An Irishwoman's Diary
AT James Connolly’s yell of “Charge!”, Volunteers and Citizen Army members raced into the GPO, Winnie Carney, Connolly’s secretary, carrying her typewriter and a Webley revolver.
The world’s two capitalist empires were at each other’s throats, butchering their youth in millions in France and Iraq. A political settlement to gain “the right of the people of Ireland to the ownership of Ireland, with equal rights and equal opportunities for all its citizens” seemed remote.
After the crushing lockout of 1913, which smashed attempts by tram workers paid 25 per cent less than those in Glasgow to gain parity, poverty grew to a point when, as my grandfather Thomas MacDonagh said, Ireland would soon be one slum. Ireland was – as we were all told in our youth – remitting £11 million more to Britain’s treasury than was being spent on Ireland.
O’Connell Street was a luxury shopping area; north of it slums spread for miles, with the highest death rate in the world.
Guests in William Martin Murphy’s Imperial Hotel watched PH Pearse read the Proclamation as rebels raised the Tricolour and a green flag with a gold harp on the GPO. Pale Volunteers smashed the GPO windows, sandbagged them, set up a command post at the centre of the main hall for commanders Connolly, Pearse and Joe Plunkett.
They brought a mattress for Plunkett, just out of hospital after an operation, his throat bandaged, unluckily reminiscent of Theobald Wolfe Tone. The old Fenian Tom Clarke, rubbing his hands in delight, went upstairs to take over an office, Sean MacDiarmada limping beside him.
Clongowes-educated Michael O’Rahilly arrived in his De Dion Bouton – equivalent to a private Learjet today. He had been driving the country bearing Eoin MacNeill’s orders to stand down all Volunteer action; now he said: “I helped wind the clock; I’ve come to hear it strike”, drove the priceless car into a barricade and took up a gun.
The signatories knew they had signed their death warrants by putting their names to the Proclamation. Five of the seven were in the GPO: their leader, Pearse, founder of bilingual Montessori-based school St Enda’s; Clarke, who spent 15 years in Britain’s Guantanamo; syndicalist union leader Connolly; poet Plunkett, scion of two families of developers; radical journalist MacDiarmada. The other signatories, writer and UCD English literature lecturer Thomas MacDonagh and Dublin Corporation accountant and star uileann piper Éamonn Ceannt, commanded posts in Bishop Street and James’s Street.
Constance Markiewicz and Michael Mallin were in Stephen’s Green; Éamon de Valera in Boland’s Mills at Grand Canal Dock; Con Colbert at Marrowbone Lane; Ned Daly in the Four Courts; Sean Heuston on the quays; Richard MacCormack at Harcourt Street Station; Thomas Ashe in Ashbourne.
Volunteers, Citizen Army, Cumann na mBan and Fianna criss-crossed the city setting up barricades and carrying messages. Plunkett sent seven techies to the Dublin Wireless School of Telegraphy to make history’s first broadcast: “Irish Republic declared in Dublin today. Irish troops have captured city and are in full possession. Enemy cannot move in city. The whole country rising.” The British rushed troops from the Curragh and Britain. By Wednesday they were running cobbled-together 18-pounders from Grangegorman to College Green, Bachelor’s Walk and Parnell Street, setting up snipers’ and machine-gunners’ nests around the GPO; in Trinity College, the Rotunda, Connolly Station, Capel Street.
Connolly, who served in the British army aged 14 to 21, directed the GPO fight – unmindful who was an officer and who a private. He was wounded in the arm on Thursday, then his ankle was shattered by bullets hopping off the pavement around him.
On Friday, O’Connell Street an inferno, young Desmond Fitzgerald and most of the women evacuated the wounded to Jervis Street Hospital. The rebels decided to retreat across Henry Street to Williams and Woods’ factory off Parnell Street.
The O’Rahilly joked: “Irish-speakers to the back, English-speakers to the front – Charge!” and they flew out, singing The Soldier’s Song – into the snipers’ alley of Henry Street. Some, led by The O’Rahilly, ran up Moore Street. Listeners heard gunfire, running steps, then silence. The O’Rahilly, mortally wounded, crawled into Sackville Lane.
Citizen Army man Sean McLoughlin led some 300 Volunteers and Citizen Army members along Moore Lane, through gunfire and ricocheting bullets. They ran with Connolly on a stretcher and broke into 10 Moore Street, then broke through the houses along the terrace – a shot accidentally killing a girl, to their horror. They set up headquarters in No 16.
George Plunkett, Joe’s brother, heard moaning, ducked across a barricade to find a wounded British soldier, carried him to safety – then went back through the bullets for his rifle.
A day later British shells set Robert Dillon’s pub The Flag across the road on fire. Dillon, his wife Ellen and daughter Mary crept into the street carrying a white flag. The British shot them dead.
Pearse, whose ideas of blood and conquest were theoretical, refused to go on. A majority of the leaders voted to surrender, against protests from Tom Clarke (and MacDonagh and Ceannt when word was got to them).
George Plunkett’s London Irish men refused to surrender, despite Clarke’s and Michael Collins’ pleas, and only agreed when MacDiarmada came to them saying: “Steady, lads... what are we going to do here? Some of us have to survive to carry on.” Elizabeth O’Farrell (“a pretty little blonde” said a British observer) slipped out of No 15 to negotiate surrender, and was brought to British general WHM Lowe in Tom Clarke’s Parnell Street shop.
Winnie Carney tenderly combed Connolly’s hair and moustache as he lay outside 17 Moore Street. Joe Plunkett stood with his back to the British guns, called Carney and asked her to give his ring to his fiancée, Miss Gifford; they had been due to be married on Easter Sunday.
Around the corner The O’Rahilly lay dying. As he bled to death, he wrote a note to his wife: “It was a good fight anyhow . . . Goodbye, Darling.”