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Chapters

The 1916 Easter Rising

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economy, ' she said, ' we have enough for three weeks. ' Then exercise regid economy, ' Pearse said, ' We may be here that long. ' Though startled by Pearse's apparent optimism, Fitzgerald obediently took steps to tighten the belts of everyone in the Post Office. He now had five Cumann na nBan girls working in the kitchen, plus two British prisoners who had volunteered their services. The work was fairly well organised. AAll he had to do was figure out what to tell his hungry diners when they complained that they wren't getting enough food. By noon the respectable element in ackville Street crowd was beginning to give way to the hordes pouring out of the slums in the hope that today would be another yesterday. Though these people didn't like the revolutionaries, they loved the revolution. If this was what Irish freedom meant, they wanted their fill of it. Even the fact that they had been deprived of their separation money annoyed them only slightly now that everything they had ever wanted was so readily at hand. Food was not as plentiful as it should be, but that was unimportant as long as liquor remain in such good supply.

Men and women stood in the street, their heads tipped back, bottles to their mouths; every few minutes another empty smashed against the pavement or the side of a building. Often the shattering bottles were not empty. It didn't matter. There were several pubs in the area that had not yet been looted. From time to time, the crash of a large pane

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Women take an opportunity in grabbing food supplies during a pause in the fighting

of glass would indicate that another establishment was falling, and a sizable section of the crowd would run in the direction of the noise. But the coldly rapacious mood of the day before was largely absent. This was a day to celebrate the gains of yesterday. Alcohol seemed to diminish the acquisitive drive and, at least temporarily, to soften the bitterness of the mob toward the rebels. Even when someone shouted ' Dirty bowsies! ' or ' The Tommies'll bate yer bloody heads off! ' to a passing squad of insurgents, it was without much rancor. Laughter and gaiety took hold of the people, and occasionally someone would break into a dance. The most amazing incident took place in the centre of Sackville Street. A girl with an armful of lingerie ( and perhaps a skinfull of booze ) began stripping off her clothes, item by item, until she was totally naked. A hush came over the crowd as people shook their heads and blinked their eyes to make sure their senses were not deceivng them. Here was a sight much rarer in Ireland than a rebellion. A woman naked in the street! Hesitantly they gathered around her, almost afraid to watch her as she tried on the various items of newly acquired finery, one after another, tossing away those she didin't fancy. For a while, no one spoke. Finally a man coming up to see what was happening cried out, ' Mother of God, she's naked! ' Another said ' Would you look at the bloody whoor? Has she got no morality at all? ' A middle-aged woman wearing new shoes, a new dress, and a new hat said to the woman next to her ' It's a mortal sin, that's what it is. Th'Almighty God'll sthrike her dead! ' A man with a pleasantly drunken smile sighed. ' If only me own wife had a figure like that! ' Two women near him turned away in shocked silence. A voice toward the rear shouted, ' Will no one stop her? Police! Police! Is there not a policeman in the entire city of Dublin? '

All the policemen had been withdrawn from duty the previous day, as everyone knew. Though the cries of outrage continued, no one interfered with the girl, and a few people left the scene ( despite the fact that a gentle rain had begun to fall ) until she had finished her indecent fashion show. At about one o'clock the well known Francis Sheehy-Skeffington emerged from the Post office with a bundle of broadsides under his arm, a paste pot and brush, and as many walking sticks as he had been able to find. He had gone to the Post Office to inform Pearse and Connolly of a plan he hoped would reduce looting and restore some degree of order to the civilian population. Though Sheehy-Skeffington was an ardent nationalist, he could not participate in the uprising because he was also a pacifist. There was no cowardice in his unwillingness to take up arms. The previous day he had walked into a cross fire of bullets in the hope of helping a British officer who, he had been told, was bleeding to death on the pavement near the castle. he said afterward hecould not let anyone bleed to death while he was in a position to help. Francis wasregarded in Dublin a gentle, harmless man with

peculiar ideas who loved debate and espoused causes. s a student at University College, he defeated classmate James Joyce, already a literary aspirant, in an election for the auditorship of the ' Literary and Historical ' debating society. When Francis married Hannah heehy, they took each other's names as a token of belief in equal status for women. Though pacifism was one of the causes Sheehy-Skeffington espoused most passionately, he had been outraged almost to thepoint of violence by the looting and carousing Monday in the centre of Dublin. He had remonstrated and reasoned with the looters to no avail. Alreadtoday theroken into several shops, including rewen and Ryan's emporium. He was determined to take positive action to stop them. After leaving the Post office, he looked around for likely places to put up notices, then walked over to the William Smith-O'Brien monument in Sackville Street and set to work with his paste pot. An open-mouthed crowd gathered around to read his message: ' When there are no regular police on the streets, it becomes the duty of citizens to police the streets themselves and to prevent such spasmodic looking as has taken place in a few streets. Civilians ( men and women ) who are willing to co-operate to this end are asked to attend at Westmoreland Chambers ( over Eden Bros ) at five o'clock this ( Tuesday ) afternoon.

 

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Francis Sheehy-Skeffington

Arrest and Murder

Though howls of ridicule and laughter greeted his idea, Francis was unperturbed. As a habitual dissenter, he was accustomed to ridicule. He had even carried his dissent so far as to leave the Catholic Church seven years earlier. If he could endure the reactions that produced in Dublin, how could he be touched by the raucous remarks of these unfortunate gurriers from the slums? He moved on in search of respectable people and encountered a friend the writer St. John Ervine, who patiently listened to his plan for a civilian constabulary that would put crime to flight with walking sticks. Ervine smiled at the thought of his pacificist friend taking up arms of any kind and at the image of him flailing at the devil with his cane.

' Good luck, ' he said, but at the offer of a walking stick for himself, he declined. Undaunted Francis went on pasting up his notices and offering walking sticks to friends, priests, reliable-looking strangers. The crowd went on drinking and looting. During the course of that day, Francis was arrested for no stated reason, or indeed obvious reason while returning home by members of the 11th East Surrey Regiment at Portobello Bridge along with some hecklers who were following him, and after admitting to having sympathy for the insurgents' cause ( but not their tactics ) he was held as an enemy sympathiser. Later that evening an officer of the 3rd Battalion The Royal Irish Rifles, Captain J.C. Bowen-Colthurst ( a member of a County Cork family of the landed gentry ) sent Francis out with an army raiding party in Rathmines, held as a hostage with his hands tied behind his

back. The raiding party had orders that he was to be shot if it was attacked. Bowen-Colthurst sought out ' Fenians ' He went to the home and shop of Alderman James Kelly at the corner of Camden Street and Harcourt Road, from which the name ' Kelly's Corner ' derives. Mistaking Alderman ( who was a Conservative ) for a rebel, the soldiers destroyed the shop with hand grenades. Bowen-Colthurst took captive a young boy, two pro-British journalists who were in the shop, Thomas Dickson and Patrick MacIntyre - and a Sinn Fein politician, Richard O'Carroll, all of whom he had shot. Francis witnessed the two murders on the way to Rathmines. The two journalists were killed with him the following morning. Hanna Sheehy-Skeffington, the wife of Francis, was not told about her husband's detention or his death and only discovered what had happened four days later, when she met the chaplain of the barracks. Bowen-Colhurst attempted a cover-up and ordered the search and ransack of Francis' home, looking for evidence to damage him. This event resulted in a Westminster-ordered cover-up, as a result of which Bowen-Colhurst was detained in an asylum for eighteen months. He would later retire to Canada on a full pension.

A Dublin-born Major in the Royal Munster Fusiliers, Sir Francis Fletcher Vane, was in overall charge of defence at Portobello Barracks but was not present when these executions took place. He
arrivedshortly afterwards, and wws horrified at what had unfolded. He

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Today: The former Kelly's tobacconist at Kelly's Corner, where Francis was taken

recognised the killings as murder, and called Hanna Sheehy-Skeffington. He reported his views ( that Bowen-Colthurst was mentally deranged ) to the deputy commander of the garrison, Major Rosborough. Rosborough telephoned Dublin Castle and was told to buty the bodies. Vane subsequently travelled to London where he met Lord Kitchener in Downing Street on the 3rd May 1916. A telegram was sent to Sir John Maxwell, Commander-in-Chief of British forces in Ireland, ordering the arrest of Bowen-Colthurst, but Maxwell refused to arrest him. Relating to the events six years after the murder, Hanna Sheehy-Skeffington told how : ' The body had been put in a sack and buried in the barrack's yard. The remains were given to his father on condition that the funeral would be early morning and that i be not notified. My husband's father consented unwillingly to this on the assurance of General Maxwell that obedience would result in the trial and punishment of the murderer. ' Re-interment took place on the 8th May 1916 at Glasnevin Cemetary.

Bowen-Colthurst was eventually arrested on the 6th June, charged with murder and court-martialled. An inquiry, chaired by Sir John Simon, took place on the 2233rd August 1916 at the Four Courts which concluded that the proclamation of martial law does not confer on officers or soldiers any new powers, but is a warning that the Government acting through the military, is taking such forcible and exceptional measures as are needed to restore order. The measures taken can be justified only by the practical circumstances of the case. The shooting of unarmed and unresisting civilians without trial constituted murder, whether martial law had been proclaimed or not. Failure to understand and apply this elementary principle seems to explain the free hand which Captain. Colhurst had been exercising. Bowen-Colthurst successfully pleaded insanity arising from shellshock as a means of escaping a potential murder conviction. His court martial became a ' cause celebre ' and provoked a political furore which culminated in a Royal Commission of Enquiry into the murders. He was sent to Broadmoor Hospital briefly and then to a hospital in Canada. he was deemed ' cured ' 20 months later on the 26th April 1921 and was eventually released with a pension at the age of 40. Francis Sheehy-Skeffington's wife Hanna was offered financial compensation by the British Government of the day but she refused this. Vane was dishonorably discharged from the army in the summer of 1916 owing to his actions in the murder case.