Friday 24 May 2019

Easter 1917: How Dublin commemorated the Rising one year on

Donal Fallon

On 6 April 1917, a proclamation was issued by General Sir Brian Mahon, Commander-in-Chief of British forces in Ireland, and posted at the different police barracks in Dublin. It was a clear attempt at preventing any commemorative gatherings in the city during the week marking the anniversary of the uprising.

It noted that 'between Sunday, the 8th day of April, 1917, and Sunday, the 15th day of April, 1917' any assembly of persons for the purpose of the holding of meetings would amount to to a breach of the peace and would likely serve to 'promote disaffection'.

Under the Defence of the Realm Regulations, Mahon’s proclamation made it clear there would be no tolerance for unapproved gatherings, ending with the words ‘God Save the King’.

Easter Sunday 1917 was reportedly very quiet in Dublin, but in Glasnevin Cemetery it was noted an 'exceptionally large number of persons' had been attending the graves of some who had died a year previously with remembrance wreaths and flowers placed on some of the graves.

Clashes on Easter Monday

On Easter Monday itself, all eyes were firmly on Sackville Street.   Small crowds had gathered on the street from early in the morning anticipating something.

Towards 9 o’clock in the morning excitement and speculation were aroused by the discovery that the Sinn Féin flag had been hoisted surreptitiously on the staff which stood on the south-east corner of the General Post Office before the rebellion, and survived the effects of bombardment on that occasion. The flag floated at half mast.

The flag fell down the pole at one stage, but by twelve noon a larger crowd had gathered on the streets and there was an incident that attracted the attention of all gathered, as a man walked across the parapet of the General Post Office and raised the flag once more.

This was a signal for an outburst of cheering, and various other demonstrations.

Defiantly, some Dubliners wore symbols of commemoration upon their own clothing. Black bands were reportedly worn by some in the crowd at Sackville Street, while others wore ribbons of 'the Sinn Féin colours'.

It was noted that the rubble of the rebellion was used by some youths to attack the police, with stone-throwing on Sackville Street from about 4 o’clock, and an Inspector and Superintendent were reportedly struck.

A number of young men, wearing 'republican badges', appealed to youths to desist in throwing stones, but they continued for some time, even smashing the windows of a military guard passing through Abbey Street.

As a result of clashes between youths and police, it was reported that eight civilians and four police men were treated for injuries at Jervis Street hospital.

Helena Molony, a participant in the rebellion, recalled that the production of the flags that were raised in 1917 was carried out by female republicans:

“We made the flags - three, measuring six feet by four and a half feet. There was a very nice sailor from Glasgow called Morran, who looked at the flagstaff in the G.P.O. and said: 'We could get a flag on that. I will do it, and they won’t get it off in a hurry'."

The symbolic raising of tricolour flags was not confined to Dublin, as the Freeman’s Journal reported similar scenes in Cork and Mullingar. In Cork, '300 or 400 persons' reportedly marched through the streets of the city, saluting at City Hall where the municipal flag had vanished in favour of the tricolour.

Re-printing the Proclamation

The commemoration in Dublin was not restricted to the raising of flags however, as there was also an organised reprinting of the 1916 proclamation according to Helena Molony.

“Having decided to post up the proclamation, we got facsimiles of it made. We got that printed by Walker, the Tower Press man. I did all the ordering for that. When Walker was printing the proclamation, he was a bit short of type, and he came to me.

"As is well known,the proclamation of 1916 had been printed in Liberty Hall. In the subsequent destruction of Liberty Hall, the type had been all smashed up, and thrown about. Nobody had cleared it up. I said to Walker: 'There may be some type in the corner here'. He came down with his son; and he picked up a number of letters that he was short of. They were actually used in the 1917 proclamation.”

Molony and others posted the proclamation around the city, with flour paste made from glue, jam pots of which were used by teams of willing republicans all over the city. Molony remembered that “one poster in Grafton Street stayed up for six or eight months”

Dublin Corporation marked the anniversary of the Rising in its own way, by passing a motion calling for an amnesty for Irish prisoners.

James Connolly

On 12 May, the anniversary of the execution of James Connolly, a banner was hung across Liberty Hall in commemoration of the Edinburgh socialist.  Once again Helena Molony participated in this act of defiance, joined by Rosie Hackett and others. Hackett, whose name was chosen for the new bridge spanning the River Liffey, remembered this in her own statement to the Bureau of Military History:

“On the occasion of the first anniversary of Connolly’s death, the Transport people decided that he would be honoured. A big poster was put up on the Hall, with the words: ‘James Connolly Murdered, May 12th, 1916’.

"It was no length of time up on the Hall, when it was taken down by the police, including Johnny Barton and Dunne. We were very vexed over it, as we thought it should have been defended. It was barely an hour or so up, and we wanted everybody to know it was Connolly’s anniversary.

"Miss Molony called us together- Jinny Shanahan, Brigid Davis and myself. Miss Molony printed another script. Getting up on the roof, she put it high up, across the top parapet. We were on top of the roof for the rest of the time it was there.

"We barricaded the windows. I remember there was a ton of coal in one place, and it was shoved against the door in case they would get in. Nails were put in.  Police were mobilised from everywhere, and more than four hundred of them marched across from the Store Street direction and made a square outside Liberty Hall.

"Thousands of people were watching from the Quay on the far side of the river. It took the police a good hour or more before they got in, and the script was there until six in the evening, before they got it down.”

It’s clear from looking at these events in Dublin that the question of just how the Easter Rising should be commemorated is one that people were asking themselves even before the first shots of the War of Independence were fired.

Donal Fallon is a historian and one of the writers behind Dublin history blog 'Come Here To Me'.

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