‘Should the worst befall me . . .’
Philip Walshe was shot dead in the Easter Rising, unaware that a ceasefire had been called
Philip Walshe joined the Irish Volunteers in 1913 and was killed in the Easter Rising.
AS A TEENAGER in the 1980s, I knew my great-uncle Philip Walshe had been killed in the 1916 Rising. A book mentioning his name had its place on the shelf in our front room, and my father, his nephew and namesake, kept a yellowed 1966 newspaper that listed him among the Easter dead.
But I think at the time there was a fear that romanticising his sacrifice might inspire his grandnieces and -nephews to identify with the then very active IRA. As a result, while there was quiet pride, there were few stories about him.
I have set out here to tell his story.
Philip was born in 1888 in Bishop Street, Dublin. His father Patrick – quiet, with an impressive moustache – was a delivery man for Boland’s bakery. His mother, Elizabeth McEvoy, a bright and lively woman, liked to talk politics at home. And while Patrick espoused Daniel O’Connell’s philosophy of non-violent resistance, Elizabeth spoke of the Fenian struggle; it was natural to her as a Laois-born daughter of an ageing Fenian, Patrick McEvoy.
Philip mopped up the debates and spent summers with his maternal grandfather listening to stories of Ireland’s struggle and British tyranny.
In 1902, when Philip was 14 the family moved to Manor Place in Stoneybatter and he left school to become an apprentice bookbinder. His indenture, still in family possession, shows him earning 10 shillings a week in his seventh and last year of training.
He worked for Cahill’s Printers and became involved in the local Gaelic Athletic Club, Archbishop Crokes. He also joined the Gaelic League, which met in Columcille Hall in Blackhall Street not far from his home. He threw himself into activities there and became a fluent Irish speaker. His younger sisters joined him, winning medals for Irish dancing and supporting him when he joined the Irish Volunteers in November 1913.
In the run-up to the Rising, according to research carried out by a cousin, Catherine Murphy, he held meetings of local volunteers in the parlour of Manor Place and as the day drew closer, hid guns beneath the floorboards there.
It is easy to imagine the scene on Easter Monday, April 24th, when the call came and 27-year-old Philip, a company sergeant, readied to depart. His older brother Patrick was working in Scotland at the time and so his sisters would have looked on as he prepared his rifle while his mother made sandwiches and his father, whom he called “the boss”, tried to find the words to dissuade him from action. But he wasn’t to be dissuaded.
He turned out in Columcille Hall with 68 other members of G Company, 1st Battalion, Dublin Brigade. It’s unlikely he had a uniform; according to a witness statement held at the Bureau of Military History from Nicholas Laffan, the company captain, only 15 volunteers were in uniform.
They marched to the North King Street/Church Street area. Captain Laffan said they were “to occupy Broadstone Railway Station” but “had not sufficient men”. Instead they took up positions in the area, erecting barricades on the streets, taking over homes and businesses, and making ready to fight the soldiers that would come from the railway station.
A comrade, Patrick J Kelly, recorded how he was with Philip at the corner of Church Street and North Brunswick Street on that first day when a British lancer on horseback and a riderless horse came toward them. Philip opened fire and Commandant Ned Daly, the head of the battalion, rested a 45 revolver on Kelly’s shoulder, took aim and killed the lancer.
“Phil and I caught the horses. We turned them round and sent them galloping back ... to throw any others who might be behind into confusion.”
Kelly also recounted how on April 26th he and Philip climbed over a roof and down a ladder into the grounds of a convent in North Brunswick Street where a Capuchin friar, Fr Albert heard their confessions. He wrote that the friar blessed him and told him to die for Ireland if necessary “as Christ died for mankind”.
“I felt exalted and could have faced the entire British army single-handled,” Kelly said.
During the week, Philip’s sisters brought food to him and his comrades, skirting down the back lanes, dodging British army patrols. They told him they could hear the fighting from Manor Place and he called them “brave little girls”.
As the days passed, the British army closed in on G Company. By April 29th only a small group remained in the area, trapped in and around Clarke’s dairy on North King Street.
And while Padraig Pearse surrendered to Gen William Lowe on that Saturday afternoon, Capt Laffan, as yet oblivious to the ceasefire, sent Philip and three others through the back yards of the street to find out if there were any volunteers left at Reilly’s Fort, a nearby pub.
It was on this mission that Philip was shot dead. Witness statements vary, but it appears he may have lain where he fell until late that night when news of the ceasefire finally filtered through and volunteer Sean O’Duffy helped carry his body to the nearby Richmond Hospital.
In his pocket they found a simple letter:
“ Dear Mother,
Just a few lines to let you know you are ever in my thoughts and should the worst befall me I am happy to have lent a hand in the fight and I know you will be proud of my involvement. Remember me to Lillie, Eileen, Kathleen and also the Boss and Paddy.
Family lore has it that his father could find no one willing to bury Philip and he had to borrow a horse and cart from Guinness’s to transport his body to Glasnevin cemetery. His mother blamed herself for politicising her son and died a few years later.
There are memorials to Philip; descendants named after him, a headstone in Glasnevin cemetery marking his sacrifice; and in his father’s own hand, written in the family bible “Philip Walshe Died for Ireland”.