Rite& Reason: How the Church of Ireland Gazette reported the 1916 Rising

‘the horror of Dublin, fired by the hands of her own sons, and of Irish blood shed by Irish hands’

Archive captures the 1916 Rising and a bombed out Dublin through to the formation of the Free State. Video: Reuters

 

The Church of Ireland Gazette has appeared continuously since March 1856 and until the 1960s was published in Dublin from 61 Middle Abbey Street, where the newspaper’s lay editor, Warre Bradley Wells, remained for the duration of Easter Week 1916.

Publication was postponed and the premises had a remarkable escape from the fire that devastated the then Sackville Street area.

The Gazette’s was in fact the last building on that side of the street to be saved – the fire “stopping immediately short of this office”.

A week later, a special combined edition “28 April and 5 May, 1916” appeared, with almost half of its 20-page content devoted to the rebellion.

Its remarkable detail may be attributed to Wells, who was “probably at closer quarters with much of the fighting in the capital than any other civilian in Dublin”, with “access to special sources of information” that enabled him “to supply a lengthy and exhaustive analysis of the circumstances of the insurrection and military operations for its suppression”.

Predictably, the editorial summed up events as “the most tragic week in the modern history of Ireland”. It was written on the day that “ought to have seen the opening of the general synod”, postponed for the first time since its inception in 1870 on account of the martial law and the fact that Sackville Street and its environs were a “heap of ruins”.

Stab in the back

The editorial bemoaned: “The pity of the citizens murdered, the young English soldiers shot down on Irish soil, the callow lads led into treason: the shame of this stab in the back of our brave soldiers in Flanders and Salonika; and the horror of Dublin, fired by the hands of her own sons, and of Irish blood shed by Irish hands.”

Yet it went on to try to make sense of what had occurred, firmly blaming government inaction for letting the security situation spiral out of control.

But it also noted that at least the Volunteers “made no wanton interference with civilians . . . There is little enough to be said in favour of any of the rebels, but let us at least do the bulk of them the justice of admitting that they endeavoured to respect . . . those accepted conventions which are designed to lift warfare, even civil warfare, above the level of stark savagery”.

Two human stories vividly illustrate how individual members of the church experienced events on Easter Monday.

The Bishop of Tuam, Dr Benjamin Plunkett, was held up in St Stephen’s Green “by a couple of Sinn Féiners” and his car was seized.

On explaining who he was, he was treated civilly, but the car was nevertheless wheeled into the barricade near the Shelbourne Hotel. The bishop then gave his calling card to the man who held him up, pleading for it to be taken to a “superior officer”. Within an hour, having waited in the hotel, his request was granted “provided he placed another car in the barricade” and he continued his journey.

Promptly seized

The curate of St Peter’s, and chaplain to the forces, the Rev HJ Clarke, was walking down the quays from Phoenix Park in uniform and was “promptly seized by the rebels, taken prisoner and lodged with several others in the Four Courts” for the six-day duration, where on the whole prisoners were not badly treated being “fed on bread and cold Bovril, with an occasional cup of tea brewed from a small stove discovered in one of the judges’ rooms”.

“At night they found themselves comfortable cushions from the courts and improvised blankets from the hangings of the room. One prisoner actually wrapped himself in a judge’s robes.”

Such colourful insights to events as they unfolded sit side by side with the Gazette’s articulation of a middle- ground opinion seriously concerned about the long- term consequences. At pains to point out “the religious element did not enter in any way into this unfortunate rebellion”, with “no whisper of old sectarian feuds”, it remarked moderate unionist and nationalist Ireland “have learned in an awful personal experience what war means . . . Easter week has taught us the terror of the sniper”.

This and all Gazettes from 1911 to 1923 have been digitised and may be searched at this link: http://ireland.anglican.org/about/128

Dr Susan Hood is librarian and archivist of the Church of Ireland Representative Church Body Library at Rathmines in Dublin

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