Pity those poor children -- all victims of our Rising 'heroes'
Published 29/01/2008 | 00:00
One of the more common criticisms I've received over the years is my loathing of the 1916 Rising. And I accept, to a degree, that in imposing modern judgments on affairs that occurred decades ago, one can fail to allow for the contemporary mores.
But let us accept that in all civilisations, the protection of children against violence is a cultural imperative.
The census of 1911 reveals half-a-dozen different boys living relatively close to one another on the northside of Dublin. In the Phoenix Park Magazine residence there was Gerald Playfair.
In Drumcondra resided a baby named Percival Smith. Edwin Hughes, aged six, lived in Clonliffe Road. Not far away lived Brendan Holohan, aged five, in St Patrick's Road.
At St Brigid's Cross lived Joseph Rogers, also aged five. And finally, we come to Charles Dalton, aged eight, of Columba's Road, Drumcondra.
I trust we agree: anything which brought violence to these young boys' lives should surely be regarded as a matter for loathing.
On Easter Monday 1916, a group of insurgents attacked the undefended Magazine in Phoenix Park, where Georgina Playfair was minding her family. As I have said many times, none of the insurgents' leaders had ever stood for parliament or in local government elections, save James Connolly, who had twice stood unsuccessfully for the Wood Quay ward of Dublin Corporation. These men had never tried democracy, so they could hardly say that it had failed them.
When the attack on the Magazine began, young Gerald Playfair, aged just 14, ran in panic to Conyngham Road, pursued on a bicycle by a terrorist called Holohan.
As the boy frantically hammered on a front door, seeking sanctuary, Holohan coldly shot him through the head, killing him.
You will read countless textbooks on the Rising, but you will probably not read of the cold-blooded murder, in its opening moments, of a schoolboy by -- to use the President's imperishable words at UCC two years ago -- one of "our heroes".
The boy's father, George, was on the Western Front, as was a young American-born officer of the Dublin Fusiliers, Emmet Dalton. Dalton was to cradle the head of the dying Tom Kettle, a fellow Dublin Fusilier, at Ginchy on the Somme the following September.
A couple of years later, Michael Collins began to assemble his Squad. Little in Irish history compares with the sordid murderousness of the operations of this group of men, as it wandered through the streets of Dublin, "plugging" people: and squalid though these deeds are, they are matched in moral vileness by the fawning adulation of its subsequent generations of admirers.
To be sure, the Squad was good at killing men -- preferably unarmed, often beside their wives -- but no great political gain resulted. Nor could it have. Terrorism and politics are unrelated arts.
The Squad's youngest killer was Emmet Dalton's brother, Charlie, the eight-year-old of the 1911 census, whom Collins recruited at the age of 16: and to turn any boy into a cold-blooded murderer is depravity beyond any excuse. I do not know how many people Charlie Dalton killed while the Squad pioneered new and interesting ways of bringing honour to the name of Ireland.
He had just turned 17 when he participated in the Bloody Sunday massacre, shooting dead the unarmed Major C M Dowling and Captain Leonard Price in their bedrooms in Baggot Street.
Down the road, Major Newbury was shot in front of his heavily-pregnant wife, the newly-minted widow shortly afterwards giving birth to a stillborn baby. And in 117 Morehampton Road, gunmen pushed past 10-year-old Percival Smith, the boy we first encountered as a babe in Drumcondra, and shot three men in front of him, including his father, Herbert, fatally, on "suspicion" of being a British agent: though God knows what threat this Irish Protestant paint-shop manager could have presented to the IRA.
Seven months, and many lives later -- came the Truce, followed, of course, by the Split; and Charlie Dalton, by now a seasoned killer, stayed with Collins: as did his brother, Emmet, who in August 1922 was to cradle the head of his dying leader at Beal na Blath. One month later, 19-year-old Charlie Dalton, now a uniformed officer in the Free State Army, arrested three teenage boys who were distributing republican leaflets in all the boys' common stamping ground of Drumcondra.
We've already met these youngsters, as little children, in the 1911 census. They were Edwin Hughes, now 17, Joseph Rogers, 16, and Brendan Holohan also 16, and very possibly kin of the killer of the Playfair boy in 1916.
Commandant Charles Dalton drove the three youngsters to what is now the Red Cow Roundabout, where the next morning, their dead bodies were found, riddled with bullets. Ah well. Old habits die hard.
Naturally, no-one was ever convicted of these murders. The 1935 Street Directory lists Charles Dalton as living in Morehampton Road, the epicentre of the Bloody Sunday battu of 1921.
The wages of sin, it seems, is not death, but a house in Dublin Four, surrounded by scenes of one's past glory.