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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The 1913 Lockout Baton Charge – Dublin Metropolitan Police batons

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It was recently announced that €22 million will be made available for a number of heritage and cultural projects as part of Ireland’s Decade of Commemorations. 

I was delighted to hear that the Henrietta Street Tenement Building is to receive funding to be developed into a museum to explore the reality of tenement life in Dublin’s north inner city.  Last year the Dublin Tenement Experience: Living the Lockout was a real highlight during the 1913 Lockout centenary, and was hugely successful.  I look forward to seeing this museum in the next few of years.

In the meantime, you can explore life in 1913 North Inner City Dublin in the wonderful Dublin Tenement Experience blog, which covers a range of topics such as personal stories from the tenements, the Church Street Tenement Collapse of September 1913, the effect of World War I on the families of Henrietta Street, and the photographs which highlighted the slum conditions in urban centres.   You can also read about the Dublin Metropolitan Police batons (NMI) which were used in the infamous Bloody Sunday Baton Charge of 31 August 1913. 

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’. 

Metropole Hotel bowls, Sackville Street, 1916

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Just a few doors down from Elvery’s (where the cricket bat met its end) was the Metropole Hotel.  Situated directly next to the General Post Office, and occupied by about 22 members of the Irish Volunteers under the command of Oscar Traynor during the Rising, it came under direct fire from the British Forces and was burnt to the ground in the fires that spread though the city centre. This stack of five bowls, fused together and blackened by the fire, was picked up as a souvenir and later donated to the National Museum in 1939.

ImageThe Metropole Hotel was actually four Georgian houses renovated as a hotel in the 19th century. It was located on the corner of Sackville Street and Prince’s Street, next to Eason’s & Son newsagents, D. Dimmit & Son’s insurance office, an office building (Browne’s), and Manfield & Sons shoe shop on the corner of Middle Abbey Street. On the evening of Tuesday 25th April a garrison of Irish Volunteers, mostly just arrived into the city centre from Fairview and Summerhill, was ordered to occupy this block of buildings by digging through the interior walls, and to erect barricades and post men at windows and other vantage points for defence from British snipers on Abbey Street.  According to Oscar Traynor, they entered the Metropole and gave notice to the guests that they had fifteen minutes to leave. Over the next few hours there was a series of written communications between James Connolly and D. H. Oliver, the hotel manager, organizing passes to ensure the safety of the remaining guests and himself as they left the city centre. Supplies such as bedding and food (and the odd cigar) were also requisitioned, one example in the NMI (for bread, onions, sausages, mutton and chicken) is signed for by Liam Tannam as ‘received on behalf of the Irish Republic’.

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The fighting intensified from rifle fire on Tuesday to shelling by Wednesday night. As the Metropole garrison held their position, they watched the fires taking hold on the other side of Sackville Street, and tried to signal the men there to leave. After an almost quiet start to the Rising, the street was in chaos at this stage. Joseph Good, an Irish Volunteer from London, described the experience in his witness statement to the Bureau of Military History. He was posted to the top floor of the hotel as lookout, along with 12 young civilian lads who had asked to join the fight, whom he described as ‘rather depressed; long gazing at burning buildings caused them to moan in their sleep’.

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D.H. Oliver also gave an account of what he saw in his short diary of the week (NMI Collection). His view was probably representative of the opinion of many in Dublin that week, writing on the Wednesday ‘What a row the big guns make, rather terrifying but still glad to hear. The devils must quake at the Met’. He observed a dead civilian lying on the street near O’Connell Bridge, and witnessed groups of panic stricken people trying to leave the area, ‘some with white flags, others wrapped in white cloths and blankets, some holding up hands. They all seemed of the poorer class and the sight was a most moving one’.

It seems the roof of the Metropole was set on fire by an incendiary bomb sometime on Thursday night, but the outpost was considered vital for defence and so was not evacuated until the official order came through on Friday, at which point the building was firmly ablaze. The G.P.O. was also in flames and being evacuated at this point, and Frank Henderson stated that in the confusion the men at the Metropole were nearly forgotten until Sean MacDermott sent him to tell them to follow the main body into Moore Street via Henry Street. As they ran across Princes Street into the G.P.O., another Irish Volunteer Londoner who went by the name of John Neale was hit, the bullet exploding his ammunition pouch and ripping open his lower torso. He died of his wounds the next day.  The hotel was burned to the ground by Friday night.

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Of all the objects in the collection that represent the destruction of Sackville Street, for me the bowls from the Metropole Hotel are the most expressive. They’re such an everyday, common object that sits on a shelf of any home, and I can imagine them sitting stacked on a dresser in the restaurant or kitchen, ready to be used. But these bowls are blackened and fused by the fires, and ingrained with soot and ash. There is even a river of molten glass along one side, presumably from a glass vessel that was next to it which melted in the extreme heat. Considering the complete destruction of the building, it’s amazing they survived in this form at all.

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As for the Metropole Hotel itself, by 1922 it had been rebuilt in a lovely classical style by architect Aubrey V. O’Rourke, and was opened as The Metropole, containing restaurants, bars, a ballroom and cinema. It was closed in 1972 and sold to the retail chain British Home Stores (BHS), and was subsequently demolished and replaced with a new concrete building. It’s now home to the O’Connell Street branch of Penny’s.

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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.