Monday 20 May 2019

The Cricket Bat that Died for Ireland

Brenda Malone

This cricket bat had the misfortune of being on display in the shop front of Elvery’s store on O’Connell Street, then Sackville Street, during the Easter Rising.

J.W. Elvery & Co. was Ireland’s oldest sports store and was, at this time, located at 46 & 47 Lower Sackville Street (now a Supermac’s), and even got a mention in James Joyce’s Ulysses.

Its location, about one block from the GPO, meant it was in the middle of the cross-fire and general destruction of the main street. While its neighbour the Metropole Hotel was razed to the ground, it escaped the worst, though it was badly damaged. There were also reports of widespread looting on the street from the night of Monday the 24th.

The Sinn Féin 1916 Rebellion Handbook, published by the Irish Times in 1917, describes children roaming the streets with sweets, toys and ‘hockey and golf sticks and all kinds of articles used in popular pastimes’, which would certainly suggest Elvery’s was a victim.

The bullet lodged in the wood of the bat is a .303 calibre, which was used by the British Army for both their standard issue Short Magazine Lee Enfield rifles and also Lewis machine guns. 

The Irish Volunteers had about 900 1871 model Mausers, landed at Howth two years before, which used .45 calibre ammunition. The Irish also had some Lee Enfield rifles, along with various other firearms types such as shotguns, but it is likely the bat was shot by a British gun.

Rifle fire on Sackville Street was heaviest on the Tuesday of the Rising (with the arrival of more British troops and machine guns into the city centre) before the fires began to spread on the Wednesday, so it’s possible, though not certain, that the bat was shot on the first couple of days of Easter week.

Perhaps one of the reasons the cricket bat has captured so many people’s imaginations is the idea of such a symbol of ‘Britishness’ taking a bullet in the rebellion. Maybe the fact that the bullet came from a British weapon adds to the irony.

But surprisingly (well, it was surprising to me, not knowing much about sport), cricket had been a popular pastime in Ireland with both the gentry and tenant classes for over a century. It is thought that the game was introduced in the early 19th century by the British garrisons and the landed classes who were educated in England, with teams formed on estates comprising both the Protestant and Catholic population, with the Catholics often being paid to make up team numbers.

The GAA’s 1902 ban on ‘foreign sports’ further fueled its decline (for a history of cricket in Ireland have a read of Gerard Siggins’ Green Days : cricket In Ireland 1792-2005, and Michael O’Dwyer’s History of Cricket in Count Kilkenny – details in the Further Reading section).

Still, the game survived, and clearly remained popular enough for Elvery’s to advertise cricket bats in their shop front display in 1916.

From 'The Cricket Bat That Died for Ireland'.  All images copyright of the National Museum of Ireland.

See the exciting new exhibition Proclaiming a Republic: The 1916 Rising at the National Museum of Ireland at Collins Barracks from 3rd March 2016.

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