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Chapters

The 1916 Easter Rising

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his disenchantment with the German military etsablishment. A James Connolly, on a sign he had posted above the door of his Liberty Hall union headquarters, had fairly well expressed the attitude of the insurgent leadership ' WE SERVE NEITHER KING NOR KAISER BUT IRELAND. ' In his union publication ' The Workers' Republic ' Connolly had written: ' The instinct of the slaves to take sides with whoever is the enemy of his own particular slave-driver is a healthy instinct and makes for freedom . ' Side by side in the Post Office there were men who believed all the rumors and others who believed none of them, men who could not conceive of the rebellion failing and others who could not conceive of it succeeding. A Volunteer like Sean Gallogly, who had come from Glasgow to fight in this war of Irish liberation, had an unfailing faith in final victory. One like Johm O'Connor, who had come from London to be part of it, had no such illusions. Though he tried to keep morbid thoughts from his mine, he could not avoid the conviction that the cause was hopeless and that he himself had little chance to come out alive.

And uneasy rapport existed in the Post Office between the labor union members, who belonged to Connoly's Citizen Army and the men from the slightly higher economic or social levels, who belonged to the Volunteers. Though Connolly had said that morning ' There are no longer Volunteers or Citizen Army there is now only one army, the Irish Republican Army ' men on both sides were aware of the class barrier, erected by past generations, which still divided them. When a Citizen Army man, in his working clothes, addressed a Volunteer as ' comrade ' that uncustomary word, offered no doubt as a token of solidarity served instead to emphasise differences neither side could forget. A week before, Connolly had also said in his last lecture

Roger Casement

Roger Casement

on tactics to the Citizen Army ' The odds against us are a thousand to one. But if we should win, hold on to your rifles because the Volunteers may have a different goal. Remember, we're out not only for political liberty, but economic liberty as well. So hold on to your rifles. ' To Connolly, Ireland was the people-exploited, underpaid, badly housed, and badly nourished thanks to a greedy, unfeeling establishment, which was not altogether English. To Pearse it often seemed that Ireland was the beautiful myth of Cathleen ni Houlihan and the heroic myth of the Gaelic warrior Cuchulainn. And though Pearse's social and econo,ic views had been deeply influenced by those of Connolly in recent years, Connolly could hardly regard him, or any of his associates as dedicated socialists. Connolly had once said to Pearse ' The idea of Ireland means nothing unless it helps the people of Ireland. ' It would be hard to know whether or not Pearse got the message. Pearse felt so deeply the romantic reality of Ireland that he sometimes seemed to consider her people important mostly as instruments of her glorification. There was no doubt that he willingly relegated himself to such a purpose. An intermittent stream of vans, trucks, automobiles, carrie bicycles, and carts began pouring through the great wooden gate on Prince's Street now as men who had been sent out to commandeering missions returned with what the could procure from the shops in the rea. ( What the commandeering parties procured first were vehicles on which to carry away whatever else they might procure ) Though they concentrated on food-stuffs, they did not pass up such items as blankets, mattresses, and empty containers in which to store water, against the possibility that the British might cut the supply.

At the Metropole Hotel, just oppoiste the Prince's Street gare, they found a rich source of food and bedding, which however, the manager was loathe to surrender. When the Volunteer in charge of the requisitioning party removed his cocked hat and said ' I must ask you to show me the way to your provisions, ' the manager surveyed him indignantly but did not budge. The young insurgent repeated his request, somewhat less politely. The manager said ' Suppose i refuse? ' The surgent took hold of his arm, The manager, looking outraged, said ' Take your hands off me. ' The insurgent, tightening his hold, said ' If you dont cooperate, i'll take everything i find. And i'll take you too. ' The manager was still furious when the requisitioning party left, despite the receipt the young Volunteer had given him promising compensation by the ' Irish Republic. ' Some people who contributed

goods at gunpoint to the Republican cause were paid off in cash, but the majority were given receipts because the insurgents had enough cash for only a small part of their needs. Sean T. O'Kelly, who went out on a commandeering tour ( after supervising the transfer of more munitions from Liberty Hall to the GPO ) found deep resentment among the merchants as he moved from shop to shop, filling carts with bread and milk. When he handed them receipts to be honored at some future date by some future ' Irish Republic ' their resentment turned to fury. One of the more speakable things they called him was ' thief ' a designation with which he felt inclined to agree. The gun in his hand di nothing to help him overcome the guilty conviction that he was simply robbing people of their property. The crowd had now grown to such alarming proportions in Sackville Street that a group of priests got together to try to disperse it. They were stepping bravely into a vacum left by a sudden scarcity of policemen. Their strategy was to link hands, thus creating an ubroken picket stretching from one side of the wide thoroughfare to the other. Then, counting on the Irish reluctance to show disrespect for the cloth, they would walk from one end of the street to the other, forcing the crowd to fall back and dissolve before them. This amusing strategy worked to a point. As the black moving fence of priests advanced up Sackville Street, the mob kept retreating and squeezing into a succession of doorways and side streets. But alas, before the priests had swept their way to the top of the street, the groaning crowds they had compressed into the by ways had already spilled back out to refill the space behind them. Undaunted, the priests reversed their picket and came sweeping down the street. The result was the same. They made one more attempt to dissolve the overwhelming mob, then gave up in confusion and despair.

As word began to circulate in Dublin that an uprising was, indeed, under way, some Volunteers ( though disappointingly few ) who had been led by the countermand order to suppose that nothing was going to happen, hurried to the General Post office to take part in whatever was happening. Liam McNeive, for example, a Liverpulian Irishman who was a member of the Irish Republican Brotherhood, as well as a Volunteer, had helped bring a company of Volunteers from Liverpool to take part in the uprising, but there was such limited communication even among the IRB men that he and his group, having read the countermand order, decided to go to the Fairyhouse races. It was only when they reached Sackville Street to get transportation to the track that they learned the uprising was in progress and got into it. Another group from the Dublin suburb of Rathfarnham arrived at the Post Office late, about 1:15 pm having gone first to Liberty Hall. As it happened, they chose a dangerous moment to come. Their arrival coincided almost precisely with the approach of the first British troops to the Post Office - a company of Lancers that charged down Sackville Street on horseback from the north. The coincidence was as confusing as it was frightening to the Rathfarnham lads. As they approached the building, expecting perhaps to be greeted by cheers from their comrades inside, they were greeted instead by a wild chorus of

light Lancers, their backs erect, approached proudly at a canter from the top of Sackville Street in Columns at straight as their lofty, ceremonial lances. Carbines still holstered, heads fixed high, they declined even to acknowledge the presence of the Dublin rabble and the company of scruffy Rathfarnham Volunteers scurrying out if sight to safety in fromnt of them. They had not been sent to acknowledge. The function of British Lancers was to be acknowledged. The street was their parade ground, and anyone within view of them was to recognise that they were in fact the British Empire on parade. About a hundred yards north of the Post Office, the troop brooke column smartly, fanned out across the street and came to a sudeen halt. As the jingle of their trappings ceased, a deep silence fell over the whole street. Out of a doorwat came a Dublin voice shouting ' Look out fer yerselves! The bowsies will mow you down! ' No Lancer even turned his head. One of the horses lifted a front hoof, clopped it on the pavement. Another horse Whinnied. The colonel in charge glanced ahead to the right and left at the sandbagged windows in the Post Office and in some of the shops across the street. He raised his eyes toward the rooftops, stared at the two strange flags on the Post office masts. He saw in the middle of the street ahead a tram the insurgents had overturned for use in the construction of a barricade. The colonel stiffened, reached for his sword, raised it high, and gave a command. The Lancers, still in formation, charged forward.

Inside the Post Office and on the roof, the shouting and confusion had given way to fearful, feverish silence as forty riflemen, their barrels resting on the ledges, began to realise that this revolution to which they had pledged their lives was now approaching the moment when they must fire real bullets into human flesh. They were about to attack a uniform they had known since early childhood as the prime symbol of civil authority. They might have been less nervous had it not been for these minutes they had to wait and think. On the upper floors. The O'Rahilly spread the word that they should hold their fire until they heard the command. On the ground floor, Connolly spread the same word. The approaching Lancers were now in full view of the men on the roof, whose eagerness to fire was tempered by admiration for the advancing horsemen. They must have known that the insurgents had them in their sights, yet on they came. Though the moment might call for a careful, door-to-door infantry approach that was not the Lancer's style.

1916 lancers

Men inside the GPO open fire on the British Lancers

Proud cavalrymen should show their strength and courage in the open. Thye reached Nelson's Pillar, just opposite the Henry Street corner of the Post office. The insurgents' plan was to let them come even further, put them under every gun in the buidling. But as the squadron passed the pillar, one of the insurgent rifkemen lost patience. shot rang out. Then another. A ragged volley followed as most of the men decided that it was pointless to wait any longer for a command. Four Lancers toppled from their sadlles, three of them dead as they hit the hard ground, the fourth wounded. A wave of shock passed over the proud troops, as if every man in it had been hit. The ranks broke. What had been a precisely disciplined unit became a milling mass of horses and men, neither charging the unseen enemy nor continuing on out of range, but simply bunching together at the mercy of the insurgents. By some miracle of chance, however, the insurgents' guns became at that moment more merciful, or less accurate, than anyone could have imagined. As the horse of one of the dead Lancers pushed its nose against its master's lifeless body, another ragged volley issued from both sides of the street. The horse fell dead on top of the man's body. Another horse also fell, unseating its rider, but miraculously, no more Lancers were it. The colonel have a hasty order to regroup and they retreated as a gallop in the direction from which they had come, the unhorsed Lancer making his way on foot alond the sides of the building to safety.