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.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Propaganda Cartoons in US Newspapers

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Held Prisoner By The Rebels in 1916

Much has been written about those who took part in the Easter Rising and the lives of those who died have been discussed at length but what about those enemy forces who became Prisoners Of War of the new Irish Republic. Here are some of their stories.

On Easter Monday a train was stopped by rebels at Westland Row station, on board was one uniformed British soldier a Inns Court OTC Cadet, George F Mackay. He was taken after a number of hours being detained alone in a railway carriage to DeValera’s garrison at Boland’s Mills. He was blindfolded for the rest of Monday and most of Tuesday in a makeshift cell created from flour bags and a door constructed from wood and chicken wire.   

Volunteer Sean Byrne’s Bureau of Military History statement recounts
DOCUMENT NO. W.S. 422 Witness Sean Byrne

Before that, a prisoner named Mackey had been brought to me from where he had been detained in the bakery. He was a Cadet from the Artillery College, Sandhurst, and he was in uniform. He had been with me a day or so when we were fired at from Sir Patrick Dun's Hospital. The Commandant made out a document to notify the public that the British were using hospitals for military purposes and that if they continued to do so he would have no alternative but to shoot the prisoner. That document was signed by the Commandant himself, by the prisoner, and by me. I understood that the document was to be sent to the G. P.O to be printed, for the purpose of having it read out in the churches.

And then goes on to tell

We had the prisoner Mackey still with us and the Commandant (DeValera) told me to tell him that we were about to leave or about to surrender, I forget which. He told me I was to give the prisoner the choice of staying in the dispensary or coming with us. Mackey elected to come with us, making the explanation that if he were to stay there and his own people were to come, they might treat him as a traitor. I remember giving him a brush to brush his clothes because ho was a bit untidy and I also gave him a towel and soap to wash himself

Mackay was a member of the Leinster Regiment and in March 1916 had been promoted to Lieutenant.

There were a number enemy forces of the Volunteers held at the GPO. According to Aoife De Burca’s Witness Statement

In. the kitchen, which was off the dining tall, there were quite a number of young girls cooking, ably assisted by three or four Tommies, who appeared very happy in their new surroundings. I remember asking one of them how he liked being a prisoner of war. “Indeed, Miss,” he replied I feel far happier and safer here than. I’d be anywhere else. - “Well” I said, “the tables are turned anyway, however long it may last. He nodded his head and walked away smiling

In an article in the New York Times by County Wexford native Moira Ryan the GPO garrison had 10 soldiers POW. One even wrote a letter home to his wife in Drumcondra which was delivered by Ryan as at some stages the prisoners of war did not know whether they would survive the events of the week.

Michael O’Rahilly better known as The O’Rahilly was placed in charge of the prisoners.

Included was 2nd Lieutenant Alexander D Chalmers of the Royal Fusiliers. When the rebels charged in to the GPO, Chalmers happened just to be in the wrong place at the wrong time buying a postage stamp. He was tied up and bundled into the telephone box that stood in the middle of the main floor. At Diarmuid Lynch’s court martial at the Richmond Barracks after picking Lynch out from a group of prisoners, Chambers stated in relation to himself and his fellow prisoners   
‘we were left to die like rats in a trap’
Chalmers was reportedly wounded leaving the GPO via the Henry Street entrance when released by The O’Rahilly, Chambers claiming that he was shot by the rebels, the rebels claiming that he was wounded by fire from the British forces.

Another prisoner was Lieutenant S L King  of the 12th Royal Engineers. He was captured by the rebels at 10am Tuesday morning as he walked along Sackville Street in uniform. He was a witness for the Crown at Connolly’s court martial where he stated,
‘we were well treated generally by the rebels’

Others included Sergeant Henry of the School of Musketry, Dollymount Camp and Private James Doyle of the Royal Irish Regiment based in Beggar's Bush Barracks who were discovered among the ruins of the Coliseum Theatre in Henry Street having taken shelter there after been freed as the rebels evacuated the GPO and made there was to Moore Street and the last stand of the Irish Republic.

The Irish Independent of May 16th published an eye witness account of one of the rebel’s prisoners Private William Richardson of the 6th Connaught Rangers. (Richardson served in the British Army 1914 -1920)

On Easter Tuesday morning he ventured into Henry Street and was arrested by the Volunteers and taken to the G.P.O., where he was told 'by Mr. P. H. Pearse that as a soldier he would be treated as a. prisoner of war. He was taken to a room at the top, where some policemen and soldiers 13 in all were held prisoners. Here those who smoked got from the insurgents tobacco etc. and all were supplied with sufficient to eat. With, the rattle of firing, our informant and a fellow-prisoner were the only prisoners who slept that night. On Wednesday morning The O’Rahilly saw to it that the prisoners had breakfast, saying that so long as food was in the place they would get it.

That day the prisoners were put to carrying bags of flour up to the kitchen, getting a plentiful dinner and tea. At night, cannonading shook the building with shock after shock. I have," said Pte. Richardson," done my bit at Loos with the Irish Brigade, but the like "of the bombardment we were under that night I never experienced." On Thursday the whole front of the G.P.O. was ablaze.

Tom Clarke said to the prisoners "Boys we want to took after you; that is more than the British would do for us, We want to get you to safety as far as we can"
On Thursday, The O'Rahilly, for their safety brought the prisoners back to the room in which they were first placed, saying: "I give you my word you will escape with your lives have no, fear." "More than one of us said a prayer for him," said Pte. Richardson.

On Friday morning the whole G.P.O. was ablaze 'and bullets whizzed everywhere. The O'Rahilly again saw to the feeding of the prisoners, saying
They would share alike. 'It's war time," he said "and we're short ourselves, but we've done the best we could for you"

The prisoner’s next billet was the dark cellar, where they learned from the voice of an insurgent that bombs had been placed there. The insurgents removed this danger. Soon after The O'Rahilly placed the prisoners in a place near the door where they could mate a rush for liberty and shaking hands with them all said: "Good-bye and I may never see you again. Good-bye and good luck".
Richardson’s account was actually mentioned during a House of Commons debate at Westminster
House of Commons Debate 24 May 1916 vol 82 c20772077
Mr. GINNELL  (Irish Parliamentary Party Westmeath North MP)
asked the Under-Secretary of State for War whether the attention of General Maxwell has been directed to the statement of Private William Richardson, 6th Connaught Rangers, of the treatment he and a dozen others received while prisoners in the hands of the Irish Volunteers by direction of P. H. Pearce, The O'Rahilly, and Thomas Clarke, Volunteer officers; whether that statement and an equally impartial one of General Maxwell's treatment of Volunteer prisoners may be sent to America; and whether he can guarantee that Private Richardson will not be punished for giving a true account of his experience?
General Maxwell is aware of the statement made of the treatment received by soldiers while prisoners in the hands of the rebels. Private Richardson will not be punished for any such statement he may have made. Consent cannot be given for any statement being sent to America.

 A British soldier after being rescued from the Colesium

James Connolly who was wounded by a bullet ricochet as he made his was back into the rebel headquarters after visited some rebel positions was put under an anaesthetic to have the bone in his foot set and this was ably performed by Lieutenant Mahony, R.A.M.C, a prisoner in the GPO

Down at Ned Daly’s Four Courts garrison Michael O Flanagan in his Witness Statement said

When we got as far as the Father Matthew Hall I met Commandant Ned Daly on the street and informed him of my mission. He told me that he was short of men and that as he required an escort to take some enemy prisoners, held in custody in the Father Matthew Hall, from the hall to the Four Courts, I was to divide my party-sending half of it as an escort with the prisoners, and the other half to Reilly's Fort

While in the Gymnasium I noticed, among others, Tom Clarke, Willie Pearse, Eamon Ceannt and the brothers Bevan, one of whom - Thomas - had been in charge of the prisoners which we captured and confined in the Four Courts during the fight. Thomas, having been in charge of the prisoners, was regarded as of some importance by the British military although during the week he only held the rank of an ordinary Volunteer

Sean O’Duffy and a number of rebels attacked the Linen Hall Barracks and seized 20 prisoners mostly unarmed army pay staff and a R.I.C man with them. They were then escorted them to Fr Matthew Hall on Church Street as the rebels torched the barracks as they did not have enough volunteers to hold the position. At the Hall, Volunteer Francis Coughlan put in charge of the prisoners. A Dublin Metropolitan Policeman by the name of Heffernan was also captured at Church Street at 2pm on Easter Monday and taken to the Four Courts.

Sean Kennedy in his statement stated,

At about two O'clock on Monday we observed a British officer in Uniform proceeding to an outside car, travelling in the direction of Kingsbridge. I left the. barricade and, crossing to the: South Quays, held up the hackney car, took the officer off it and brought him a prisoner to the Four Courts where I handed him over to Captain Frank Fahy, 0/C of C. Company.

That British officer was Captain R.K. Brereton from Athlone in County Westmeath. He was travelling from the Phoenix Park along the River Liffey quays when he and his chauffeur were captured by the rebels. Once taken inside the complex along with a number of other prisoners they were kept in Court Number 2.
As the week wore on the prisoners were fed bread and tea and Brereton recounted that his captors ‘became increasingly kind and civil’

What impressed Capt Brereton was " the international military tone adopted by the Sinn' Feiners." They were not he declared' out for massacre for burning or for loot. They were out for war,' observing all the rules of civilised warfare and fighting clean. So far as I saw they fought like gentlemen. They had possession of the restaurant in the Four Courts stocked with spirits champagne and other wines, yet there war no sign of drinking. They treated their prisoners with the utmost courtesy and consideration though also misguided; and fed with lies and false expectations.

On Friday of the tumultuous week the prisoners were moved from the court room to a passageway to protect from the expected shelling by of British of the Four Courts. They were then moved to a room overlooking the Bridewell before finally being released at six p.m. on the Saturday after the surrender order had been received from Pearse.

Not only were British soldiers captured but members of the unarmed Dublin Metropolitan Police men made prisoner. Constable Edward Dunphy (No. 35C) was taken prisoner by Volunteers in near the G.P.O. as the rebels seized their headquarters. According to Joseph Gleeson’s WS another unarmed D.M.P. officer Edward Dunphy who was on duty inside the building was seized by the Johnny O’Connor making him the first prisoner of war. Dunphy was a forty four year old policeman originally from County Offaly. Married to Kildare born Elizabeth Dunphy lived on Sherrard Avenue just off Dorset Street near the Royal Canal.

He was tied to a chair but on the Thursday having been released by The O’Rahilly despite James Connolly’s demand that the prisoner be executed he was shot and wounded several times as he left the GPO, he received wounds to the left hand and pellet wounds to the left cheek and forehead. The bullet wounds were treated in Jervis Street hospital and he was on sick report for 45 days. Edward Dunphy died three years later as a result of his wounds.

DMP Constable Fitzpatrick was making his way home to the South Circular Road on Easter Monday when he was seized by the rebels. Initially held at New Street he was then taken to Jacob’s Biscuit factory then under the command of Thomas McDonagh. Also captured were Sergeant McDermott, Sergeant Cartright and Constable Mahon of A District based at Kevin Street police station now a Garda station. Also seized was Constable Patrick Bermingham who managed to escape from Jacobs. He had been a policeman since 1907 and was present on the Howth Road in 1914 as the Irish Volunteers marched into the city centre with their new rifles from Germany having been landed in Howth on the Asgard. Bermingham actually refused his orders on that day along with about another dozen policemen to disarm the Volunteers.

Thomas McDonagh visited the DMP prisoners early in the week and apologised for their detention but told then the country was rising, 30,000 German troops had landed in Kerry and a large force of Irish Americans had been landed in County Wexford, all making their way to Dublin...........

More of their stories to follow
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Saturday, April 9, 2016

Was This the First Shot of the Rising?

In February 1916 James Connolly addressed the local Volunteers in Tyrone
 'it's a mistake to fight only in the country, fight in the towns'.

As a group of Irish Volunteers gathered at Coalisland in County Tyrone on Easter Sunday in advance of the Rising a shot was fired. Was this the first shot of the Rising.

Two companies of Volunteers gathered on Easter Saturday having arrived by train from Belfast and on foot from Dungannon. On Sunday they were joined by further Volunteers from Coalisland. As they awaited orders they began to march in the direction of Cookstown. By now the countermanding order of Eoin McNeill was causing confusion among their ranks.

As the march reached Stewartstown towards the rear of the column of 140 men a group of Loyalist women on the side of the road began to hurl verbal abuse. A revolver was produced and shots fired at the Orange women. A number of RIC men accompanying the group of armed Volunteers attempted to arrest the shooter but he disappeared into the column but despite attempts to trip up Sergeant Ryan and Head Constable O'Neill they arrested their man and another for obstruction in that arrest.

Now the story becomes muddy. The man arrested initially gave the false name and address of John McCloskey of Platus Hill, Coalisland but when charged he was John Dillon of 49 Gibson Street Belfast. The man arrested for obstruction was Jeremiah Hurley of Amelia Street, Belfast. Both men were bailed Dillon on £50 with two independent sureties of £25 and Hurley on £20 with two sureties of £10.

Denis McCullough who was president of the Irish Republic Brotherhood was on the march and in his witness statement to the Bureau of Military History gives the same account but names the man as Butler whom he described as a 'hanger on' and his drinking was a bad influence on the other volunteers. A number of witness statements about those couple of days refers to a lot of drinking and drunkenness.

In July 1916 before Dungannon Courts a jury of two men were sworn in but just as a verdict was about to be delivered on the two men who had pleaded not guilty there was a charge of jury tampering and the case was adjourned with the two men released on continuing bail.

There is a John Dillon recorded in Belfast Brigade of participants in the Easter Rising but why would should a senior figure in the planning of the Rising get the key facts so wrong?  

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