Our friendly and excellent guides are available as Step On Guides for any visiting tour or coach operators who may like a unique, entertaining and educational tour of Irish History and the events of Easter Week 1916.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

The Attack on The Portobello 1916

One of the more famous incidents from the Rising involving Pubs was at Davy’s Bar on Portobello Bridge. As nationalism began to sweep the country, an armed insurrection seemed to be looming as rebels planned to remove the British forces from rule in Ireland by force. Davy, who was also a justice of the peace, was at the time pro - British especially as the nearby Rathmines British army barracks generated much of his business.
One of Davy's barmen in 1916 was James Joyce of Grove Road. Joyce, who was of no relation to the famous writer even though the writer lived in Rathmines and frequented the Portobello, joined one of the growing numbers of paramilitary organisations such as The Irish Republican Brotherhood, Olglach Na hEireann, Sinn Fein and the Irish Citizens Army. Joyce joined the James Connolly led Irish Citizens Army but because manoeuvres and training took place on Sundays, Davy refused to give the thirty five year old barman who worked twelve hours a day and seven days a week the time off to attend these sessions. Often Joyce would either pretend to be ill or simply fail to show for work.
The Easter Rising was initially planned for 6p.m. on the evening of Easter Sunday and Joyce again failed to turn up for work. Joyce was well aware what would be expected of him during the Rising and especially as his duties would include a visit to his place of employment.
On the Tuesday prior to the rebellion, James Connolly had called a small band of volunteers together to issue them their commands. With much of the major buildings in the centre of the city designated as targets for the rebels they needed valuable time to seize and reinforce positions such as The College of Surgeons and at all costs had to stop reinforcements being dispatched from the British barracks dotted around the city including The Richmond Barracks on the South Circular Road and Portobello Barracks in Rathmines.
Due to confusion and indecision between the leaders of the rebellion, the rising was put back a day to Easter Monday, a bank holiday in the nearly deserted city. The rebels including Joyce gathered at the Citizen's Army headquarters at Liberty Hall on the north quays of the River Liffey. At noon on that day, the soldiers of the new Irish Republic, only fifteen hundred of them instead of the planned twenty thousand, began to march off to seize the various targets around the city.
Led by Sergeant John Doyle, Joyce was joined by fourteen other rebels who marched off through the city up a deserted Grafton Street and onto St. Stephens Green. It was here that another detachment under Countess Markiewicz had seized the Royal College of Surgeons and a third detachment under Captain Richard McCormack secured the Harcourt Street railway terminus where this detachment were to create an escape route for the forces at Portobello Bridge should that position be overrun. Sergeant Doyle, Joyce and another seven volunteers continued up Harcourt Street and narrowly avoided capture at the junction of Adelaide Road where a squad of mounted British Soldiers met them. The mounted troops eyed the men suspiciously and slowly moved passed. When the horses wheeled left onto South Richmond Street, Sergeant Doyle gave the command
"At the double men" and his charges ran through a short cut onto South
Richmond Street where they attempted immediately to barricade the mounted soldiers. The soldiers quickly turned their horses and galloped off down the Harrington Street in the direction of The Richmond Barracks, where Doyle knew they would surely raise the alarm that this was not 'little Irishmen playing pretend soldiers but an insurrection' and that he would have to move quickly to seize his objective.
It was because of his knowledge of the area and the Portobello that Joyce was chosen by Connolly for this mission. The public house was to be seized and used because of its vantage point to pin down any of the reinforcements leaving the Rathmines Barracks. The men steadied themselves as the passed Richmond Lane, past the doorway of John Clarke's shop, the doors of William Condon pub, the small Portobello Cafe, closed on that Bank Holiday Monday and finally the butchers shop of T. O'Gorman to arrive outside Davy's side door, their adrenalin at full flow through their veins as the action began. The pub would be quiet at this hour of the morning with just a few hardly soles spending their sixpence’s for a pint of porter and discussing who would win the soccer match between Strandville and Shamrock Rovers later that Easter Monday. The men lined up hugging the wall taking care not to pass the first of the three large windows that faced onto South Richmond Street. They feared that they might give away their intentions, alerting the owner, a Justice of the Peace and the possibility that Thomas Davy was an armed Justice of the Peace.
Joyce entered the premises first, his hands shaking, the handle of his gun slippery in his hand with the sweat of excitement. He made his way to the dark wooden counter and was confronted by Davy. Davy is reported to have said, 'You have missed one to 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 two minutes notice to get out. This premises are being seized in the name of the Irish Republic'
Davy stood behind the counter amazed and shocked at the young man's brazen statement but when Joyce levelled his Mauser rifle at Davy and then fired a shot at the mirrors behind the counter shattering the mirror both Davy and the customers in the premises fled. With the customers fleeing the rest of the volunteers entered the premises except for two men Sergeant Doyle left on guard duty outside. Davy headed immediately up the Rathmines Road to the Portobello Barracks to raise the alarm.
The next couple of hours were taken up with securing the premises and setting up sniping positions in the windows on the second and third floors facing down the Rathmines Road. They used whatever they could find to barricade the windows including much of the Davy family furniture. In 1916 The 3rd Royal Irish Rifles were based at the Rathmines Barracks under the command of Lieutenant Colonel McCammoll but he was on sick leave from the forty acre barracks for five days leaving Major James Rosborough in command. The barracks was opened in 1815 and housed about two thousand men. As the tram wires were being cut by the rebels, Constable Myles DMP number 99E came upon the bridge was immediately shot at, wounding him in the left wrist. He was taken under covering fire to the local Dr. Joyce's surgery (no relation to James Joyce) and then transported to the City of Dublin Hospital and as a result of the shooting the thirty five year old constable with twelve years experience was kept in hospital until May 31st and returned to duty on September 20th 1916. The two rebels cut the wires and made their way back into the Portobello passed the tables and stools used to barricade the doors and the windows on the ground floor. Most of the rebels had made it to the windows on the second floor for a better vantage point. The advertising hoarding along the Canal on Charlemont Mall made it difficult to observe and target. When the firing started the sound of shattering glass echoed around the bridge as the gas lamp light on the south side of the bridge took a number of direct hits.
It was not long before the Command in the barracks realised that Davy’s was not an isolated incident that rebels were engaging across the city and when the first troops were sent out the rebels in the Davy’s pinned them down as they reached Portobello Bridge. The troops were then sent into the city the long way around up Leinster Road and through Harold's Cross giving the rebels in the centre of the city more valuable time to secure their objectives. A force was despatched to The Portobello to dislodge the rebels. The men made their way the three hundred yards from the barracks gates to the walls of the canal cautiously making their way up the small incline to the bridge crouching in doorways and garden hedge rows trying to avoid being shot. Some of the soldiers huddled in the doorway of the red bricked two storey Rathmines YMCA which had been opened only five years earlier. The rebels Commandant, Connolly had made it clear that to them that they were not to shoot until they saw ' the whites of their eyes'. The first detachments of soldiers were in position behind the wall on the opposite side of the canal when the first attack on The Portobello began.
The men on the upper floors of the pub facing out onto the Canal could see all the way as far as the gates of the barracks along the Rathmines Road. They watched as more and more soldiers cautiously made their way along to the walls of the canal and as the policemen attempted to hold the ever increasing crowd back from the action near the junction of the Rathmines Road and Grove Park. The men on the top floor had a bird’s eye view of much of the surrounding area, the locks on the canal, the barges in the harbour, the grass pathway from Rathmines to Harold’s Cross and even the green dome of the church on the Rathmines Road. The bells of the town hall could be seen and heard from their vantage point. The first shots had not only startled the troops and some of the rebels now inside Davy's but even the lock keeper Joseph Parsons peered out his window to gauge what all the commotion was on what should have been a quiet Bank Holiday Monday in the city.
By late Monday, a large crowd of onlookers had gathered on the Rathmines Road to watch proceedings oblivious to the dangers to themselves especially from perhaps a stray bullet. Against the odds, Superintendent Kiernan and Station Sergeant Crosbie of the Dublin Metropolitan Police attempted to keep the crowds at a safe distance even though it was increasing all the time as people returned from the races or a Bank Holiday by the seaside. The Irish Times reported that apart from Constable Myles, three other bystanders were injured in the battle for Portobello Bridge.
Late on Monday evening, the British Army were seen to be crouched down in strict military fashion behind the Canal walls on the Southern side of the Grand Canal, the first line lying on their stomachs, the second kneeling behind with their commander standing tall and proud as a British officer directing the gunfire. A machine gun was wheeled up from the barracks and positioned on the La Touche Bridge and quickly began to pepper the building for a number of hours.
The soldiers were ordered to cease fire when it was realised that there was no returning fire from within the public house. The young soldiers idled nervously on the southern side of the La Touche Bridge and awaited orders almost confident in their knowledge that they had killed or seriously wounded the rebels in Davy’s. Then late on Monday evening as the sun began to set the order was given to enter the building. The broke through the glass windows, some of them already shattered by the British bullets and entered the building with a sense of success believing that the lack of return fire meant that they had killed or injured the rebels who held the Portobello. The British stormed the building to find neither rebel nor corpse.
Because of his intimate knowledge of the premises, Joyce had some of the men go down to the cellar and break through the walls into the premises next door. Soon they reached the nearby laneway and when the building could no longer be held, the rebels made good their escape before darkness fell back to the main body of the Citizen's Army in St. Stephens Green. Their mission had been a success. They had held up the British forces for nearly a day allowing their comrades to fortify their positions in St. Stephens Green and O'Connell Street.