Tuesday 6 December 2016

Mount Street and Other Martyrs

Published 17/03/2016 | 16:00

Martyrs are supposed to line up neatly in our version of history. Those who died for Ireland become something other than themselves, something other than people, loved ones who died violently, writes historian John Dorney.

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The Republican dead are supposed to represent something – unswerving principle, wisdom, bravery; standards that are impossible for most people to have ever lived up to. Martyrs’ deaths are supposed to give truth to the cause they served. If so many died for the Republic from 1916 to 1923 – for the record the IRA roll of honour The Last Post records about 1,000 names of fallen Volunteers – then the cause itself must be justified.

The reality though, like so many of our own lives, is much more complicated as a look at the family history of the defenders of Mount Street Bridge in 1916 can tell us.

The Mount Street battle

At that battle, probably the fiercest of the Easter Rising, a mere 17 Volunteers, armed only with antiquated rifles and a few handguns, almost miraculously held off a battalion of British troops from the Sherwood Foresters regiment for the better part of two days, killing 4 officers and 24 other ranks along with over 220 wounded, some of whom died later. Four civilians also died in the area. That the Foresters themselves were green troops just out of a training depot and led by officers who ordered repeated futile frontal assaults dies not take away from the bravery and tenacity of the small insurgent outpost.

The head of the Volunteer detachment was Mick Malone, a 28 year old carpenter of Ringsend, Dublin, Lieutenant in the Volunteers’ Dublin Brigade’s Third Battalion and also a member of St Patrick’s confraternity in Ringsend.  Malone is thought to have killed and wounded many British troops during the battle – he was noted as a crack shot, before being killed by rifle fire trying to escape from 25 Northumberland Road.

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At the top of the street in Clanwilliam House was a detachment of five men including one Patrick Doyle, of Milltown, south Dublin - a 36 year old labourer with five children, who was a devout Catholic and an Irish language activist.

Inside Clanwilliam House, Volunteer Tom Walsh heard Paddy Doyle shouting over the noise of battle, “Isn’t this a great day for Ireland?” “Isn’t it that?”, “Did I ever think I’d see a fight like this? Shouldn’t we all be grateful to the good God that he has allowed us to take part in a fight like this?”. Not long afterwards, Walsh recalled, they noticed Doyle had stopped speaking, when they checked him, he was dead, shot in the head. Clanwilliam House was eventually stormed and burned down.

Two other Volunteers George Reynolds and Richard Murphy were also killed at Clanwilliam House. Reynolds and Murphy’s bodies, along with Patrick Doyle’s were incinerated in the blaze that destroyed the building and were never recovered. The rest of the section got away.

Malone and Doyle are not among the most famous insurgent dead of the Rising but as Republican martyrs, their credential are impeccable. They died bravely in battle, fighting huge odds.

Complications

A look at their own families, however gives us a much more complicated picture of the choices facing Irish people at the time. Take Malone first, his older brother William had already died violently by Easter 1916 – killed by shrapnel while serving with the British Army at Ypres almost exactly a year before. The elder Malone had joined the British Army as a 19 year old in 1901, at a time when it was probably simply an apolitical choice of career. Before the first world war was over he had served in Sudan Egypt and Malta.

As for Patrick Doyle, he was survived by his wife Sarah and five children. His son, also Patrick was only 12 at the time of his father’s death was no doubt inspired by his father’s example and later joined the Fianna – the republican youth organisation that acted as an auxiliary to the IRA during the War of Independence. Like many of his comrades in the IRA Dublin Brigade, young Patrick accepted the Treaty of 1921 and joined new National Army of the Irish Free State.

At the time of the outbreak of the Civil War, he was attached to National Army transport and ended up being sent to dislodge the anti-Treaty IRA from the Crooksling, near Brittas, County Dublin. He was killed in a fire fight, aged 18, on July 7th 1922.

Today a memorial stands at the side of the Church in Patrick Doyle’s native Milltown. It reads ‘pray for the soul of Patrick Doyle, killed at Clanwilliam House During Easter Week 1916’.

Similarly, The Last Post records reverently the deaths of Mick Malone and Patrick Doyle in 1916, but Patrick junior – son of an Easter Rising hero and Fianna activist himself – is absent, having taken the wrong side of the Treaty split. It should also be said that another survivor of the Mount Street battle, Seamus Grace, served in the IRA in the War of Independence and the anti-Treaty side on the Civil War and as a result of the wounds he sustained therein, was never able to work again.

One hundred years ago Irish people had to make many painful and difficult choices about where their allegiances lay. We are much more fortunate in having no such life or death decisions to make today. To remember all the dead is not necessarily to agree with all the choices they made.

But we owe it to them to acknowledge that they made their decisions in good faith and that their deaths in whatever cause do not distil them as symbols rather than as living people.

John Dorney is a historian, author of 'Peace After the Final Battle the Story of the Irish Revolution 1912-1924 (2014)' and editor of 'The Irish Story' website.

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