Tuesday 21 November 2017

Victims: The human cost of the rising was not restricted just to those who did the fighting

John Gibney

There are two children called James Gibney listed in the 1911 census for Dublin’s north inner city, and one of them died some days after the Rising, on 2 May 1916, and was buried in what was then Prospect Cemetery in Glasnevin. He was five years of age, and had lived at 16 Henrietta Place, a densely populated slum.

He is most likely to have been the 4 month old James Gibney who, in 1911, was recorded as living in nearby Jervis St, the son of a Lilian Gibney (though the death certificate from, 1916 records the mothers name as Ellen); if so, he was ill served by administrators. In the census James Gibney was listed as a daughter, and in Glasnevin burial register he was recorded as ‘John’ Gibney.

There can be no uncertainty over the fact of his death; indeed, he is one of the 40 or so children whose deaths in the Rising have recently been investigated by Joe Duffy. But Dublin's tenement dwellers of a century ago left little in the way of testimonies, and it is difficult to expand upon the fragmentary records referred to by Duffy.

Yet the circumstances of the family's immediate world in April 1916 can lend themselves to speculation. This Gibney family lived near North King Street and Church Street; the area deemed by the British authorities to have been the site of the most intense fighting, which almost certainly took a toll on the civilian population. The majority of those killed in Dublin during the Easter Rising were civilians; however, James Gibney’s death came after the Rising. Can he really be counted among the victims?

James Gibney might not have been killed during the Rising itself, but it is hard not to think that the destruction and disruption that took place in the locality where he and his family lived might have contributed to his death.

The death certificate refers to the possibility of an existing heart condition, after all. The cause of death was listed as ‘probably heart disease & shock. No med. attendant. Inquest unnecessary’.

Glasnevin could have made a mistake; equally, his family, who would have known the actual circumstances, may have informed them of the cause as they saw it: ‘cannonade’.

The Gibney family lived on the edge of where some of the heaviest and most intense fighting in the city took place: Henrietta Place was very close to the old Linenhall Barracks, which was set on fire on Wednesday 26 April with devastating consequences. Might the sheer scale of the disruption have hastened James Gibney's demise?

Amongst the dead of the Rising can be counted those killed in combat, by both Volunteers and British forces; and those, such as the civilian victims of the South Staffordshire regiment on nearby North King Street, who were very deliberately killed.

But is there a third category for those whose deaths may have been indirectly caused by the fighting that went on around them? The human cost of the rising was not restricted to those who did the fighting.

John Gibney is currently Glasnevin Trust Assistant Professor of Public History and Cultural Heritage at Trinity College Dublin.

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