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.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

1917 What was on Easter 1917

One year on from the momentous events of the Easter Rising and Dublin was still recovering, the centre of the city still a bomb site. April 9th was Easter Monday and Dublin was cold, windy with snow and sleet, a far cry from the sunny climate of Easter week. The British authorities had taken no chances and banned all outdoor gathering and processions to ward off trouble. The First World War continued and throughout 1917, Irishmen were still joining up. Many of those arrested after the Rising were still in prison in Britain and Ireland was suffering from rationing, job losses and steep increases in both food and alcohol prices.  Ireland though is changing as the radical nationalism of Sinn Fein begins to replace the moderate Nationalism of Redmond’s Home Rule party.

The main page of the Sunday Independent barely mentioned Ireland and its only reference was to possible nationalisation of the Liquor industry in Britain and Ireland due to wartime conditions. This was also leading to concern as many jobs were being lost at breweries and distilleries especially in Dublin as restrictions on production was imposed. Much of the news columns covered America’s declaration of war on the German Empire on April 6th. The Easter weekend had been a period of religious reflection with many businesses closed for the Holy Week.

The ban on meetings did not apply to indoor events and so the Dublin GAA annual convention went ahead as planned in the Mansion House. There was plenty of sport to occupy the mind but weather conditions reduced the attendance numbers at most events, which was a bonus on the Monday for theatres and cinemas.

The Grand National went ahead at Faiyhouse where Pay Only picked up the first prize of two hundred pounds. Second place despite all their efforts only won twenty pounds. There was whippet racing at Shelbourne Park, hockey in the Phoenix Park, soccer matches in the Leinster Senior League and club GAA matches at Croke Park and Ringsend Park.

The back page of the Freeman’s Journal on Monday along with actions photos of the Louth v Wexford GAA match was the news that the eldest son of British Prime Minister Lloyd George, Major Richard Lloyd George had got married. But as the year anniversary arrived on Easter Monday the theatre and cinemas were busy.

The D’Oyly Carte theatre company whose run at the Gaiety Theatre had been shut down as events unfolded on O’Connell Street and nearby St Stephen’s Green, were once again opening at the Gaiety with their production of The Gondoliers. The Theatre Royal’s acts on Monday night included Miss Marie Loftus, opera singer, George Forde, ventriloquist and Fred Curran, comedian who would become the opening act for Harry Houdini. The Abbey Theatre was performing G B Shaw’s ‘ John Bulls Other Island’ with Fred Donovan playing the role of Father Keegan. The Empire show was headlined by Miss Victoria Monks, while the Tivoli had Cooper and Lait topping the bill with comedian J B Strain. At the Queens the play ‘Under Two Flags’ was being performed.

Cinema was also growing rapidly although many of the cinemas in the centre of the city had been destroyed during the Rising bombardment. The Grafton Picture House
was showing ‘The Majesty of the Law’ accompanied by a performance by a visiting Russian violinist. The Pillar Picture House had Charlie Chaplin’s ‘The Pawnshop’. Across Ireland various Chaplin movies were on Easter Monday. At Mullingar you could have caught his film ‘in two parts’ The Fireman while Police was being shown at the Coliseum in Cork City.

On Easter Monday just before midday a crowd gathered outside the ruins of the GPO and a rebel flag was hoisted on a temporary flagpole at the corner of the building. It was lowered to half mast the stroke of one. As the police attempted to arrest those with flags, they were attacked and stones thrown gathered from the rubble of the street. There were a number of baton charges on O’Connell Street and Eden Quay with skirmishes continuing into the afternoon. The newspapers reported that a heaviy snowfall just after 10pm cleared the street of the ‘rowdies’. The only mention in Monday’s paper of any republican activities was a gathering of about a hundred ladies in Glasnevin where they laid wreaths on the graves of Volunteers killing during the Rising.

One strange quirk of the weekend in Dundalk related to the merging of Irish time and London time in October 1916 when Catholic churches in the town advertised Mass in Irish Time while the Protestant services were advertised in the new time leading to confusion in the town.     

Saturday, May 27, 2017

1917 The Banned Movie

British sensitivities were still on heightened alert as 1917 began. In January 1917 a film opened to packed houses in the Rotunda Picture House. ‘Ireland A Nation’ had been shown to and passed in December 1916 by the censor

The film itself had actually first been shown in 1914 and was made by the Gaelic Film Company. A silent movie it told the story of Ireland from the time of the 1798 rebellion, Robert Emmet in 1803 and up to the planned arrival of Home Rule, itself having been put on the back burner in 1914. It used dramatic scenes and screen titles to tell its story.  The film website IMDB described the film as,
‘The story of Ireland and her fight for Home Rule, as seen through the experiences of Father Tom Murphy, a patriot with a price on his head, and the famous Irish leader Robert Emmet.’

The film was produced by Lismore, Co Waterford born Walter McNamara. McNamara who according to the magazine ‘Moving Picture World’ was a vice president of the Gaelic League and one of the founders of the Irish Club in London. He had been educated in Wales before heading to the United States and became involved in the silent movie business.

The movie had its exterior shots filmed on location in Ireland including at Glendalough and the Vale of Avoca in Wicklow. The interior shots were filmed at  Ec-Ko Studios at Kewbridge in England which led to many continuity errors which was perhaps the least of its problems as it was often factually inaccurate as well. It starred Barry O’Brien as Emmet. O’Brien was an actor born in London in 1893, passing away in 1961.  Dominick O’Reilly played the role of Napoleon Bonaparte with supporting cast including Patrick Ennis and Barry Magee. Interviewed by George Blaisdell, McNamara spoke about his time in Ireland making the movie.
“Did I have any difficulties finding locations? Yes in one instance when I tried to find a mud hut and failed. Parnell wiped those out. I did though get some wonderful backgrounds.  We had a fort built by Oliver Cromwell and to this day no real son of the old sod passes it without spitting, that’s the only way they can adequately express his feelings for the builder. Were obstacles placed in my path in the making of Ireland a Nation? Yes indeed by the soldiers. Sometimes we would start a scene with not a soul in sight. It seemed sometimes that in two minutes soldiers would come from everywhere and demand to see a permit. The military tried in every way to handicap us. That’s why we were five months over there. The Nationalist Party gave us unofficial sanction.”

When he arrived in Ireland he was arrested by the British on suspicion of importing arms illegally but these weapons were discovered to be props for his film. McNamara was released but his props were not returned to him.

Even though the censor passed the film, he did so with some cuts to the original. Scenes including the interruption by British soldiers of a hillside Mass being celebrated by a Priest and the execution of Robert Emmet plus some of the intertitles were cut including one that told viewers that ‘a price of £100 dead or alive on the hed of every priest’.

On Wednesday September 23rd 1914 it had its premiere at the 44th Street Theatre in New York and played to big audiences in New York and Chicago despite being panned by most critics.
The tag line for the movie on its release was
‘Made in Ireland by Irish Actors, 116 years of Irish History in 5000ft of film’
Shown twice a day, tickets cost the movie goer either 25c or 50c.

A copy was being sent to Ireland for showing in May 1915 but it was on board the Lusitania when it was sunk by a German submarine. The intervention of the Easter Rising prevented another copy arriving and so it was January 8th 1917 before the Irish public got to see the film although with cuts to the original implemented by the censor. Newspaper advertisements called the film "The Greatest Patriotic Picture Ever Screened".  The Rotunda’s 1500 seats were sold out for two consecutive nights but when reports after the first couple of nights that audiences were cheering the death of British forces in the film’s depiction of the 1798 rebellion and roaring ‘up the Republic’ during some scenes, the military authorities banned the film.

The film would not be seen again in Irish cinemas until 1922 when extra scenes of the aftermath of the Rising, the War of Independence and DeValera’s visit to the United States were included.


 ‘A Special Relationship, Britain Comes to Hollywood’ by Anthony Slide
Trinity College Archives
New York Tribune

Thursday, May 25, 2017

1917 Another Potato Famine

A year after the Easter Rising the preoccupation of British newspapers with the Irish question wasn’t the reaction to the rebel executions, the rise of Sinn Fein or the massive amount of arms still in circulation on the island but headlines blazed about the humble potato.

The British were relying on food crops grown within the British Isles as German submarines were having an affect on imported goods and ships were being used for military purposes rather than food transport. The potato harvest in both Ireland and Scotland had been particularly poor in 1916 and the word ‘famine’ was again circulating. The yield in Ireland in 1916 was a quarter of a millions tons less than a year earlier and exporting from Ireland had been interrupted by the events of Easter week. Towards the end of 1916 the British Government prohibited the export of potatoes from Ireland to Britain leading to major shortages in Britain.
The Belfast News wrote,
“From Clare to Donegal and Dublin to Sligo thoughtful men are asking ‘what will happen if the people’s food is sold for export?’ there is only one answer –famine”

The Donegal Vindicator added
“The crisis has found Ireland as unprepared as the war found Great Britain. The potato famine is upon us and so are the exporters. The farmer who sells his potatoes for export today must be restrained by his more sensible neighbours. There is a food crisis.”

By early 1917, the wholesale cost of the spud had mushroomed. A ‘CWT’ (8 stone bag) of potatoes that cost between four and eight schillings in 1916, a year later was costing between eleven and fourteen schillings. Some Irish exporters had been accused of withholding supplies for export to take advantage of the ever increasing wholesale prices. The embargo was lifted on the Irish potato in July 1917 but not before the British Government ordered the Irish farmer to sell his crop for a maximum of £6 10s per ton or 1s per stone down from the reported £14 some farmer had been receiving.    

By March there were prosecutions in Ireland of those appearing to profiteer. Potato sellers Thomas Sheridan and Sons were fined £5 and £2 costs for selling potatoes wholesale to Mary Keating of Arklow for 11s 6d a CWT on March 9th when the maximum at the time was 10s 10d per CWT. There were many such prosecutions during the following six months across the country.

One newspaper editorial in Wales, an area that had been severely affected by the potato shortages wrote,

“Potatoes are not worth buying if they cost more than 4s a cwt. They have been as high as 8s this spring. The potato is of very little value as food. There is not more than   two per cent of nutriment in the potato. Potatoes at 8s a cwt are equivalent in price to oatmeal as 1s per lb which is absurd. We have largely become the victims of the potato habit. In the early part of the nineteenth century potatoes could be had for two or three shillings a cwt. In those times anybody could live for about a shilling a week on potatoes. The root had very little dietetic value; but it was "filling" and cheap at the price. When however the potato begins to cost the price of a genuine food, it is time- its character was exposed. If you have a. good dinner it is all very well to have a few potatoes as "extras" just as you would have a few tomatoes or Brussels sprouts but to regard the potato as an article of diet in itself is rank folly. If the potato were relegated to its proper place the consumption of that fraudulent tuber would decrease and its price would fall accordingly. People acquired the taste for the potato in an age of poverty and they go eating it quite regardless of the fact that its food value is almost nil. The extraordinary prices which potatoes reached in the spring were due to the rebellion in Ireland. They grow huge quantities of potatoes in Ireland but they are not so foolish as to eat them. The Irish labourer has long ago got over his partiality for potatoes. He lives on tea "soda-bread" and American bacon. Liverpool, Fleetwood, .Glasgow and Bristol all receive daily shiploads of potatoes from Ireland. There is never usually more than a week's supply of potatoes in hand in the big towns of England and Scotland. When the Sinn Fein flare-up took place all shipping between this country and Ireland was held up for a couple of weeks, and it was a month before things became normal. In the meantime the grocers in this country were getting desperate for potatoes. Travellers from Manchester and Edinburgh were scouring the wilds of Wales offering any prices for a few sacks of potatoes. The only cure for the high price of potatoes is for people to use less of them. Those who eat meat can do with less potatoes. Puddings are cheaper than potatoes just now. Those who don't use meat should not use potatoes at all. As a food they are useless; their proper function is to serve as an adjunct to meat. Our fathers formed dietetic habits when certain articles of food were cheap. When circumstances alter the habits should alter. The only point in favour of the potato is its cheapness. Once it ceased to be cheap, it ought to be discarded.”

In parts of England especially Lincolnshire,a good potato growing county, there was a different kind of Irish problem when it came to harvesting the potato crop. In 1917 the ‘Irish Need Not Apply’ signs went up at farms, pubs and shops. The local community turned on Irish labourers who would travel across the Irish Sea for seasonal work as local Englishmen serving in the British Army who were conscripted and had been sent to Ireland during and after the Easter Rising were paid one schilling per week but the Irish who had replaced them in the fields and were exempt from conscription in what locals saw as appeasement were being paid between five and seven schillings a week to replace them.

By the end of 1917, the price had stabilised and the threat of famine in both Ireland and Britain had receded but by the end of that year consumers had discovered alternatives to the potato like swede, turnip and parsnip and as the First World War came to a conclusion the potato crisis had abated.  

Monday, May 22, 2017

1917 Ireland's Top Sportsman

In 1917, Wexford won the All Ireland Football Final which Dublin secured the title in Hurling. In soccer Glentoran won the double taking both the League and the Cup, while for a number of months Ireland was the only place in the British Isles to the support the sport of Kings, horse racing but the most famous Irish sportsman in the United States at the time played none of these sports.

Bernard Michael Riley was born in 1891 in Ballinamore, County Leitrim before his family immigrated to the United States. By eighteen years old he was known as ‘Irish Mick’ or ‘The Wild Irish Rose of Skidom’ as Barney as he was now known became the US National Amateur Champion Ski jumper.

The Riley family had settled in Coleraine, Michigan an area of the US where many Scandinavians settled and they brought their tradition of snow sports to the North East of the continent.  And while names like Solberg, Bergensen, Olsen and Jensen dominated the ski slopes in the US, an Irishman would break their stranglehold.

In February 1910 Riley was crowned US National Champion in front of 6,000 spectators setting a world record jump on his way to the title. He defended it successful y the following year and I 1911 even won the prestigious Nor Trophy, a competition set up by and dominated by Norwegians who had like Riley found a new home in the United States. He also picked up the $300 defeating a future Olympic bronze medallist Anders Haugen who competed for the USA despite being born in Telemark, Norway.
The newspapers of the day reported
‘At the Norwegian games he (Riley) was the possessor of enough medals to decorate a German prince, all won by his skills on the skis’

In 1913 Riley turned professional and toured the growing and successful skiing circuit. The First World War would intervene and Riley joined the US Army in 1917 being posted to France when that nation entered the war, serving as a railway engineer in France. Riley entry into the US Army made headlines on the sports pages of late 1917 as his fame as a ski jumper had continued to expand.

After the war he returned to ski jumping and his Irishness was trumpeted in advertising for various metes including the 1924 inaugural event at the Chester Bowl in Duluth, Minnesota, the state that Riley now called home. He won the inaugural event with a jump of 137 feet. He would later exchange holder of the ski jump world record with Anders Haugen at one tournament out jumping the Olympic medallist with a jump of 154 feet only to fall on landing. He would never again hold the record.

Barney Riley died in February 1939 when he suffered a heart attack and died as he was moving his car from his garage at home. In 2011, the ‘Wild Irish Rose of Skidom’ was inducted into the American Ski Jumping Hall of Fame.