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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….

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