Tuesday 22 October 2019

It's business as usual as the big mop-up begins

British soldiers search the Tolka river for firearms in the aftermath of the 1916 Rising.
British soldiers search the Tolka river for firearms in the aftermath of the 1916 Rising.

Damian Corless

Eight days after Pádraig Pearse's ­surrender order, the Irish ­Independent of May 6 was keen to reassure ­Dubliners that normal service was ­being resumed in the face of an ­ongoing mopping-up operation.

Dublin Castle was swearing in more "special constables", while "house searches" for arms and "literature" were leading to scores of further arrests and "isolated snipers" were still operating "in certain parts of the city". Dramatic photos showed a gutted Middle Abbey Street, the skeletal remains of "the wreckage of the GPO" and "the ruined Coliseum Theatre", but pasted around the grim accounts of death and destruction were defiant notices that business as usual was being resumed.

Cheques and postal orders had been stuck in a two-week mail log-jam, but the message from firms to customers was that the backlog would be quickly sorted and the city's postal and delivery services back running smoothly. At the time, it was a mark of social one-upmanship for well-heeled families to order their weekly shopping by phone or post for home delivery. Samuel's Stores on Henry Street, the scene of heavy fighting, tried to make the best of a bad lot. Billing themselves as "Ireland's Premier Shopping Centre", Samuel's urged "Shopping By Post", saying: "Our many Patrons will hear with great regret that our premises were looted and completely burnt down. We are commencing Temporary Premises on the same site and shall resume business in the next few days. Our adverts of Jewellery, Novelties, Games etc will appear in the usual columns."

The GPO rebels had occupied neighbouring Easons, which was badly damaged, so the head of the Eason family announced he'd converted the "motor garage" of his home into a distribution depot to restart regular newspaper deliveries. Following a post-Rising alcohol ban, countless men perked up at the return of adverts for whiskey and beer, although having just recruited a new General Secretary, the Irish Temperance League was gearing up to soon campaign for total prohibition under the slogan "A Sober Peace".

Noting that postal and electric communications were still down, an editorial asked readers to appreciate that: "We are placed back in the Sixties (the 1860s of the fledgling telegraph and unreliable Irish stagecoach). We are obliged to go to press minus many of our usual features."

There had been time for some measured analysis of the recent tumult, and while the Independent, like most others, wrongly blamed "Sinn Féiners" for the mayhem, the paper's naked hostility to the rebels of just days before was softening. It charged the British administration with failing to "suppress rebellious movement in the North" causing the rest of the country to suffer "sorely for their cowardice and want of decision".

A separate report, headlined "American Press Opinion", noted that several top US papers were calling for clemency towards the many rebels now stewing on death row. The leader writer concurred, arguing: "We believe that justice should be tempered with mercy in dealing with the general body" of insurgents, many of whom "were the dupes of cleverer men".

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