Sunday 17 December 2017

My 1916: Prisoners in their own home

After four days dodging bullets, one household thought they'd made it. Not so, writes Stephen McCullagh

Stephen McCullogh pictured next to Annesley Road Bridge, the former battlefield site just outside his grandparents' house where they were trapped for four days during The Rising. Photo: Damien Eagers
Stephen McCullogh pictured next to Annesley Road Bridge, the former battlefield site just outside his grandparents' house where they were trapped for four days during The Rising. Photo: Damien Eagers

April 24, 1916 was a bright, sunny spring bank holiday Monday, and as the sun rose over Dublin, the capital's early risers begain their preparations for a lazy day.

Those early risers included the inhabitants of Number 4 Annesley Bridge Road in Fairview, on the day-tripper's tram route to Dollymount, Sutton and Howth. The middle class residents of Number 4 were husband and wife Jack and Eliza McCullagh, their children, and Eliza's parents William and Hannah.

One of Jack and Eliza's kids was 11-year-old Bob, my grandfather. It was a busy household, accommodating not just three generations of one family, which was the norm for the times, but also a maid and two lodgers.

The tram tracks running all the way to the foot of Howth Head went right by the front door. The line, which had carried horse-drawn trams, had recently been electrified and the new stretch carried commuters from the tram sheds on Clontarf Road to Nelson's Pillar on Sackville Street.

On that Easter weekend, the second of the Great War, much of Ireland was on the rocks, but the plain people made the most of the simple pleasures available to them. With the solemnities of Good Friday over, crowds filled the trams as they poured inwards to the city centre and outwards to the beaches, while many thousands more made their way by the booming leisure vehicle of the day, the bicycle. A multitude flocked to the big annual Easter race meeting at Fairyhouse.

For many, the city centre itself was the big attraction. Ice cream was a very rare treat, confined almost entirely to a cluster of Italian-owned parlours in Dublin and Cork. Silent movie cinemas were springing up and many of the larger towns had a music hall where comedians and bands vied for applause. The biggest hit of the day was It's A Long Way To Tipperary, which had been published as sheet music three years earlier but had taken off as the signature tune of the troops in Flanders.

As Jack and Eliza and their brood looked out the window towards the opposite side of the road, they were met by a scene of tidal mud flats, which have since been reclaimed and turned into the fine amenity we now know as Fairview Park.

Beyond the stretches of swamp, smoke-spewing trains passed along the Great Northern Railway tracks which linked the administrative capital of Dublin with the industrial capital of Belfast in a borderless country.

Fearing that there would be an attempted insurrection by the Irish Volunteers, which had put on several shows of strengths with public drills involving thousands of armed men, the British Army had set up camp at Dollymount strand to deal with any trouble.

Around lunchtime on that bank holiday Monday, word began to reach the suburbs that a force of rebels had taken over the General Post Office on Sackville Street, at a time when a large chunk of British officialdom had vacated the capital to attend the Fairyhouse Races.

When the British troops stationed at Dollymount got word of the GPO takeover, they were quickly mobilised to march from their camp to the General Post Office, a distance of some five miles.

They marched along the tracks of the Great Northern Rail line in an effort to stop the roadblocks they expected the rebels would put in place.

On Poplar Row in Fairview, which is now dominated by flats and warehouses, stood the Dublin and Wicklow Fuel Company. A band of insurgents occupied the building, climbing up onto the roofs in waiting for the British troops who would have to pass through the bottleneck in their bid to confront the rebels at the GPO.

All of a sudden, battle erupted. Jack, Eliza, William, Hannah and the others at Number 4 Annesley Bridge Road found themselves caught in the crossfire and dashed to seek shelter at the back of the house.

Amid the chaos and terror they heard a knock on the door. A previous boarder, William Moore, and his new wife had been heading for a train to Limerick when the violence exploded all around them. They begged for shelter from the fighting. Jack hurriedly welcomed them in as bullets whizzed past.

For the next four days solid, the occupants of Number 4 ducked and dived at the rear of the house, hearing the occasional clatter of glass as stray bullets hit the front windows.

The Battle of Annesley finally ended on the Thursday with the withdrawal of the insurgents. Cautiously, Jack and William Moore went outside to inspect the damage. They counted 33 bullets lodged in the walls of the house, inside and outside, and every window had been blown in.

The clean up began and they headed back indoors to fetch some sweeping brushes. After entering the front door, there was a loud bang and Jack turned to see William plunge to the floor. He had been shot in the back by a bullet through the front door.

Jack helped him into the kitchen at the back of the house where the rest of the family tried to help, and went nervously back outside to smash the emergency signal on the streetlight which would call an ambulance.

When the ambulance eventually arrived, Jack escorted William to Jervis Street Hospital beside the smoking shell of the GPO. Sadly, William died before the ambulance reached its destination.

But it got worse for Jack, who was arrested by British troops and press-ganged into digging graves for those who'd died in the week of fighting. His family heard nothing of him for the next three days, and understandably assumed the worst.

On the fourth day, Jack arrived back on the doorstep at Number 4 where William Moore had been shot. He was in a sorry state as he'd had no food or water since leaving home. When the dust had settled on the Rising, the family planted a tree in William Moore's memory, which is still there today in the front garden of Number 4 Annesley Bridge Road.

My grandpa Bob's experiences of 1916 stayed with him vividly until his passing in 2001. Each time we would pass by the house at Annesley Bridge, Bob would remind us of the four-day ordeal. In his later years, when going to do his weekly business at the bank at Annesley Bridge, he would ask my mother to pause for a moment at Number 4 while he reflected back on that traumatic experience.

I still cannot pass the house without looking, seeing the tree and wondering what it must have been like during those troubled times.

Irish Independent

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