top

THE LATEST…In honour of the men & women of 1916…

THE VOLUNTEER

Sure, my name is John Healy.

I’ve been a member of the Irish Volunteers since the very beginning, November 1913. Now, for the last five days of this Easter Week 1916, my fellow comrades-in-arms and I have taken the fight, a lifetime dream, to the British Sassenach, the unwelcomed occupiers of our ancient land.

As of today, we’ve been holed up in the General Post Office building on Sackville Street, known the country over as the GPO. It was once a handsome three-story, granite structure, the pride of our country…a national monument. Now, all that has changed.

When three hundred of us rushed in here at noon on Easter Monday, we were filled with hope and the belief that we could force the British government to grant us terms. Simply stated, we were seeking Irish independence from British rule.

Amid celebratory pistol shots, postal workers and surprised patrons were turned out. Once occupied, we set about preparing the building for war. Glass shattered out onto the footpath as rifle butts smashed windowpanes. Barricades of postal ledgers and books were hurried into protective position. Bookshelves and office furniture were placed along windowsills. Tables were pushed up against walls to make improvised firing steps. Commandant James Connolly next ordered the Volunteers to fill mailbags with coal from the cellar and sand from the back garden…all to be placed at window openings as defensive barricades.

On Monday afternoon and Tuesday, buildings were occupied all along Sackville Street as we prepared for a British counterattack. Connolly believed the enemy would commit infantry but not artillery to extricate us as cannon fire would certainly destroy Dublin, the second city of the British Empire.

As more and more British forces poured into the city, rifle and machine gun fire increased dramatically. Both sides began experiencing losses.

On Wednesday, Crown forces upped the ante. At 8am, a small British ship sailed up the River Liffey. It was outfitted with a quick-firing 12-pound gun, which began hammering surrounding buildings. It was soon joined by an 18-pound artillery piece rolled out from Trinity College. The field gun was positioned in College Green, facing up Sackville Street, about 600 yards distant from the GPO. The thunderous roar of its cannon fire shattered nearby windows as buildings next to the river were gradually pulverised by shrapnel shells.

The following day, Thursday, a second 18-pounder was positioned at the top of Sackville Street. Though both big guns were unable to sight directly at the GPO, the British soon became adept at lobbing shells over building rooftops.

Our headquarters took its first direct hits on Thursday afternoon as the cracks of cannon fire were almost immediately followed by thunderous explosions. The walls of the GPO shook. Several of our rooftop gunners were badly wounded by shrapnel.

Later that day, Commandant Connolly, while on one of his frequent sorties from the GPO to inspect barricades was hit by a ricocheting bullet, shattering his left ankle. Despite great pain, he somehow managed to crawl back inside the GPO. Though tended to by our medical staff, morphine injections were his only relief.

Early Friday morning, the British guns opened fire with ever-increased intensity. The GPO, now surrounded, was being besieged by heavy artillery, mortar fire and sprays of deadly machinegun bursts. Explosions illuminated the pre-dawn darkness. The air, both in and outside of the GPO, reeked of cordite fumes, while dense clouds of smoke and dust swirled upward.

By afternoon, buildings beside us and across the street began collapsing, all weakened by three days of shelling and uncontrollable fires. Later in the day, the roof of our headquarters finally burst into flame. With the building in danger of coming down around us, Commander Pádraic Pearse ordered an evacuation.

Now, poised by the GPO’s side door, my battle weary comrades and I are ready to make a mad dash out into war-torn Dublin. Our fate and the outcome of our heroic cause remain uncertain….

A Letter From Ireland – February 2016

Ah yes, St. Brigid’s Day [1 February] aka Imbolc, the first day of ancient Celtic spring, is also known as the Feast of Brigid. It celebrates the arrival of longer, warmer days and the early signs of spring. The literal meaning of Imbolc is ‘in the belly’ referring to the pregnancy of ewes [i.e. farm animals] in the old Irish Neolithic vernacular.

One little custom I continue practising on Brigid’s Eve surrounds leaving a piece of cloth, maybe a small bit from an old dressing gown, hanging from the tree by the front door in the hopes the passing spirit of Brigid might bless it during the night. The next morning, I’ll collect the scrap, say a little prayer and then tack it up on my office wall, hoping the kindly saint has invested it with the powers of good health and self-protection. My rational mind tells me this is just codswallop, but who knows, maybe it’s not. Sure, I’ll take all the help I can muster.

As an aside, legend has it Brigid was born in rural Faughart, Co. Louth in c. 450 AD. Then, just a decade or so ago I visited her birthplace…a truly ‘saintly’ spot that radiated a serene, almost mystical quality that soon became most evident.

Situated on the side of Faughart hill were a number of holy sites including a well, several bullán or bowl stones, some early Christian ruins and a bubbling rivulet that flowed cheerfully through a cut in the hillside’s grassy slope. It was truly an extraordinary place…an important shrine adorning Ireland’s bucolic countryside above the town of Dundalk.

Being there, I couldn’t help but recall that Faughart supposedly played a part in my own family’s past. As the story goes, at least according to my aunt, our descendants are somehow connected to the de Brus family of Scotland. Maybe you remember King Robert the Bruce [de Brus] from the film Braveheart. Well, Robert’s younger brother was dubbed Edward the Bruce. After fighting alongside his brother for Scottish independence, Edward set sail for Ireland in 1315. Upon arriving, he declared himself High King of Ireland. Despite forcing England to fight on two fronts, Ireland and Scotland, Edward’s Scot-Irish army was defeated by an Anglo-Norman-Irish force led by John de Bermingham, Earl of Louth, and Edmund Butler, Earl of Carrick, on 14 October 1318.

Unfortunately, Edward proved to be a poor military tactician. His small army of largely Scottish soldiers was overwhelmed and soundly defeated by a vastly superior Irish contingent led by the Anglo-Norman earls. They systematically subdued the Scotsman’s forces in a short-lived engagement. Edward was killed in the fight and, as was the custom of the day, promptly beheaded. What remained of his dismembered body, after it was carved up and dispatched to the four corners of Ireland, was buried in the Hill of Faughart churchyard…God rest his tortured soul.

Sure, enough of this ancient history and on to more current events. This coming spring and summer will be a feast of 1916-2016 happenings. If you can somehow pull it off, head over for Ireland’s St Patrick’s Day festivities followed by a total submersion into the recounting of all things Easter Rebellion remembered.

With that in mind, you may have noticed, over the years, that I’ve frequently quoted or referred to a wonderful Irish historical publication, published by-monthly for the last twenty-four years, entitled History Ireland. It is beautifully produced and very professionally done. Some of the finest present-day historians and writers pen succinct, provocative and informative pieces, plus its treatment of new Irish historical books is fabulous.

Well, over the next few years the editors of HI are putting together a truly extraordinary series of publications centring on the theme of commemoration. The first in this series will be entitled: 1916: Dream & death.  This 96-page special will be shipped this month for €12.50 [about $15] postage included. It will surely be a most prised collectible. If you are interested, give Carol or Helen a ring at 011-353-1-2933568 for all necessary details.

Speaking of books, one that might go unnoticed in the States is Maurice Walsh’s Bitter Freedom: Ireland In A Revolutionary World 1918-1923. [ISBN 9780571243006]. As Padraig Yeates states in his review: “This is probably the best overview of the revolutionary era in the current crop of books prompted by the ‘decade of centenaries.’”

Yeates, a fine writer and author himself, is spot on with his praise for Walsh’s book. It’s now available in paperback [about $20] from Amazon.

Now, for a bit of sadness. As IANOhio embarks on it tenth year of publishing, I must announce this will be my last column for the paper. I have so enjoyed our monthly visits. It has been a great pleasure writing you about all the comings and goings of things back home. Ireland’s political ebb and flow, with its intriguing interactions, all juxtaposed against its verbosity and oft-time absurd characterisations, have at times left me gasping for breath. But despite everything, I’ve truly enjoyed writing you about Ireland…it’s new books, restaurants, festivals and places of note…of the wonderful people I’ve met and shared adventures with…of introducing you to some of my friends such as Tom ‘the Publican’ Richardson and his mother May, Seán O Mahony, Tim Pat Coogan, Ronnie Daly, Niamh O’Sullivan, Pat Fallon and all his fine family…to mention only a few.

In closing, I want to thank John O’Brien and Cliff Carlson for all their wonderful support and friendship over the years. John has been such a rock and he certainly gave me the freedom to write as the whim strikes.

Finally, I want to thank our advertisers for their endorsements that have made this fine newspaper possible and to you, the readership, who have read and commented, usually most kindly, on my monthly pieces. Your encouragement has made all the difference.

So for the one-hundredth-tenth time without a miss, I close wishing you all God’s blessings and Éireann go Brách. Cathal

« Previous Entries Next Entries »

top