Easter Rising – Day 6: And then it was all over
On the last day of the 1916 Rising, the rebels are forced to surrender unconditionally and brought to Richmond Barracks, where the leaders are identified
Soldiers inspect the interior of Dublin's General Post Office, viewing the complete destruction of the building after being shelled by the British during the Easter Rising 1916. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
Saturday, April 29th, 1916
- At noon, Pearse decides on ceasefire.
- At 12.45pm, nurse Elizabeth OFarrell walks with a white flag towards British.
- Rebels offered only unconditional surrender.
- At 3.30pm Pearse surrenders, and after garrison says rosary it leaves 16 Moore Street.
- At 3.45pm Pearse is taken before General Maxwell at headquarters of the Irish Command at Parkgate Street and signs a general order of surrender.
- Connolly countersigns surrender order, but only for men under his command in Moore Street and St Stephens Green.
- Ned Daly allowed to lead a march of his men from the Four Courts to the surrender point at the Gresham Hotel.
- Rebels who surrender are corralled on open ground behind Rotunda, where they remain forthe night.
- On Sunday, garrisons at Bolands Mill, Jacobs factory, St Stephens Green, South Dublin Union and Marrowbone Lane surrender.
- Rebels abused by angry Dubliners.
- Prisoners marched to Richmond Barracks, where leaders are identified.
On the Saturday morning the sun shone once again. At 10am Mary Louisa Hamilton Norway, wife of the secretary of the General Post Office in Ireland, wrote a letter. “If the main walls of the GPO remain standing it may be we shall find the safe in H’s [her husband’s] room still intact.
“It was built into the wall, and my jewel case was in it, but all our silver, old engravings and other valuables were stored in the great mahogany cupboards when we gave up our house in the autumn, as being the safest place in Dublin.”
The GPO was burnt out and empty, with its former occupiers continuing to burrow their way up the street. Among them was Joseph Sweeney, who was involved in a terrible incident on Moore Street.
“The door of the house we were trying to get into was locked, and we could hear people moving about inside. We asked them to open the door, and they wouldn’t. Then somebody shouted in to get out of the room, and he put a gun up to the door and blew open the lock. When we got in we found it had killed an old boy inside.”
A fishmonger’s shop at 16 Moore Street was chosen as the rebel headquarters, and Sweeney was ordered to carry one end of Connolly’s stretcher.
“Eventually we got him to a house that they had selected for a headquarters, and I then moved further on, towards the top of the street. By this time there was very little in the way of command. You simply moved with anybody you knew.”
At number 16 the leaders held a council of war. The nurse Elizabeth O’Farrell was in the room at the time. “On the floor of the room lay three wounded volunteers; and a soldier, a prisoner who was badly injured, lay on a bed on the side of the room. Winifred Carney, Julia Grenan [the other Cumann na mBan members] and I came in to attend to them.
“The soldier asked us would Pearse speak to him. Pearse said, ‘Certainly’. The soldier then asked Pearse to lift him a little in the bed. Pearse did this, the soldier putting his arms around his neck. This was all. Pearse returned to James Connolly’s bedside, and the consultation continued in private.”
It has been reported that, at about noon, Pearse witnessed something that convinced him to surrender. Connolly told Dr James Ryan, who was in charge of the insurgents’ medical unit, that Pearse was preparing to surrender.
“Out the window Ryan saw a sight ‘I shall never forget. Lying dead on the opposite footpath of Moore Street with white flags in their hands were three elderly men.’ The men were dead, killed by machine-gun fire.
“Seán MacDermott came over to the window and pointed to the three dead men and said something like, ‘When Pearse saw that we decided we must surrender to save the lives of the citizens.’ ”
At 12.45pm Elizabeth O‘Farrell was handed a hastily made Red Cross insignia and a white flag and asked to step outside and surrender to the troops. “I waved the small white flag which I carried, and the military ceased firing and called me up the barrier which was across the top of Moore Street into Parnell Street.
“As I passed up Moore Street I saw, at the corner of Sackville Lane, the O’Rahilly’s hat and a revolver lying on the ground – I thought he had got into some house.
“I gave my message to the officer in charge, and he asked me how many girls were down there. I said three. He said: ‘Take my advice and go down again and bring the other two girls out of it.’
“He was about putting me back again through the barrier when he changed his mind and said: ‘However, you had better wait. I suppose this will have to be reported.’ ”
She met a more senior officer. O’Farrell told him, “The commandant of the Irish Republican Army wishes to treat with the commandant of the British forces in Ireland.”
“The Irish Republican Army? – the Sinn Féiners, you mean,” he replied.
“No, the Irish Republican Army, they call themselves, and I think that is a very good name too.”
“Will Pearse be able to be moved on a stretcher?”
“Comdt Pearse doesn’t need a stretcher,” O’Farrell corrected him, at which point he turned to another officer and ordered, “Take that red cross off her and bring her over there and search her: she’s a spy.”
She was searched, and they found, she says, “two pairs of scissors (one of which he afterwards returned to me), some sweets, bread, and cakes, etc. Being satisfied that I wasn’t dangerous, he then took me (of all the places in the world) to Tom Clarke’s shop as a prisoner.”
At 2.45pm O’Farrell was sent back in a car, with a note and verbal message explaining that there would be only an unconditional surrender.
“As I passed Sackville Lane, the first turn on the left in Moore Street going down from Parnell Street, I looked up and saw the dead body of the O’Rahilly lying about four yards up the lane, his feet against the steps of the first door on the right and his head on the kerbstone.”
She went in to Pearse and gave him the message and the instruction from the military that she was to return in half an hour.
“It was about 3.30pm when Gen Lowe received Comdt Pearse at the top of Moore Street, in Parnell Street.Pearse was put in a car and taken to meet Gen Maxwell. As he was driven away a British officer commented, “It would be interesting to know how many marks that fellow has in his pocket.’ ”
At 3.45pm Pearse signed a general order instructing the rebels to surrender. In the meantime Connolly had been taken to a Red Cross hospital in Dublin Castle – he was so heavy it took seven men to carry him – and he countersigned the order, if only for his Citizen Army members on Moore Street and St Stephen’s Green.
It was a surprise to many of the fighters. Oscar Traynor had earlier been told to get some rest in preparation for later action. “I was terribly exhausted at this time and lay down. I apparently fell asleep, and remembered no more until I was awakened by some of my comrades, who informed us that our garrison was surrendering. I naturally was astonished, as appeared to be most of my comrades.”
Joseph Sweeney was among those who were now prisoners of war. “We filed out on to Moore Street and were lined up into fours and were marched up O’Connell Street and formed into two lines on each side of the street.
“We marched up to the front and left all our arms and ammunition and then went back to our original places. Officers with notebooks then came along and took down our names.
“A funny incident happened there. One of the officers just looked at one of our fellows and without asking him anything wrote down his name and then walked on. After he had gone a certain distance somebody asked this fellow, ‘Does that officer know you?’ ‘That’s my brother,’ he said.”
Anyone under the age of 18 was sent home, as a young insurgent, Seán Harling, discovered.
“The officer who took the surrender seemed a very decent sort of fellow. I think he was a captain. I was just standing at the end of the line, and he came along and he looks at me, you know, and he gives me a clip on the ear and tells me to get the hell home. I was very annoyed about not being arrested, but that’s what happened, and I just watched the others being taken off as prisoners.”
Nurse O’Farrell had been given surrender orders to be handed to the various posts. Accompanied by a priest, she went to meet Ned Daly at the Four Courts, where he and his men reluctantly acceded.
As Joe Sweeney later recalled, “During the night the garrison from the Four Courts came in, and we were put lying on top of one another. I had two fellows lying on top of me. In one way it was desperate and in another way it was great, because it was a very cold night, and they kept me warm.
“Anybody who put his foot out of line got a whack of a rifle butt. We were kept there all night, and a British officer amused himself by taking out some of the leaders.
“He took out poor old Tom Clarke, and, with the nurses looking out of the windows of the hospital, he stripped him to the buff and made all sorts of disparaging remarks about him – ‘This old bastard had been at it before. He has a shop across the street there. He’s an old Fenian,’ and so on – and he took several others out too.
“That officer’s name was Lee Wilson, and I remember a few years later I happened to be in the bar of the Wicklow Hotel and Mick Collins, in his usual way, stomped in and said to me, ‘We got the bugger, Joe.’ I said, ‘What are you talking about?’ He said, ‘Do you remember that first night outside the Rotunda? Lee Wilson?’ ‘I do remember,’ I said, ‘I’ll never forget it.’ ‘Well, we got him today in Gorey.’ ”
The next morning Elizabeth O’Farrell restarted handing out the surrender orders. She went first to St Stephen’s Green, where there was still shooting. The Tricolour flying from the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland was replaced with a white flag.
She then made her way towards Bolands Mill. There was still sniping in the area, and her army driver refused to take her through the firing line.
Crossing Grand Canal Street Bridge, a man walking just behind her was shot.
She finally located Éamon de Valera in a dispensary that he was using as a headquarters. It was a week during which nervous exhaustion had taken its toll, as an expected assault by the military never arrived.
When O’Farrell arrived de Valera at first thought it was a hoax, but he finally agreed to surrender if it was accompanied by orders from Thomas MacDonagh.
MacDonagh was at the Jacob’s factory, another place that had little influence on the battle. O’Farrell travelled there next. Around that time James Stephens noted in his diary: “It is half-past three o’clock, and from my window the Republican flag can still be seen flying over Jacob’s factory. There is occasional shooting, but the city as a whole is quiet.
MacDonagh, having met Gen Lowe, had then gone to inform Eamonn Ceannt at the South Dublin Union.
At the nearby Marrowbone Lane, Robert Holland and the other rebels had actually started the day in a good mood. They had heard that “the troops which had come from England had suffered very heavy losses and were completely beaten and were in complete confusion all around Dublin”.
“We were still in the best of spirits, and the girls had baked some cakes and were getting ready for the céilídhe in the main hall, which had previously been cleared.
“We were looking forward to this when at about 6pm a dispatch came from Comdt Eamonn Ceannt at the South Dublin Union, which was the headquarters of the fourth battalion. We were told that this dispatch had come from Ceannt and it was to the effect that no one was to fire on any British soldier he would see in uniform without first reporting to one of the officers. A rumour went around that a truce was being called.”
At 6.30pm Ceannt, with the clergyman and a British officer, entered the front gate of the Marrowbone Lane distillery and spoke with the rebel leaders there. Holland then asked Con Colbert for an explanation.
“He said it was all over. When I heard this I felt kind of sick in my stomach, putting it mildly, and everybody else felt the same, I’m sure. It came as a great shock. Colbert could hardly speak as he stood in the yard for a moment or two. He was completely stunned. The tears rolled down his cheeks.”
Colbert blew a whistle and ordered the men of the distillery to fall in to double file. While this was happening one of the men in the rear dropped his shotgun, which went off and wounded another rebel.
Colbert told them that they were surrendering unconditionally but that anyone wishing to escape could do so. Holland remembers one rebel, Joe McGrath (later of Hospitals Trust), saying “Toor-a-loo, boys, I’m off,” and then leaving. Some others followed.
The rebels were marched to Richmond Barracks. “When we were almost at the Coombe maternity hospital two drunken men insisted in falling in with us. They were ejected from our ranks several times on the route but eventually must have got into the ranks in my rear, for about two months later I saw those two men taking their exercise in Knutsford Prison.”
On their march they were subjected to abuse from the public. “They were ‘Shoot the Sinn Féin ****s.’ My name was called out by some boys and girls I had gone to school with . . . The British troops saved us from manhandling.
“This was the first time I ever appreciated the British troops, as they undoubtedly saved us from being manhandled that evening, and I was very glad as I walked in the gate of Richmond Barracks.”
The rebels themselves formed the smallest category of those who had died in the fighting since Monday. Sixty two of them had died, compared with 132 members of government forces. A large majority of the dead – 256 people – were uninvolved civilians who had been caught in crossfire or shelling or deliberately shot by combatants on either side.
At Richmond Barracks Holland and his colleagues “were packed chock-full into a billet, and three or four buckets were left in to act as latrines. The door was locked and we had hardly any room to sit down. Someone suggested that as one side of the room tightened the other half might get room to sit down and rest for a while. This was done.”
The prisoners discussed what might happen to them now. Some thought that they might be shipped to the Western Front, or sent to the colonies, or executed.
“Colbert then called us all to recite the rosary for the spiritual and temporal welfare of those who fought and died in the cause of Irish freedom, past, present and future generations. We were in darkness – and, remembering no more, I fell asleep.”