Today in 1916, Dublin – Easter Saturday – Nearly strangled at birth

Easter Saturday (22nd April 1916)

As I start this post the centenary commemoration and celebrations of the Easter Rising are kicking off in Dublin. I was hoping to get over there but couldn’t quite make it happen. I got a bit of a feel for the mood and thoughts when I was over in Donegal last week. The last time I was in Dublin for the anniversary was on 8th April 2007, the 91st. That day I went down to the GPO to watch the official commemoration at which a female officer of the Irish army read out the Proclamation of Independence in front of the Taoiseach Bertie Ahern and the President Mary McAleese. It was on the stairs of the General Post Office that Padraig Pearse first read those words a century ago.

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To transport myself there for the 100th I’m going to post a hundred-years-ago-today account of the Rising over the next week.

The Easter Saturday should have been the eve of the Rising but the big day had to be postponed by 24 hours to Easter Monday.

On the Saturday the under-secretary for Ireland Sir Matthew Nathan writes to the chief secretary Augustine Birrell saying: “I see no indications of a rising”. So a bit like Michael Fish missing the Great Storm of October 1987 or Dick Rowe turning down The Beatles at Decca. Nathan was a career colonial administrator, born in Paddington of Jewish descent.

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Before: Liberty Hall

Meanwhile James Connolly and men of his Irish Citizen Army are installed in Liberty Hall on Beresford Place/Eden Quay,headquarters of the Irish Transport and General Workers Union and of the ICA. It’s where Constance Markievicz and Maud Gonne ran  a soup kitchen for workers’ families during the Dublin Lock-out  in 1913. In 1916 it served as a factory for the manufacture of bombs, bayonets and arms for the impending rebellion. Eventually the leaders of the Rising marched from there to the GPO to proclaim the Republic and start the Rising (but more of that on Monday). The building was left vacant throughout Easter Week, but the British didn’t know that and selected the Hall as the first target to be shelled. It was largely destroyed by British artillery during the Rising.

So back to the previous failure of British intelligence – “I see no indications of a rising”. The next day Nathan and the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, Lord Wimborne, find out that five 50lb  cases of dynamite have been stolen from a quarry in County Wicklow, just south of Dublin, and the police suspect they have been taken to Liberty Hall. At the Vice Regal Lodge in Phoenix Park Wimborne and Nathan discuss the situation with the military and police. Wimborne wants an immediate raid on Liberty Hall with arrests, using 100 troops and 100 police. The Royal Irish Constabulary are more cautious, reckoning the leaders will not be there (some were), there will be significant loss of life and the press will be highly critical. Wimborne eventually agrees to postpone till Monday to allow time for the military to prepare properly and on the basis the rebel leaders would probably be there. In Wimborne’s words: “It was no good to stir up the hornets’ nest unless they could capture the hornets.”

Had they acted on Wimborne’s initial instincts the Rising would have been strangled at birth on Saturday and, in the words of Euston’s finest, no terrible beauty born.

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After: Liberty Hall

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1 comment so far

  1. […] the Proclamation of Independence which was read out today (2016) in front of the GPO in Dublin, as it is every year on Easter Sunday, was on the the IRB (Irish Republican Brotherhood) Military Council with Joseph […]

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