Friday 19 July 2019

'We drew aside to get the shelter of a church porch as the crowd swept by when Doreen suddenly cried Oh Mother, I am shot'

An archive of letters and postcards gives a fascinating glimpse into how the 1916 Rising amused, perplexed and terrified Dubliners.

1916 O'Connell St
1916 O'Connell St
Padraig Pearse (right) surrenders to British forces
Padraig Pearse
The Proclamation of the Irish Republic
Liberty Hall as seen on 1916 postcard
1916 postcard

Damian Corless

It's a slightly battered postcard dated 1916 showing the blasted out husk of Dublin's Liberty Hall, headquarters of Jim Larkin and James Connolly's Citizen Army. What's remarkable is that it was on sale across Ireland just days after the Rising ended.

Ireland's difficulty was someone's opportunity to make a few bob.

The card was sent by Tom Dolan to his sister Dolly in England. In a few cheery lines he says: "What do you think of this PC (postcard)? Just to let you see what Dublin is like. I wish I could get you one of Sackville (now O'Connell Street). Your loving brother Tom."

Trinity College is amassing an archive of correspondence from the 1914-1918 war, which also covers the Easter Rising. This postcard, one of the smallest items, is also one the most remarkable.

Not everyone was so flippant.

In a letter posted from Rathgar which was addressed as "County Dublin", Patrick Blair Carphin broke some very bad news to his sister Jo in Scotland. The Rising was still raging and he began: "We are living here in an atmosphere which you can hardly imagine. No telegrams, no telephones, no newspapers, no gas and not much to eat all through the Sinn Féin (pronounced Shin Fane) Rising about which you have no doubt read in the papers. I am only guessing that the news has reached you.

"On Monday last, Muriel, Doreen and I went to spend the bank holiday at Lusk. We left a peaceful spot and had a most enjoyable day in the country. About 2.30 we heard a bang which did not attract much attention but afterwards discovered the Sinn Féin lot had attempted to blow up a railway viaduct between us and Dublin, half an hour before the Lord Lieutenant's tram was due to pass."

The Monday in question was Easter Monday, the start of the Rising. The family had left the city in the sleepy tranquility of a bank holiday morning, and returned to a war zone. They walked towards the GPO looking for a tram, but there was none.

"Not knowing what to make of it, I asked a bystander 'What has happened to the tram service?' He looked at me for a minute as if I were either a fool or an escaped lunatic and then said 'do you mean to say you don't know that Dublin is in a state of riot?'"

Incredibly, father, mother and six-year-old Doreen walked through Sackville Street and up to Grafton Street carrying the groceries they'd got at a Lusk farm. A shopkeeper friend on Stephen's Green said he'd mind their packages so they could travel light.

"This we did and had resumed our homeward way when, from the direction of Harcourt Street came a scurrying rush of men, women and children which I could not understand. We drew aside to get the shelter of a church porch as the crowd swept by when Doreen suddenly cried Oh Mother, I am shot' and something (like a boy throwing a stone) hit her hard on the ankle. I never bothered about anything but picked Doreen up and carried her back to where our parcels were (and are still) reposing, there I cut her clothes off and put an improvised tourniquet on her leg."

When they gathered themselves, they found bullet holes in wife Muriel's voluptuous skirts. Miraculously not one had even scratched her. Patrick signed off his account: "What hit me afterwards turned out to be a spent bullet so all three of us had marvellous escapes!"

There was no true escape for Doreen, according to her son Blair Halliday. When Blair saw Trinity College's appeal for correspondence he dusted off the letter which is now online. He says: "She carried that wound to her death. She was lucky not to have lost the leg."

And Blair adds a sad postscript, saying: "The family were shepherded into the doorway by a little newspaper boy. He didn't survive."

Ireland was torn apart by the Rising. In the spring of 1916, shortly before the Battle of the Somme, the Irish Independent reported that 100,000 Irishmen had signed up for the British Army since the outbreak of war. The majority of these, some 55,000, were Catholics. At the start of the war the island's Catholic nationalist majority had already been guaranteed Home Rule (albeit with the likelihood of partition) as soon as the conflict ended. For many, the rebels were treacherous curs.

One of those who had no truck with the insurgents was Arthur Dease, who came from money, literally, as his father was Governor of the Bank of Ireland. Arthur's letters from the front are on his family website, and those from before the horrors of the Somme seem whimsical. In September 1915, he writes home to say he's arrived back to duty after a stopover in Paris where he spent time with his wife. He writes:

'I have same car & man ... I've moved up to the other villa where I have room to myself, it has its advantages, but (it) means going up & down to one's meals. I have front room, balcony & nice view, or will be if it is ever clear. Comfortable bed & I think having room to oneself is a big advantage. Hope it may be dryer than the other villa. Some others have gone on holiday of 3 wks. & several chauffeurs."

In another letter he writes: "I've just been down to Red Cross in Pall Mall (London) with a letter which enabled me to get a return ticket, 1st class, to Dublin at single fare so quite worth it & really a treat, as one gets rather tired travelling 3rd with tipsy soldiers".

There was one war for the rich, another for the poor.

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