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1916 Rising

De Valera’s ‘Last Letter’, Kilmainham, May 1916

 

Last letter of Eamon de Valera, May 1916 (copy) (NMI Collection)

 

The National Museum holds many of the last letters written by the men executed in Kilmainham Gaol in May 1916 for their part in the Rising. The collection includes Patrick Pearse’s letter to his mother, and letters from Con Colbert, Michael Mallin, Eamonn Ceannt and others, written to family and friends. All these letters have common themes; a final goodbye to loved ones, a sense of acceptance of their fate and a pride in having fought for their ideals and a free Ireland. They make for emotional reading, especially with the knowledge that within hours of writing their author was dead.

Among these is also a contemporary manuscript copy of a last letter written in May 1916 by Eamon de Valera, who had his death sentence commuted to penal servitude for life and was not executed along with the other leaders of the Rising. It was donated to the museum in 1975.

De Valera leads the surrender of the Boland's Mills Garrison, 30th May 1916 (NMI Collection)

After a week of fighting and widespread destruction in the centre of Dublin, Patrick Pearse ordered the surrender of the Irish rebels on Saturday 29 April.  De Valera was in command of the garrison stationed at Boland’s Mills in the Ringsend area of the city and the outlying posts around Northumberland Road and Mount Street Bridge, which saw heavy action and many casualties. On Sunday Elizabeth O’Farrell arrived at Boland’s Mills with a surrender order written by Pearse. Though at first there was some confusion over the order, the garrison, led by de Valera, marched out of the mills along Grand Canal Street towards a barricade manned by the Sherwood Foresters and surrendered their arms. They were held overnight on the grounds of the Royal Dublin Society at Ballsbridge, and transferred the next morning to Richmond Barracks. There began the military’s task of deciding what to do with the insurgent prisoners, of which there were about 600 and rising, with some being sent to England and Wales for internment, and others detained to be tried in Ireland.

Irish prisoners being marched under guard down Eden Quay for deportation to England (NMI Collection)

Almost as soon as the Rising had begun martial law was declared, transferring power in Ireland from the civil government to the military forces. By the time of the surrender, General John Maxwell, a veteran British Officer who had served in India, the Boer War and most recently on the Western Front in the ongoing war, had been appointed Military Governor of Ireland. His decision to court martial the leaders of the Rising under martial law was problematic from the first, with even the courts’ presidents raising legal difficulties. These military trials were conducted away from the public view, and the rebel leaders had no legal defence or jury. The leaders were charged with ‘waging war against His Majesty the King with the intention and for the purpose of assisting the enemy’. Pearse, Clarke and MacDonagh were tried on 2nd May, sentenced to death and transferred to Kilmainham Gaol, which, though it had been closed as a prison since 1910, was now in use by the British Military as a detention centre for military prisoners. They were executed on the 3rd May in the gaol’s stonebreakers yard.

The speed with which these sentences were carried out caused some concern to the British government, increasing over the next days with further executions. Prime Minister Asquith was especially concerned that a large number of executions would turn public opinion further in favour of the rebellion. Moreover, Maxwell’s final decisions as to who was to have their death sentence carried out seemed irregular, with some relatively unknown figures who had been detained after the Rising, such as Michael O’Hanrahan who had been 2nd in command at the Jacob’s Factory garrison which had seen little combat, having their death sentences enacted. On the 8th May Lord Wimborne, Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, wrote to Maxwell of his concerns about this, urging him to cease the executions except in the case of ‘one or two very prominent and deeply implicated suspects’.

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De Valera, as a garrison commander, was court martialled on the 8th May and a death sentence was passed. He was transferred to Kilmainham Gaol to await his execution, and wrote this letter to Michael Ryan of Cashel, Co. Tipperary on the 9th May (it is incorrectly dated as the 4th May in the copy). He writes ‘Tomorrow I am to be shot, so pray for me, an old sport unselfishly played the game’, believing he was to die the next day, the 10th. However, on the 10th May Asquith sent an order that no further executions were to take place, though James Connolly and Sean MacDiarmada, court martialled on the 9th May, were executed on the 12th. Countess Constance Markievicz had already escaped death on the order that no woman was to be executed. De Valera also escaped his sentence when it was commuted to penal servitude for life. This raises the question as to how de Valera escaped execution.

It was commonly thought that the fact he was an American citizen saved his life, as Britain executing a U.S. citizen at such a critical time in the war would have caused diplomatic issues. Robert Schmuhl has written that the de Valera personal papers in the UCD archives show that his wife Sinead appealed to the US Consul for help, and his half brother Reverend Thomas Wheelwright wrote letters to Washington on his behalf. However, it is less likely that his citizenship saved him, but the luck of the timing of his court martial. His trial was one of the later to take place, and he was not a well known figure at this time. The executions of Connolly and MacDiarmada, which took place after de Valera’s court martial and the British government’s order to cease the executions, were likely enacted due to these men’s very prominent role in the Rising and the fact that they were signatories of the Proclamation. De Valera had not been a high profile individual in the years before the Rising, and the government had little knowledge of him. It would appear that it was generally considered that he was not important enough to be executed.

De Valera's cell in Kilmainham Gaol, May 1916

Eamon de Valera went on to play a hugely significant role in 20th century Ireland. On the commuting of his death sentence, he was imprisoned in various jails in England until the general amnesty in June 1917. He went on to play key roles in the War of Independence period, becoming the President of the first Dáil Éireann in 1919, led the Anti-Treaty side in the Civil War, became leader of the Fianna Fáil Party, was Taoiseach of Ireland at various times from the 1930s to 1950s, wrote the Constitution of Ireland, and was elected President of Ireland from 1959 to 1973 before dying at the age of 92 in 1975.

But for a moment in May 1916, as evidenced in this letter, de Valera truly believed he was about to die.

The Victorian Wing's central stairwell, Kilmainham Gaol (NMI Collection)

Kilmainham Gaol is open to the public for guided tours, and I’d highly recommend visiting this site to learn more about the long history of this gaol as well as its role in the early 20th century fight for Irish Independence.

Categories
1916 Rising

Toffee Axe, Looting in Dublin, 1916 Rising

Just before mid-day on Monday 24 April, Patrick Pearse stood at the front of the GPO and read the Proclamation declaring the Irish Republic. The rebels entered the building and began barricading the doors and windows, and smaller garrisons took their positions in outposts around Sackville Street such as the Metropole and Imperial Hotels, and shops such as Kelly’s and Hopkins. Shortly afterwards, the looting in Dublin’s main street began.

This 7 inch long toffee axe, more than likely taken from a confectioner’s shop, was kept as a souvenir by a Mr Daly after it was thrown at him, hitting his hat, by a looter in Sackville Street during the week of the Rising. It was given to the National Museum in 1980.

At almost the same moment as the Proclamation was being read, DMP Constable James O’Brien was shot dead by the rebels in Dublin Castle Yard, and Constable Michael Lahiff was shot at St. Stephen’s Green. Immediately after these incidents the Dublin Metropolitan Police were withdrawn and ordered to their barracks. Being an unarmed force, they would have been targets for the rebels and, with only their standard issue wooden batons, they would have had no way to defend themselves against the rebels’ rifles. This left the streets without its normal law enforcement at a time when the city was descending into chaos. Still, despite the order for the DMP to return to their barracks, the arrests of at least 27 people were made.

Most of the looting took place in the first three days, amid the crossfire between the rebels and the British Army Regiments, but before the fires took firm hold in the central streets.  Lower Sackville Street was a focal point, with clothes, toy and sports shops proving popular. Noblett’s and Lemon’s confectioners shops were looted for chocolates and sweets; the toffee axe may have come from one of these. The Cable Shoe Company (pictured) had its windows smashed, and The Daily Mail reported that people were seen trying on boots and shoes, and returning for another pair if the first selection failed to fit correctly.

Lawrence’s Photographic and toy emporium was also cleared of its contents. Fireworks were taken, and The Irish Times described the scene – ‘Rockets rushed up in the air and burst with a sound like a cannon, and all the smaller sorts of fireworks were thrown whizzing about among the crowd. Finally the premises were set on fire and burned to the ground’.

 

Efforts were made by other citizens to stop the activity. On Monday Francis Sheehy Skeffington, known to be opposed to the use of physical force, made efforts to prevent the looting in the city by personally appealing to the people. The next evening he called a meeting at Westmoreland Chambers with the same aim. It was after this meeting, as he was returning home, that he was arrested and brought to Portobello Barracks, where he was shot on the orders of Colonel Bowen Colthurst.

Pearse himself issued a proclamation from the Provisional Government to the Citizens of Dublin, at one point condemning the behavior with the lines ‘The Provisional Government hopes that its supporters – which means the vast bulk of the people of Dublin – will preserve order and self-restraint. Such looting as has already occurred has been done by hangers-on of the British Army. Ireland must keep her new honour unsmirched’.

Although the reports focus mainly on the shops in the Sackville Street area which sold luxury items, looting was also happening when the opportunity arose in other areas where the rebels had taken position. For example, it was recorded that after the rebels surrendered their position in Jacob’s Factory, the crowd looted the building on an ‘extensive scale’, taking flour and biscuits.  The citizens of Dublin, many of whom lived in extreme poverty, took not only the luxury items they could never afford, but also the basic foodstuffs they needed. This need was also seen in the aftermath of the Rising; where people, including children, searched the still smoking wreckage of buildings for anything they could use, and took the wood from the rebels’ street barricades for their fires.

In an item titled ‘The Lighter Side of the Dublin Troubles’ by G.H. Mumford (Evening News, London, 6 May 1916), the author describes the atmosphere in the city after the Rising ended –

Now that the trouble is all over it is permissible to forget the deplorable and dwell a moment on the ludicrous. Ireland always smiles through her tears.

If it were not for the Sackville Street holocaust and for the long casualty list one would regard the happenings of last week as a weird and bad extravaganza, with Dublin beating Sir W.S. Gilbert’s Titipu to a frazzle. To tell the truth, a large section of people hardly knows whether to be mirthful or melancholy about it even yet. Some visitors yesterday were becoming lugubrious over the ruins and the losses when one of them directed the attention of his companions to a hoarding opposite. There in a big type they read this: ‘All Easter Week, The Christian’. Condolences dissolved in convulsions.

Every second man one meets has quaint stories of the looting to tell. One relates to a man who, having taken a haul from a hosier’s window, was seen coming back. A second looter expostulated to him, suggesting that surely he had got his share, and it was somebody else’s turn. ‘That’s all right’ said the man addressed. ‘But I’m going to change one of these shirts. I want that one over there with the blue spots’.

A priest, meeting one of his Sunday scholars, said cheerily ‘Well, my little maid, and what do you think of “Ireland A Nation”?

The child paused, as though mentally balancing the family’s gains and losses. ‘I dunno’, she replied slowly. ‘Mother’s got a new fur coat, but father’s got a bullet in the ankle’. 

Categories
1916 Rising

The End of the Rising; Souvenir Photographs of Dublin’s Destruction, 1916

 

On Saturday 29th April, six days after the Rising began, the rebels had been driven from their central position at the GPO. From their new base at No. 16 Moore Street, Patrick Pearse, accompanied by Elizabeth O’Farrell, surrendered unconditionally to Brigadier General Lowe.  He was taken to Arbour Hill Prison, from where he issued the surrender order to the various garrisons. By Sunday evening all the outlying garrisons in Dublin had surrendered. When the fighting stopped Dublin could begin to assess its loss. There had been many deaths; about 65 Volunteers, up to 300 civilians and over 100 British Army soldiers had lost their lives, with many more injured. The extent of the physical damage to the city centre could now also be seen, with many areas receiving significant damage, and the areas around the GPO and Middle Abbey Street, Sackville Street, Henry Street and Eden Quay being almost completely destroyed.

 

Soon afterwards a number of publications appeared featuring photographs of the aftermath of the Rising; Dublin After The Six Days Insurrection by T. W. Murphy, published by Mecredy Percy, Dublin, Dublin and the Sinn Fein Rising published by Wilson Hartnell of Dublin, The Sinn Fein Revolt Illustrated published by Hely’s of Dublin, The Sinn Fein Rebellion Picture Souvenir published by W. & G. Baird Ltd of Belfast, and The Rebellion in Dublin, April 1916 published by Eason & Son Ltd.  Souvenir photographs of the Rising were in demand!

 

Valentine & Sons, a picture postcard company, also produced a set of photo postcards depicting the city, sold in a set of six. These are often seen in museum collections not only as individual cards but also as part of scrapbooks and albums that people made in the months after the Rising. I often think the creation of these albums, containing the postcard photographs alongside newspaper cuttings, is an indication of how the people of Dublin at the time were affected by the sight of the destruction of their city.

 

 

This is a selection of photographs taken from Dublin After The Six Days Insurrection, taken by T. W. Murphy.  They are full of people, and it always strikes me that life for them had to go on despite the very changed city landscape they suddenly found themselves in.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This weekend was the Object Matters – Making 1916 Conference in Dublin. It was a great event; congratulations to the organisers and the speakers, who gave papers ranging from the 1916 Proclamation, ephemera, internment material and the various public collections, their objects and their exhibitions. I’m looking forward to the proceedings! 

Categories
1916 Rising

Death of a ‘Boy Soldier’, Memorial Card of Charles Darcy, 1916 Rising

Anyone who’s been listening to RTE’s The History Show recently will have heard about the making of a list of the children who were killed in Dublin during the 1916 Rising.  Joe Duffy began to compile this list as a result of a collaboration with the Jill and Jill Foundation (a children’s charity) and has requested listeners to contribute any information about these children and how they died. Working with various historians and record holders including the General Records Office, Glasnevin Cemetery and the National Museum of Ireland, the list currently stands at 38 children under the age of 16.  Given that about 390 civilians died in the week of the Rising (not counting the rebels, police and army), the children represent about 10% of those who died in the various battles and crossfire throughout the city and suburbs. Some of these children were themselves attached to organisations such as Fianna Eireann (14 year old Sean Healy), and the Irish Citizen Army.  One member of the ICA was Charles Darcy, a 15 year old from the Gloucester Street area who died on Monday 24 April, the first day of the Rising.  This is his memorial card, which was donated to the National Museum along with a small collection of other papers by his mother, Elizabeth Darcy, in 1970.

 

Charles was born in about 1901 to James Darcy, a labourer, and his wife Elizabeth, both from Co. Wicklow. In the 1911 census the family are recorded as living in No. 4 Kane’ Court, a two-roomed labourer’s cottage off Gloucester Street, with six children; Thomas, James, Charles, Edith, Patrick and Agnes. In 1916 the family were living in a similar dwelling at No. 4 Murphy’s Cottages, Gloucester Place, between City Quay and Great Brunswick (Pearse) Street on the southside of the city centre. 

 Charles had attended the Pro-Cathedral School on Lower Rutland Street since it was opened in April 1912, and was educated there until May 1914, when, at age 13, he was no longer obliged to attend school.  A letter of reference written by his schoolmaster Mr A. Scully describes him as obedient and respectful to his teacher, regular and punctual in attendance, attentive to his lessons and well conducted in every respect. He was also a member of the Boys’ Sodality attached to the Pro-Cathedral on Marlboro Street, and attended regularly to his religious duties.  Having left school at this age, which was normal in the early 20th century, he found work in a draper’s shop as an assistant.  He also appears to have joined the Irish Citizen Army around this time.   When the rebellion broke out, he reported for duty at Liberty Hall.

 

The details of Charles’ death are contained in a letter from Elizabeth to Lieutenant A. Rasdale of the Office of the Adjutant General in 1923 during the process of claiming a military pension on Charles’ behalf. Charles was under the command of Captain Sean Connolly in the City Hall garrison, and was allotted to a section under Sergeant E. Elmes to take possession of Henry & James’ premises (a clothiers) as a support to City Hall itself. He met his death on the roof of those premises on the evening of Easter Monday. Charles was shot by a British military sniper from a position around Dublin Castle, and his body was brought into the grounds of the Castle on Tuesday 25 April. His death certificate lists his cause of death as a gunshot wound, and notes that there was no medical attention. It also states that his mother Elizabeth was informed of his death as the next-of-kin.

 

After the formation of the Irish Free State the Military Service Pensions Act (1924) was instigated, and any persons with proven service during the 1916 Rising and the War of Independence were to be awarded a Certificate of Service and were also entitled to a military service pension.  In 1923 Elizabeth started the process of claiming the pension on Charles’ behalf, which resulted in a series of written communications between her and the Ministry of Defence.

In May 1924, Elizabeth received a letter confirming that she would receive a one off gratuity payment of 150 pounds in recognition of Charles’ service.

 

All such persons were later also eligible to receive the 1916 Medal. These were awarded in 1941 on the 25th anniversary, and Elizabeth received one for Charles at this time, who would have been 40 if he had survived. The medals were not generally awarded with inscriptions unless the recipient was killed in the rising; this medal has Charles’ name and a number. This medal, along with the various papers relating to Charles’ service and claim, are now with the National Museum of Ireland.

 

 

I always find it poignant that the last paragraph of school master Scully’s letter of reference for Charles reads ‘I have much pleasure in bearing testimony to his good character and shall always be pleased to hear of his success in life’.

He is buried in the 1916 Plot of Glasnevin Cemetery.   

 

Categories
19th century

Execution Warrant, The Palmerstown Murder, 1865

 

Kilmainham Gaol may be best known to many people as the location of the imprisonment and executions of the leaders of the 1916 Rising, but the prison was the scene of many executions before then.  Built in 1796, it became the centre of execution for the city of Dublin, and over a hundred people were put to death there for crimes ranging from murder and treason to theft. This death warrant of Patrick Kilkenny, who was publicly hung in the front yard of Kilmainham on 20 July 1865, tells the story of the murder of a young woman named Margaret Farquhar in a crime of passion, and was donated to the museum in 1949 by a relative of Thomas Flewett, Deputy Governor of the gaol.

 

 

 

On the morning of Saturday 10 June 1865, a 40 year old farm labourer named Patrick Kilkenny arrived at the police station at Beresford Place to confess to the murder of 26 year old Margaret Farquhar from Co. Meath the previous evening at Palmerstown.  After a short search, the police found Margaret’s body in a ditch, face down in the water and covered with grass and weeds. It seems Patrick and Margaret had had a courtship of sorts over a number of years; Patrick regularly called to her family house and they were often seen at dances together, though no engagement was ever announced. Patrick was described in the newspapers as a low-sized, stout and muscular man with the character of a drunken bully, while Margaret was reported as being considered the best looking girl in the parish. Just days previous Margaret received a letter from an ex-suitor, an Englishman who had emigrated to America for a new life and was now offering her marriage. Patrick, on hearing the news, strangled and drowned her in a roadside ditch, then sat by her body before handing himself in to the police the next day.

 

On 19 June, coming up to Kilkenny’s trial, The Irish Times expressed its suspicion that it was insanity, rather than jealousy, that caused the murder. It urged careful consideration of the case to avoid the execution of a man for a murder similar to two recent incidents where the accused, both of a higher social class than Kilkenny, did not receive the death penalty. The cases they referred to were the Townley Murder in England in 1863 and the O’Dell Murder in Dublin in 1864.

In the English case, George Victor Townley, a 25 year old from a respectable upper middle class family, stabbed his fiancé Elizabeth Goodwin when she broke their engagement. He was tried, found guilty and sentenced to death, but his family’s money and influence allowed for Townley to be later found insane and his sentence was commuted to life imprisonment. He committed suicide in prison in February 1865.

William O’Dell, a 55 year old former barrister and employee of the Fine Arts Department of the Royal Dublin Society, confessed and was convicted of the murder of Bailiff Richard Fox in October 1864. Fox had come to O’Dell’s home at 91 Upper Rathmines Road to collect goods to the value of £8 in lieu of rent arrears, and as he was leaving the house O’Dell fired his revolver, shooting Fox in the head. He was found by the jury to have suffered a ‘paroxysmal mania’, or a fit of mania, and he escaped the death sentence.

 

Patrick Kilkenny’s fate was to be different. The jury found him guilty and, despite their call for mercy, Judge Baron Deasy passed the death penalty with the statement ‘Actuated apparently by the passion of jealousy, you struck down to death that unfortunate young girl that was the object of your love. For that, through that passion, two lives are sacrificed’. On 20July 1865 Kilkenny became the first recorded hanging in Dublin since the execution of John Delahunt, the murderer of 9 year old Thomas Maguire, in 1842. The Delahunt execution reportedly drew a crowd of 20,000 people, and Kilkenny’s execution, which took place on the drop-platform balcony over the main entrance of the gaol, also attracted a large crowd of spectators.

The Freeman’s Journal questioned the practice by asking what comfort it could give the family of Margaret Farquhar as it would not restore her life to her, stating that it was not a deterrent to crime, and also calling public executions a revolting and abhorrent spectacle which disgraced Dublin. The newspaper describes the execution scene in detail with no attempt to disguise its distaste. ‘The novelty of an execution taking place within our city invested the sad scene of Thursday morning with a peculiar and an unusual interest for numbers of that idle and degraded class which is sure to be found in large communities – a class whose morbid love of the terrible, the exciting, the cruel and the sensational is in strange and strong antagonism with the much vaunted civilization of the time. A kind of semi-love romance which was sought to be imported into “The Palmerstown Murder” to some extent contributed to induce the wanton curiosity-monger, the professional sight-seer, the indolent, the vicious, and the depraved to be present at the last act of the fearful tragedy, and as a consequence vast crowds continued to pour from all parts of the city and surrounding suburbs from an early hour this morning and take up their positions in front of the jail or wherever a good view could be obtained of the place where the dread sentence of the outraged law would be carried out’. One hour after the hanging, Patrick Kilkenny’s body was cut down and interred in the grounds of Kilmainham.

Three years later the Capital Punishment Amendment Act was passed, which required all executions to be carried out within the walls of the prison in which they are interned. This saw the end of public executions in Ireland and the UK.  In 1868 John Logue, a convicted murderer, was the last person to be publicly executed in Ireland. However, capital punishment remained common even past the formation of the Irish Free State and Republic. The last execution took place in Mountjoy Jail 1954; that of 25 year old Limerick man Michael Manning who raped and murdered a 65 year old nurse called Catherine Cooper. From that point, any death sentence passed was commuted to life imprisonment by the President of Ireland, until 1990 when it was finally formally abolished. It is now prohibited in the Constitution, and cannot be re-introduced even in the case of war or a state of emergency.