Analysis: Lomas’s 1916 diaries – a sanguine account of war
Despite the stoicism and forgiveable innacuracies in his account of the executions of the leaders of the Rising, there are glimpses of flesh and feelings
Pádraig Pearse: he may have whistled but he most definitely did not say farewell to his wife in the moments before his execution. Photograph: National Archives of Ireland
There are so few diaries from the Easter Rising that, even almost a century later, words as sparse and dry as those of Sgt Maj Samuel Lomas stand out.
Lomas’s diary is not a a rip-roaring read but a record of events and orders, with occasional pauses for observation. In the manner of military accounts, he is as sanguine about being under incessant fire as he is about finding a sofa in a street barricade and getting a decent sleep on it.
“Nothing further of interest to note,” Lomas writes at one point, “with the exception of one man getting wounded in the arm, whilst engaged in trying to snipe a sniper.” Ah, yes, except for the sniper.
Lomas missed the most fateful engagement by his regiment, the Sherwood Foresters. While he marched to the Royal Hospital in Kilmainham, met by little but tea, cigarettes and the distant sound of gunfire, others encountered bullets. At Mount Street Bridge soldiers were met by a handful of determined Volunteers, and almost half the week’s British casualties occured there. Lomas makes no mention of it.
And yet, despite the stoicism and forgiveable innacuracies in his account, there are glimpses of flesh and feelings. There is the description of the O’Rahilly’s body. There is Pádraig Pearse whistling his way to the firing squad (although he most definitely did not say farewell to his wife first). There is the sight of Tom Clarke being given an extra bullet from an officer after the firing squad failed to do its job. And there is a sense of Lomas’s angst at what he believed to be the futility of their deaths.
For colour from Easter Rising week, instead turn to James Stephens’s ‘The Insurrection in Dublin’, which is vivid in its portrayal of the disorder, giddiness, rumour, violence and death that gripped the capital in that singular week.
There are several accounts of the Rising from participants. When the Bureau of Military History archives were released, a decade ago (bureauofmilitaryhistory.ie), they opened a rich resource of eyewitness testimonies from 1913-21, but largely from the republican side and through interviews conducted some 30 years after the event. Inevitably, these accounts were compromised by memory and politics.
The other diary in Mick O’Farrell’s book is that of Seosamh De Brún, a Volunteer who also contributed to the Bureau of Military History testimonies.
Lomas never had the luxury of hindsight, no chance to test the prevailing wind before recalling his role in the Easter Rising. He would be killed at the Somme a year later, having been a witness to the formative week of a nation, and the defining cataclysm of a continent. Shane Hegarty is coauthor, with Fintan O’Toole, of The Irish Times Book of the 1916 Rising