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Chapters

The 1916 Easter Rising

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Post office. Before allowing him to give his report, Connolly called together Pearse, MacDermott, and The O'Rahilly, to hear him. There was some surprise when O'Rahilly appeared. Until now, he had rarely come down from his post on the upper floors of the building. After hearing what Callender had to say, he could wish he had stayed upstairs. Having been on the streets quite frequently, Callender knew where the British troops were located. Connolly eager for the latest information, called for a map on which he could point out the British deployments, but as Callender went over the map, telling how many infantrymen he had seen here, how many he had seen there, it became evident that no map was needed. The British were everywhere. Callender's report of the Four Courts garrison was only slightly more encouraging. Troops at the Broadstone station were threatening Daly's men from the north. A British sniper on the Bermingham Tower south of the Liffey had accounted for more than twenty casualties already, and no one seemed able to pick him off. A machine gun on the roof of a building was spraying the entire area. Yet morale was high and there was no thought of surrender. When he finished his report and answered their questions, Callender received warm thanks from Pearse and Connolly, after which Pearse and then Sean MacDermott shook his hand, thereby providing the young man with one of the great thrills of his lifetime. Like so many Volunteers, he had long since come under the spell of MacDermott, who knew him by name, could lift his spirits with a smile, and had a way of making him feel important.

To Callender, MacDermott, despite his twisted, polio-stricken body, was a special hero among all these heroes. He was brave, commanding, and strong beyond physical strength; yet he was also lovable. And looking now into his eyes, Callender noticed something else about him that was amazing. Despite the chaos and danger around him, he seemed sublimely happy. The most significant aspect of this gathering of the leaders was the presence of O'Rahilly, for it indicated a softening of his resentment against the others. O'Rahilly was not the kind of man who could long bear a grudge. The approach of almost certain death made it pointless to cherish grievances. If there was still a noticeable uneasiness when he took his place beside Pearse and MacDermott, it arose now not from bitterness but from embarrassment on his side and from an element of chagrin on their. His exclusion from their confidence during the planning of the rebellion seemed increasingly shoddy in

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Inside the General Post Office

s were evacuating their postlight of his brave acceptance of responsibility. And his confrontation with MacDermott over the kidknapping of Bulmer Hobson was too recent to be forgotten. Pearse, a less pragmatic man than MacDermott, was especially sensitive in O'Rahilly's presence because he had always tried to be as devoted to his scruples as to his cause. He had praised O'Rahilly lavishly to one person after another since Monday and was pleased to see him arrive for their meeting. It was not easy, though, for a person of Pearse's somber and constricted nature to convey such pleasure. The North Earl Street garrison augmented by men from the Dublin Bread Company garrison, had now taken the Imperial Hotel, directly across from the Post Office, to protect the south eastern flank, which had been left exposed when the DBC men mistakenly evacuated their position. But while this put the North Earl Street men closer to the Post Office, it did not solve the problem of communication with headquarters, for dispatched could no longer be carried across the bullet-swept street. The commander of the garrison, Brennan Whitmore, thought of a solution. While one man held the end of a ball of twine, another man threw the ball across Sackville Street to the Post Office, where it was run around a post and thrown back. A can was fastened to the twine as a message carrier, and Whitmore had a two-way ' telegraph ' for communication with his superiors. The invention had only one flaw. The can, moving slowly across the street, was an attractive target for the British marksmen. On the can's third trip, it was shattered.

Whitmore. was becoming depressed now, though he carefully concealed it from his men. The early excitement of action having passed, he became, hour by hour, more acutely aware that they were all trapped, that they could offer nothing but token resistance as the British moved in to destroy them, that there was no escaspe, no alternative to annihilation. Why had the rising been planned so badly? Why were they here in Dublin, surrounded, squeezed, and bombarded, when they could be in open country, hitting, running, hitting again, driving the British to desperation? These were such pointless questions now he wished he could blot them from his mind. He saw one of the men fastening a new can to the twine ' telegraph ' thus creating another easy target for some British rifleman. He went up to the man and took the can away from him. ' For God's sake, ' he said ' just tie the message to the twine. They'll never see a bit of paper. '

Another artillery explosion shattered the air,this time closer than any of the previous shells. At first, Whitmore thought the Post office itself had been hit, but when he looked up he realised it was the Freeman's Journal building on Abbey Street, around the corner from the Metropole Hotel. In the Post office, Sean MacDermott could not surpress a smile when he learned where the shell had landed, for the Freeman's Journal, more bitterly than any other Dublin newspaper, had opposed the movement for Irish independence. Earlier, when MacDermott had been told that the insurgents' armament shop was filling grenades with lead from the Freeman's Journal print shop he said ' It's the first time any of that type has ever been put to good use. ' As evening arrived, the gunfire seemed to slacken, though it quickly erupted again whenever anyone dared show himself on Sackville Street. Desmond Fitzgerald, having finished for the moment his commissary duties came down stairs to talk to Plunkett, who lay on hos cot behind the main counter, and to Perase, who was standing nearby. The knowledge that Plunkett, despite his cheerfulness, was near death from tuberculosis, filled Fitzgerald with a special pity that puzzled him when he stopped to reflect that he, too, and everyone else in the Post Office was near death. Anyone who doubted it had only to take five or six steps outside the Post Office front door. Perhaps some would survive, but none could count on survival, and a few like Pearse, could hardly escape the realisation that they were certain to die as Plunkett. Fitzgerald could not look at Pearse's face without being moved. Its natural gravity now conveyed a sense of great tragedy, perhaps because Pearse was convinced, as he looked at all these men and girls around him, that they were likely to perish in a cause to which he rallied them - a cause whose very worth must appear questionable to some of them at this moment. While they were offering their lives for the Irish people, they couldn't help knowing their sacrifice was unappreciated, as he himself knew from those who had gone out on errands and reported back that the people they encountered were in a mood to attack them. Aside from the Irish Republican Brotherhood, the Citizen Army, and a few members of the Hibernian Rifles, no group of Irishmen had endorsed the rebellion. Even the bulk of the Volunteers, under the unfluence of MacNeill, had repudiated it.

Fitzgerlad kept wanting to ask why the rebellion had not been postponed when it became apparent that no outside help would be forthcoming. There was, of course, the so-called Castle Document, which had been publicised the week before. It indicated that the British Government was planning to arrest all the known ationalist leaders before they could get a rebellion started. If the document was genuine, it might have given the leaders reason enough to plunge ahead for fear their plans might be thwarted completely by imprsionment. But some people seemed to think the Castle Document was a forgery, fabricated by Joe Plunkett and Sean MacDermott to persuade the moderate faction in the Volunteers against delay. If so, it had failed. In the conversation between Pearse, Plunkett and Fitzgerald, the one theme that recurred more than any other was the moral rectitude and theological justification of what they were doing. There was no attempt to deny responsibility for the death and destruction produced by the rebellion. The question was how that death and destruction would appear in the eyes of God. They were, after all, waging war, and the Church had never proscribed war so long as it was fought in a worthy cause. Could anyone doubt that the freedom of Ireland was a worthy cause. But what about a war undertaken with so little hope of victory? Could not such a war be called suicidal, and therefore sinful? No. Sacrificial, perhaps, but not suicidal. The difference was significant. They were not killing themselves. Indeed, they were fighting for their lives. Yet they were willing to die, if need be, as a sacrifice to the cause of Irish freddom. Did not Christ sacrifice himself in much the same way, though for a higher cause? He proclaimed at the Last Supper his intention to offer his life for the redemption of all mankind. He told his apostles that his body would be delivered unto death for them and that his blood would be shed for the remission of the sins of man. Could it not be said that even the concept of redemption applied, in a limited way, to the rebellion? Surely the people of Ireland were in need of redemption after centuries of bondage - especially the people of modern Ireland, many of whom had fallen so far as to accept the shame of bondage. If some must die to achieve redemption, why should they fear death? Saint Paul said ' The sting of death is sin. ' But Christ, by taking away the sins of the world, had robbed death of its terror. By dying he destroyed death, and by rising from the dead he restored life. Was it not fitting then, that this rebellion, the purpose of which was to restore life to Ireland, be launched at Eastertime? And if at first it might appear to result in failure, one should remember that the crucifixion of Christ made many people thing he had failed. Yet if the resurrection of Ireland were to result from this rebellion, from the sacrifice of lives, would it not one day be regarded as a glorious success?

Sometimes, when Pearse or Plunkett made a particularly telling point in the discussion, Fitzgerald would ask that it be repeated and would press for exact, authoritative references to back it up, partly because he wanted to be able to requote it to others who might feel the burden of such questions upon their consciences, but partly also perhaps because he needed reassurances himself. And while all the arguments the three of them could marshal were painstakingly appraised, developed and assembled into their bulwark of exculpation, the guns kept bursting sporadically outside and bullets spattered against the building's exterior walls, no more than twenty feet away.

Fergus O'Kelly and his men, after a hazardous journey that entailed many delays, had now managed to regain the Dublin Bread Company building, the Marconi radio school, and Hopkins and Hopkins, which they had evacuated in the early afternoon as a result of a wrongly delivered order from James Connolly. On their return to the wireless school, they resumed transmitting messages about the new Irish republic at frequent intervals, wondering as they did so if anyone was receiving them. Unable to make their own receiving set set work, they had no replies to show for all their messages. Because they still considered the messages worth sending, however, and because they knew the wireless school would not operate much longer in the building that housed it, they decided to try to move it to the Post office under cover of darkness and reassmble it there. A few of the men carrying light sections of the apparatus, were able to run across Sackville Street without being hit, but enemy snipers made the project of moving the heavy parts on a horse-drawn van impossible. By this time, fires of untraceable origin were beginning to spread in abandoned buildings on Lower Abbey Street and Sackville Street. The smoldering remains of Lawrence's toy shop at the corner of Sackville and Cathedral Streets also burst again into flames which a steady wind threatened to carry to the building adjoining it. Tonight there was no hope that the fire brigade might arrive to fight these fires. The recurring gun bursts were too dangerous. The light from the flames on Lower Abbey Street enabled Fergus O'Kelly to see that British soldiers now commanded the entire sweep of that street from a barricade at Beresford Place. O'Kelly's peace of mind was further threatened when he noticed that the men in the Hibernian Bank building on the opposite corner of Abbey and Sackville Streets were evacuating their post and either filtering down the back lanes towards Amiens Street or running the gauntlet of sniper fire across Sackville Street toward the Post Office. Each successful crossing was greeted by cheers from windows on both sides of the street. One man ran across toward the Post Office carrying a mattress to shield himself from the bullets.

About half way across, he spun around and fell to the pavement with the mattress on top of him. The cheering stopped. he lay motionless for several minutes until finally the gunfire stopped. Then suddenly the mattress sprang up again and him behind it, and before the snipers resumed firing, he was under cover of the Post Office portico listening to the cheerful roar that now arose once more from insurgents on both sides of the street. Sackville Street lay quiet thereafter until about ten o'clock, when a drunk emerged from the shadows and began weaving his way toward the Post Office as he sang, repeatedly, a line of a song: ' Two lovely black eyes, two lovely black eyes. ' When he reached the Post Office, he stopped near a front window. ' Two lovely black eyes. Hurro! Three cheers for John Redmond! ' John Redmond was the leader of the Irish party in the British Parliament and s strong opponent of revolution; the three cheers for him were not returned. One of the men in the window, perhaps aroused from a nap, spoke up sharply to the drunk. ' Will you, for God's sake man, shut up and ho home! ' The drunk was offended by both the suggestion and the tone of voice. ' What's that ye say? Come out here and talk that way. i dare yiz. I'll go home when i bloody well please. What right has the likes of ye to be interferin with a decent man? ' ' Go home before you get shot. ' replied the Volunteer. ' Get shot, will I? Faith and who'd be shootin' me? Come on out here and i'll bate the lot o' yiz. ' Several men inside laughed. ' Oh, yiz needn't laugh. I'd make ye laugh if i had a hoult of ye! What do i care for the English! To hell with the English! I could bate you and them together! So could Dan O'Connell! The boul' Danny, he wouldn't be afraid of ye, nor the English nayther. Here, I'll sing ye a song if ye'll jist have some manners, please, and listen like Christians: ' God save Ireland sez the hayroes, God save Ireland sez they ' And away he went, still singing as he turned the corner into Henry Street. A few moments later another drunk appeared on Sackville Street as if he had been waiting in the wings for the first one to make his exit. This one, looking prosperous and wearing a tall hat, came round the around the corner of Hopkins and Hopkins to show himself openly under the street lights

easter rising painting

at O'Connell Bridge. From both sides of the river shouts arose: ' Go back! Go back! ' The man stopped and looked around as if puzzled. He jumped nervously as a few bullets hit the pavement near him. After a short hesitation, he took a few steps toward the bridge, only to be stopped by a sudden, deadly impact. Twitching violently, as he fell, he wriggled for a few moments on the pavement, his tall hat rolling crazily away from him. After one last surge of motion, he sprawled out absolutely still. An officer at a window in the Post Office ordered four of his best riflemen to smash the arc lamps that had exposed the man. A few moments later Sackville Street was in darkness except for the flashing eruptions of light from the fires on the opposite side. The O' Rahilly and Desmond Fitzgerald, as they had done Monday and Tuesday, made late-night rounds of the upper floors of the building to see that the windows in all the rooms were properly manned. The men, looking out at the spreading fires across the street, spoke softly, as if they didn't want to exclude the roar of the flames. They obviously felt, as did O'Rahilly and Fitzgerald, that those flames signaled the approaching end of their adventure. For the first time, O'Rahilly and Fitzgerald were forced to take notice of a marked decline in morale. When he visited the roof, O'Rahilly found another reason for concern. On the rooftops of buildings west of the Post Office he saw so much shadowy movement he decided he had better warn James Connolly of the possibility of a British night attack. He descended to the main floor only to discover that Connolly was asleep. In O'Rahilly's judgement the danger was sufficient to warrant waking him, so Connolly was aroused from his first nap in more than twenty-four hours. O'Rahilly said, ' The British are moving across the rooftops on Henry Street. ' Connolly, not yet sufficiently awake comprehended, stared up at him and said, ' They are not. ' Then he turned and sank back to sleep. He was not destined to remain asleep very long. A boy young enough to be in bed at this hour came running into the Post Office, preceded by the sound of his loud, piercing voice. ' Will ye give us some food! ' he shouted. ' We'll all

be after starvin' to death if we don't get some food! The whoul neighborhood's not got a crust of bread! The whoul city, for sweet Jasus' sake! The shops is empty, ye can see that. How can anybody eat if there's no food? 'Connolly, though he had managed to resist O'Rahilly's effort to arouse him, had no such luck against the boy, whose voice was as effective and as persistent as a bugle. Sitting up, Connolly glared at the boy in bewilderment, then called him over to his cot. But perhaps because he was still sleepy, he didn't ask the obvious questions - what was the boy doing out so late, and who had suddenly appointed him to worry, in the middle of the night, about feeding the city. The likelihood was that the boy had awakened in panic at the dire rumours he had been hearing for the past two days and had jumped out of bed to come to the Post office for some kind of reassurance. Connolly smiled at the boy and patted his shoulder.
' Who's been telling you things like that? ' he asked. ' You shouldn't be spreading such stories. Food may be a bit scarce, right enough, but nobody's about to starve. You can go home and tell that to whoever sent you. Tell your folks to keep their chins up. They've nothing to worry about. Now run along with you, so we can get some

sleep. ' The boy listened intently and after a few more questions left the Post Office, his peace of mind apparently restored as he disappeared into the night. As for getting more sleep, Connolly and ost of the others on the main floor of the building were now out of the mood. There was a restless stirring, and even in the dim light the haggard, worried expression showed on the tired faces. Connolly got up from his cot and made the rounds, comforting, exhorting, sometimes scolding, but even by moving among the men at this hour he showed his own concern about their dwindling spirits. Everyone had abandoned by this time the myth of possible victory. There was nothing left for these exhausted and frightened men to think about but the imminent assault against them and, for the survivors of the battle, the dire consequences of defeat. Connolly looked into their tired faces, one after another. Then suddenly, without warning, he broke into a bellowing chorus of one of their favorite marching songs, a song that would one day become the Irish national anthem - ' The Soldier's Song. '

We'll sing a song, a soldier's song,
With cheering rousing chorus,
As round our blazing fires we throng,
The starry heavens o'er us.
Impatient for the coming fight,
And as we wait the morning's light,
Here in the silence of the night
We'll chant a soldier's song.

The men listened to him dumfounded at first. Then a few smiles began to appear and a few more voices began to rise until within a minute or two, the main floor of the building was filled with the song.

Soldiers are we, whose lives are pledged to Ireland;
Some have come from a land beyond the wave;
Sworn to be free, no more our ancient sireland
Shall shelter the despot or the slave.
Tonight we man the bearna baoghail
In Erin's cause, come woe or weal;
Mid cannon's roar and rifle's peal
We'll chant a soldier's song.

Michael Collins who had proven himself one of the most effective soldiers in the building ad who had been able to sleep even through the visit of the raucous-voiced boy, could not block out the roar of fifty voices. He opened his eyes and shook his head in disgust. Looking up at Connolly's secretary, Winifred Carney, he said ' If this is supposed to be a concert, they'll want the piano in the back room. ' Patrick Pearse, who had scarcely slept since Monday, watched the scene without any noticeable change of expression. His face gloomy and his eyes looking weary, he turned to Desmond Ryan, one of his formed pupils at St. Enda's college. ' When we are all wiped out, ' Pearse said. ' people will condemn us and blame us for everything. But in a few years, they will see the meaning of what we tried to do. ' His vision would be correct.