Friday 20 April 2018

Unsung heroes of the Rising

A leading authority is calling for a new roll of honour to remember all of the Rising dead

Justice: Historian Ray Bateson pictured at Deansgrange cemetery. Photo: Frank Mc Grath
Justice: Historian Ray Bateson pictured at Deansgrange cemetery. Photo: Frank Mc Grath

Celine Naughton

It was one of the most solemn events of the centenary commemorations, an occasion for sober reflection as a group of children drew back the curtains to reveal the names of 485 people who died in the Easter Rising.

Yet according to a leading authority on the subject, the Remembrance Wall in Glasnevin Cemetery not only fuelled controversy because of the inclusion of British military personnel, it excludes many of those entitled to have their names engraved for posterity.

Author Ray Bateson says his biggest concern is for the forgotten heroes of the Rising - those whose names don't appear on any memorial plaque or monument, despite evidence to show they were active in the rebellion.

He also wants to correct those listed as civilian casualties, who actually died fighting for their country.

"The official list we have today was drawn up 50 years ago, but we've got more information since then, and new ways of looking at things," he says. "The military pensions scheme distorted the original list.

"Take Patrick Lynch, for instance, whose sister was denied a pension, even though two eyewitnesses reported seeing him killed in Moore Lane after the evacuation of the GPO.

"Ernest Cavanagh, a cartoonist, was killed by a sniper's bullet as he stood unarmed on the steps of Liberty Hall on Easter Tuesday. He's mentioned in The Last Post, published by the National Graves Association, but not in any other list."

Ray's interest in the subject goes back over a decade, when his work gave new meaning to the term 'graveyard shift.'

In the early days of his research, he'd pack a picnic lunch and spend all day in a cemetery, poring over graves of Volunteers, civilians, policemen, doctors, nurses, children, anyone and everyone whose life ended as a result of the rebellion of 1916.

He took notes, compared what he found with what was already documented, and slowly, painstakingly began building a clearer picture of the Rising dead. To explore their lives, he found no better place to start than with their final resting place.

"Much of our knowledge of the ancient world comes from burial sites. How, when and where people were buried is a very important part of our understanding of civilisation, and it's long been an interest of mine. So 10 years ago, I thought I'd do a little booklet looking at where 1916 Volunteers were buried."

That turned into a book, They Died by Pearse's Side, the first in a series by Ray whose other publications include Memorials to the Rising, and The Rising Dead: DMP and RIC.

"The plaque at Arbour Hill lists 62 Volunteers in addition to Roger Casement and Thomas Kent, but there's sufficient evidence to show that over 70 Volunteers were killed.

"In the past, the timescale for establishing the cause of deaths from such an event used to be a year and a day, but that's no longer relevant. Volunteer Joe Brabazon died in 1929, but the cause of death was lead poisoning due to gunshot wounds sustained during Easter 1916. Surely he deserves to be categorised as a casualty of the Rising?

"We need a proper investigation by a panel of experts who will apply modern criteria to devise a definitive list. It should include a special mention of those who lost their lives and remain unknown, like the Unknown Soldier. And surely medical personnel deserve a special category? They were more than civilians, given that they went out to save all those injured in the fighting.

"Nurse Margaret Kehoe, based at the South Dublin Union, was shot dead when she rushed outside to administer first aid to a wounded rebel.

"At an unveiling of a plaque to her at St Kevin's Hospital in 1965, Joseph Doolan, who had fought at the SDU recalled Éamonn Ceannt saying after her death in 1916, 'She died for Ireland just as surely as if she had worn the Volunteer uniform.'"

One of the most remarkable stories uncovered by Ray is that of John Neale, a London-born socialist who joined the Irish rebels in the Rising and was wounded while serving as a lookout in the Metropole Hotel.

Stationed with him was Volunteer Charles Saurin, who described Neale as "one of the calmest and bravest individuals I have ever encountered."

In an article published in 1926, Saurin wrote: "During the heavy firing he used to sit right out on the parapet which ran past the window of the top floor and scan the whole street with a pair of field glasses, apparently quite oblivious of the fact that any moment might be his last."

On the Friday, Neale, known to his fellow insurgents as 'Comrade', was badly wounded and carried to Moore Street.

"All the lower part of his body was riddled and though his wounds were attended to at once it was obvious that it was only a matter of time till his end," wrote Saurin.

"He lasted till the next day and I learnt afterwards that he died as he was being carried into the Castle Hospital. This London Cockney, as I believe him to have been, was one of the bravest and coolest of men and deserved a better fate. I do not think he ever got recognition in the casualties lists which were published later."

Such recognition for Neale and others is long overdue, according to Ray.

"The Easter Rising was the catalyst that won us our freedom. We need to acknowledge the valiant efforts of all those who fought without a care for themselves so that future generations would be free, and equally, those medics who lost their lives in the crossfire."

Irish Independent

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