1916: Nursing the wounds of the Easter Rising
Miss Florence Williams dragged two injured soldiers to her mother’s house ‘with bullets rattling’ around her
St John Ambulance nursing officers circa 1916. Photograph courtesy of St John Ambulance Archives
40 Merrion Square First emergency auxilliary hospital set up by Dr Ella Webb
Nurses both professional and voluntary took active part during Easter Week 1916 when Dublin unexpectedly became a battle ground.
Sir Patrick Dun’s Hospital; the Adelaide; the Royal City of Dublin Hospital on Upper Baggot Street; St Vincent’s Hospital on St Stephen’s Green; and Jervis Street Hospital were all still functioning. So too were the maternity hospitals including the Rotunda Lying-in-Hospital, located at the Parnell Square close to the GPO which had been taken over by the Provisional Government of the Irish Republic on Easter Monday.
The Rotunda was occupied by the British military who ordered the staff to get on with their work and keep away from the windows. Mary McDonald ( 23) wrote: “We could not keep away from the windows despite the warnings. We saw several people shot … they were dragged off the street and put into our morgue”.
Her account, written in 1966, survives preserved in the Abbeyleix Heritage House Museum and has been dramatised this year for the centenary commemorations (see abbeyleixheritage.com).
Nursing staff were on duty in the workhouses in the city during Easter week. The South Dublin Union was a location for the soldiers of the Irish Republic who had taken over the city and declared a Republic. Workhouse hospital nurse Margaret Kehoe (45) was still tending the inmates during Easter week. When she was recorded in the 1911 census she was living in house 10 in the union complex which then housed 3,817 inmates. She was tending a wounded volunteer, Dan McCarthy, outside Acute Hospital 3 on Easter Monday when she was shot. Dan survived but Margaret, who was born in Carlow, was fatally wounded when she went to his assistance.
Margaret Rachel Huxley, the former matron of Sir Patrick Dun’s Hospital and founder of the Dublin Metropolitan School for Nurses and also of the international council for nurses was also tending the wounded during the Rising. The year before she had taken over the position as matron of the Dublin University Women’s Voluntary Aid Detachment’s Hospital at 19 Mountjoy Square. She ran it with the assistance of a matron, two trained nurses with Belgian refugees working in the kitchen. During Easter week she also opened her own private nursing home, on Lower Mount Street, for casualties.
Women opened their homes as hospitals at the time. It was recorded that numbers 32 and 35 Fitzwilliam Square were opened as temporary hospitals for those injured during the fighting. The occupier of 32 was Miss Meade, while a Miss Fletcher is listed at 35.
Mrs Jackson at 11 Bushy Park Road in Rathgar also opened her private house; there were 12 beds and the premises was run by the Rathgar nursing division. It was reported that the beds were not needed once the rebellion ended.
Headed by Dr Lumsden and Dr Ella Webb, St John’s Ambulance members, both men and women, worked side by side throughout that week. According to Pádraig Allen, archivist of St John’s Ambulance Ireland who has done extensive work on the records of the organisation, there were seven auxiliary hospitals across Dublin.
The Irish War Hospital Supply Depot at 40 Merrion Square was turned into a temporary hospital; it was reported that this transformation was completed in three hours. An improvised operating theatre was even set up and used during the Rising. Alexander College nursing division had 40 members on duty on Merrion Square.
Dr Ella Webb was second in command as lady district superintendent No 12, Irish District. She had joined St John’s Ambulance in 1904 after she qualified as a doctor, giving first aid lectures and instruction in home nursing. The 39-year-old doctor was awarded the silver order of St John Life Saving Medal and was made a Member of the British Empire in 1918. She went on to found the Children’s Sunshine Home – now the Laura Lynn Foundation. There is a Webb Ward, named in her honour in the National Children’s Hospital.
Dr Webb, in a report she complied on the work done by the nursing division during Easter Week, mentioned Miss Carson Rae, a member of the Irish Nurses Association, who was the day matron, and Miss Mac Donnell who was night matron. Sisters in charge who were trained nurses included Miss Doherty, Miss Butler-Elliott, Miss Hall, Miss Strahan, Miss Ledwidge, Miss Hughes, Miss Hunter, Miss O’Donoghue and Mrs Allmann.
Aiding woundedAnother member of the nursing team in 40 Merrion Square was Gwendoline Barrington, granddaughter of Sir John Barrington – a former Lord Mayor of Dublin who served two terms in office. She was the first lady superintendent of W&R Jacobs nursing division for the factory workers. During Easter Week she also was one of those who made her way to the centre of the fighting to collect the wounded.
Other unnamed nurses came from the Maycourt nursing division, the South Dublin division, the Orthopaedic Hospital division, the Dublin University division and the Royal College of Surgeons division.
Civilians who had no qualification or training also played their part.
One of those recorded is Miss Florence Williams of 8 Bristol Buildings, who was awarded the military medal by the war office for “conspicuous bravery”. She dragged two soldiers who were severely wounded to her mother’s house, as reported in the newspapers at time, “with bullets rattling” around her.
Under fireIt was also reported that she went under fire to Dublin Castle to collect a stretcher to carry the wounded men to hospital. During the week she went out and got bandages from the Adelaide Hospital for the men being cared for in her house and she also went out with a priest who ministered to more wounded soldiers.
Following the Rising, Miss Williams was given a presentation from the commander and officers of the Dublin Fusiliers in recognition of her brave actions.
Gen Maxwell in his despatches made mention of the severity of the fighting at Mount Street Bridge and referred to the “gallant assistance given by a number of medical men, ladies, nurses and women servants, who at great risk” tended the wounded. One of those named was Louisa Nolan who in the 1917 military honours list was awarded a medal. Miss Nolan was noted as having brought water and comfort to a number of soldiers “while bullets were flying thick through the air”.
Linda Kearns, who trained in Baggot Street Hospital, set up a Red Cross hospital in an empty house on North Great George’s Street shortly after the fighting commenced. Her account was published as In Times of Peril. In her diary she recounted: “We collected bedding and stores from all kinds of houses around, everyone being most generous, and one friend supplying the dressings … I had six girls ... and two boys as stretcher-bearers, and at once we got quite busy and got in a number of wounded including a British tommy who had a finger shot off … he had no idea that he was in the hands of the enemy!’
A British officer came the next day and told Miss Kearns that her hospital was to be used just for British soldiers or be shut down, so she closed the hospital and went on the street administering first aid. She evaded arrest. In 1966 there was disquiet by some Cumann na mBan members about her claiming Easter Week service as she had been tending both sides – although her republican credentials could not be disputed during the War of Independence when she was one of only 50 women arrested for her activities at that time.
Another unlikely supporter of the Rising was a woman who trained as a nursing superintendent in in the workhouse at Ashtown-Under-Lyne District Infirmary in Lancashire. The Hon Albinia Brodrick was daughter of William Brodrick, Viscount Midleton , and his wife Augusta. While her exact role in the Rising is unknown, she nursed those who had taken part. She also made public statements about conditions at the internment camp using her name in Irish, Gobnait Ní Bhruadair, while at the same time – as the Hon Albinia Brodrick – she was an inaugural member of the Irish Nursing Board in 1917, responsible for training and education and also president of the Irish Nurses and Midwives Association.
In her politics she was becoming more radicalised and she was imprisoned in the Civil War for her republican stance.