Sunday 27 May 2018

Peace and quiet? Apart from the echoes of 1916 a street away...

Katy McGuinness

Our new house is a couple of hundred metres away from Mount Street Bridge, the site of a major 1916 battle. A friend suggested that we should think about organising a 1916 pageant next spring, perhaps dressing up as a tableau vivant for which we could charge admission.

I'm not sure how serious he was, but the suggestion did send me off to look at the 1911 census to see if I could find out anything about the people who were living in the house at the time.

The head of the household was a Richard Henry Sheil, aged 54 in 1911, and he lived there with his wife, Kathleen, three of their five children (a sixth had died) and three female servants - a waitress, a housemaid and a cook.

Sheil described himself as a barrister, practising. Everyone in the household could read and write. The two Sheil sons, Henry and Charles, were employed as a solicitor and a clerk in Guinness's, while the daughter of the house, Mary, aged 27, had no occupation. They all gave Roman Catholic as their religion.

Georgian houses were big on show and not so generous in terms of bedroom accommodation, so I imagine that the family lived at the top of the house, that the grand rooms on the ground and first floor housed Sheil's study and were used for entertaining visitors, while the kitchen and servants' accommodation were in the basement.

I wonder if the Sheils were still living in the house in 1916 and what they thought about what was happening in the city that Easter. I wonder did their servants - Anastasia Moore, Jane Berry, and Dora Eustace - hold the same or differing views.

At 11am on the morning of April 24, 1916, Easter Monday, Lieutenant Michael Malone led a small number of volunteers from C Company, 3rd Batallion, under the command of Eamonn de Valera, towards Mount Street Bridge with the instruction to prevent British reinforcements from entering the city. Those troops disembarked at Kingstown, now Dun Laoghaire, two days later and made their way towards the city. The volunteers occupied positions in the vicinity of the bridge, and fired on the soldiers as they approached. Mount Street Bridge was a scene of carnage.

Of the 17 volunteers, only four survived. Official British casualties comprised four officers and 216 other ranks killed or wounded. Sniper fire from both sides resulted in civilian fatalities. Military historian, Captain E. Gerrard, wrote that "the story ... is both tragic and heroic. The scenes that unfolded in this leafy suburb were reminiscent of the terrible warfare of the Western Front..."

It's impossible to envisage that today, waiting in traffic to cross the bridge, wondering where to stop to pick up the tarragon I need for dinner.

Sunday Independent

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