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 Immediately after these incidents the Dublin Metropolitan Police were withdrawn and ordered to their barracks.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’. 

© Brenda Malone. This work is original to the author and requires citation when used to ensure readers can trace the source of the information and to avoid plagiarism.

https://libguides.ucd.ie/academicintegrity/referencingandcitation

Sources and general reading used in the creation of these articles are listed on the Further Reading page.

Categories
1916 Rising

Bicycle Pump, The Battle of Ashbourne, 1916

On the 28th April, the Friday of the week of the Easter Rising, a group of Irish Volunteers on their way to Batterstown, Co. Meath, came upon a Royal Irish Constabulary barricade. The battle that ensued came to be known as the Battle of Ashbourne. This bicycle pump was picked up by a woman on the site of the battle later that day and kept as a souvenir, and was donated to the National Museum in 1945.

The Battle of Ashbourne was a direct confrontation and gun battle between up to 70 members of the Royal Irish Constabulary and about 37 Irish Volunteers. It was one of the few engagements outside of the city centre and was, in contrast to the main Rising in Dublin, a successful one.  It was also an example of the guerilla warfare that became a normal method of operation during the War of Independence.

James O’Connor, an Irish Volunteer with St Margaret’s Company, Dublin, took part in the battle and recounted the events to the Bureau of Military History in 1948. After his battalion, which was headed by Thomas Ashe and Richard Mulcahy, was mobilized on Easter Sunday they were split into smaller groups, or flying columns, and sent north of Dublin city towards Ashbourne. Their mission was to destroy the railway line near Batterstown and disrupt the movement of British troops into the city. They set out by bicycle, armed mostly with shotguns, and after raiding a number of barracks in the area, cutting communications and collecting rifles, they reached the Cross of the Rath at Ashbourne. There they were met with a barricade that had been hastily erected by the RIC from the barracks situated there. The constables quickly surrendered and were sent to the barracks to order a full surrender. They did not return, and the Volunteers took positions across the road while O’Connor and Ashe tried to break in the door. The constables began firing from the upper windows of the building, and a gun battle broke out. The fighting intensified as RIC reinforcements arrived from Navan, Dunboyne and Slane, and O’Connor saw many falling as they were hit. Two Volunteers, John Crennigan and Thomas Rafferty were also fatally wounded. When District Inspector Gray was killed, the constables surrendered and were taken prisoner. The Volunteers gathered their arms and ammunition while Ashe warned the constables that they would be shot if they took arms against the Irish people again. Their victory was short lived, as at 2pm the next day Ashe received word of the surrender in Dublin and demobilised the battalion, sending the men home. Many, including O’Connor, were arrested within days and interned in Wakefield and Frongoch.

John Austen, a postal worker and native of Ashbourne, was an eye-witness to the event. His account of the start of the battle differs a little from O’Connor’s in that he states that the constable at the barricade did not surrender, but ran and was captured (finally being dragged out from underneath a bed), and that Ashe went to the barracks to order the surrender. Austen watched the battle from the nearby Lime-kiln Hill, and returned to the road when the shooting had stopped.

In total, fourteen people were killed in the battle, two Volunteers, eight RIC members, two civilians driving the RIC cars, and two civilians who were passing through the area. Many more were injured. Austen was asked to take the dead men off the road, and loaded the bodies of eight men into a cart with the help of two constables. The two Inspectors had already been removed, and the bodies of Crennigan and Rafferty had been taken away by the Volunteers. Austen described seeing Sergeant Shanagher – ‘He was shot right between the eyes as he left the car and slumped into a small depression on the side of the road. The road that evening was a terrible sight with blood and bandages strewn on it’.

 

The bicycle pump itself is a very ordinary object, and not one that is normally or easily connected to a battle scene. The clearest connection is probably that, as many of the accounts mention, the Volunteers arrived at the scene by bicycle. However, that doesn’t guarantee that this pump came from a Volunteer’s bicycle. Cycling was more common than travelling by car at this time, and it’s reasonable to think that the pump could have come from any bicycle, at any time, and simply could have happened to be there at that point in time. When the donor picked it up there was no indication of its ownership, but she believed it to have belonged to a person engaged in the battle and took it as a souvenir. In doing this she connected the object to the event and gave it an association and significance it wouldn’t otherwise have had. Like many museum objects, the meaning given to it by the person who witnessed or experienced an event is what gives it a place in our history, and allows it to continue telling a story long after the person has gone.

Royal Irish Constabulary Casualties

  • RIC County Inspector Alexander Gray, injured at the Battle of Ashbourne and later died of his wounds on 10th May. Shot by Volunteer Frank Lawless. Aged 57, he had served for 33 years and 5 months
  • RIC District Inspector Harry Smyth. An ex-army Englishman, aged 41, he had served for 16 years and 9 months, and had been based in Navan since 1912.
  • RIC Constable John Shanagher, No. 54677. Aged 48, he had served for 25 years and 3 months.
  • RIC Constable John Young, No. 58036. Aged 42, he had served for 19 years and 5 months.
  • RIC Constable James Hickey, No. 54582. Aged 49, he had served for 25 years and 7 months.
  • RIC Constable James Gormley, No. 66800. Aged 25, he had served for 3 years and 7 months.
  • RIC Constable Richard McHale, No. 67072. Aged 22, he had served for 3 years and 2 months.
  • RIC Constable James Cleary, No. 64900. Aged 28, he had served for 6 years and 9 months.

Irish Volunteer Casualties

  • John Crennigan, aged 21, of Swords, Co. Dublin. A member of the Irish Volunteers (Fingal Brigade). He was killed in action when shot by RIC District Inspector Smyth, at the Battle of Ashbourne.
  • Thomas Rafferty, aged 22, of Lusk, Co. Dublin.  A member of the Irish Volunteers (Fingal Brigade). He received a gunshot wound at the Battle of Ashbourne, and died later of his injuries.

Civilian Casualties

  • Gerald John Hogan, aged 26, of 9 Summerhill Road, Kingstown. A civilian, listed as being a commercial traveller.  He died in the cross fire in the Battle of Ashbourne as he tried to pass through. He is buried in Dean’s Grange Cemetery.
  • James Joseph Carroll, aged 24, of 1 Municipal Buildings, Kingstown. A civilian, listed as being a commercial traveller.  He was killed in the cross fire in the Battle of Ashbourne as he tried to pass through. He is buried in Dean’s Grange Cemetery.

© Brenda Malone. This work is original to the author and requires citation when used to ensure readers can trace the source of the information and to avoid plagiarism.

https://libguides.ucd.ie/academicintegrity/referencingandcitation

Sources and general reading used in the creation of these articles are listed on the Further Reading page.