The contribution of grocer’s assistants to the Easter Rising should not be underestimated. Like so many other professions they fought, died and were imprisoned for their actions. Their places of employment were at the heart of the action unfolding on the streets of
Dublin in 1916.
Today a grocer’s assistant is better known as a bartender and their places of employment the public house. In the run up to April 1916 barmen, like many other professions felt the need to be part of the Volunteer movement. Due to their unsociable hours and work commitments barmen were unable to train with regular units of the Volunteers and so D Company of the 2nd Battalion of the Volunteers was formed and became known as ‘the Grocers Company’. They trained and drilled at Father Matthew Park under the leadership of Seamus Kavanagh and his adjutant Paddy Moran an employee in Doyle’s Bar, Phibsboro. At its height their were 200-300 members but after the Remondite Split within the National Volunteers, the Irish Volunteers who would plan for the Easter Rising maintained a company of 45 men.
Michael O’Dea from Tulla in
takes up the story in his Witness Statement, County Clare
Dublin, where I arrived in 1912, my employer
was Con McCormack who owned a public house at 26, Moore St. He ran in conjunction with this
a bookmaker's business, most of the transactions in connection with which were
illegal. I joined the Irish Volunteers in Dublin
on their formation towards the end of 1913 and in the spring of the following
year I linked up with the "Grocers" Company which had been specially
formed to suit the barmen in the city. I remained a member of the
"Grocers" Company until the Redmondite split in the autumn of l9l4
when the vast majority of that unit went over to the National Volunteers. I
remained with the Irish Volunteers after the split.”
Barmen were crucial to the planning as not only were they able to monitor movements of the British forces but they used their premises to purchase and hide weapons. Secret meetings were held in back rooms and snugs of bars while coded messages were passed from barman to rebel. Seamus Walsh who worked in Mooney’s of
Street even managed to purchase a rifle from a
drinking British soldier which was later used in the GPO against the British.
When rebels under Michael Mallin seized the Stephens Green/
area seventeen year old barman
James Fox was killed in action on the Tuesday of the Rising. From the College of Surgeons Thomas Street area
of the city, Fox was shot dead by British forces who had taken up sniping
positions on the roof of the Shelbourne Hotel.
Some of the barmen who saw action during that week included seventeen year old Thomas McEvoy. He lived at
Wall Road, in Dublin. He was employed as a grocer’s
assistant when in February 1916 when he joined ‘G’ Company, 1st Battalion,
Dublin Brigade, of the Irish Volunteers. During Easter Week Thomas saw active
service in the G.P.O., Royal College of Surgeons and the Four Courts area of Dublin.
Jim Humphreys worked for his uncle Michael at Humphreys,
2 Moore Street. Limerick born in 1879, Jim was one of the prisoners moved
from Richmond Barracks to Wandsworth on May 8th 1916. Perhaps to add
insult to injury the pub where he worked was listed as being completely
destroyed in the aftermath of the conflict
James Joyce was a barman in J.T. Davy’s at
Joyce joined the James Connolly led Irish Citizen’s Army but because training
manoeuvres took place on Sunday’s, Davy refused to give the thirty five year
old barman who worked twelve hours a day seven days a week time off to go
training. Often Joyce would pretend to be ill or simply fail to turn up for
work. Portobello Bridge
At noon on bank holiday Easter Monday, Joyce joined the rest of the rebels at Liberty Hall and set off with his battalion through the deserted city. Led by Sergeant John Doyle, Joyce was joined by fourteen other rebels as they marched up
Street and onto St. Stephen’s Green. It was here
that another detachment under Countess Markiewicz had seized the Royal College
of Surgeons and began to dig trenches in the Green itself. Sergeant Doyle,
Joyce and seven other rebels continued up Harcourt Street and narrowly avoiding
capture when they met a group of mounted soldiers. As soon as the mounted
patrol had turned a corner the Sergeant gave the order
‘At the double men’ as they headed for their outpost
It was because of his knowledge of the area and Davy’s Pub that Joyce was chosen to be part of this mission. The public house was to be seized because of its vantage point to pin down British troops leaving the Rathmines Barracks or troops using the Canal as other avenues into the city were sealed off by rebel forces. Joyce entered the premises first, the handle of his gun slippery with the sweat of excitement in his shaking hands. He made his way to the dark wooden counter and confronted Davy. Davy is reported to have said
‘You have missed one too many Sunday’s. You can take it that you are on a weeks notice.’
To which Joyce replied
‘You can take it from me that you have one minute to get out. This premises is being seized in the name of the
Meanwhile as the Rising engulfed the city of
Dublin, the police were
raiding country pubs for serving afterhours. In midst of the rebellion John
Sullivan of Dingle was charged with serving after hours at 1.35am and was fined
£1 with the customers found on the premises fined 5s each.
One of the unforeseen consequences in the aftermath of the Easter Rising was the sudden lack of bar staff. Over 150 barmen, known also as wine porters and grocers assistants, were arrested and deported by the British to camps in
publicans complained to British authorities but they fell on deaf ears and
business continued. One newspaper advertisement for a ‘grocer’s assistant’
specified for prospectice candidates that ‘salary was no object’. Publicans
were a strong lobby in Ireland,
they had successfully resisted attempt to curtail trading hours which had been
introduced in Britain
during World War One. Unusually with the declaration of martial law in Dublin, public houses were
allowed to stay open from 2pm to 5pm during the Rising.
These were difficult times for barmen as they saw their employers making ever larger profits during time of war as stocks ran low and prices wholesale and to the customer increased. Publicans were making as much profit on one barrel of porter in 1916 as they were on six before the outbreak of World War One. There was a glut of licensed premises in the country leading to complaints that in
there were 17,000 pubs serving four million people, while in Scotland there were 7,000 pubs for
five million of a population.
Barmen’s hours were long, often only a half day off per week. A senior man was paid between £20 and £24 depending on the length of his service and a meeting before the outbreak on April 21st 1916 in Kells there was a demand for shorter working hours. Industrial action was murmured at the meeting.
When the bulk of the barmen/prisoners were released in mid and late 1917 there was anger and ill tempered feelings as the publicans had replaced their errant staff especially in
Irish National Aid Association was launched in August 1916 to get jobs
for Grocers Assistants who had not been reinstated. There was a mini riot in Dorset Street on Christmas Eve 1917 when
a group of out of work barman attacked a number of pubs and their customers in
that area. This can be compared with the reaction in Tralee, County Kerry
when on June 20th 1917 thirty six Tralee
publicans charged with displaying republican flags celebrating the release of
Republican prisoners. They all got off on a technicality.
To reinforce the notion that alcohol played a major part in one way or another in the Easter Rising, when the rebel prisoners were transferred to the Frongoch Internment camp in
they quickly realised the irony that the camp now being used as a prisoner of
war camp was a former distillery.
Sympathetic publicans also assisted in the facilitation of Rising planning with publicans such as Sean O’Farrell who owned a bar at the corner of St Stephens Green and South King Street and thirty six year old Eamon Morkan who with his brother Michael ran a bar on Queen Street was a Captain in the Volunteers while future leader of the Free State W.T. Cosgrave was a publicans son from James Street who fought in the nearby South Dublin Union one of the last outposts to surrender.
One of the few battles outside
Dublin during Easter Week was Enniscorthy, Co
Wexford which was seized by the Rebels. The Athenaeum theatre was made the
Republicans’ headquarters, over which they flew the green, white and orange
tricolour. All the public houses in the town were closed down and as Father
Patrick Murphy, a priest who publicly blessed the rebels, recalled,
“During the four days of Republican rule, not a single person was under the influence of drink”.
Alcohol, the production, the service or the consumption thereof has played a key role in Irish affairs since the iconic and momentous events of The Easter Rising in 1916 to the end of the War of Independence and the creation of the
Irish Free State.
Beer and spirits was at the heart of events in 1916. Proclamation signatory Sean McDermott once worked as a barman in
Belfast before turning his
attention to more pressing matters. The rebels failed to seize British Army
barracks around the city or even the seat of The British Government in Ireland,
but they did capture The Watkins Brewery on Dublin Castle Ardee Street, The Jameson Distillery,
Roe’s Distillery, Dublin City Distillery, and the Barmack Brewery and many