Easter Rising – Day 3: The tide starts to turn
Mount Street battle erupts, an engagement in which 230 killed or wounded
Wednesday, April 26th, 1916
- At 8am, the shelling of an empty Liberty Hall begins.
- Rebels holding out in the Mendicity Institute, near the Four Courts, surrender after ammunition finally runs out.
- British troops continue landing at Kingstown (now Dún Laoghaire). The public welcomes soldiers by giving them food as they march towards city.
- At Mount Street Bridge rebels engage these troops. In a battle that lasts until evening, there are heavy government casualties.
- Fires begin to spread on O'Connell Street.
- General Sir John Grenfell Maxwell is dispatched from London to deal with the Rising.
- Heavy fighting between Ypres and Souchez on the Western Front.
After a night of continuous firing Dublin woke to another day of sunshine, and to the sound of shelling. The gunboat Helga had sailed up the River Liffey, and at the stroke of 8am it began shelling Liberty Hall.
The first shell missed, striking the bridge behind it, but subsequent shells destroyed the building, which was empty after its only occupant – its caretaker – had fled.
From her home on Dawson Street, Arthur Hamilton Norway’s wife, Mary Louisa, heard the bombardment. “It made me feel quite sick,” she wrote.
In the morning James Stephens took a walk to St Stephen’s Green, where rebels sniped from the roof of the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland. Government troops now had machine guns on the roofs of three buildings on the Green – the Shelbourne Hotel, the United Service Club and the Alexandra Club – and a duel had opened up across the trees.
“Through the railings of the Green some rifles and bandoliers could be seen lying on the ground, and also the deserted trenches and snipers’ holes,” Stephens recalled. “Small boys bolted in to see these sights and bolted out again with bullets quickening their feet. Small boys do not believe that people will really kill them, but small boys were killed.”
A proclamation of martial law had been posted throughout the city, warning people to stay indoors between 7pm and 5am. Stephens described a good mood among Dubliners, however.
“Almost everyone was smiling and attentive, and a democratic feeling was abroad, to which our city is very much a stranger; for while in private we are a sociable and talkative people we have no street manners or public ease whatever. Every person spoke to every other person, and men and women mixed and talked without constraint.”
Opinion among civilians was divided, although women were far less sympathetic to the rebels than the men, according to Stephens. “Most of the female opinion I heard was not alone unfavourable but actively and viciously hostile to the Rising.
“This was noticeable among the best-dressed class of our population; the worst-dressed, indeed the female dregs of Dublin life, expressed alike antagonism, and almost in similar language. The view expressed was, ‘I hope every man of them will be shot.’ And, ‘They ought to be all shot.’ ”
Tragic episode On O’Connell Street
Eamon Bulfin witnessed the day begin with an unusual, and tragic, episode. “There was a tram upturned at Earl Street, and in the middle of all this shooting, scurrying and general tumult we heard a voice shout: ‘I’m a bloody Dublin Fusilier. I don’t give a damn about anyone.’
“He staggered out into the middle of O’Connell Street, where he was riddled with machine-gun fire. One of our men, with a white flag, went over to where he lay, knelt down, said a prayer over his body and dragged him in to the side.”
At 2pm the General Post Office shook. The rebels were unsure what it was. “Some say that a bomb had exploded in the lower room,” said Volunteer Dick Humphreys. “Others say it is a dynamite explosion, but a second and third in quick succession prove the correctness of those who proclaimed it heavy artillery.
“The detonations are truly tremendous, and were we not absolutely certain that the gun was situated on the other side of the river one could have sworn that it was at least in Abbey Street.
“For a time the men were uneasy at this, their first experience of heavy-gun fire, but soon they become accustomed to the sound, and take no more notice of it than of the ordinary rifle fire.”
At Marrowbone Lane Robert Holland could hear the explosions in the distance. Although it would be a quieter day for the rebels at his position, he described one unusual episode.
“I noticed a woman that I had seen the day before leaning out of a window opposite me. She had a hat, blouse and apron on her, and I got suspicious.”
He told a fellow Volunteer, Mick O’Callaghan, that he was going to shoot at her. “He said, ‘No’. I said it was a queer place for a woman to be and that it was queer she should have a hat on her, as she must have seen the bullets flying around but took no notice of them.
“I made up my mind. She was only 35 or 40 yards away from me, and I fired at her. She sagged halfway out the window. The hat and small shawl fell off her, and I saw that what I took to be a woman was a man in his shirtsleeves.”
At the Mendicity Institute, on Usher’s Quay, among those on the government side was an Australian private, John Joseph Chapman, who had actually arrived in Ireland on holiday. He was on convalescence leave, having spent three months at Gallipoli until illness forced his evacuation. With friends he had been sightseeing, horse riding and boating on the Lakes of Killarney before returning to Dublin on Easter Monday.
Arriving at Kingsbridge Station, he was immediately ordered to be ready for duty, and by Wednesday morning he found himself in a firefight with rebels who were led by the man after whom Kingsbridge Station would later be renamed, Seán Heuston.
“Given rifle and ammunition and had to fight enemy in the streets,” Chapman noted in his diary. “Nearly got hit several times. Only a few casualties on our side.”
Heuston’s men, numbering three dozen, were holding out against an estimated 400 government soldiers, and holding up the enemy’s progress from Kingsbridge to the Four Courts. The fighting was at close quarters, sometimes as close as 20ft. The government forces began lobbing hand grenades into the building, which the rebels would occasionally throw back at them.
Gradually the rebels began to run out of ammunition, suffered casualties and were threatened with being over-run. Eventually Heuston decided that surrender was the only option, despite the protestations of some of his men. It was the first rebel garrison to surrender its position.
The third day of the Rising, however, would be remembered for a bloody battle that centred on Mount Street Bridge, to the south of the city.
The handful of rebels dispersed between 25 Northumberland Road, the road’s schools and Clanwilliam House had had a quiet night, but in Clanwilliam House Thomas Walsh was tired after keeping watch.
At 7am he and his brother James were allowed a couple of hours’ sleep and then some breakfast. At 10am they had begun barricading a window when they spotted a neighbour of theirs passing the house.
The Walshes asked him to tell their mother that they were alive and to send some food, and a short time later their brother Leo arrived with a parcel of hot steak, bread and butter.
Over the course of the night and the morning British troops had been arriving at Kingstown, as Dún Laoghaire was then known. They had lost one of their four machine guns while embarking in England, and left all their grenades behind too. Two of the machine guns were then sent to Arklow, where there were reports of trouble.
At 10.35am four battalions of the Sherwood Foresters marched towards the city. Most were in uniform no longer than eight weeks, and many had never fired a rifle. As they walked through the south Dublin sunshine many of them presumed that they were in France.
The battalions split. Two headed for Kilmainham; the others continued towards the city centre, where Dubliners greeted them with tea and sandwiches. Maps and field glasses were pressed into their hands as gifts, and they were given intelligence of varying accuracy ab out the rebels’ position.
A battalion adjutant, Capt Frederick Dietrichsen, was delighted to find his wife, Beatrice, and children among those waving and welcoming the marching troops. She had left their native Nottingham, in fear of German Zeppelin raids, for the refuge of Dublin. Capt Dietrichsen embraced his family before moving on. A few minutes later the Sherwood Foresters encountered the rebels. Capt Dietrichsen was among the first to die.
Three hundred metres of so from Mount Street Bridge the troops came under fire from 25 Northumberland Road; 10 Sherwood Foresters fell in that volley. After some confusion they identified the source of the firing; without heavy guns to support them, officers drew their swords and led a bayonet charge across the road and towards the rebels’ house, where they were shot at point-blank range.
In Clanwilliam House Thomas Walsh and his brother James were enjoying the parcel sent by his mother.
“We were nearly finished the meal when we heard firing not far off and we all rushed to our posts,” he said. He and James ran to their positions at the back of the house.
“It was now about 12 noon. I saw a man in English uniform running from Percy Lane along Percy Place and up the steps of a house. I fired for the first time from my Howth gun, and for that matter from any other rifle! I do not know what happened to me or how long I was unconscious. In the excitement I did not heed the lectures and did not hold the weapon correctly. The result was that the butt hit me under the arm and knocked me out.”
Walsh came to his senses and “fired again and again, until the rifle heated so much it was impossible to hold it”.
He moved to another window. “From here we could see terrible confusion among the enemy. They were being attacked from 25 Northumberland Road, held by Mick Malone and Jimmy Grace. Those who managed to get by No 25 ran towards the [Mount Street] bridge and took cover anywhere they could find it: on house steps, behind trees and even in the channels on the roadway.
“We kept on blazing away at those in the channels, and after a time, as they were killed, the next fellow moved up and passed the man killed in front of him. This gave one the impression of a giant human khaki-coloured caterpillar.”
Newly trained in the tactics of trench warfare, the Sherwood Foresters were refused permission to move around and flank the rebels; instead they were ordered at the blow of a whistle to make a full frontal charge.
“They went down on the bridge again, and again they made the attempt, but they did not survive. By now there was a great pile of dead and dying on the bridge.”
A clergyman, and nurses and doctors from a nearby hospital, braved the shooting to remove the dead and dying.
“From the moment the first civilian got to the bridge not one shot was fired by either side,” Walsh said, “and when the last civilian was out of sight the firing started again, and the bridge was rushed as before but with the same result. Again the bridge was filled with dead and dying, and again cleared by the civilians, who now had white sheets to carry the wounded on.”
At Bolands Mill, it seems, Éamon de Valera decided against reinforcing the rebels around Mount Street Bridge, because he expected an assault on his own position; gradually there were casualties, as described by Thomas Walsh. “During the latter fight Paddy Doyle would say, ‘Boys, isn’t this a great day for Ireland?’ and little sentences like this. He was very proud to live to see such a day.
“After some time Paddy was not saying anything. Jim spoke to him and got no reply. He pulled him by the coat, and he fell over into his arms. He was shot through the head.”
Shortly after that another Volunteer, Dick Murphy, was shot dead. Low on manpower, the rebels turned to the dressmaker’s model that Thomas Walsh had found in the house.
“We put a coat on this and put it in front of the window (about six feet back in the room), and what a peppering this poor innocent thing got. It was riddled, but drew a lot of fire from our heads.”
Dead and wounded littered the road. Occasionally civilians attempted to escape the fighting. “During the lull in the firing, while the cleaning-up process was on, an old man rushed from Percy Lane and was fired on from under the wall of the canal and fell dead. I heard after that he was an old German living in the neighbourhood.”
Gradually, newly arrived grenades and a machine gun began to turn the tide in favour of the government troops.
In No 25 Michael Malone was killed; Jimmy Grace escaped. The schools were over-run. At Clanwilliam House Walsh and the other rebels’ ammunition ran dry.
“The house was smouldering in several places; the smoke and fumes were shocking. It was now about an hour before dark. We realised that we could stay no longer, and prepared to leave. While doing so, poor [George] Reynolds stood up on the drawing-room landing to fire the last shot. Whether he got his man or not we did not know, but he fell dead in our midst.”
Walsh had no regrets about his role. “The casualties were so great that I, at one time, thought we had accounted for the whole British army in Ireland. What a thought! What joy! What a day! But a lot of their losses was their own fault. They made for sitting ducks for amateur riflemen. But they were brave men and, I must say, clean fighters.”
Deciding to escape, he and the other surviving rebels made their way to the basement, from where they climbed through a window and made their way over walls and through lanes.
“There was a house with an open door, and we went into the hall, where we met a girl and asked her to give us a coat or overcoat to put over our uniforms.
“She called to the mother and told her there were Volunteers at the door who wanted a change of clothing. The mother shouted down to her, ‘Put them out, put them out, we will all be shot.’ We did not trouble them further.”
Farther along their journey they met resistance from locals. “The ‘soldiers’ wives’ had a lot of choice names for us, but our revolvers had a rather quietening effect.”
They received clothes and food from other locals, before eventually being given shelter and a meal at a factory on Baggot Street, where they settled in the for the night. (It would be the beginning of a lengthy period on the run. It was November when Thomas and James Walsh returned to their parents’ home, where they stayed indoors until December. With the release of the rebels from the internment camp at Frongoch that month, the Walshes finally concluded that it was time that they were “released” too.)
Back on Lower Mount Street the Sherwood Foresters’ commanding officer, Col Maconchy, arrived to survey the scene. He was met by cheering crowds. In total, though, 230 British troops had been killed or wounded in the battle.
With the rebellion now going into its fourth day, Gen Sir John Maxwell was sent from London with strict instructions to suppress the Rising.