Sunday 19 November 2017

My 1916: Why my grandfather was outraged by 1916 Rising

...and my uncle thought the day the British left was a dark one for Ireland

Ruins: Wynns Hotel on Dublin's Abbey Street after it was damaged by a bomb in 1916
Ruins: Wynns Hotel on Dublin's Abbey Street after it was damaged by a bomb in 1916
Dave Robbins

Dave Robbins

By 1916, my grandmother, Honoria O'Hare, was something of a fixture in Lennox Street on the south side of Dublin city. She had lived there for 11 years, getting her husband George out to work in a clean collar every morning for his job in the Post Office and tending to her family.

She and George had married in 1905 in the reign of Edward VII. George had come to Dublin from the home farm in Ravensdale, Co Louth and, despite the many jokes about "a Hare marrying a Moon", had wooed and wed the rather formidable Honoria Moon.

To their neighbours, they seemed an odd pair: she, large and forthright; he small, wiry and meek. And yet, they noted, not as meek as he looked: they produced a total of 12 children, 10 of whom survived.

No 63 Lennox Street was a three-storey over-basement house near the junction with Richmond Street. It had a plain fan light over the door, not like the fancy ones you saw on Merrion Square or St Stephen's Green. The tramline ran at the end of the street, and you could hear the conductors shout as they called out the stop: "Step along lodgers, your tea is on the table!"

Perhaps George and Honoria had chosen Portobello because it was known as an area where cheap lodgings were available at the time - hence the tram conductor's taunt. It was home to hundreds of bank, insurance and shipping clerks, whose offices were on the south side of the city. Young men in the horse trade, or the markets, or the dairy business, mostly lived on the north side of the city. Dublin was divided physically by the River Liffey, but also culturally: commerce to the south; trade to the north.

Portobello got its name from a far-off and long-forgotten British naval victory, but it had another name among Dubliners: Little Jerusalem. There was a synagogue around the corner in Camden Street and a Jewish school on Bloomfield Avenue nearby. There was a Jewish Social Club and a kosher bakery stood on the corner of Lennox Street and South Richmond Street.

Many of the children of the area earned a few shillings doing odd jobs for Jewish families during the Sabbath, when all work was forbidden. Along Camden Street, Jewish tailors and butchers plied their trade alongside their Irish counterparts.

When the O'Hares first rented the Lennox Street house, it stood squarely in the centre of the second city of the British Empire. Portobello Barracks was just over the bridge and dragoons marched up and down the end of the road regularly. Military bands played in Iveagh Gardens and St Stephen's Green. Although, of course, the house stayed precisely where it was, the Empire receded gradually, though not without a struggle.

From the front steps of her house, Honoria could hear the shots, and later the shelling that took place during the Easter Rising of 1916. The rebellion seemed to be happening all around her: Mount Street bridge, where the rebels had set up a position and shot four British Army reservists; St Stephen's Green, where they had dug in and were fired upon from the windows of the Shelbourne Hotel, and Portobello Barracks itself, where a British Army major had gone mad and shot dead six civilians.

Most Dubliners thought the rebellion was madness. Some of them even tried to dismantle the rebel barricades, and were shot for their pains. George O'Hare, who worked as a sorting clerk and telegraphist in the Post Office, was particularly outraged as the rebel centre of command was in the General Post Office in Sackville Street.

Rebels were spat upon in the streets by Dubliners who had sons or relatives fighting in France, and some tried to prevent James Connolly's squadron from occupying the GPO. When a troop of British lancers arrived, the locals cheered them on.

Further to the south, some Dubliners spotted commercial opportunities: a boy offered writer Ernie O'Malley the use of a looted set of binoculars with which to see the British snipers firing from Trinity College. "Only tuppence a look," he was told.

The anti-Rising feeling of the city, and of his family, went deep with my Uncle Eugene, the oldest boy and aged six in 1916. For the rest of his life, he held the belief that the day the British left was a black day for Ireland, that the native Irish were not equipped to run or build or plan anything as well as the British were.

My Uncle Harry, although a lover of the Irish language, also displayed a kind of vestigial Britishness through his love of rugby, cricket, Gilbert and Sullivan and other markers of British culture.

After the Rising, there was an uneasy calm. The executions of the leaders, and the prosecutions of more than 400 Dubliners for looting, were in the past and, though not forgotten, were not referred to. The O'Hares turned inwards, towards family and neighbours, and there was plenty of distraction for the O'Hare children in the warren of narrow streets and meagre squares of Portobello.

The history of Ireland's struggle with Britain is often portrayed as Gael versus Saxon. The O'Hares, like so many other Dubliners, were proof that it was a lot more complicated than that. The Rising, opposed by the people of the city in which it took place, acquired its patina of heroism and glory only long afterwards.

Irish Independent

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