City Hall search for Easter Rising rifle comes up empty

Fragments of roof, 1930s milk bottles, and 1890s pottery found in archaeological dig

An archeological excavation has taken place beside Dublin Castle to search to search for a rifle that had been hidden by Irish Citizen Army volunteer William Halpin during the Easter 1916 Rising. Video: Bryan O'Brien

 

An archaeological search for a rifle from the Easter Rising, thought to be lodged in a small gap between buildings at City Hall for the past century, came up empty handed on Wednesday.

Archaeologists excavated a large amount of debris, built up between the narrow gap over the past 100 years at City Hall, in search of a rifle that belonged to Willie Halpin.

Family history claims that, rather than surrender the gun to the advancing British soldiers, Halpin dropped it down the side of City Hall from the roof where he was fighting, before he climbed into a chimney to evade capture.

Halpin was part of a small group of Irish Citizen Army rebels who fought from the roof of City Hall during the Rising.

A search over the course of several hours failed to find the rifle, but did turn up a selection of other artefacts.

Discoveries

A drainpipe blocking access to the gap was removed, to allow archaeologists scoop out and inspect the debris. Broken fragments from the roof, one with a clear bullet hole, were discovered, as well as several glass milk bottles from the 1930s, a teapot lid, and several bits of pottery.

Dublin City Council’s small archeological excavation of an area outside City Hall recovered a number of artefacts. Photograph: Bryan O’Brien / The Irish Times
Dublin City Council’s small archeological excavation of an area outside City Hall recovered a number of artefacts. Photograph: Bryan O’Brien / The Irish Times

Franc Myles was the consultant archaeologist carrying out the search, financed by Dublin City Council. Speaking after the dig he said the most “likely scenario” was the rifle was thrown into the gap, but was discovered and removed in the years immediately after the Rising.

Dublin Castle was a military base during the period, he said, and the headquarters of the Dublin Metropolitan Police special branch, the “G-men”.

When the Black and Tans moved in, in 1921, they would have likely inspected the buildings, “to see if there were any cracks where explosives might have been hidden, so it’s possible the rifle was recovered then”, Mr Myles said.

Rodent activity in the gap over the years mixed the debris, so the oldest artefacts were not at the lowest point in the ground as might be expected, he said. “In fact, we got a King crisp bag from the 1980s right down at the very bottom, beside a piece of pottery which is probably from 1890,” he said.

Franc Myles, principal archeologist, with Lord Mayor of Dublin, Nial Ring. Photograph: Bryan O’Brien / The Irish Times
Franc Myles, principal archeologist, with Lord Mayor of Dublin, Nial Ring. Photograph: Bryan O’Brien / The Irish Times

Over the past year the project has been pushed by the Halpin family and Independent councillor Nial Ring, who was recently elected Lord Mayor of Dublin. Despite the disappointment of not finding the rifle, it was “well worth having a look”, Mr Ring said.

“Talking to the family, and looking at Willie’s notes, he definitely threw it over the wall. It would be unthinkable that you’d hear a story like that and just ignore it,” he said.