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City struggles under martial law


Back to work: Jacob's biscuit factory the week after the Rising

Back to work: Jacob's biscuit factory the week after the Rising

Back to work: Jacob's biscuit factory the week after the Rising

On April 25, 1916, the day after the Rising ignited, martial law was declared for Dublin for one month. A curfew was imposed from 8.30pm to 5am. Anyone spotted on the streets during the hours of darkness would be shot on sight. The trams stopped running from 7pm, and the theatres and cinemas closed by 8pm. Those rushing for trams leaving the city centre had to pass through a stop-and-search military cordon.

Just days after the crushing of the rebels, a headline noted approvingly that the authorities were "Spreading Wide The Net". In early May, 3,000 to 4,000 individuals were rounded up and shipped off for internment in England and Wales. Largely indiscriminate mass arrests took place nationwide. Some 300 were detained in Wexford, along with "a number of pikes used in 1798". German prisoners of war were evacuated from Frongoch camp in Wales to make way for 1,800 Irish internees, including Michael Collins and Sinn Féin founder Arthur Griffith but not, contrary to popular legend, Éamon de Valera.

In the days following the Rising, Dublin resembled a ghost town, with people fearing to venture out even in daylight.

The gates of the Phoenix Park were shut, and police notices stated: "People Are Requested Not To Loiter About In The Streets".

A fear of isolated rebel snipers remained, but a week after the big guns fell silent, the city was shaking itself back into some shape of normality.

The authorities issued a general recall to work, with a particular focus on those in the "Food, Munition and Coal Trades".

School managers were told that they could take back pupils as soon as they thought fit and safe.

A rebel stonghold two weeks earlier, Boland's Mills announced the resumption of "usual deliveries of bread", while gas and electricity supplies were restored and traders who urgently needed to contact suppliers were told they could avail of "Limited Telephone Facilities only with permission of the Government Food Supply Commission at the Ministry of Munitions".

A two-week backlog of parcels and letters was freed up, and Arnotts department store reopened, promising that all "orders sent by post will receive prompt attention".

Rival Hickey's held a fire-sale, saying "all damaged goods will be offered at tempting prices to clear", while the biggest outlet of them all put a brave face on a calamitous situation, announcing: "Clerys beg to announce to their many patrons that in consequence of their premises being totally destroyed, their Business will be held up for a short period."

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The rebel Oscar Traynor had watched in amazement as Clerys thick-plate glass windows had melted in the heat of the Rising, and it would be years before the store reopened.

The pubs had been shut under martial law, and the ban on drink sales was extended in early May. Off licences were permitted to open from 10am to 5pm, but only for the sale of groceries and other provisions. The authorities tried to keep a watchful eye on chemists and so-called dairy shops, many of which both did a sideline in under-the-counter booze.

The mass looting that had marked the week of street warfare had subsided but there was a lingering black market for looted goods, and police and soldiers read in the newspapers that they should be looking out for hawkers selling "looted boots at three pence a pair, cigars one shilling a box, gold watches one shilling each, 6d for an orange and 1/3 for six bananas". Normally, stolen goods would often wind up in Dublin's many pawn shops, but business was slow under martial law.

By mid-May, the mood swing in the capital was discernible. The drip-drip executions of the Rising leaders was turning them into martyrs for a general public now going stir-crazy under the repressive constraints of martial law, despite the best efforts of the Theatre Royal to bolster love of empire with its Continuous Programme showcasing "The Irish Brigade In Action" at the front.

An Irish Independent editorial captured the caged-in frustrations of many, reflecting: "While the citizens of Dublin are struggling to resume their normal life... they are still subjected to many restrictions and inconveniences which, it is to be hoped, will be removed as soon as the improving situation permits. In the matter of general and foreign news, for instance, the Dublin people are still seriously handicapped."

This alluded to the fact that the British authorities had responded to the Rising with an extra layer of postal censorship on top of the already heavy-handed wartime regime.

Clearly feeling sorry for himself as he awaited the dawn lifting of curfew, the leader writer continued: "Newspapers are still without the use of their wires and telephones. The military order requiring all citizens to remain indoors from 8.30pm to 5am has made Dublin appear like a deserted city after nightfall.

"To night workers, such as postal officials, journalists and others, the present restrictions are distinctly oppressive and mean internment in their offices for several hours each morning after a hard night's work."

Just as today, the word internment carried tones of unfairness and resentment, which the writer felt confident to share with readers of the Irish Independent. While it was an obvious and necessary measure to restore order, martial law ultimately did nothing but harm to preserving the Union.