The tricolour flag from Jacob’s Biscuit Factory, 1916 Rising

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The Royal Irish Regiment with the Irish Republic flag at the Parnell Monument, O’Connell Street (NMI Collection)

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Irish Republic flag flying on the GPO, photograph taken from a Metropole Hotel window (NMI Collection)

Probably the most famous flag of the 1916 Rising is the Irish Republic flag, with its white and orange lettering on a green field background. It was flown from the roof of the GPO on the Princes Street corner, while the tricolour flew from the Henry Street side. The flag survived the destruction of O’Connell Street, and was taken as a war souvenir by the Royal Irish Regiment. It ended up in the collection of King George of England, and was stored in the Imperial War Museum until 1966 when it was presented from the British to the Irish governments for the 50th Anniversary of the Rising. It is now in the care of the National Museum of Ireland.

 

 

Another 1916 Rising flag that was presented to the National Museum was less fortunate in its survival. These fragments of the tricolour flag that flew from the tower of Jacob’s Biscuit Factory also made the journey from England to Ireland in 1966. They are glued onto a piece of paper from a photograph album, with the words ‘Fragments of the Sinn Fein Flag which flew over Jacob’s Biscuit Factory, Dublin, Easter 1916’.

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Fragments of the Jacob’s Factory flag (NMI Collection)

On the Monday morning of Easter week the rebels took a number of buildings across the city. They hoisted flags from the highest points of these buildings as a symbol of the new Republic which had just been declared. The GPO’s Irish Republic and the Irish Citizen Army’s Starry Plough flag, flown from the Imperial Hotel, were unique. The other garrisons flew either the Irish tricolour of green white and gold, or the gold harp on a green field background. Many were made beforehand in preparation for the Rising and stored at Liberty Hall, but the Jacob’s tricolour was made at the garrison post during the week.

The garrison at Jacob’s Biscuit Factory saw a limited amount of action that week (the story of Jacob’s garrison that week can be read here). The men were mostly involved in sniping at British soldiers coming towards the city from Portobello Barracks and providing other garrisons with both supplies and men.

 

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Jacob’s flag fragments (NMI Collection)

Thomas Meldon was part of the garrison, and says in his BMH witness statement that they had forgotten to bring their flag with them as they marched out of Liberty Hall on Monday morning. On Thursday they received a message that the GPO was burning, and that the flag had been shot or burnt down. They decided to make a flag, and the search for the materials began.

 

 

‘After some time a quantity of bunting was found, some green and some white, but, curious to relate, no orange – stalemate, but not defeat.

A further search brought to hand a bundle of yellow glass cloths, and the work of putting together the flag was commenced. Three men were entrusted with this task – George Ward, who has answered the last call-in; Derry Connell, who is still with us, and myself. On the completion it was discovered that the rope on the flagpole had been removed, so that the flag had to be nailed to the pole, needless to say, at the risk of life. Nevertheless, it was accomplished, and according to a little book by James Stephens, the author, on that memorable week, the flag was still flying long after the general surrender.’

In fact, James Stephens, in his book The Insurrection in Dublin, described how he could see the flag flying from Jacob’s from his kitchen window on Sunday, and saw it being hauled down at about 5pm that evening.

We also have some insight as to what was happening in the factory at that moment. Patrick Cushen, an employee of Jacob’s, came to the building on Sunday afternoon after the surrender of the Volunteers to protect the factory from looters. He left an account of the scene he found, including meeting John MacBride and the hauling down of the tricolour flag –

‘Having heard of the rebels’ surrender of the factory, I ran down and saw about 90 of them getting out the windows and a lot of the rabble getting up the rope that was hanging from the office window, and tumbling the sacks of flour out. I ran round to the Caretaker’s door in Peter Street and got in to the Bakehouse. I was surprised to see between 90 and 100 of the rebels standing and sitting about.

Then one of the officers of the rebels came in to the office and asked was there anyone to take charge of the place, and they told him that I would. He said there were a lot of bombs stored away that would blow up the whole place, and as they had done no damage they did not want the blame to be left on them if any careless person handled them. He brought me round and pointed them out to me, and we came back again and he showed me where there were some hand grenades stored in the little ovens in the King’s Own Room; he left me on guard of them and told me on peril of my life not to let anyone lay a hand on them until the military came in who knew what they were.

He went away after making himself known to me, and to my surprise I found myself introduced to Major MacBride for the first and last time, as we all know he paid for his mad acts with his life.

Well, he was not well gone when a volley of shots rang out all round about where I was standing, and the sprinkler main over my head was pierced through with a bullet, and the hat was knocked off my head by a bomb fired through the open window. Luckily for me it passed out through a window and exploded over the refrigerator outside. Well, I thought my last hour had come. Just then the soldiers came in and shouted ‘hands up’, and up they went in haste, then they came over and searched me, asked me who I was and what had me there. I told them that I was an employee of the firm and that I came in to stop the looting. They said, ‘if you are a member of the Works, you know where that d… rebel flag is hanging out, and get on to it at the point of the bayonet’.

I said ‘you are not one bit more eager to get it down than I am myself, but before I go I want to show you those weapons of danger – the bombs’. Then we started on our way to the flagstaff, and went to three or four doors but could not get in the way they were barricaded. At last we got in through the Cake Room and away to the tower: I would not let him get out for fear of the snipers, but I got the rope and lowered the flag and no sooner than it began to come down than 5 or 6 shots rang out – I do not think that man could have been prouder if he was after taking the Empire of Germany.

On our way back he told me that I was a lucky man that I had nothing in my hands when he came in or he would have shot me where I was standing.’

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Live bombs, made from tin cans, and various ammunition left in the Royal College of Surgeons (NMI Collection)

The card on which the Jacob’s flag fragments are attached takes up the story from where Patrick Cushen left it. On the back is written that it was a gift from a Mr Fowler who was present in the Hotel when the flag was brought in by a Canadian soldier, and relates the following story –

‘A certain time was given for the troops of the IRA to leave Jacob’s and then this Canadian solder entered the building with another soldier. They met a man in uniform and promptly shot him, then a man in civilian attire who they directed to show the way to the flag. On arrival the civilian was told to ‘hop it’, which he promptly did. The flag was hauled down and taken to the Hotel by the Canadian who cut it up into fragments and distributed them to those present’.

Though there is no further information given with the object to help us identify either the Canadian soldier or the hotel, we can conclude that the hotel mentioned is the Shelbourne Hotel on St Stephen’s Green. The Shelbourne had been taken over by British troops and used as a base from where they fought against the Irish Citizen Army, led by Michael Mallin and Countess Constance Markievicz, at the Green and the Royal College of Surgeons, and is around the corner from Jacob’s Factory.

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British Army troops outside the Shelbourne Hotel, St Stephen’s Green. Note the nurses on the balcony above the entrance (NMI Collection)

By Friday of Easter week, between soldiers in Irish Regiments in the British Army and the arrival of 10,000 British troops from England (diverted from the fighting in France), there were about 16,000 British Army soldiers in Dublin.

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British Army troops around St Stephen’s Green after the Rising (NMI Collection)

Our Canadian soldier however, was not one of those sent from England on the Wednesday and Thursday, nor was he stationed in Ireland. He was most likely in Dublin on leave from the war at the Front, as were many other soldiers from British Commonwealth nations such as Australia and New Zealand. When the Rising started, these soldiers reported for duty to their nearest barracks or to Trinity College which was also operating as an Officers Training Corp (and held a stock of arms), and so formed part of the body of soldiers involved in the suppression of the Rising.

However, the tale he told to those in the hotel that he had entered Jacob’s Factory and shot a man in uniform is not factual. Not only did Patrick Cushen not mention any incident of a shooting, but there are no records of any combatant death occurring around Jacob’s other than Irish Volunteer John O’Grady, who was mortally wounded around the Mount Street area while trying to reach the Boland’s Mills garrison. It seems the Canadian soldier’s statement was an ill-advised boast to his audience.

 

The Jacob’s Factory flag fragments will be on display in the National Museum of Ireland’s new exhibition Proclaiming a Republic: The 1916 Rising in the Riding School at Collins Barracks in March 2016, along with the rest of the museum’s collection of 1916 garrison flags, including the Irish Republic and Starry Plough. Though it is not be the only garrison flag in the museum’s collection, it is certainly the smallest.

 

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Irish Volunteer Tunic, The Surrender at Jacob’s Factory, 1916 Rising

 

 

 

During the week of the Easter Rising the site of Jacob’s Biscuit Factory on Bishop Street was occupied by up to 150 Irish Volunteers, Fianna Éireann and Cumann na mBan, led by Thomas MacDonagh, John McBride and Michael O’Hanrahan.

It was surrendered on Sunday 30 April, when one of the Volunteers left this tunic behind.  It was donated to the National Museum in 1917.

 

 

 

 

The Jacob’s complex, where the National Archives and DIT Aungier Street now stands, took up a large area between Bishop Street and Peter Street, and was closely surrounded by mostly tenement housing. It was positioned between Portobello Barracks and the city centre and its tall towers made it ideal for sniping – it was therefore a good position to try to cut off military reinforcements travelling to the centre of action. 

 

 

The main body of Volunteers took the Factory at mid-day on Monday 24th April, and set up outposts in Fumbally Lane, Camden Street, Wexford Street and Aungier Street. The factory was located in the Liberties and Blackpitts area which was quite pro-British, with many families connected to the British Army. The local community, including the ‘separation women’ (the dependents of Irish men in the British Army), was at first hostile to the Volunteers and were verbally abusive to them; one civilian who physically attacked a Volunteer was killed in his defence.

 

 

Thomas Slater, in his witness statement to the Bureau of Military History, tells of how they broke through the door with a sledge, politely telling the employee on duty that the best thing he could do was to get his hat and leave, along with any other employees. Being a bank holiday, the factory would have had a minimal level of staff on that day. The men barricaded themselves in, using sacks of flour against windows and doors.  As the week progressed the garrison saw little action in the form of assault on the buildings, apart from intermittent rifle fire between the Volunteers and the military, and focused on the sourcing of provisions to feed the men, who were otherwise surviving on biscuits and sweet goods.

 

 

 

In Seosamh de Brun’s beautifully descriptive statement he tells of how the men occupied themselves during rest periods inbetween their duties, when the combatants slept, read books from the Jacob’s library, wrote diaries and even formed study circles. Seamus Pounch relates that the men and women held a céilí during a lull in the fighting.

The Jacob’s men were mainly active in supplying nearby garrisons such as the Irish Citizen Army in the Royal College of Surgeons with provisions, forming parties to gather information on what was happening in the city (the last communication from the GPO was on the Wednesday) and supporting other garrisons by sending men to join the fighting. In particular, a group of 20 men was sent to de Valera’s Boland’s Mills and Westland Row Railway Station, which was under heavy fire from the British Army. When they reached the Mount Street area they were fired on and were forced to retreat, with Volunteer John O’Grady mortally wounded – the only member of the garrison to die that week.

 

 

Patrick Pearse officially surrendered to General Lowe on Saturday 29 April, but the news did not reach Jacob’s that day.  On the Sunday, Father Aloysius, a Capuchin father, came to the factory with the order. Thomas MacDonagh, refusing to accept the surrender order as binding as Pearse was a prisoner, went with the priest to confer with him in person. Thomas Slater stated that before he left, he told the men ‘to get away if they could, as there was no use of lives being lost’, and many left at this point.   On his return, he conferred with the other commanding officers, confirming the surrender order and breaking down with the words ‘Boys, we must surrender, we must leave some to carry on the struggle’.

He called the men to the headquarters on the ground floor to inform them. Michael Walker remembered his words, ‘We are about to surrender but we have established the Irish Republic according to international law by holding out for a week. Though I have assurance from his reverence here that nobody will be shot, I know I will be shot, but you men will be treated as prisoners’ (of war).  At this there was uproar, with the men declaring that they did not trust the word of the British, and some urging to continue the fight.  

The men had the option of either marching out and surrendering, or escaping. Some took that option; escaping through windows wearing the civilian clothing which had been supplied to them by the Whitefriars Street Priory. Walker was one of these, though he was later found and arrested.  Seamus Pounch escaped arrest and had to lay low for some weeks, describing ‘how awkward it was now to have appeared so prominently and so often in uniform in the years leading up to the Rising’.

Vincent Byrne, a 15 year old Volunteer who would later become a member of Michael Collins’ ‘Squad’, remembers being lifted out of a window onto the street to escape, where he was taken into a house by a local woman to brush the telltale flour off his clothing.

Those who officially surrendered were brought to Richmond Barracks before being deported to various prisons and internment camps in Britain.  The leaders – Thomas MacDonagh, John McBride, and Michael O’Hanrahan were court martialled and executed the following month.

                                                                                         

 

This Irish Volunteer tunic is of the pattern decided upon by the organisation’s uniform subcommittee in early 1914, and is one of the earliest examples of the type to survive. It was donated to the National Museum in 1917, just one year after the Rising, when its aftermath was still keenly felt by the city, and so it is not only a fine example of contemporary collecting, but is also the earliest object from the 1916 Rising to enter a national cultural institution.

It was found in Jacob’s Factory after Easter Week, and it is likely, given what the witness statements tell us about the surrender, that the Volunteer who wore it made the decision to abandon it before attempting escape.  We don’t know who owned this tunic, or whether or not he avoided arrest and internment.  I believe that it cannot have been an easy decision for him to make. From a personal perspective, he would have paid for this tunic on a weekly basis over a long period of time, and a number of small, neat repairs to the breast pocket show how valued it was by its owner.

On a practical level, if he had been arrested in uniform he would have had a better chance of being treated as a prisoner of war (though this did not in fact happen to the arrested rebels), but being dressed as a civilian increased his chances of escape. To abandon his uniform and escape may also have been regarded as dishonourable, despite having the full permission of his commanding officers to do so. We can assume from the pattern of the uniform that he was a member of the Irish Volunteers from at least early 1914, and that he was dedicated to the cause of the Irish Republic. Perhaps he went on with the struggle for independence, as MacDonagh hoped when he surrendered the garrison and himself, wishing to ‘leave some to carry on the struggle’.

 

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’. 

Elvery’s cricket bat, Sackville Street, 1916

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I decided that the first post of the blog obviously had to be on the Elvery’s cricket bat, with its bullet lodged in the front section. It was donated to the museum’s Easter Week Collection in 1981, and quickly became a firm favourite among the staff, who came to affectionately call it The Cricket Bat that Died for Ireland. The object itself is pretty descriptive of much of the NMI’s collection relating to the Independence period – lots of souvenirs and relics picked up and kept by the people who witnessed events or their aftermath, and eventually finding a home in the museum.

The bat had the misfortune of being on display in the shop front of Elvery’s store on O’Connell Street, then Sackville Street, during the Easter Rising. J.W. Elvery & Co. was Ireland’s oldest sports store, specialising in sporting goods and waterproofed wear, with branches in Dublin, Cork (Patrick Street) and London (Conduit Street). The shops had a distinctive figure of an elephant above the front door, giving them the name Elvery’s Elephant House. Its city centre branch was at this time located at 46 & 47 Lower Sackville Street (now a Supermac’s, sadly without the elephant though its plinth is still there), and even got a mention in James Joyce’s Ulysses.

Its location, about one block from the GPO, meant it was in the middle of the cross-fire and general destruction of the main street. While it’s neighbour the Metropole Hotel was razed to the ground, it escaped the worst, though it was badly damaged. There were also reports of widespread looting on the street from the night of Monday the 24th. The Sinn Féin 1916 Rebellion Handbook, published by the Irish Times in 1917, describes children roaming the streets with sweets, toys and ‘hockey and golf sticks and all kinds of articles used in popular pastimes’, which would certainly suggest Elvery’s was a victim.

The bullet lodged in the wood of the bat is a .303 calibre, which was used by the British Army for both their standard issue Short Magazine Lee Enfield rifles and also Lewis machine guns.  The Irish Volunteers had about 900 1871 model Mausers, landed at Howth two years before, which used .45 calibre ammunition, so the bat was shot by a British gun. Rifle fire on Sackville Street was heaviest on the Tuesday of the Rising, before the fires began to spread on the Wednesday, so it’s possible, though not certain, that the bat was shot on that day.

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Perhaps one of the reasons the cricket bat has captured so many people’s imaginations is the idea of such a symbol of ‘Britishness’ taking a bullet in the rebellion. Maybe the fact that the bullet came from a British weapon adds to the irony. But surprisingly (well, it was surprising to me, not knowing much about sport), cricket had been a popular pastime in Ireland with both the gentry and tenant classes for over a century. It is thought that the game was introduced in the early 19th century by the British garrisons and the landed classes who were educated in England, with teams formed on estates comprising both the Protestant and Catholic population, with the Catholics often being paid to make up team numbers. The first real account of a cricket game here was in 1792, when the Military of Ireland played the Gentlemen of Ireland in the Phoenix Park.

It also became a widely played sport in rural Ireland; John Parnell, father of Charles Stewart Parnell, even founded a club in Avondale, Co. Wicklow in the 1830s. It began to go into decline during the period of the Land Wars from the 1880s, when it came to be more associated with England and the landed aristocracy. The GAA’s 1902 ban on ‘foreign sports’ further fueled its decline (for a history of cricket in Ireland have a read of Gerard Siggins’ Green Days : cricket In Ireland 1792-2005, and Michael O’Dwyer’s History of Cricket in Count Kilkenny – details in the Further Reading section).

Still, the game survived, and clearly remained popular enough for Elvery’s to advertise cricket bats in their shop front display in 1916.