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Chapters

The 1916 Easter Rising

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When the history of this week is written, the highest honors will be afforded to all of you, whose bravery, heroism and devotion in the face of danger have surprassed even that of the women of Limerick in the days of Sarsfield. You have taken part in the greatest armed attempt at liberation by Ireland since 1798. You have obeyed the order to come here. Now i ask you to obey a more difficult order - the order to leave. Remember, it is equally binding upon you. It may not be easy for you to escape from here safely. There is the possibility that some of you may be shot after you leave this building. But you showed your readiness for that when you came here. Now go, and God be with you.

It took a while for the girls to comprehend this abrupt and unexpected farewell address. When they did, some of them broke into tears. Others appeared about to break into revolt . ' No! ' they shouted. ' We wont't go, we stay as long as the men stay! ' Desmond Fitzgerald, who was standing by, knew Pearse's limitations in handling women. Sensing danger, he wuickly turned the entire group toward the Henry Street door and ordered them to march. But not quickly enough. Sean MacDermott, who had come upon the scene, countermanded the order. ' I don't thiink they should be made to go, ' he said to Pearse. ' They could be killed out there. They should be told they're free to go if they wish. ' The girls hearing him, roared out their agreement. ' If the men stay, we stay! what about women's rights. You said we were equal! ' Pearse, surrounded by them now, visibly wavered. Fitzgerald raised his voice above the racket. ' These girls have received their orders, ' he shouted. ' If they stay here, they'll eventually be shot. ' His words encouraged Pearse, who quickly seconded them. Regaining command, he repeated his order unil the girls, unable to sway him, gradually subsided. Fitzgerald once again ordered them to march. This time they moved, reluctantly, to the door. Under the slim protection of a Red Cross flag, they stepped out into Henry Street and with tearful farewells on their lips, walked westward. Before they had gone two blocks, they were taken into custody by British soldiers.

Louise Gavan Duffy, Peggy Downey and Mae Murray hurried back upstairs to get the noon meal ready for the men. They were now short-handed and they had lost time in the controversy over whether they could stay. They also had another problem. It was Friday and they were without fish. They quickly arrived at a sensible solution. We serve meat, they decided, and so they did, but not without evoking comments and uncertainties about it. One of the British soldier prisoners who helped wait on tables, a Catholic boy named Tommy Murphy, took a look at a platter of chicken and said ' Father Flanagan will never eat that. ' Desmond Fitzgerald said ' Take it to him and see. ' Every eye in the dinning room turned as Tommy Murphy carried the platter of chicken to the table at which the priest was sitting. Murphy set down the platter and stepped back. Father Flanagan eyed it for a moment, then picked up his fork and speared the nearest piece. The room blossomed with satisfied smiles and everyone pitched into the chicken. Among the men at the table with father Flanagan were Tom Clarke and Eamonn Dore. After they finished eating, Dore turned to Clarke and said ' What will you do if we win this fight, sir? Clarke shook his head wistfully. ' We won't win this time. ' But what if we did win? ' replied Dore. Clarke looked at him and said ' I'd get a little cottage complete with a garden and grow flowers. '

At about one o'clock the artillery bombardment increased. The British had installed another eighteen pounder at the top of Moore Street, neat the Rotunda Hospital, and its shells lobbed over the intervening blocks of buildings, began landing near the Post Office. The riflemen on the roof winced at each explosion. One of them, unable to see any targets for his rifle, put it down in front of him and took out his rosary beads. Another man, seeing him, took out his beads, then another and another. Soon, a half dozen men were huddled together in a protected corner, one of them calling out, time after time, ' Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with Thee, blessed art Though, amongst women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb Jesus ' amd the others chanting in response ' Holy Mary, Mother of God, prya for us sinners now and at the hour of our death Amen. ' Though the explosives on the top of the building had been taken to the cellar several hours before, the other floors had magazines full of bombs, grenades and gelignite. If an artillery shell were lucky to hit the right spot, the British would have done for them the job of eliminating the insurgents. O'Rahilly decided it was time to carry all the explosives to the cellar, and the laborious dangerous job was now begun. Patrick pearse was so near total exhaustion he went to Jim Ryan in the hospital and asked for something that might help him get an hour's sleep. When Ryan suggested a narcotic solution, Pearse baled because he wanted to be able to awaken immediately if needed. Ryan talked him into taking a weak solution and Pearse stretched out on one of the beds, but he was not destined to sleep. Before the narcotics had time to take effect, the shout of ' Fire! ' began echoing through the building and Pearse was on his feet once more, though with his self-control further impaired, because Ryan's potion was now beginning to get to him.

It was shortly after 3.pm when Volunteer Joseph Sweeney, on the roof of the Post Office, heard a shell coming his way and dived for cover. When he raised his head again, he saw a cluster of flames erupting near the front portico. An incendiary bomb had half-penetrated the roof before exploding to distribute its several packages of fire. Despite danger from British snipers, men grabbed the extinguishers that had been brought to them in anticipation and attacked the fires so quickly that for a time they appeared to be gaining control. But there were too many clusters. Each time they defeated one, another would appear. Hoses, already connected, were pushed up to the roof from the top floor. ' Water! ' someone shouted. ' Turn them on! ' But when the hoses were turned on, they prouced more profanity than water. Most of them were so old and rotten the water spurted through leaks and was lost before it reached the nozzles. had the hoses been in good condition, however, it would have made little difference, for there was hardly enough water pressure even for a few usable ones. It was insufficient to cope with the growing fires. Pearse and Plunkett came running to the scene. They could do nothing, Plunkett, quickly overcome by the smoke, had to be helped downstairs again. The O'Rahilly arrived and assumed command to no avail. Due to the leaky hoses, there was now more water on the top floor than on the roof, where it was needed. And the British, having decided finally that the Post Office must go, began lobbing more incendiary shells, one after another, onto the roof and through the windows of the building at all levels, thus ending the light talk about apparent difficulty in finding the range. Soon there was so many fires that O'Rahilly's men, no longer hopeful of putting them out, concentrated on keeping them away from the lift shaft. If the flames were to go down the shaft to the cellar and reach the explosives now stored there, the rebellion would end with a climax more sudden and spectacular than anything Dublin had ever seen.

Downstairs, the men reacted with surprising calm and resignation to the fires above them. Riflemen stuck to their window positions, still alert against the fading possibility of a British charge. A large squad under the direction of Sean MacDermott, hastily removed all unneeded combustible materials from the building. Another squad tested the ground-floor hoses and discarded the rotten ones. Connolly had his bed moved into the glass covered court, from which he could see the dancing flames on the roof. Pearse paced back and forth, head down, as if he had decided to ignore

what he could not prevent. Joesph Plunkett, having recovered from his near-suuocation by smoke, marched through the building with furious energy, exhorting the men to greater efforts. With his bandaged throar, his carefully pleated uniform, his bangled wrist and ringed fingers, his dangling saber and pistol, he was curious, unreal, even comical figure, yet few laughed or even smiled at him except when he made outlandish remarks like ' One of the enemy's barracks is on fire. ' The men so much admired his courage they accepted his eccentricities. Fires on two upper floors of the building, from incendiary shells coming through the windows, were beginning to grow and put greater demands on the limited water pressure. Sounds of crackling wood, roaring flames, running feet, shouting voices filled the air. The heat on the upper floors became intense. Long tongues of fire curled and leaped around the glass canopy that covered the central court. Burning pieces blown from the roof fell down on all sides. The men on the roof, trying to protect the elevator shaft from the flames, wer5e driven back closer and closer to it until O'Rahilly realised the project was hopeless. He ordered everyone off the roof and went downstairs himself to devise a way of protecting the shaft from below. Some time later, while he was directing

a play of hoses into the shaft, he learned that there were still men on the roof. Running up a ladder through the almost insufferable smoke, he found a small squad, surrounded by flames but back at them with hoses and exstinguishers. ' Come down! ' he shouted. ' I ordered you down! ' A dissenting chorus greeted him. ' Leave us alone, we're getting ahead of it, do something about the water pressure! ' O' Rahilly was unmoved. ' You heard what i said. Dow you go. ' As he hurried over to them, all but one, despite their grumbling, obeyed him. One man continued playing a hose on the fire, ignoring his order. O'Rahilly argued with the man for a few moments, then taking out his revolver, pointed it at his head. ' I told you to go down, ' he said ' and you're going down. ' Finally the man dropped the hose and preceeded O'Rahilly down the ladder into the building. Floor by floor, O'Rahilly, Michael Collins and a large detail of men held the fire at bay for as long as possible, putting barriers of sand across the doorways and flooding the floors with water. As each floor became untenable, they descended to the next. When O'Rahilly reached the ground floor, he found almosy total confusion. There were now so many fires throughout the building that it was impossible to deal with all of them. Men ran from one to another with little sense of which were most dangerous and which could be ignored. When flames appeared in the elevator shaft, no one seemed to know what to do about them. Even Pearse had lost his composure. He and Plunkett, their faces slushed, stood shouting at each other. Connolly lay helpless on his bed. MacDermott and Clarke were in another part of the building. O'Rahilly stepped between Pearse and Plunkett, calmed both of them, then took over direction of the fire battle, ordering immediate concentration of the flames in the elevator shaft. Every hose that could reach it began pouring water up into it.

About six o'clock, Pearse, MacDermot, Clarke, Plunkett and O'Rahilly got together at Connolly's bed and decided the time had come to work out an evacuation plan. Since the seweres offered an obious possibility, they sent two men to explore them, but the men returned, looking dirty and smelling foul, to report that the filth they encountered was impenetrable. There was no way out except through the streets, and unless the fires in the Post Office slowed down, the whole garrison might be forced into the streets before dusk, without even the protection of darkness. One remote possibility presented itself. On Parnell Street, a long block north, stood a large stone building, the Williams and Wood soap and candy factory, which might serve as a new base of operations if they could break through the British lines and reach it. Someone would have to lead an advance party up Moore Street, in the face of British guns, to capture it. The O'Rahilly said he would do so when the time came. Then he went back to his battle against the fires. Beams were now crashing on the upper floors as the entire front of the building appeared to be aflame. near the front, the ceiling of the ground floor had ignited and burning fragments were dropping from it. The heat was intense throughout the building. But more serious than the heat was the fact that live sparks and burning particles were now falling down the elevator shaft into the cellar. O'Rahilly decided all the explosives in the cellar magazine would have to be moved to the rear of the building. When he called for volunteers, twenty men stepped forward. Under the command of Diarmud Lynch, they made their way carefully down the stairs by lantern light as O'Rahilly himself manned one of the hoses pouring water into the shaft.