Archive for Easter Rising

A Revolutionary Manhole Cover

Posted in Architecture, History, Maynooth with tags , , , , , on August 20, 2020 by telescoper

I must have walked dozens of times past the above manhole cover on Maynooth University’s North Campus without paying too much attention. Then I noticed a post on Twitter of another such cover in County Kerry, in the thread following which someone mentioned one on Maynooth campus so I thought I’d take a picture of it. They must have been made for the centenary commemorations in 2016. There’s more than a hint of Soviet-style design in the artwork.

The figure depicts Eamon Bulfin raising the flag of Irish Republic above the GPO on Easter Monday 1916, the start of the Easter Rising. After the end of the rising Bulfin was condemned to death, but his sentence was commuted and, after being imprisoned in Britain for a time, he was deported to Argentina. He returned to Ireland when the Irish Free State in 1922 where he lived until his death in 1968.

 

Margaret Skinnider – in her own words

Posted in History with tags , , on June 20, 2019 by telescoper

A few weeks ago, occasioned by a stroll around St Stephen’s Green in Dublin, I put up a post that included the the remarkable story of Margaret Skinnider.

Before the 1916 Easter Rising Margaret Skinnider 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. In particular, on 27th April she lead a squad of men in an extremely dangerous mission against a British machine gun position, during which she was hit three times by rifle bullets and very badly wounded.

Anyway, I found this fascinating recording of Margaret Skinnider herself telling the story of her part in the 1916 Easter Rising.

After the War of Independence and the subsequent Civil War were over, Margaret Skinnider returned to her career as a primary school teacher. She died in 1971.

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.

The Bloody History of Mount Street Bridge

Posted in History with tags , , , on April 27, 2019 by telescoper

Easter was quite late this year, as it was in 1916, the year of the Easter Rising: Easter Monday fell on 22nd April 2019, and on 24th April 1916 – the day that the uprising started. People who were brought up in Ireland would have learnt much events of 1916 at School, and through the annual commemorations, but we weren’t taught anything about the Easter Rising in Britain, so I’ve just picked up bits and pieces here and there from reading about it. This week one of the articles that particularly struck me was about the Battle of Mount Street Bridge so I thought I’d write a little bit about it here.

To begin with, here is an old map I came across a while ago that shows the extent of the area of Dublin seized by the rebels in 1916:

You can click on the map to make it clearer. The area of interest here is towards the right of the map, inside the blue perimeter marked ‘3rd Battalion’. The road marked in red leading North West to the Mount Street Bridge past the Beggars Bush Barracks (also marked in red) is Northumberland Road. It changes name to Mount Street on the other (NW) side of the bridge. Northumberland Road forms a junction with Haddingdon Road near the Barracks.

Most of the city’s street layout has survived intact so it is possible to walk around and visit many of the locations on this map, many of which still bear the scars of the Easter Rising. It’s quite a strange feeling doing that, as it brings the violence of the past rather too close for comfort. I think Mount Street Bridge is a good illustration. I walked through the area last year without knowing that it had such a bloody history, but now I don’t think I’ll ever be able to visit it again without getting the shivers. Still, at least it makes one feel grateful to be living in a time of peace though some people don’t seem to think that’s very important these days.

Anyway, the large area surrounded by the blue line to the right of the map was occupied on the 24th April 1916 by the 3rd Battalion of the Irish Volunteers under the command of one Éamon de Valera. De Valera commanded a relatively small contingent of fewer than 150 rebels, with a headquarters in Boland’s Bakery.

At 11am on 24th April 1916, acting under de Valera’s instructions, Lieutenant Michael Malone led 16 Volunteers from the 3rd battalion towards Mount Street Bridge, a key crossing point over the Grand Canal for a road that leads directly into the heart of Dublin. Their task was to stop British reinforcements entering Dublin from the South East. They set up several strong points either side of the bridge, marked on the map by the sold blue circles.

Meanwhile, British High Command in England received an urgent request from Ireland for reinforcements needed to put down the uprising. On the evening of 24th April 1916, the 59th North Midland Division received orders from Brigade HQ to ‘stand to’ for an immediate move. The division consisted of three brigades; 176th (2/5th, 2/6th South Staffordshire regiment, 2/5th, 2/6th North Staffordshire regiment); 177th (2/4th, 2/5th Lincolnshire regiment, 2/4th, 2/5th Leicestershire regiment) and the 178th infantry division (2/5th, 2/6th, 2/7th and 2/8th battalions of the Sherwood Forester regiment). The men were apparently enthusiastic at the thought of active service overseas and believed they were on their way to France or Flanders. In fact the Division began immediate embarkation for Kingstown (now Dun Laoghaire), Ireland.

Lieutenant Malone was still fortifying his post in a house at 25 Northumberland Road on 24th April when his attention was drawn to the sound of soldiers advancing towards his position. Assuming this was the anticipated British counter-attack, Lieutenant Masons together with James Grace and three others opened fire on the troops as they reached the junction of Northumberland Road and Haddington Road. The British soldiers were caught completely by surprise. They were not, as it turned out, attempting to assault the rebel positions; they were just returning to their barracks after weekend manoeuvres. Many men fell where they were hit, others ran for cover. They were all unable to return fire, as their rifles were unloaded. After the gunfire had ceased, the street was littered with the dead and dying. Local civilians – the vast majority of whom wanted nothing to do with the uprising – ran from their houses to help the wounded British soldiers.

It was not until early on Wednesday morning (April 26th 1916) that the newly arrived troops from England had disembarked and assembled on the quayside in Kingstown. They were mostly raw recruits who had only just completed six weeks of basic training, and many of them had never even fired a rifle. Orders were received that two battalions were to make their way towards the Royal Hospital Kilmainham. Two more were to make their way to Trinity College. The other battalions were to remain in reserve. Carrying their full military kit, the Sherwood Foresters began to march towards the city centre.

On Tuesday 25th April, Malone had sent away three of his companions as they were `only boys’, leaving just himself and James Grace to defend the position on Northumberland Road. On 25th April, as the British troops reached the junction of Northumberland Road and Haddington Road, these two opened fire into the ranks of the oncoming Sherwood Foresters. The first hail of bullets claimed the lives of ten men.

Following instructions they would have been given in basic training, the British soldiers dropped to the ground in response to the gunfire. That would have been a good tactic to have employed when coming under fire in open countryside – such as they might have experienced in Flanders – as they would have had a chance of crawling for cover in a trench or ditch or hedgerow. In this situation, however, it was just about the worst thing they could have done. They lay prone in the middle of the road and were easily picked off by Malone and Grace, firing down on them from the windows of a house on Northumberland Road. To be fair to the British officers in command, urban warfare was a new thing in 1916 – the horrors of, e.g., Stalingrad were still to come – so they didn’t really know what to do.

The British troops regrouped and tried to charge the position where the gunfire was coming from, but were repulsed, suffering heavy casualties. Even more casualties were sustained when they tried to encircle the building. Finally, using grenades, they managed to blow in the front door of 25 Northumberland Road at the same time as others gained entry to the rear of the house via Percy Lane.

A barricade constructed of household furniture blocked those soldiers attempting to gain entry through the front door. As Malone descended the stairs towards the hall, he was confronted by the British soldiers who entered through the back door and was shot dead. In order to clear the house the military threw grenades into the basement but Grace, who was hiding there, had taken cover behind a metal oven and avoided serious injury. He stayed put, and wasn’t found until after the battle. He was arrested by the British authorities, but released at Christmas 1916.

Altogether the fighting at Mount Street resulted in almost two-thirds of the total British casualties during the Easter Rising. A total of four officers and 216 other ranks were killed or wounded during this bloody episode.

This short video gives some more details:

De Valera’s ‘Last Letter’, Kilmainham, May 1916

Posted in History with tags , , on March 11, 2018 by telescoper

I’ve just been reading Charles Townshend’s book ‘Easter 1916: The Irish Rebellion’ and was searching for the photograph it includes of Eamon de Valera surrendering with his men at the end of the uprising. I found it at this excellent blog post, which includes a great deal of other interesting information, so I thought I’d reblog the whole thing!

The Cricket Bat that Died for Ireland

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