Friday 13 December 2019

Newsmen brothers at the frontline of Rising

Irish Independent reporter Maurice Linnane left a unique account of his work as a journalist during the Rising. Our reporter meets one of the journalist's relatives

Barry Linnane, the grand-nephew of Irish Independent reporter Maurice Linnane, who reported from the frontline during the Rising. Photo: Colin O'Riordan.
Barry Linnane, the grand-nephew of Irish Independent reporter Maurice Linnane, who reported from the frontline during the Rising. Photo: Colin O'Riordan.
Brothers Maurice (left) and Michael Linnane.
Kim Bielenberg

Kim Bielenberg

Two brothers, Maurice and Michael Linnane, were reporters on duty at the Irish Independent on the day the Rising broke out. Maurice was down in the news diary to follow up stories on the Irish Volunteers and the seizure of weapons at Brittas on the edge of the Dublin mountains. Michael was due to cover the Father Mathew Feis.

Both brothers were renowned figures in Irish journalism with differing reputations.

As Michael's grandson, Barry Linnane, puts it, "they were known as 'the Good' and 'the Bad'."

Maurice was known as "Maurice the Good" because of his impeccable newsroom habits. Michael, on the other hand, was referred to as "the Bad" due to his convivial lifestyle and prolific drinking.

The Limerick brothers were witnesses to some historical events of the period. Michael reported on the sinking of the 'Lusitania' in 1915, and Maurice was in the thick of the action during the Rising. Both men later covered the opening of the first Dáil.

Barry Linnane, himself a retired RTÉ journalist, has recently been gathering information about the brothers and what they did during the eventful revolutionary years.

Barry went to the Glasnevin home where Maurice once lived and found photographs of the brothers. In one photo they both appear as dapper newsmen in three-piece suits.

At his own home in Dundrum, Barry shows me a cutting of an article from the Irish Independent from 61 years ago in which Maurice described his activities during Easter Week. It is one of the fullest descriptions of the Rising from a reporter's point of view.

In one part, Maurice describes the scene in the Irish Independent offices and out on O'Connell Street as the rebellion started: "When I arrived in the old Reporters' Room of the Independent at 111 Middle Abbey Street, there was nothing to indicate that a revolution was then in the making which would change the whole history of Ireland.

"There had been something of a scare during the previous week, centring around the rumoured mobilisation of the Volunteers. But on Sunday we knew that this call-up had been abandoned.

"We therefore saw no reason to assume that at any moment we would be in the midst of the sensational happenings of Easter Week."

The early sporting edition of the Evening Herald went to press under the normal conditions. It contained little more than the Easter Monday racing cards for Fairyhouse and Cork, and it was on the streets as the usual Bank Holiday crowds left for the races on a day of brilliant sunshine.

Maurice told of the reaction when news came through of rebellion on O'Connell Street: "My colleagues and I rushed wildly down the stairs and into the street. Crowds were running towards O'Connell Street.

"When I went into O'Connell Street hundreds of people had gathered in the centre of the roadway. Armed Volunteers were on the roof as well as at all the entrance doors of the GPO."

Maurice was handed a copy of the Proclamation by a professor who happened to be passing.

According to the journalist's account, passers-by watched the events in the GPO with a strangely detached amazement.

"I saw Lord Powerscourt stroll down the street in the uniform of a British staff officer. He stood for a moment, trying to figure out what was happening, and then passed on."

Maurice probably felt that he had a scoop on his hands as one of the first journalists on the scene at the start of the Rising.

"I returned to the office to see what were the possibilities of producing a paper to give the news to the world," he recalled in the article.

"By this time all hopes of publication and distribution appeared to have vanished. But I still had hopes that perhaps the morning paper would come out."

Maurice then returned to O'Connell Street and witnessed what he called "the first rifle shots of the war", as Volunteers opened fire on British troops on horseback.

The reporter was back in the middle of the action the following day, travelling into town from his home on the Northside.

"About midday on that Tuesday I met Francis Sheehy-Skeffington on O'Connell Bridge. He made it clear that while he believed in the principles for which the Volunteers were fighting, he was a pacifist."

Sheehy-Skeffington told the reporter he was deeply shocked by the looting that was happening around him, and wanted to set up a civic force for the protection of property.

The pacifist, who had no military role in the Rising, was later picked up by British troops and shot by a firing squad at Portobello Barracks. Maurice could not reach the office on Wednesday because of the restrictions on movements, but his editor, Timothy Harrington, was there.

Maurice got as far as the Parnell Monument at the top of O'Connell Street and described the scene: "The British military were closing in on the city centre... There were people still in O'Connell Street, but it was gradually becoming deserted save for the combatants.

"On the following day, Phibsborough was as far as I could get. A British officer, stationed at Doyle's grocery premises, was issuing permits to people on their way to attend horses and cattle.

"There was firing everywhere, but hearses came along with the dead for the cemetery (at Glasnevin). In some cases coffins were opened to make sure that they did not contain guns or ammunition. It was a grim spectacle and the soldiers obviously disliked the work."

Maurice tells how some reporters managed to get to work up until Thursday - even though the Irish Independent offices were at the centre of the heaviest firing.

"Up to that day we could have produced papers if the electric and gas supplies had not been cut off."

On Thursday, the Volunteers took possession of the newspaper's building and stayed there until Saturday evening. As Maurice recalled: "When the editor and manager reached the office on Sunday evening they found that the premises were practically undamaged.

"When it is considered that practically every house on both sides of Abbey Street was destroyed, one can visualise the astonishing good luck which saved the premises and plant from ruin."

On the Monday after the surrender, operations resumed for the production of the paper and staff trickled back to the office. Some had been arrested for their part in the Rising, while others were cut off in various parts of the city or marooned in the country. While we know that Maurice was in the thick of the action, the movements of Michael remain unclear, but one has to assume that he also reported on the Rising.

As Maurice recalled in his account: "Every available man, including sports writers and sub-editors, was sent out on the work of reporting the Rising.

"They came back to the office in the evening with many strange stories that saw the light for the first time on the following day.

"We had tales of heroism, many stories of bodies of civilians buried in backyards and cellars where the fighting was thickest, as well as of wholesale arrest, burnings and looting.

"The appearance of the Independent aroused nationwide interest. Many people remained out of bed until the first papers came off the presses. In several areas a half-crown a copy was cheerfully paid to newsboys.

"For the first four or five days, the presses could not turn out sufficient papers to meet the public demand. The European war was on. The rationing of paper had begun and many people had to be content with a borrowed newspaper or a copy purchased on the black market at a staggering price."

Both of the Linnane brothers spent the rest of their careers working at the Irish Independent, and covered the historic events that followed the Rising.

During one incident, Maurice was with Éamon de Valera at an election meeting in Waterford when British troops fired shots into the room. De Valera and Linnane lay flat on the floor as bullets whistled overhead.

Barry Linnane shows me a copy of the menu from the dining car of the Holyhead-to-Euston train bearing the signatures of leaders travelling as part of an Irish peace delegation to London to meet the Prime Minister Lloyd George in 1921. The menu has the signatures of key figures such as De Valera, Arthur Griffith and Erskine Childers as well as the reporter Maurice Linnane.

In a tribute published in the The Irish Times when he died at the age of 50, Michael Linnane was described as a highly accomplished journalist with an unrivalled knowledge of the country.

He died before his grandson Barry was born, but Barry remembers his grand-uncle Maurice coming to the house, and having a ball of malt.

Maurice died in 1961 at the age of 75.

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