebels were saved by a somewhat picturesque climax.
A well-known Carmelite monk from Whitefriars Street suddenly made his way through the crowd of spectators and signalled to the insurgents, whereupon one of the sandbagged windows was dismantled and, amid a universal cheer from the crowd, the venerable peacemaker was hoisted up into the fortress.
A short while later his efforts were seen to have succeeded, for the garrison surrendered.
At the Four Courts a priest was likewise instrumental in bringing about the surrender.
The place had been strongly barricaded and provisioned, and would, no doubt, have suffered the same fate as the Post Office had the struggle continued, but for this intervention and the desire on the part of the authorities no doubt to save the Record Office at all costs. Such a loss would, of course, have been far more serious than that of the G.P.O., for in some cases all kinds of documents had been used for the purposes of defence, at one particular spot a whole barricade having been constructed of wills alone.
Father Columbus, O.S.F.C., who was at the time attending to the wounded and dying, saw a girl waving a large white sheet from the building, and we immediately proceeded to inform the military authorities, who were still pounding away at the building with maxims, of the intention of the insurgents to surrender.
An officer was dispatched, and to him Commander Daly, of the Republican Army, rendered unconditional surrender on behalf of the besieged.
Another dramatic surrender on Sunday was that of the College of Surgeons, where the rebels had been making a stout resistance, under the personal command of the celebrated Countess Markievicz.
The green flag which had floated there throughout the week in spite of shot and shell was suddenly lowered, and one of the rebels was seen to climb on the parapet and tie a white scarf, quaintly enough, on to the arm of the central statue, which stood out against the skyline, instead of the flagstaff.
A few seconds later this formal announcement of surrender was followed by the order to "cease fire," and a detachment of soldiers was sent to that side of Stephen's Green.
As they approached, the Countess, who was dressed in a complete outfit of the green uniform of the Irish Volunteers, including green boots and green cock's feathers, something like those on the Italian bersaglieri, emerged from the central doorway. She was closely followed by an attendant carrying a white flag and some sixty to eighty of the defenders.
Solemnly they advanced towards the English officer, and then the Countess, taking off her bandolier and sword, was seen to kiss them reverently and hand them over in the most touching manner—not a little to the perplexity of the young officer.
Dr. Myles Keogh, who, in company with others, acted so bravely in rescuing the wounded, tells of the actual incident of the surrender of De Valera, near Ringsend. Dr. Keogh was on Sunday returning at one o'clock from Glasnevin Cemetery on a hearse, which, under the Red Cross, had left a number of dead for burial, and when opposite Sir Patrick Dun's Hospital a voice hailed him. Two men had come out of the Poor Law Dispensary opposite, in which the Sinn Feiners were installed. So covered with dust were they that he thought both were in khaki. One was a military cadet who had been captured by the Sinn Feiners, the other was the Sinn Fein leader De Valera. "Hullo!" cried De Valera. "Who are you?" replied Dr. Keogh. The response was, "I am De Valera," from one, and from the other it was: "I am a prisoner for the past five days. They want to surrender." Dr. Keogh replied that Sir Arthur Ball, who was in the hospital, would make arrangements. Then the military came up, and after some preliminaries the Sinn Feiners were marched out of the dispensary and conveyed to Lower Mount Street. The hopelessness of the Sinn Feiners was exemplified in some remarks dropped by De Valera. "Shoot me," he said, "if you will, but arrange for my men." Then he added, walking up and down: "If only the people had come out with knives and forks."
I saw Dr. Keogh immediately after this, and he told me that De Valera had complained bitterly that the "English" had continuously violated the white flag and Red Cross, but we could testify to the falsity of this by our own experience, the whole staff having time after time complained that shots appeared to go right across the hospital—and, in point of fact, the right wing of "Elpis" Hospital is simply peppered with bullets—in fact, the wounded Tommies "sunning" themselves on the hospital roof of Dun's had been deliberately fired at till they went down, though I must admit that in this case the Sinn Feiners could hardly have been able to make the distinction required of them. A short while later I saw the professor himself—a tall man, hatless and in the green uniform of the Volunteers—pass along Mount Street with a lad with a white flag, going to point out the positions of the snipers from the factory.
For a moment the soldiers thought he was about to "betray" his pals to save his own life, and, I was glad to notice, instinctively looked with contempt upon him; but the truth of the general order having gone out to surrender soon became known, and as the line of captives marched by the soldiers for the first time got a real look at these men who had, so to speak, staggered the Empire.
Weak, poor, ragged—some cripples; one, his whole face a mass of bandages—I never saw a more reckless or determined body of men in my life, and they contrasted strangely with the placid demeanour of their conquerors. Each marched with a certain lightness of tread—greybeards who no doubt remembered the days of the Famine and boys born since the Boer War; and as they stood there, their hands aloft, between the lines of khaki, not one face flinched. Here and there, however, one could see the older men shaking hands with the younger, muttering, "It isn't the first time we've suffered. But it's all for dear old Ireland," or wishing each other good-bye. That was pathetic to a degree that, I know for a fact, moved some of the English officers themselves.
Suddenly a car came dashing up at full speed. Some turned their heads instinctively, and as they did so noticed that in addition to four khaki uniforms there were two green figures with eyes bandaged.
In an instant the captives had recognized their leaders, themselves also going—God only knew to what punishment, and at once such a cheer went up that the whole street echoed again.
It only needed "God save Ireland" to have completed the drama, but they knew they would be stopped if they began, and, instead, one of them cried out "Are we downhearted?" and immediately every voice, clear and resonant, answered in one ringing "No!"
"If it had not been for the women and children, we should be fighting you still," was the reply of one Sinn Feiner to a soldier; and when asked why they were fighting, another man answered, "We have our orders as well as you—we're both soldiers and fight when our country demands"; while yet a third ventured defiantly, "You've won this time, but next time when you're fighting, our children will win."
Dramatic was no word for the situation, and as I gazed at them there—now no more than a dread convict roll—I pictured the wretched tenements from which most must have come—the worst slums in Europe, by common consent of all Commissions—and asked myself the question what chance or reason they had ever had in life to love either their country or the Empire; and then the picture of the long years of penal servitude, such as John Mitchel had endured for Ireland, arose before my mind, but I consoled myself with the thought, "At least England will understand what caused these men to turn despairingly to revolution," and the words of Mr. Asquith consoled me as I thought of the terrible wholesale vengeance a Prussian officer would take—for had he not said that England had sent the General in whose discretion she had more complete confidence than any other?—but I stopped thinking: it was all too sad: after all, England was surely not going to treat them like the Huns would.