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Chapters

The 1916 Easter Rising

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Within a few minutes the building absorbed a generous selection of incendiary bombs, and the three insurgents inside began rushing back and forth with buckets of water trying to douse them. It was an unrewarding project. The incendiaries kept coming faster than the water. Within fifteen minutes, the building was a bouquet of clustering fires; within a half-hour, they had fused into one big flame and the three insurgents were finally forced to leave their post as it burned around them. Led by Seamnus Robinson, they raced along the back alleys towards Amiens Street, but they needn't have hoped they would be able, this time, to circle around and get to the Post Office as they had done the day before. Ducking into a side street that led north, they stopped short at the sight of khaki a few yards ahead. Without breaking stride, they reversed their direction, pulled back out of the street and continued east before the surprised British had time to open fire. But in every street or alley they tried now, the three men faced the same reception. The British were everywhere. The air filled up with British voices shouting alerts and all hope of escape ended. The three men could expect nothing but death as they ran into a narrow alley and found it to be a dead end.

Stopping, out of breath, they waited helplessly, listened to the approach of hobnailed boots, caught glimpses in the dark of the metal gleam of British rifles. IIt was all over now. At any moment the first gun would would fire and dozens of bullets would riddle them as they stood against the dead-end wall. But as the British soldiers closed in, a pleasant surprise began to dawn upon the three men. The guns did not bark at them. The faces staring

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Seamus Robinson

at them in the dim light were not even angry. They had luckily fallen into a company of new recruits who had just arrived in Dublin and weren't yet mad at anyone. One of them said ' A scruffy lot, aren't they? ' Another laughed nervously. Moving forward, they grabbed the guns from the cornered insurgents, and the Hopkins and Hopkins men ended their part in the rebellion with more than they had reason to hope for - their lives. The British were also closing in tighter and tighter from the northern end of Sackville Street. Their snipers were now on the roof of the Gresham Hotel, from which they directed steady fire at the Henry Street corner of the Post Office, neutralising the men at the windows there. By ten o'clock the Imperial Hotel and the whole block of buildings around it were filling up with flames contributed by the fire from Hoyte's stores. Brennan Whitmore, have no other way to communicate with the Post office, went to the front door and shouted across the street. ' What are the orders? ' Above the roar of te flames around he he could scarsely hea himself. The hope of being heard acoss the street was so futile he decided to stop shouting for fear his troops might think hh had lost his mind. He realised he was on his own with eighty desperate men awaiting his command. His garrison, which he had established with ten men, had increased eight-fold as the fires squeezed into it tthe refugees from other untenable postions. Now his own position was untenable. The flames were consuming the south side of the building driving men to the north side, where they had to turn their

backs to protect their faces from the blistering heat. There was no choice but to evacuate, yet there was no place left to go. Once again he wondered why the leaders had not devised a plan for fleeing into the hills. Since it was the only hope, he dicided to try it. Calling the eighty men to the North Earl Street door, Whitmore sent them running, single file, across to the same tobacco shop through which some of them had made their way to the Imperial. From the tobacco shop, which they all reached safely, they pased on to Cathedral Street. As he gathered them there, in comparative safety, he began to think he might make it to the country after all. ' This is what headquarters ought to be doing, ' he said to Gerald Crofts, one of his aides. But then looking at his assembled company, he noticed a problem, that had not occurred to him before. The group included four Cumann na mBan girls, who couldn't possibly travel fast enough to keep up with his men. Crofts had a suggestion. ' Why don't we leave them in the Pro - Cathedral Presbytery? ' To Whitmore it seemed an inspiration. As they passed the Pro - Cathedral he stepped up and knocked until a priest came to the door. The priest was not happy to see them. ' I suppose you want sactuary ' he said. Whitmore said ' Not for ourselves, father. Only for these four girls. ' It was the first the girls had heard of the plan and their reaction almost doomed it. They were no more eager to stay than the priest was to take them. But Whitmore could not afford at the moment to carry on a prolonged discussion of the options. He won the argument with the priest by keeping his foot in the door, and he won the argument with the girls by ordering his men to shove them forcibly, inside. After a short, unhappy struggle, his point of view prevailed, the presbytery door slammed behind the girls, and seventy-five or so soot-blackened men went running along Marlborough Street, clinging to the walls.

As they mad e a right turn into one narrow street and a left turn into another, their progress was so unimpeded Whitmore began to wonder where the British had gone. But when he tried to cross the next street opening, he found out. A bullet hit his leg and he went down. As he lay there, another gun fired and another man fell near him. Suddenly it was as if these two rifle shots had awakened the whole British army. Machine-gun fire filled the street, bounding off the walls and pavement. Engulfed by darkness, harassed by bullets, and unable even to see their fallen leader the

men became confused, stumbled into each other, muttered oaths, ran back and forth looking for shelter, then broke into smaller groups, and began to scatter. Whitmore, hearing voices from a doorway, dragged himself to it and found nine men there. But neither he nor any of them could guess where they were. In their desperate need of shelter, they scouted the immediate area hoping to find a warehouse or a shop they could have to themselves. The best they could find was a tenement house. Helping Whitmore and the other wounded man, they made their way to it carefully and silently to avoid stirring up the British machine guns again. They had no trouble getting inside. It was never difficult to enter a Dublin tenement; few of them had locks and some of them didn't even have doors. Whitmore and his men were impeded in this one only by the swarms of women and children who filled the front hall. Like most Dublin slum houses, it was so crowded people seemed to spill out of the rooms. And the people were so unwashed, the building so permeated with toilet and cooking odors, that it was almost preferable to stay outside and face the British guns. However, the desperate insurgents threaded their way in among the raucous, hostile shawlies, the barefooted little boys in ragged pants, the barefooted little girls in flimsy cotton dresses.

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Looking down Henry Street from Sackville Street - with the GPO on the left

door without response, then they called at the windows to no apparent avail. The fire noise from across the street drowned them out. They decided to try the front door despite the dangers of Sackville Street and were crawling around the corner when someone appeared at a window and they were helped inside to what they considered safety. No one else in the Post Office at that moment would have described it as a safe place to be. Some of the men , on the verge of heat prostration from the holocaust across the street, were pouring water on themselves and seeking shielded places to stretch out in the rear of the building. Others were hosing the window casements to make sure the flammable materials stacked up around them did not catch fire. The hot smoky air produced a chorus of choking coughs. Only Joseph Plunkett showed any sign of high spirit or excitement. Arising from the cot onn which he had lain most of the week, e gathered energy into his wasted body from some hidden source and went rushing from man to man, smiling, shakin hands, telling themhe was proud of them, trying, in his ow way, to boost their sagging morale. Turning to the fire, he gazed dreamily at the rampant flames shooting more, than a hundred feet into the air and said, as if in exultation. ' This is the first time it's happened since Moscow, you know. The first time a capital has burned since 1814. ' Nobody reacted. Some of the men who heard him turned away as if they were concerned about his sanity. The arrival of the handful of refugees from the North Earl Street - Imperial Hotel garrison, the harrowing story of their misadventures after their evacuation, and the realisation that most of the men who fled the fires in the Imperial were still trapped in the darkness east of sackville Street convinced Pearse, Clarke and MacDermot that they must soon decide how to get their ' army ' out of the Post office when it finally burst into flames. The increasing heat was making instant steam of the water poured on the window casements. The men handling the hoses were scaled and scorched at the same time. The moment called for some kind of plan, but the best suggestion anyone could offer was that they put a

pick-and-shovel squad to work burrowing a tunnel under Henry Street. The suggestion was adopted despite the evidence that if they were all to reach the other side of Henry Street safely, they would then find themselves in a block of buildings even more difficult to defend than the Post Office, and they would have hardly escaped their present predicament since they would still be within the British cordons. The squad of diggeres went to work eagerly, and their labor was its own justification in as much as they had no more promising way to pass the anxious time, but their high hopes for the project gradually faded as the enormity of the task became apparent. They soon realised the rebellion would have to last a long time before they could get any good out of the Henry Street tunnel. Pearse, Plunkett and Desmond Fitzgerald, having little else to do, engaged in another of their discussions about the situation into which they had put themselves. Only Plunkeet was cheerful. Pearse remained somber. Fitzgerald was depressed. he still found himself agonising over the fate of the girls in the building. ' It's ridiculous to keep them here any longer, ' he said. ' Especially the girls in the kitchen. We don't need them. '

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A painting depicting the serious situation of the fire within the GPO. Pearse stands by Connolly who is laying on the stretcher.

committed his life, but he did not look like a man facing catastrophie. His dream still showed in his face as his mind went back to the great irish rebels of the past - Lord Edward Fitzgerald, Theobald Wolf Tone, Robert Emmet. Turning again to Ryan, he said: ' Emmet's insurrection was nothing compared to this, you know. They will talk of Dublin in the future as one of the splendid cities, as they speak today of Paris. Dublin's name will be glorious forever. '