Monday 23 January 2017

My 1916: How my father so nearly missed his role in the Rising

Confusion reigned across Dublin in the run up to that Easter weekend

Tom Seaver

Published 28/05/2015 | 02:30

Tom Seaver
Tom Seaver

In the late afternoon of Easter Saturday 1916, my father, Tommie, finished work in the bakery of Messrs Peter Kennedy & Co, 124 Great Britain Street (now Parnell Street), in Dublin, and headed for his digs in Sandymount.

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The Easter weekend had begun and, with a day off on Easter Monday, he should have been happy. However, as a member Second Dublin Battalion, C Company, of the Irish Volunteers, Tommie had reason to be uptight.

Commandant Thomas McDonagh, his commanding officer, had warned his men that the Rising would begin on Easter Sunday.

They were to strike at noon and take over Jacob's Biscuit Factory on Bishop Street. Their objective was to prevent enemy forces in Portobello Barracks, Rathmines, from getting into the city centre.

But rumours were floating around in Volunteer circles all that afternoon that the Rising was about to be cancelled.

On the way home, he had run into two Second Battalion comrades, Leo Fitzgerald and Eamonn Price. They too had heard the rumours, that the Germans hadn't shown up with the guns and that Casement had been captured in Kerry. The Rising just couldn't go ahead throughout the country without those arms. Notice of its cancellation, they said, would appear in the morning, in the Sunday Independent.

Tommie took their word for it and made up his mind to go home to Lusk to spend Easter with his family. All going well, he would be back in Dublin on Monday evening. So he told his landlady, Mrs McAlister. After packing his bag, he took the tram into town and caught the last Drogheda train at Amiens Street Station. His parents and all his siblings were delighted to see him, because he had written to his mother saying he would be on manoeuvres on Easter Sunday and would not be home.

He noticed great excitement in the village of Lusk on Easter Sunday morning. The local company of the Irish Volunteers gathered on the Green after Mass in preparation for the start of Rising in Fingal. They numbered about 30 and were under the command of Captain Edward Rooney. The local doctor, Richard Hayes, was there too. He was Adjutant to Commandant Thomas Ashe, the overall commander of the Fifth Battalion.

Tommie stood for a while talking to the Volunteers. Why wouldn't he? His brother, Michael, was one of them. Most of the others were his neighbours on The Commons; a few of them were his former school pals. But they were surprised to see him. Shouldn't he be in Dublin with his own Second Battalion? When he told them the Rising was off, none of them would believe him, least of all Captain Rooney. Commandant Ashe had given orders that the full battalion was to assemble at Rathbeale Cross, near Swords, at noon, to commence activities, and that's where they would go.

Ashe's orders were obeyed and at noon, 120 men of the Fifth Battalion assembled at Rathbeale. They were standing around waiting for something to happen when the commandant, along with Captain Frank Lawless, of Swords, arrived with the newspaper. Eoin McNeill's notice was there in black and white: all manoeuvres were cancelled for Easter Sunday.

Ashe had no alternative but to send them all home and return to Dublin to see what the problem really was. However, he did warn them to be ready, that they could be called up at short notice.

Sure enough, on Easter Monday afternoon, as the Seaver family sat down to dinner, one of Tommie's neighbours, Paddy Brogan, who held the rank of lieutenant in the Fifth Battalion, arrived at the door in a state of high excitement. The Rising was on! The Fifth had been called up. Where was Michael Seaver? He was to meet the rest of the Company in Lusk immediately!

The whole family was taken aback at the urgency of the call. As it happened, Michael was at work elsewhere that day and could not be easily contacted. His mother told Brogan that he simply was not available. Sensing that it was a crisis situation, Tommie volunteered to take his brother's place. In a matter of minutes, he borrowed a bicycle and cycled into Lusk to meet his comrades.

He was accepted into the Company by Captain Rooney under emergency rules, with the approval of Dr Hayes. So, instead of lining out as a fully-fledged member of the Second Battalion in Dublin, he was, as it were, called in as a sub to fight in Fingal with the Fifth!

The exploits of the Fifth Battalion in Fingal during Easter Week have been treated in Charlie Weston's excellent piece already published in this series.

Whereas Captain Charlie Weston, Charlie's grandfather, played a prominent role in the actions in Donabate and at the Battle of Ashbourne, my father played a lesser role. He was only 21 at the time and his name is not mentioned in dispatches. Nonetheless, he was there in the thick of it for the whole of Easter Week. His internment in Knutsford and Frongoch, until he was released the following Christmas, is proof enough of his bravery.

Tommie was lucky enough to get his job back in Peter Kennedy's and he worked there until his premature death in 1948. There were big changes on his return. His great friend, Con Colbert from Co Limerick, was no longer working in the office now, having been executed with the leaders of the Rising. Because of his close friendship with Colbert, he had his second child christened Cornelius, after him. Sadly, our Con, a twin, died in infancy.

I have happy memories of Easter 1941, when my father took part with his old comrades in the 25th anniversary of the Rising in Dublin. He was a member of the Local Defence Force at the time and he set out for the big parade that day attired in the uniform, with his service medals proudly pinned to his lapel. All through the war years, he drilled every Sunday morning with the LDF in Collins' Barracks. Old soldiers never die, the saying goes. They only fade away.

Irish Independent

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