Driving into action in the Easter Rising

Wed, Mar 14, 2007, 00:00

PastImperfect: Motor Vehicles and the 1916 RisingWith the approach of Easter and the anniversary of the Easter Rising of 1916, something which is often overlooked is the part played by motor vehicles in the conflict. Both sides employed the motor vehicle, in some cases with powerful effect. For the first time, armoured cars were deployed in Ireland and whether or not it was the Rolls-Royce armoured cars or the cruder, but no doubt effective, improvised armoured lorries deployed by the Crown forces, a new and sinister element was added to the conflict.

Perhaps the most familiar image of a motor vehicle in the conflict is that of the burnt-out De Dion of The O'Rahilly in Prince's Street, Dublin. His De Dion was used to carry arms and was finally wrecked and ended up on a barricade. The O'Rahilly was killed on Friday, April 28th, while leading a sortie from the GPO. The remains of his De Dion were buried under Hill 16 at Croke Park. The experiences of motorists varied greatly during the Rising. Lord Donoughamore and his party were travelling in a hired Ford when they were stopped in Harcourt Street, Dublin, and warned that the road ahead was dangerous. They promptly turned around but as they drove away a hail of bullets followed them, several passing through the car.

That day, Barry Cole of the Scottish Commercial Car Company had come over from Glasgow to Dublin on Easter Monday to exhibit at the RDS Spring Show. He recounted: "I was witness of an exciting incident as I stood in front of the Hibernian Bank (on O'Connell Street) when a soldier was taken prisoner by a party of six rebels . . . on the Wednesday morning I had a further look around and inspected from the opposite side of the river the remains of Liberty Hall."

The Rising was also notable for the introduction for the first time of Rolls-Royce armoured cars into Ireland by the Crown forces. These played a part in the suppression of the Rising in Dublin and were also deployed in the west and south of the country. In addition, the British forces built several improvised armoured cars.

A more humanitarian aspect was the conversion of private cars into ambulances to convey the wounded to hospitals. These already existed when the Rising took place and had been used to convey the steady stream of wounded soldiers arriving at Dublin's docks to hospitals and convalescent homes throughout the country. The work of the the Irish Automobile Club in this regard was well known, and it continued to operate its ambulance service to all who were in need of it, often under fire.