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Chapters

The 1916 Easter Rising

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a step forward. The others followed. Meekly they straggled across the street toward the brick wall, their exhaustion preserving them from the full comprehension that with each step they were acquiescing in their own deaths. Fortunately for them a British Captain chanced upon the scene, looked at them, then at the Lieutenant. ' Where are you taking those men? ' he asked. ' Across the street to have them shot, ' the Lieutenant said, holding up his sleeve to show the bullet hole in it. ' See what one of them did? ' The Captain stared at him in a moment of disbelief, then turned to the sergeant. ' Take them to the Custom House ' he ordered. The sergeant, as he marched them away, glanced toward Whitmore and winked. ' You're a lucky lot of bastards, ' he said. Whitmore limping and still in pain from the wound he had received the night before stared back at him dumbly. Suddenly his stomach began to churn, his hands trembled, and beads of sweat sprouted on his forehead. It had dawned on him at last, how close they had come to being executed.

The gun bursts were so infrequent in the early-morning hours that the men in the Post Office, accustomed now to continual firing, became uneasy about the lull. The British, they decided, must be planning something horrendous for them, but they had no way to counter it, so they went about their daily chores, keeping their fears most to themselves as they waited for something to happen. Nurses carried trays of food from the kitchen to their patients in the infirmary. Father Flanagan heard confessions in one corner of the mail-sorting room. At the front end of the building, squads of men were piling up debris-filled mailbags and coalbags to create a breastwork in case the British stormed the door. James Connolly, after an agonising night, was now comfortable enough to demand that he be transferred to a bed with castors so he could be moved out among the men. Hospital officer Jim Ryan and Lieutenant Mahoney both argued that he should stay put and get some rest, but he brushed aside their objections and the men at their stations in the main hall were soon treated to the site of a bed rolling past them with Connolly propped up in it, cheering them on like a spectator at a sporting event. As he passed young Sean MacEntee, standing at attention, Connolly recalled having sent him north Monday to help muster the men there. Ordering that his bed be halted, he asked MacEntee how successful he had been. MacEntee had nothing encouraging to report. He had found the

1916-easter-uprising

Heavily armed British troops at a barricade in Dublin

men in Louth, the lost them after several misadventures. The men at Tara had failed to muster. At no place had he observed any effective action against the enemy. Connolly was visibly disappointed, yet as soon as his bed had been wheeled to a spot from which he could survey the whole room, he called for Winifred Carney and began dictating to her a stirring and imaginative communique about the wondrous progress of the rebellion. This done, he settled back against the pillows, lit a cigarette, and accepted a book offered by one of the men. When Harry Walpole, his orderly, arrived on the scene, he looked up from the book and smiled. ' What do you think of this? ' he said, ' A morning in bed, a good book to read, and an insurrection, all at the same time. It's revolution deluxe. ' But when the O'Rahilly came down stairs to visit him, it became apparent that Connolly was not as strong as he pretended. ' Would you do me a favour ' he said, 'I've written a message to the men. Would you read it to them? ' O'Rahilly gathered the men together in the main hall and in a loud, clear voice began to read it:

To Soldiers:
This is the fifth day of the establishment of the Irish Republic, and the flag of our country still floats from the most important building in Dublin, and is gallantly protected by the officers and Irish soldiers in arms throughout the country. Not a day passes without seeing fresh postings of irish soldiers eager to do battle for the old cause. Despite the utmost vigilance of the enemy, we have been able to get information telling us how the manhood of Ireland, inspired by our splendid action, are gathering to offer up their lives, if necessary, in the same holy cause. We are hemmed in, because the enemy feels that in this building is to be found the heart and inspirtation of our great movement. Let us remind you what you have done. For the

James Connolly
Commandant - General
Dublin Division

This cheerful flow of words did not mean Connolly still believed that were rising in the country to support the cause or that the British were afraid to attack insurgent positions. He was simply using the communique in an accepted military tradition, as a palliative for the men. And the men, though they knew there was no help on the way, were willing to believe anything he said because they needed the comfort he offered. In the main hall of the Post Office, just inside the front entrance, three lines of brestworks had now been built, by piling up bags full of sand and debris. The purpose of these barricades was to stop the British if they were to storm the building. Though no one could possibly believe the British would be stopped by such flimsy obstacles once they got that far, it was another myth the men willingly accepted, and it kept a number of them busy. The bag barricades were swamped with water so the British would be unable to burn them if and when they did encounter them. And Connolly watched all this with approval, though he was now convinced the British had no intention of sending in their infantry. Why should they, when it was so much easier to send fire? In the midmorning, the first fire arrived. An incendiary bomb landed on the roof of the Post office, near the southeast corner. The men on the roof were expecting it, and they had no trouble putting it out, but as they did so, they couldn't help wondering how well they would do if such bombs began landing in clusters. Having reduced this one to harmless smoke, they stared out toward British gun positions south of the Liffey, expecting the next one at any moment. Again the British seemed to be teasing them. Minutes then hours passed without any follow-up to the first incendiary.

Connolly, the Commandant General of the Dublin Division, had produced what might be a last message to the men, and it was fitting that Patrick pearse, as Commander in Chief and President of the Republic, do likewise - and quickly, for there might be very little leisure time left. He went into a small room off the main hall where, with his brother Willie standing silently a few feet away to avoid disturbing him, he began to write in his slightly back-handed, round-lettered style. But he was so exhausted, having slept not at all for a week and hardly at all for two weeks, that he could think of very little new to say. The message he produced was nearly the same as the one he had delivered to the men the previous afternoon, though with a different ending. After outlining the military situation far less optimistically than Connolly had done, he paid homage to the gallantry of the men ' lest i may not have an opportunity later ' and paid special tribute to Connolly, who ' lies wounded but is still the guiding brain of resistance. ' His conclusion had none of Connolly's fanciful optimism. He was now so resigned to inevitable defeat that he ended on a valedictory note that included, besides a wishful reference to what might have been, a final expression of magnanimity toward those who had disappointed him:

If we accomplish no more than we have accomplished, i am satisfied. I am satisfied that we have saved Ireland's honor. I am satisfied that we should have accomplished more, that we should have accomplished the task of enthroning as well as proclaiming the Irish republic as a Sovereign State, had our arrangements for a simultaneous Rising of the whole country, with a combined plan as sound as the Dublin plan has proved to be, been allowed to go through on Easter Sunday. Of the fatal countermanding order which prevented those plans being carried out, i shall not speak further. Both Eoin MacNeill and we have acted in the best interests of Ireland. For my part, as to anything i have done in this, i am not afraid to face the judgement of God, or the judgement of posterity.

( Signed ) P.H Pearse - Commandant General
Commander in Chief, the Army of the Irish Republic
and President of the Provisional Government

Even his prose style, still moving but less graceful than usual, showed the depths of his exhaustion. He delivered his message to a group of men who crowded around him in the main hall, their faces tense, sober, mournful. After his last words, he looked from one to another of them, awaiting a reaction. There was none. Slowly, deliberately, he folded his paper and walked away. He found a place to lie down and tried to take a nap; sleep did not come. The men he had just addressed stood still for some minutes after he left them. The guns outside were ominously silent, and no one seemed to want to move. Finally someone spoke. Then there was a babble of voices and someone laughed. The tension broken, the men returned to their duties, and the gunfire soon resumed.