1916 eye-witness: ‘My father accepted Pearse’s surrender’

Dorothea Findlater (106) recalls ‘a mass of flames across the sky’ as the Rising unfolded

Standing on the summit of the Curragh’s Victorian red-brick water tower with her mother, six-year-old Dorothea Findlater could see Dublin burning. Her father, a British army officer, was somewhere in the thick of it.

 

Dorothea “Doris” Findlater is probably the only person left alive who remembers the Easter Rising.

Now 106, she was six when the rebellion broke out. Though living in the Curragh 50 kilometres south of Dublin, she and her mother could see Dublin burning in the distance.

“I remembering climbing to the top of the tower in the Curragh with my mother and watching a mass of flames across the sky, the whole horizon was ablaze,” she said.

“It was a wonderful occasion. I thought it was fun.”

Mrs Findlater has an even more direct connection to the Rising. She was born Dorothea Elizabeth Maxwell de Courcy-Wheeler. “That’s what I began with”, she says laughing.

Her father Captain Harry de Courcy-Wheeler was the organiser of the Curragh Camp. Twice he was called up to fight in the First World War, but never went.

During Easter Week 1916 he was appointed staff captain to General William Lowe for the duration of the Rising. In that capacity, de Courcy-Wheeler was pictured opposite Patrick Pearse in that famous, but grainy picture of the surrender.

In his diary now published as a book 1916 Surrenders, Captain H.E De Courcy-Wheeler’s Eyewitness Account, her father wrote: “He handed over his arms and military equipment. His sword and automatic repeating pistol in holster with pouch of ammunition, and his canteen, which contained two large onions, were handed to me by Commandant General Pearse. ”

Mrs Findlater remembers: “I knew he accepted the surrender of someone but I was too young to know who it was. I know now. I read about it.”

She said of her father: “He was very strict as regards manners and doing things. We had to do the correct thing. We had to be properly dressed and behave properly,” she says, but he was also kind and loving.

Captain de Courcy-Wheeler returned to civilian life after the war ended and became a barrister. There were no repercussions for his involvement with the British army during Easter Week 1916.

On the contrary he began a friendship with Éamon de Valera and Séan T O’Kelly, both Easter Week rebels who went on to become presidents of Ireland.

Mrs Findlater puts her extraordinary long life to being active. She was a former Irish hockey international, and met her late husband Dermot through the sport.