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Chapters

The 1916 Easter Rising

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' touch the fuse, count to three, and throw it. ' Some of the boys looked doubtful. Connolly appeared and they came to ragged attention as he issued instructions to them. A few minutes later they were on their way, as a unit, to help the besieged garrison at City Hall. And less than half-hour after that, they were back in the Post office, having encountered invincible British firepower as they reached the Exchange Hotel on Parliament Street. Connolly listening to their report, could almost feel the ring of British troops closing in on the Post office. he could not yet figure out though, why they were so slow to attack. Had they overestimated by that much the strength of the insurgents. Another, more immediate problem nagged Oconnolly. That grasping, chattering malodorous mob that had sunk back into the slums shortly after midnight would be pouring forth again any minute now to take advantage of whatever loot and entertainment the day might offer. There had to be a way to cope with those people. Suddenly inspired he sent a detail of men out in front of the Post office with a roll of barbed wire, which they were to stretch across Sackville Street at easch end of the building. It would he hoped, clear at least the area directly in front of the building and prevent the constant parade of curious people past it. Unfortunately, there happened to be just enough barbed wire to stretch one across, chest high, at the Prince's Street end of the building.

GeneralPostOfficeDubli Black and white

Looking around for weire with which to fence off the other end, the men spotted the tram cables overhead, suspended from the iron standards. With grenade explosions they undertook to bring down the standards. They succeeded in attracting a small crowd of people; by some miracle, they even succeeded in shaking down a length of cable. But the standards withstood the homemade grenades and easily as easy as Nelson's Pillar had done the day before. It was becoming apparent that fire crackers in the hands of urchins could do more damage than these tin-can bombs. Hadn't a crowd of kids burned down a shop with fire crackers the night before? The tram cable was soon extended, and when the work was done, two peculiar-looking wires, one thick and heavy, the other barbed, neither very taut, stretched hopefully across Sackville Street from the corners of the Post Office. They looked as if they would be about as effective as the priests who had formd a picket in an effort to roll back the croowd the day before. Among the morning's first visitors to the Post Office was a postman, who came, as he had been doing every morning for years, to pick up the mail for his route. When he presented himself at the employee's entrance, the puzzled sentry barred him with his bayonet and said ' Go home. There's no mail today. ' 'No mail? Sure why not? ' the man wanted to know. ' It's a Tuesday. ' ' There's a revolution on. That's why not. ' ' Since when is there no mail on a Tuesday? ' replied the postamn. ' Since yesterday ' said the sentry. ' But yesterday was Monday. ' The sentry unable to confute the man's logic and running short of patience, advanced on the postman with his bayonet ' You heard me say there was no mail. Now will ya feck off? Go home! ' Prodded from behind, the postman slowly retreated, mumbling about what the people on his route would say, when they got no mail. Among the men in the Post Office a new set of rumors arose to greet the new day. There was talk of a general uprising in Galway and in Limerick, and there was talk

about all the talk being nothing but a lot of talk. Rumors were so thick and contradictory at breakfast that the only thing on which everyone could agree was the low quality of the food. Desmond Fitzgerald, laughing at the complaints even though he knew them to be justified ( he hadn't yet organised the kitchen to his satisfaction ) said to one of the grousing Volunteers ' Do you think i'm obliged to serve four-course dinners to you, when some of you never had a decent bite in your lives before? Even if you are here to die for Ireland, eat that crust of bread. ' Although he did not believe that they could hold out for long, Fitzgerald was already well aware that in case they did last awhile, his responsibility was to make sure the food did likewise.

Sean MacDermott was ready to back him up if he had any problems with the men. Though MacDermott had no rank, either military or civil, within the new government, he was heard when he spoke and he was obeyed when he gave an order. He had the knack of bending people to his will with just a few, quick, firm words. He also knew more of the men personally than any other insurgent leader because he had been for several years the full-time, chief organiser throughout Ireland of both the Volunteers and the Irish Republican Brotherhood. He was so persuasive he could almost make the men believe they liked the food. But he couldn't make himself believe it. His tatste was a little more sophisticated than that of most Irishmen of his day, and from his social background. Just before the uprising, he and a group of his closest friends, knowing what was to come, had pooled all their money one evening for what they assumed would be their last excellent meal. They went to Jammet's, a French restaurant, the finest in Dublin, and ordered the works. MacDermott could at least look back fondly on that exquisite dinner as he ate the tasteless, overcooked food in the Post Office. It could not have been very easy for him, however, to tell the men around him how fortunate they were to be eating so well. MacDermott was also helpful in dispelling rumors among the men, but the rumors were flying so fast that it would have taken a thousand MacDermotts to keep ahead of them - especially the wishful rumors of uprisings around the country. The men in the Post Office, so

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A rare photograph of the flag of the Irish Republic flying high above the GPO during the fighting

The flag of the Irish Republic flutters above the GPO

fervently desired all Ireland to rise with them that they felt a compulsion to convince themselves it was actually happening. The falsified ' official ' telegraph queries brought replies from Cork, Limerick, and Thurles, but they were not reassuring. No uprisings or even disturbances were reported in any of those places. When these messages were relayed to Connolly and Pearse, they passed them off, perhaps because they were longing even more fervently than the men for a general uprising. In Connolly and Pearse, contradictory hopes and expectations were at work. They fully expected defeat and death. They almost counted on defeat to bring them ultimate justification and triumph. yet they could still dream of victory. Yet they were prepared to sacrifice their lives, to lose so much which was dear to them in order to stir the country into a fight for freedom. They fought to win and they desperately wanted the entire country to support them. Connolly had written, just a month earlier, in The Worker's Republic ' generations, like individuals, will find their ultimate justification or condemnation not in what they accomplish but rather in what they aspired and dared to attempt to accomplish. By aspiring to reach a height, the generation or individual places its soul unassailably upon that height, even should its body be trampled in the mud. ' Pearse, at an IRB meeting, had once said ' If one man must die for the freedom of Ireland, that man shall be me. ' To which Tom Clarke and Tom MacDonagh said ' And me, ' and Sean MacDermott said ' And all of us. ' They even courted defeat, in a sense ( as their plan of action indicates ) because in their sober moments they were quite certain that their best chance to prevail ultimately would be through their own annihilation.

Yet the dream of military victory was too tempting to relinquish entirely, so they played out their drama as if it had more than one possible ending. Pearse could easily believe the entire island would rise momentarily to his cause because it was inconceivable to him that his fellow Irishmen were devoid of zeal for nationhood that consumed him. His nationalism grew out of what he called a ' mystical birthright, ' which made him speak to the souls of men as well as their minds. Even when he got no answer from their minds, he continued to believe he had reached their souls and at the proper time they would respond. But unfortunately for him, in the Ireland of 1916, the appeal of nationalism moved only a minority of men. The little island had settled comfortably into what Pearse might call an ' insidious web ' of British wartime prosperity. Most Irishmen were better off now than they had ever been. Business profits were the highest in history. Farm produce was in great demand. Thousands of people who had never before been able to find jobs were working, and those who still had no jobs were welcome in the British armed forces, and there were many thousands of such men. Even the slum families were benefiting financially from the war by sending sons and husbands into the forces, thus becoming eligible for the weekly ' separation money ' A substantial majority of Irishmen absolutely opposed rebellion. Their elected representatives in the British Parliament, led by John Redmond, had pledged Ireland's support to England in the war

Dublin Volunteers

Members of A Company , 4th ( City of Dublin ) Battalion, Irish Volunteers

Ready to fight - Dublin Volunteers

against Germany, and wereactively encouraging Irishmen to join up and fight for His majesty in France. However, there were those who saw Redmond as spineless and weak. To reach the souls of all these people one had first to get past their pocketbooks. That was a hard fact for anyone as zealous as Pearse to accept. He continued to anticipate good news from the country as he concluded his first communique and sent it to the print shop in Libery Hall. After he finished writing Pearse went outsude and across Sackville Street to inspect the Earl Street garrison. Brennan Whitmore and his men, having worked all night on their barricade and on the fortification of the buildings facing toward the Amiens Street station, were preparing the buildings on the Post office side of the block. Whitmore had also stationed two riflemen on the roofs as snipers. An occasional shot would ring out, then there was silence except for the distant fire of rifles south of the Liffey, around City Hall. There were people on Earl Street and Sackville Street now, gawking curiously or gossiping in clusters, but yesterday's riotous mob had not yet re-formed. Pearse chatted for ten minutes with Whitmore and congratulated him on the work that had been done. He seemed gratified by the situation in the rest of the city. A report had just come in about heavy fighting at City Hall and the Daily Mail office, which the City Hall garrison had occupied, and the report was no doubt true, for he could hear heavy gunfire from that direction, but he had reason to be confident the boys there could take care of themselves. Whitmore said nothing. After an empty pause, Pearse, as if he had decided he ought to leave this little group with one more morale booster suddenly said ' And Wexford is up. ' Whitmore did not ask him where he had gotten that information. Pearse returned to the Post office, and Whitmore's ten-man garrison returned to work. Connolly had sent people out to bring in more guns and ammunition, stored in secret dumps throughout the city. Two men, Pat McCrea and M.W O'Reilly, had taken a car to the largest of these storage depots, in Parnell Square, and returned with such a heavy load that the car's engine seemed about to expire as they rolled it slowly up to the Prince's Street gate. Even the Cumann na nBan girls of whom there was an increasing number as the morning went on, were put to work bringing in guns from various hiding places. Within the folds of their long dresses it was possible, though not easy, to conceal weapons. When they were not delivering guns, the girls also delivered messages to the outposts. Movement within Dublin was still amazingly easy if one avoided main streets and obvious trouble spots. One courier, Ignatius Callender, made ten trips between the GPO and the Four Courts garrison.