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Chapters

The 1916 Easter Rising

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' Up the Volunteers! ' he shouted. Come on, me boyos, give it to the bloody shite-heads! ' When several riflemen on the south side unleashed a volley toward Trinity College, he gave a cheers, almost loud enough to drown out the gunfire ' D'ye hear that? ' he screamed. ' They'll all be wiped out before youse are done with 'em. Janey. what i don't wish them limey bastards! ' One of the men turned to him and said, ' Hey. what're you doing up here? Scoot, kid, before you get killed. ' Just then a bullet hit the roof near the boy's foot. He simply looked down at the spot and with supreme contemt said, ' Feck off. ' Everyone laughed and there was no further attempts to evict him, although, several men tried to talk him into keeping his head down. Fortunately, he wasn't big enough to draw any special attention from the Trinty snipers.

Shortly after the boy's arrival, a white-haired old priest made his way to the roof and looked around, incredulous, at the men sprawled out on the tar with rifles pressed to their shoulders. He had walked in from the street, past the guards at the door. No guard in this army would think of stopping a man in a Roman collar. One might almost get the impression that a few hundred British soldiers, dressed a s priests, could have walked into the Post office unhampered and put a sudden end to the entire rebellion. Before

dublin trinity college

Trinity College Dublin

the kindly looking old priest had the chance to speak to the men, he spotted the boy. ' Who let you up here? ' he said. ' This is no place for a lad of your age. Go home to your mother and leave the fighting to the men. ' To the amazement of the men, the boy showed no respect whatsoever for the authority of the priest. ' Walk away from a war like this? ' he said. ' Bejasus, ye must be daft. ' Before anyone could remonstrate with him for such language in front of The Cloth, another rain of British bullets peppered the roof and the boy shouted to the nearest rifleman ' Would ye gimme that gun. I'll plug a few of them feckin' limey bastards! I'll see 'em all in hell, i will! ' Even the priest had to smile. Unable to make an impression on the child, he addressed the men. ' I suppose you all know the British Army will be at your throats any minute now. Sure look at the bullets already beating down on you like hailstones. God help you, it's a fine fix you've got yourself in, but i want to be sure you're in a state of grace, at least. I'll give you all conditional absolution. Do you hear me? I want each man to tell me, are you sorry for your sins? ' A chorus of ' Yes father ' went up from all sides of the roof. The priest, crouching down, raised his right hand, and making the sign of the cross began, ' Ego te absolve ' as the bullets whizzed past, punctuating his prayer. After the priest left, patrick Pearse, and his brother Willie, having braved the cross fire to visit several Sackville Street positions, arrived on the roof of the Post office to speak to the men and assess the situation there. They appeaed just after the lieutenant in charge, Michael Boland, had issued the latest of many insistent orders to his men, that they were to keep their heads down behind their sandbags. The Pearses, apparently indifferent to danger, did not present a good example. They walked from man to man, issuing encouragement, peering out over the balustrades toward the Imperial Hotel across the street, then at the Trinity College buildings south of the river, from which a steady stream of bullets came. Finally ,Lieutenant Boland could endure watching them no longer. He addressed Patrick pearse ' Will you for God's sake, sir, get your head down before they blow it off? '

Pearse smiled and thanked the lieutenant for his concern though he didn't actually share it. While he worried about the safety of his men he also accepted and almost welcomed the inevitably that blood would be shed. He harbored such a serenely mystical belief in blood sacrifice as a requirement for the nationhood that he written, in December 1915, about the European war: ' The last sixteen months have been the most glorious in the history of Europe. Heroism has come back to the earth..The old heart of the earth needed to be warmed with the red wine of the battlefields. Such august homage was never before offered to God as this, the homage of millions of lives given gladly for love of country. ' He took evident satisfaction in the possibility that his own life might be added to the millions. He had long sinces decided he would be happy to die in battle if, by his death, he could emancipate Ireland. And he was now convinced that his death, plus the possible deaths of some of his fellow leaders, would in fact, bring about the emancipation of Ireland by arousing the Irish people.

Instead of seeking cover, he stood erec in his gren uniform and addrsed the men. ' I want you all to know, ' he said ' how well awae we ae tat you hhave been on duty here without sleep since Monday. As soon as possible, we shall get some men up here to replace you. But for now you must carry on. And rremember, Ireland can be proud of every one of you. ' Willie Pearse, sding by, made one of his raae uterances, to tmen near him. ' A curious business, ' he said, in a slow lisping voice. ' I wonder how it will end? ' I know a lot of good work hs been done, but there is a grea deal more to do. ' he men shrugd not quite certain wh hd produced te remark. Some of them hd never before heard Willie Peae say anyting. He seemed to have spoken simply because he felt a sudden obligation to say something. His broter Patrick, having finished his inspection, turned to leave the roof. Willie followed him. After the Pearse brothers had left, lieutenant Boland, who had been a British soldier in the Boer War, shook his head in bewilderment. ' It's a mad business, ' he said to one of the officers under him. ' Here we are, shut up in this building, all of our leaders with us, gathered in one place so none of them can hope to escape and those flags flying over our heads to tell the enemy exactly where to find us when they want us. We should have taken to the hills, like the Boers. ' He shrugged in resignation. ' But we're here now, and we'll just have to stick it. ' Across Sackville Street, on the roof of the Imperial Hotel, the Citizen Army flag raised at 7 am had drawn so much machine gun fire it was now a tattered flag. At the Dublin Bread Company building, bullets were flying one after another into the cupola of the tower, from which two or three insurgent snipers occasionally replied.

From the corner building at Earl and Sackville Streets Brennan Whitmore and his men stared out, sometimes toward the Post Office, which was drawing more fire than any other place, and sometimes toward Amiens Street, from which they still expected a frontal attack. Some of the men, overworked and irregularly fed, sprawled out on the floor behind their second floor window stations and tried to nap despite the increasing noise of gunfire. A young woman in nurse's uniform appeared from the direction of Amiens Street and came running to their barricade. She scanned the building that housed the men until she saw them peering down at her from the upper windows. ' I've come to help, ' she called. ' How do i get in there? ' Whitmore said ' You don't get in. Go away. ' She shouted, ' Can you hear me? I want to come in. ' ' Go away! ' he repeated. ' I won't go away! I want to help! ' One of the men said to Whitmore, ' Don't let her in. She may be a spy. ' She had come from the direction of Amiens Street, where British troops were concentrated. And spy rumours were rampant among the insurgents. Whitmore decided to ignore her in the hope she would soon go away, but she remained. Eventually she began calling to him again. He shouted to her, ' You can't come in here and you can't stand down there. You'll be shot. ' She folded her arms, and planted herself as if she meant it. He liked her spirit. Some of the men were smiling at her now. He wondered if she was actually a nurse. If so, they woulde needinger before long. But if she turned out to be a British agent, then what? Would it make any difference? Once she entered the building, any information she might gather would do her no good because she wouldn't be able to get out. She stood at the barricade, looking up at the building while all these considerations raced through Whitmore's mind. Finally he gave the order and two of the men dropped a ladder to her. Despite the snipers' bullets she attracted, she came scrambling up the ladder; they dragged her through the window and put her on her feet. She dusted herself off, then looked around at the men and broke into a happy smile.

Rolling up her sleeves she said, ' Wee now, i'm delighted to be here. What can i do to help? 'In the Post office Joesph Plunkett lay on a cot behind the central counter, too ill today to be on his feet, but not too ill to work. His maps were brought to him and he studied them as if he actually thought they offered some way out of the insurgent's dilemma. He thought no such thing, of course. He knew what the military outcome of this rebellion must inevitably be and he accepted it. In one of his poems he had included a couplet that acknowledged and even welcomed the

way, he would marry her yet before he died. Tom Clarke and Sean MacDermott took turns trying for at least a few minutes' sleep. While MacDermott dozed, Clarke moved about the building, commenting impetuously on anything that met with his disapproval, stopping impulsively to talk with the men about the glory of what they were doing. He would die, no doubt, and the other leaders would die, but some of these youths would live on to continue the struggle for independence. He wished there were a way for him to convey to this fresh, eager generation the total meaning of the life he had spent as a revolutionary. He walked into the infirmary and spoke to Jim Ryan, who was not busy at the moment. Here was a bright young man, soon to be a doctor if he survived - and because he was a non combatant, he was more likely to survive than some of the others. Clarke sat down and looked into Ryan's expectant eyes. Thus began a monologue that was to last two hours. ' Do you know how many years I've waited for these glorious day's? ' Clarke said. ' When i was sixteen, another lad and myself formed a little group, and it wasn't long after that i joined the Irish Republican Brotherhood. Sixteen years old, 1873. That was forty three years ago. ' He talked about those Fenian years of frustration and recited the whole history of the IRB. He told of his first trip to America, then his assignment, by the Brotherhood, to go to England to take part in the dynamiting campaign. He spoke of his betrayal and capture before ever a stick of dynamite exploded, of his life sentence, and of the fifteen years he had spent in British prisons, often in solitary confinement, before he was finally released: ' We lived under a scientific system of perpetual harassment. The officers in charge had a free hand with Irish prisoners. At night if you went to sleep you were awakened by officers banging trap doors at hourly intervals. This went on for years. We weren't allowed to speak. We were put on bread and water as punishment. One by one i saw my friends break down, some slowly, others without warning. We had one fellow named Whitbread. I can't forget the night he he realised he was going mad. For an hour, between inspections, i heard him curse England and beseech God to strike him dead rather than let him lose his reason. One day in the iron foundary where we both worked i saw him try to eat ground glass. ' Don't you know that'll kill you? '

Grace_Gifford

Grace Gifford

I said ' A pound of it would do you no harm, ' he said. When they finally released him, they sent him to the lunatic asylum. The same with another fellow who was reported insane after five years and had to spend eight more years in prsion before they let him go. But they were treated no worse than the rest of us. We did everything we could to hold on to our sanity. We wrote notes to each other at night. For two of three years they gave me the cold treatment. They took most of my clothes and put me in an artic cell. I once had forty days of starvation in that cells. I chewed rags to to fight the hunger. After forty days i was so weak i couldn't stand upright. And there were other things i won't even mention. Do you know what i did finally? From the prison library i got a book called Cassell's Popular Educator. From this book i taught myself shorthand. Then i spent hour after hour shorthanding the entire Bible, Old and New Testaments. And when i was finished, i started over. You had to do something all the time to keep from going mad.