Archive for May 26, 2019

A Story of St Stephen’s Green

Posted in History with tags , , , , , on May 26, 2019 by telescoper

I had a bit of spare time before the Opera on Friday and the weather was fine so I decided to go for a walk around the park in St Stephen’s Green.

I have walked past St Stephen’s Green many times but have never previously been inside, or if I have it was so long ago that I’ve now forgotten.

On my way around I noticed that there are posters here and there marking the events of the 1916 Easter Rising. Here’s an example:

The artwork is a bit ‘Boy’s Comic’ style but the descriptions are fascinating especially because the Park and the area around it are pretty much unchanged in more than a hundred years since the momentous events of 1916 so it’s not difficult to imagine the scene as it was then. There are still bullet holes in the Fusiliers Arch at the North West Corner of the Green, as there are in a number of other locations around Dublin.

St Stephen’s Green is inside the area marked ‘Citizens Army‘. One look at the map will tell you why this was considered an important location to control as it is at the junction of several main roads. On the other hand if you actually visit the location you will see a big problem, namely that the Green itself is surrounded on all sides by very tall buildings, including the swanky Shelbourne Hotel to the North.

When a contingent of about 120 members of the Citizens Army arrived in St Stephen’s Green on Easter Monday, 24th April 1916, they immediately began erecting barricades outside, and digging trenches inside, the Park. They did not, however, have the numbers needed to seize and hold the buildings around it except for the Royal College of Surgeons building to the West.

The following morning, Tuesday 25th April, the British moved two machine guns into position, one in the Shelbourne Hotel and the other in the United Services club, along with numerous snipers. From these vantage points British soldiers could shoot down into the Park making it impossible for the rebels to move around.

The position inside the Green being untenable the Rebels effected an orderly (but perilous) withdrawal to the Royal College of Surgeons which they had fortified for the purpose. And that’s where they stayed until the end of the Rising.

The British realised that there was no need to assault the RCS building, as the force inside was contained and offered no real threat. From the roof of the building the Rebels watched helplessly as the British systematically reduced the resistance around the Rebel Headquarters in the GPO Building to the North, using artillery fired from College Green. Smoke rose into the sky as one entire side of O’Connell Street went up in flames and the perimeter slowly tightened around the GPO.

In the early hours of the morning of Thursday 27th April the occupants of the RCS were alarmed to see that British soldiers had installed another machine gun on the roof of the University Church on the South side of St Stephen’s Green along with snipers in adjacent buildings.

This was a very dangerous development that required a rapid response. A plan was devised that involved sending a squad of about 30 to break into buildings on the South side of the Green and start fires therein that would force the British to withdraw. This action is the subject of the poster shown above.

This is a photograph of the remarkable Margaret Skinnider, who is shown in the graphic leading the attempted assault. Before the Rising she was a school teacher. During the hostilities she initially acted as a scout and a runner, carrying messages to and from the GPO, but when given the chance she proved herself a crack shot with a rifle and showed conspicuous courage during the heavy fighting in and around St Stephen’s Green.

Skinnider insisted on leading the assault on Thursday 27th April despite the obviously high risk as it would involve running about 30 yards in full view of the machine gun position.

Under the cover of darkness, the detachment made its way out of the RCS to the South West corner of the Green safely enough but when men began breaking windows in Harcourt Street in order to gain entry to buildings there, the sound alerted the British soldiers who realised what was happening and opened fire as the Rebels made their move. Margaret Skinnider was leading from the front and she was inevitably among the casualties: she was hit three times by rifle bullets and very badly wounded.

Such was the volume of fire that the assault was abandoned and the surviving members of the squad retreated to the RCS where they remained until the general surrender on Saturday (29th April).

Skinnider was taken to hospital after the Rising ended but escaped and made her way to Scotland. She later returned to Ireland to take part in the War of Independence and subsequent Civil War. When the latter ended, in 1923, she went back to her job as a teacher in a primary school. She passed away in 1971 at the age of 79.

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