Sunday, 24 April 2016

Meanwhile, on the other side of the city ...

Dublin Bay and Wicklow Mountains from Howth [ALAMY]

On Easter Monday, 24 April 1916, my father's family were picnicking on Howth Head when the Rising broke out. Unfortunately no written records survive of the Diamond family's experience of Easter Week 1916, but the story was passed down to me by my father, John Gilbert ('Jack'), who was 18 months old at the time.

My grandfather, Henry ('Harry') Diamond was Scottish and my grandmother Nellie also came from a Scottish family, the Irvines, but had been born in England. Harry was born in Hamilton, Ayrshire, in 1876 but his father, a gardener, moved a few years later to work on Clober Estate, in Milngavie, just north of Glasgow. Harry attended the High School of Glasgow and Glasgow University, graduating with an MA in 1899. He did well in the British government's civil service entrance exams and was given the choice of being posted to Dublin or to Delhi. Harry chose Dublin. He was appointed as a first class clerk to the Local Government Board of Ireland, and developed a speciality in Poor Law Administration; he seems to have been closely involved in setting the rates for the country's first old age pensions, as well as in overseeing management of workhouses.

Harry's Scottish Presbyterian roots remained very important and he became a member of the United Free Church of Scotland in Lower Abbey Street, Dublin. It was probably through church activities that he met Nellie Irvine, a member of the church choir. Nellie was born in Bloomsbury, London, in 1882, to James Anderson Irvine, a journeyman tailor, and his wife Harriett McCormack, a dressmaker. But as a small child Nellie had been adopted by her father's sister Mary and her husband James, a grocer. They took her to live with them first in Scotland, where they spent short periods in Glasgow and Barrhead - her uncle worked for the huge Barrhead Co-operative Society and they can be found in the 1891 census living above one of the town's several Co-op branches - and then to Dublin. It seems that James and Mary Gilbert were unable to have children and adopted Mary's niece to fill the gap as well as to give her a better education than her parents could afford - she was certainly much loved. However her parents went on to have three more daughters (one of whom, Isabella, died aged seven in slightly mysterious circumstances after a fall at school in Kentish Town) and a son. The families stayed in close contact and photographs indicate frequent visits to one another's homes in Dublin, London and Scotland.

Nellie trained as a secretary and got a job as what would now be called a PA to J C M Eason, the grandson of the founder of Eason & Son, the Irish equivalent of W H Smith - in fact the company was originally established as Smiths' Irish operation, but Charles Eason  and his son acquired it in 1886. John Charles Malcolm Eason joined the firm after graduating from Trinity College Dublin in 1901, and went on to become its managing director. When Nellie Irvine worked for him he was running the wholesale stationery department, based in Middle Abbey Street, just round the corner from the company's main premises in Lower Sackville Street, which in turn was two doors away from the General Post Office.

Harry Diamond and Nellie Irvine became engaged in 1907 and Nellie stopped working at Easons in April 1908. Her colleagues bought her a set of cutlery from Weir's in Grafton Street as a wedding present; this is the letter that her boss J C M Eason sent with it:

The marriage took place in the United Free Church of Scotland in July 1908 and was followed by a honeymoon tour to Switzerland. 

Mr and Mrs Henry Diamond, July 1908

Previously Harry had lived in lodgings in Upper Gardiner Street and Nellie with her aunt and uncle in Upper Dorset Street, on the north side of the city centre. Now they moved slightly further out to Glasnevin, where they seem to have been the first owners of 49 Lindsay Road, a substantial redbrick semi-detached house which they named 'Coolnagreina'. Nell Junior was born a year later and Jack in October 1914. This photo of Nellie and Nell 'Auntie' Mary Gilbert and Jack, taken on the doorstep of 'Coolnagreina' in early 1915, possibly marks Jack's christening.

Diamond-Gilbert family group 49 Lindsay Road

The family loved picnics and seaside and country walks, and the Hill of Howth, with its beaches, steep paths through drifts of bracken and heather around the grassy summit and spectacular cliff-top views south across Dublin Bay to the Wicklow Mountains, north to the Mountains of Mourne, and out over the Irish Sea, was a favourite destination. The weather on Easter Monday 1916 was beautiful - the sea would have been sparkling and the headlands blazing with yellow gorse blossom.

Howth Head [ALAMY]

It's quite likely that 'Auntie and Uncle' James and Mary Gilbert were with Harry and Nell and the two children on their excursion. But the only detail to have passed down in family lore about that day is that when the time came to leave the trams had stopped running because of the disturbances in the city centre and it was difficult for them to get home. So what happened? Perhaps the trains were still running, or they may have managed to get a horse-drawn cab or trap - Howth is not far from Glasnevin, but walking would have been impossible with a toddler and a young child.

Easter Tuesday was probably a normal working day for Harry, and without the benefit of today's electronic media to report on what was happening in the city centre he probably set off for his office as usual - no doubt on foot, or perhaps by bicycle - he was a very fit, energetic man who would never have taken a tram if he could have avoided it. As a civil servant in the local government board he was almost certainly based in the Custom House, the elegant Georgian building designed by James Gandon which is a major landmark on the bank of the River Liffey a few hundred yards downstream from O'Connell Bridge.

The Volunteers had no interest in the Custom House and made no attempt to capture it, but it overlooked Liberty Hall, the headquarters of James Connolly's Citizen Army, so in the early days of the rebellion it was used as a base for British troops, who bombarded Liberty Hall with machine-gun fire from the parapets around its dome, joined in the assault by the Royal Navy's gunboat Helga, moored just opposite the Custom House. Liberty Hall was reduced to rubble, as were countless buildings along the quayside and the surrounding streets. The Custom House survived, though it was burned down by the IRA a few years later in the War of Independence.

As the British bombardment of Sackville Street intensified towards the end of Easter Week, Nellie Diamond's former place of work, Eason's, was completely destroyed. At first the Eason family had been most concerned about the difficulty of maintaining newspaper deliveries, as the packet boats had stopped running to and from England, and then about looting. The directors of the firm loved on the south side of the city and it was not until Sunday 30 April, according to L M Cullen's history of Eason & Son, that Charles and J C M Eason were given permits at Dalkey Town Hall to travel in to Dublin the next day, when 'it was possible to go by car as far as O'Connell Bridge, and from there to Abbey Street, where they saw their premises totally destroyed "but the return building, consisting of the 3 strong rooms was standing and the iron doors were closed"'.

Lower Abbey Street and the area around the United Free Church was also devastated by the conflict. As a member (very much the youngest!) of the church's management committee Harry Diamond would have been closely involved in repairing damage and in the immediate relief efforts to help local residents who had lost their homes; mission to the impoverished surrounding community was an important aspect of the church's work. A lover of art, he must have been deeply saddened by the loss of the Royal Hibernian Academy, not far from the church, and all its treasures.

Royal Hibernian Academy, Lower Abbey Street, 1916

 Although no letters or diaries describing Easter week from the point of view of my father's family have been handed down to us, one of their neighbours in Lindsay Road did publish his memories of the 1916-24 period fifty years later. Wilmot Irwin was 16 in April 1916. His family were Church of Ireland and Wilmot's brother-in-law, a British soldier on sick leave from Ypres, was staying with them at the time. Wilmot and his father witnessed the very beginning of the rising on the way back from their traditional Easter Monday window-shopping trip into town and up Grafton Street as far as Stephen's Green. In Betrayal in Ireland he vividly describes the atmosphere on the north side of the city and the extraordinary sights that he and his family witnessed in the first couple of days of the conflict when they ventured out for walks in their previously peaceful neighbourhood.

On Tuesday evening, Irwin writes, 'we sat indoors conversing in low tones, listening now to the rattle of machine-guns as the cordons commenced to close in on the centre of the city, The rifle shots of the Volunteers were still, however, clearly distinguishable. The night passed with sporadic shooting throughout, and now a sinister red glare glowered over the city, Afterwards we found it was Lawrence's Photographic & Toy Stores, where looters had set alight fireworks and rockets ...

'Wednesday morning we were fully wakened from a troubled sleep to the sound of cannonade. It came from the direction of the east city where the gunboat Helga bombarded Liberty Hall ... It was evident to us, hapless listeners, confined mostly to our homes, that the military were now fully engaged in an offensive against the insurgents,   The food situation in this district was now deteriorating. The few shops open were now sold out, but a local mill-store was able to supply flour. The nuns at Cabra Convent worked overtime in baking bread and anybody willing to undertake the hazards of the journey were [sic] able to purchase a loaf or two regardless of sect or religion but, of course, such supplies could not go far. Dairy men, however, still got through and it was amusing to see well-dressed citizens, who normally would not even carry a parcel, staggering home under a sack of flour and bag of potatoes ... One did not know what was going to happen next. To me, at the time, the city had undergone a horrible transformation.'

Later in the week Irwin is able to spend a day with a married sister. 'She was quite a good pianist and when immediate household tasks were completed I persuaded her to run through popular melodies on the keyboard. It helped to drown the sounds of conflict and for a time afforded relief from the prevailing anxieties of life and death. For a long time afterwards I preserved a piece of the soda bread she baked during the fateful week. I fear she was an indifferent cook at the time ... it was as hard as a brick. I still think I should have preserved it for the 1916 collection in our national museum. It was one of the minor horrors of the rising.'

Police and military passes allowing Harry Diamond to cross Dublin May 1916

Wilmot Irwin's book also illuminates the two scraps of paper illustrated above which come from my family collection. 'It was Thursday when troops of the Staffordshire regiment arrived to set up a military post at the North City Mill at Cross Gun's Bridge. Very young territorials they were, with somewhat shoddy equipment, although their rifles were of the current Lee-Enfield pattern. They would not let anybody pass beyond the bridge without a pass and these were not easy to obtain. The pass was a roughly scribbled page from an officer's notebook signed with his name and rank - usually a 2nd lieutenant. People were friendly to the soldiers and brought them tea and bread from their own scanty hoards.'

As the week progressed Glasnevin continued to be quiet apart from occasional sniping. 'My brother-in-law - still wearing his uniform - went into the garden of the house next door for a game of croquet ... and had a very narrow escape. A bullet whistled by his head, presumably from the Whitworth Road area where snipers had been very active and indeed continued up to the surrender and beyond. Needless to say, the croquet game was discontinued and everybody trooped indoors once more.'

But the residents of Lindsay Road could hear the battle raging in the city centre. 'The almost incessant machine-gun fire and the whine and explosions of artillery told their own tale in eloquent terms ... The Republic was coming into being in an agony of flame and turmoil ... [on Friday] the artillery fire seemed to have intensified during the night and one could clearly hear the fall of masonry after the explosions. It was evident to us hapless listeners that nothing could live in that crescendo of shell fire. Some time after mid-day the roar of cannonade died down and then finally ceased, though stray shots were still discernable. Rumours began to multiply and soon later in the afternoon, reports were spread that the rising had ended and that the surviving insurgents had surrendered.'

47 and 49 Lindsay Road when new, c. 1907

There were a few more days of fear and apprehension as detachments of government troops hunted out any remaining insurgents. Irwin witnessed one of his neighbours, a known 'Sinn Feiner', being rounded up in a raid by a group of soldiers and a metropolitan policeman in a commandeered mineral water lorry. 'A pioneer with an axe forced the door. Riflemen and the constable raced into the house and emerged a few minutes later with the prisoner, an elderly man with a grizzled moustache, the father of a young family. He was hoisted none too gently on to the lorry in full view of curious neighbours, It was then I had my first revulsion of feeling. All along I had been dead against the rebels but the sight of a neighbour under the armed guard of an old Bill type of Connaught Ranger was too much for me ... their prisoner ... was later interned in England for a spell. I don't think he was very deeply implicated in the affair at all. He certainly had not been in the firing line.'

The following Wednesday Irwin was able to get into town for the first time. 'The sight of Lower Sackville Street with the odour of burnt wood and debris of all kinds was enough to make angels weep. All the old familiar landmarks were gone. The General Post office, Elvery's Elephant House, the D.B.C Restaurant, the Metropole Hotel,m the Coliseum Theatre, where I had spent many enjoyable evenings, and the old Waxworks Exhibition in Henry Street, so often a haunt in winter months, were all gone on dust and debris.'

Lindsay Road was not far from one of the city's main cemeteries. 'It was very melancholy living in Glasnevin in those days immediately after the rising as funeral corteges followed one another in quick succession,' Irwin recalled. 'Horse-drawn vehicles followed by lines of carriages and cabs. The horses were plumed. Black for married deceased and white plumes for the young and single.'

Lindsay Road 2014 [CLARE STEVENS]

Sunday, 10 April 2016

Post Cards from the First World War

My grandmother Maie Corry was an enthusiastic collector of post cards all her life and as a young women she kept them in an album, from which I have taken these dating from 1915 and 1916. The one above, obviously bought by or given to Maie as it has no message, is my favourite because of the beautiful calligraphy and the sense of period - this was the era of the women's suffrage campaign, the romantic enthusiasm for all things Celtic that fulled the Easter Rising, and art nouveau, as well as being in the middle of the First World War ...

At first glance the boyish green-clad figure reminded me of Robin Hood, but she's actually a woman. It was only after looking more closely that I noticed the entwined initials above  'Motto 1916': YWCA for Young Women's Christian Association, whose Waterford hostel Maie lived in for several years while working in Gorman's chemist's shop.

It's hard to make out the dates on some of the cards that Maie received through the post but I think this selection is in chronological order. The first was sent to Maie in Dublin from her mother in Letterkenny, Donegal - probably just to amuse her as there is no message, just the initial 'M', but it might have been a prompt to write home!

Maie's brother Samuel Boyd Corry seems to have enlisted in the 9th Battalion of the Inniskilling Fusiliers in 1915 or possibly 1914 - certainly he was serving as a Corporal in France by October 1915 according to the British Army Service Rolls for 1914-18. This is a postcard which he sent to Maie from Boulogne, but it isn't stamped so must have been sent with a letter.

Several of these postcards come from serving soldiers whose identities are difficult to trace. Some are clearly English, so how Maie would have made friends with them it's difficult to tell - they must have been serving in Ireland at some point. Others may be old friends from Derry serving in English rather than Irish regiments. This one is from a Wm (or W M) Burgon, with whom I can find no connection:

On 19 March 'G' sent this, which seems to be from a field post office near Poperinghe in Belgium - the location has been cut off, but I've found an identical image online. Poperinghe is in Flanders, a few miles from Ypres. The message says 'Forgive tardiness in writing to you, but we have been moving about & haven't really become settled yet. I shall make an honest endeavour soon. KR. G'. A later card in the same handwriting is signed 'K.R. G Murray'.

Then there's a card sent from Boston, Massachusetts on 24 March 1916. In this case the signature has been cut off, but in Maie's Londonderry diaries for 1909 she describes a very sad parting with her best closest friend from Letterkenny, Bessie Scott, who has emigrated to America - this may well be from her. Maie has evidently sent some shamrocks from home to the writer for St Patrick's Day, and the card reads 'Many thanks for shamrocks - a friend of mine here is endeavouring to have them grow. They arrived in good condition still moist. Trust you are all well. Thought you might like this card. Kind regards to ...'

There are three cards in Maie's collection from 'Stan H' - the first, with its poignant message 'I leave again tonight' was sent on 10 April 1916 from South Shields, Tyneside, to the YWCA in Waterford, and forwarded to Maie in Dublin.

On 22 April, just a few days before the Rising, a friend in Waterford 'N. Brown' sent this card when  to wish Maie a Happy Easter. 'We expected Will over but he is in hospital with tonsillitis so we are going to Dublin for the day Monday. Love N. Brown' reads the message. I wonder what sort of day they had on Easter Monday 1916 - little did they know what was about to face the British army from an unexpected enemy at home.

On 15 May Stan H wrote from Flanders to express his concern about what had been happening in Dublin, choosing this card which shows the destruction of the medieval cloth hall in Ypres (with the identifying location rather incompetently blacked out!). 'Well I trust you are quite safe and well after the terrible afair,' Stan writes. 'Did it trouble you at all. Let me hear of your experiences & if alright. Luckily it didn't last long or get really serious.' Considering that by this time long stretches of Sackville Street, Abbey Street and the Quays in Dublin were in a similar state of ruin to the centre of Ypres, Maie may well have thought differently about the Irish situation not getting 'really serious', though in comparison to what was happening in France and Belgium the casualty lists were short.

Finally, in this sequence, there's a card sent by an unknown friend from Renfrew in Scotland in June 1916.

Saturday, 2 April 2016

'Granny's Diaries'

The eye witness accounts of the 1916 Easter Rising which I have just transcribed are taken from the third of three surviving diaries written by my grandmother Mary Wilson Corry (known as 'May' as a child and 'Auntie May' to her husband's family in later years, 'Maie' in her late teens and twenties). After my grandmother's death they were kept on a high shelf in my mother's wardrobe, and I was allowed to read them for the first time as a great privilege at the age of about 16.

Volume 1 was written in 1909 while Maie was a senior pupil at Victoria High School, Londonderry; Volume 2 between November 1910 and March 1911 during her first few months as an apprentice chemist at Dr McCaul's Medical Hall, Ferryquay Street, Londonderry; and Volume 3 intermittently in Waterford and Dublin during 1916.

My late mother was very cautious about allowing anyone to read the diaries because Maie had considered them to be so personal, but she acknowledged that the 1916 volume had significance as an account of important events in Irish and world history, and deserved a wider audience. In 1992 she and I deposited a transcription of the Easter Rising and World War I sections of the diary in the National Archive in Dublin, but they don't seem to have been found by any of the historians who have been writing about the Rising in connection with this year's centenary commemorations, which is why I'm now publishing them on my blog.

Maie's account of Easter Week is dated Wednesday May 3rd 1916 and seems to have been written in one long session. A very interesting account from a similar perspective, but written as the week unfolded, is a 'letter home' by Elsie McDermid, a singer with the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company which was on tour in Dublin at the time - she was staying at 32 Merrion Square, a few doors away from the Girls Friendly Society Lodge where Maie Corry was living, and their stories are complementary in many respects (Dublin City Libraries have published a digital version HERE). However Elsie McDermid gives a much more vivid impression of how she and her housemates actually passed the time for so many days, sleeping on the landing floor, making tea for British soldiers who were using their roof and windows as vantage points, running out of clean laundry, occasionally being able to snatch 'a lovely bath'. I wish my grandmother had included more of this sort of detail. She lived with us until her death when I was 14, and talked about the Rising a lot, but I can't remember any of her stories except that I think she said they ran out of food and had to live on rice for the second half of the week.

What strikes me most about Maie's diaries is how young for her age she seems. She was 19 when she went as a boarder to Victoria High School to take science classes that would enable her to begin studying pharmacy, but she writes like a 14-year-old about escapades with boys from neighbouring Foyle and Magee Colleges and soldiers from Ebrington Barracks, and she and her form-mates occasionally have to be accompanied by a member of staff on trips into town on free afternoons (though she does complain about this). By the time of the Rising she was nearly 27 and had completed several years of pharmaceutical training, but there seems to have been no suggestion that her skills could have been put to use in helping to deal with casualties; apart from providing cups of tea, though even this isn't described in detail, she and her fellow residents of 28 Merrion Square seem to have been mere spectators throughout the bloody battle that was raging around their lodging.

Postcard from Maie Corry's own collection   

Maie Corry's 1916 Diary

Maie Corry's Easter Rising Experience: 3

The experience of living through the Easter Rising was made all the more intense for Maie Corry, as for so many other Dubliners, by the fact that a family member – in her case her beloved older brother Sam – was fighting with a British army regiment in France, having joined the Inniskilling Fusiliers as a volunteer in 1915. On the evening of Thursday 27 April the scenes she witnessed became increasingly distressing, as the contingents of soldiers arriving from Kingstown came within sight of the GFS Lodge:

‘They came along Mount Street, in one of the houses of which there were some Sinn Feiners, almost opposite the Pharmaceutical School. From this house we could see the smoke as they fired on the poor soldiers. I saw one man getting shot, on the leg I think, as he was able to limp on past the dangerous house. Afterwards I saw him being carried into a house on the Square which had beeen turned into a hospital. At last they all got past, how many wounded I do not know. The last of them halted along the Square where they remained all night. The poor fellows seemed very glad to get the tea which most of the houses gladly provided. One boy told us that they had just marched from Kingstown, and that they hadn’t tasted tea since Monday morning in Liverpool. Since then they had been waiting there until it was safe to cross the Channel, which was infested with torpedoes. Probably the Germans were expecting troop-ships, and thought to sink them, but as far as we hear they all arrived safely.

‘Thousands more soldiers came along the same way next day, Friday. It was too awful to see them halt just before they came to this house, and then at the word of command make one dash on until they were out of danger. At first they used to line up right across the road one deep, but that was probably too slow a method, and in the end they just kept to the footpaths on each side, about two deep, dashing, dashing, dashing on for dear life. I saw another poor fellow who was shot lying on the path just in front of the house from which they were firing, and one of his comrades run back to drag him to safety. I do not know how badly he may have been wounded, but it must have been pretty badly. At the same time another fell on the other side of the street, and after that I could hardly bear to look any more, I grew so sick with dread each time I saw them brace themselves for that fateful dash.

Later some of the rebels got down to a house at the very end of Mount Street, one of the corner houses of the Square. They also had possession of the railway line, which runs along behind our side of the Square. Either from here or from houses in Holles Street in which they may have been hiding they were able to shoot right along Holles Street, thus making that particular corner a most dangerous and difficult one to pass. So although the artillery which came in on Saturday morning went round some other way to avoid Mount Street, and came along the side of the Square nearest us, they did not escape danger as they had to pass the corner house and also the opening into Holles Street. They could not go along the side opposite us as by that time the Sinn Feiners had got into a good many of the houses on that side and were actually firing from the windows across at the soldiers who lay on the footpath on our side returning their fire. Our side of the Square had been occupied by the military day and night since Thursday night, and on Friday night the firing across the Square had been very violent, most violent of all we had experienced. 

Junction of Mount St & Merrion Sq. Holles St is on right, No 28 a few houses beyond. 1992

How all the artillery got safely round this corner I do not know, but I think their arrival was more exciting to me than anything else. They galloped down the Square, round the corner and past Holles Street, waggons after wagons of them, for nearly an hour on end. One soldier was early crushed between the back of his own waggon and the two horses of the next, but after a little he was able to limp on. The wheel came off another waggon, and the horses were galloping so quickly it was almost impossible to get them pulled up. Even when they did get stopped those behind were almost on top of them and those behind that on top of them, and so on.

Worst of all, the second half of one of the waggons became detached just at the very corner, and remained there overturned, while the horses and driver galloped on unaware of what had happened. Those behind could not see the upturned waggon until they were almost on it and could barely pull aside in time to pass safely. At last the driver and a few men came back and there at the very most dangerous part of the whole way they had to stop, not knowing what minute might be their last, until they got the waggon put right and it was able to gallop on.

During all this time ambulances and doctors in white coats and nurses in their white aprons simply thronged the streets. Nobody else was allowed out, except a privileged few who had permits from some of the authorities. We saw any amount of wounded carried up in stretchers from Holles Street, and others carried from the ambulances into two houses in the Square which had been temporarily turned into hospitals. Then in the direction of Sackville Street we could see the glare of fire by night and smoke by day, for three or four days. 

Postcard from Maie Corry's own collection
'By Saturday night firing in the city seemed to be somewhat diminished. Our soldiers opposite had told us that the rebels had been given until six o’clock on Sunday morning to surrender, and if not – the artillery would be used without mercy. So when we heard a rumour that the leaders had surrendered we were inclined to believe it. Only in our own direction, and in Mount Street the firing seemed to be going on as bad as ever. The soldiers had somehow managed to get into the corner house – we actually saw them shoot several times into the basement and saw the smoke of bursting bombs which they threw down there too. We afterwards learned that there was an underground passage from that house right along one side of the Square into the houses on the opposite side, which explains how they came to be firing from those houses so unexpectedly. Shooting still went on in Mount Street on Sunday until about one o’clock we heard the command “Don’t fire on the white flag!” and soon after we saw a little band of rebels, the first of them carrying a white flag, march out into Mount Street with uplifted hands. It took some time to arrange them with a competent guard – there were one hundred and five – and then they marched off in the opposite direction.

De Valera's rebel garrison from Boland's Bakery surrender

'After that things were very much quieter, though there were still occasional shots at snipers, and we could still see military snipers on the roofs of adjacent houses, and we were not yet allowed out.

'After tea on Monday Miss Gilbert said she would take four of us for a little walk if the sentries would let us pass. First we went in the direction of town where we had heard Sackville Street was in ruins, but the Sentry at the end of the Square, though very nice, would on no account let us pass, so we retraced our steps and tried the other direction. The sentry here was more amenable to reason, told us to “double” past a gateway from which they were still firing, and escorted us to the next sentry, who escorted us to the next and so on until we got as far as the now famous Mount Street Bridge, where we picked up quite a number of empty bullets as souvenirs.
Clanwilliam House
'Clanwilliam House, which had been a rebel stronghold, was nothing but bare walls now. There were a few articles of furniture in the garden, where the poor little flowers were all trampled and withered. We were escorted by the same sentries on our return journey and reached Merrion Square in Safety.

‘Next morning we were allowed to have our first walk through the city, and what a sight! Sackville Street, the pride of Dublin, lay in ruins. The newspapers may describe it, but no description can give any adequate idea of the appearance of that once beautiful street. In my wildest dreams I couldn’t have pictured such a scene of destruction, and I will not attempt to describe [it].

Postcard from Maie Corry's own collection

Thursday, May 4th, 1916

'Everything and everybody is settling down quite wonderfully. The shops are opening again, and everybody who can is getting back to business. One or two trams have actually passed here this morning already, and it is all beginning to look like a bad dream. There is no sign of classes being resumed yet at Lower Mount Street, probably because there is no gas and we can do so little without gas. I won’t go again until Monday.’
O'Connell Bridge, Sackville Street and  Eden Quay/Lower Abbey Street [ALAMY]

Friday, 1 April 2016

Maie Corry's Easter Rising Experience: 2

While so many British infantry soldiers were being repulsed by a small number of rebel fighters at Mount Street, the nationalist strongholds in the city centre were coming under attack by much heavier firepower from a gunboat, the Helga, which pounded the quaysides along the River Liffey, inflicting particular damage upon Liberty Hall, where the rebels had mustered at the start of the rising. Sackville Street had also come under attack to try to flush the rebels out of the GPO and surrounding buildings. Overnight and on Thursday the military shelling intensified and fires began to rage on both sides of the street.

Undaunted, Miss Corry, Miss Duke and Miss Prendergast set off on another walk. 'We went up by Harcourt Street Station, near which was a heap of barrels which had evidently been used as a barricade across a road leading into Harcourt Street, but had been piled on each side of the road to clear the way again. At the foot of Harcourt Street there were a couple of houses which, the story went, had been set on fire by a Sinn Feiner who had a spite at one of the occupants, and who had been shot by some of the military when attempting to escape after he had done the deed. Whether the story be true or not, the houses were destroyed, and there was the dead body of a Sinn Feiner lying in a corner at the other side of the street.' (It should be said that Sinn Fein, which had been set up in 1905 by Arthur Griffith, was not officially involved in the rising, though many of its members were, and it was generally assumed to have been the moving force behind what became known at the time as the Sinn Fein Rebellion.)

'Everything seemed fairly quiet just then, so we ventured down one side of Stephen's Green past the College of Surgeons. Near the other side we could see a barricade of motor cars of every description right across the road, and almost opposite the College there was another similar barricade, where we had to go right out in the middle of the road and squeeze through a narrow space. We didn't know it at the time that the College was still in the possession of the Sinn Feiners, although the Green, White and Orange Flag still floated over it, and we innocently stood and gazed up at the barricaded windows.
College of Surgeons from Stephen's Green, 2015

'Fortunately nothing happened then, and besides we weren't the only foolish people. At the top of Grafton Street looting was going on with more zest than ever. Nobletts was completely plundered and the windows all broken and by this time the mob had smashed the window of the next shop, a sweet shop too, and were still carrying on their game of plunder unmolested. We had only just got past when a shot came almost at our very heels and the people flew right and left. We, too, quickened our steps, only to stop again, for in front of us shots began to come from somewhere else. We hesitated a minute, then tore down the street which was covered with broken glass from both windows and bottles, old papers, and even blood in some places, cut across a side street and home as quickly as our legs could carry us.

'That finished our perambulations for some time as the door was locked and we were not allowed out again until it was all nearly over. In any case the sentries along the Square would let nobody pass on any pretext whatsoever, so we had to content ourselves with what we could see from the windows after that. Of course all the time we could hear the rattle of machine guns and big guns in different directions, and rifle shots seemed to be everywhere.'

Maie Corry's Easter Rising Experience: 1

Maie Corry, Waterford c. 1916

At the beginning of April, 1916 my maternal grandmother, Maie Corry, left Waterford, where she had been working as an assistant at Gorman’s Medical Halls, and moved to Dublin to study for the final exams that would enable her to qualify for membership of the Pharmaceutical Society of Ireland, licensed to practise as a dispensing chemist in her own right. She signed up to attend lectures in the Pharmaceutical School in Lower Mount Street, living a few hundred yards away in the Girls’ Friendly Society Hostel on the north side of Merrion Square.

Maie was an intensely sociable character who made friends easily. She was invited to spend Easter weekend with a Mr and Mrs Barkley, who seem to have been connections made through the Presbyterian church communities in Maie’s native Donegal or Londonderry, in Clareville Road, in Dublin’s southern suburbs. From her arrival on Saturday 22 April ‘everything passed quietly as usual,’ she recorded in her diary, ‘until Monday evening at about eight o’clock.

‘Just as I was thinking of getting ready to come back to town, an old gentleman next door called to see Mr Barkley with the news that there was a rising of the Sinn Feiners during the day, that they had seized the General Post Office, and taken possession of Stephen’s Green, and were prepared to hold it against siege.
Of course after that I couldn’t think of going out …’

On Easter Tuesday after breakfast Maie left Clareville Road, escorted by her hostess Mrs Barkley, and set off for Merrion Square. ‘We didn’t know how much was true of what we had heard, but as soon as we came to the corner of Kenilworth Park we saw there were no trams running and at every corner were groups of men standing talking, and sometimes women, all with eager, excited and sometimes frightened faces.

‘We met a quite a number of business men and girls walking back out of town, Mr Barkley among the number. He came back with us, and told us … that all the shops in town were closed, and that a good many of those in Sackville Street had been broken into and looted by the mob. Switzer’s and all the shops in Grafton Street were quite safe at that time.

‘As we came to Portobello Bridge we saw a public house – Davy’s – which had evidently been the centre of a fight some time the previous afternoon or night. The big plate glass windows were smashed to atoms, and most of the windows upstairs were either completely broken or riddled with bullet holes. The walls of the house were also thickly dotted with bullet marks. Soldiers were on guard inside the house and outside. I afterwards learned that the Sinn Feiners had taken possession of this house on the Monday afternoon, and that the bullet marks were the signs of the work done by the military in trying to rout them.’

Now known as the Portobello Bar, Davy’s features in Visit Dublin’s tourist tours of the city; guides explain how it was taken over by rebels led by a man by the name of James Joyce – not the author of Ulysses, but a frustrated bottle washer at the pub who took matters into his own hands in dramatic fashion. Angered at the disruption, his boss Mr. Davy issued Joyce a week’s notice to finish up work. To this, young Joyce allegedly retorted, ‘Well, I’m giving you five minutes’ notice!’, following it with a gentle warning shot from his rifle. There’s a picture here:

Maie’s route to the GFS Hostel lay across Stephen’s Green, the beautiful, leafy park at the south end of Grafton Street, Dublin’s smartest shopping street, but as she approached with Mr and Mrs Barkley they could hear shots ‘firing more and more distinctly’, so they took a detour and approached Merrion Square from the far side. ‘From the distance we could see a tram standing, I suppose just where it was when the rising first broke out at the Green. We all three arrived at Merrion Square without mishap, and there my friends left me. I didn’t go out all the rest of that day, but in the afternoon the firing became worse and worse in Stephen’s Green direction, and we soon got quite accustomed to the unusual sounds.’

28 Merrion Square in 2015

At the time of the census taken five years previously, the GFS Hostel had 30 residents including the Superintendent, a 27-year-old widow called Annie Irene Ffrench, and her five-year-old daughter. Mrs Ffrench and most of the boarders were Church of Ireland; some were domestics servants, several were nurses, typists, shop assistants or 'scholars'. There was a medical student from Queen's University Belfast and a 'telegraphist'; one 'householder' and one who described her occupation as 'lady'. They came from all over Ireland and ranged in age from teens to mid-50s. This was typical for a GFS Lodge. The Society had been established in 1875 by Mary Elizabeth Townsend, an Irish clergyman's daughter married to the wealthy Frederick Townsend, to offer affordable, safe accommodation for working-class country girls who left home to take up urban employment. Over Easter weekend in 1916 it's likely that many of the long-term residents would have gone home for the weekend, so the hostel may have been less full than on the census night.

No doubt the residents of 28 Merrion Square were as surprised as everyone else in Dublin that the quasi-military demonstrations by various nationalist and socialist groups over the past few years had culminated in an actual uprising against British rule. Certainly they weren't aware of the progress of events. On Easter Monday the General Post Office in Sackville Street had been occupied by rebel forces of the Irish Republican Brotherhood  and their leader Padraig Pearse had read the Proclamation of the Provisional Government of the Irish Republic on its steps. Several other buildings in the Sackville Street area had also been occupied, together with the Four Courts, the College of Surgeons on Stephen's Green, the City Hall and neighbouring buildings overlooking Dublin Castle - the seat of British government - and key locations on the outskirts of the city centre, including Jacob's biscuit factory and Boland's bakery, not far from Merrion Square. By Tuesday City Hall had been retaken and soldiers of the Irish Citizen Army who had started digging trenches in Stephen's Green had been driven out by government forces firing on them from the windows and roof of the Shelbourne Hotel. British army reinforcements were beginning to arrive and martial law was proclaimed.

On the morning of Wednesday 26 April Maie Corry with 'Miss Duke and Miss Prendergast', two fellow residents of the hostel, 'went out for a little "dander".

North end of Grafton Street, Trinity College on right
 'Everywhere there was that general air of excitement. We ventured as far as the top of Grafton Street, where we spent some time watching a crowd of boys and girls, yes, and grown-up women too, looting Noblett's toffee shop. We had heard that morning that the Sinn Feiners had all been put out of the Green - in other words, probably killed - and that the military were in possession. I do not think this can have been quite true. At any rate the gates were then closed, and we could hear the sound of firing there at intervals. We turned down Grafton Street, and thought we might get as far as Sackville Street, but opposite Trinity College a man walked across and very politely requested us to go to the other side of the street as the soldiers guarding the College were firing from the roof and it wasn't safe where we were.

'We obediently crossed and proceeded in the direction of O'Connell Bridge. From there we could see the "Green Flag" of the Irish Republic floating over the GPO, and hear shots in the distance. The majority of the crowd seemed to be unanxious to go past the Bridge, and as we were in sympathy with the crowd on that point we, too, stood and waited - for what we hardly knew, but it soon came! Suddenly, quite close to us there was a succession of deafening reports, much too close to be comfortable, and the crowd scattered in all directions, anywhere to be out of reach of those terrible shots. Somewhat subdued, I must confess, we decided that for once discretion might be the better part of valour, and we returned to Merrion Square without further adventure.
Mount St from Merrion Square 2015

'That afternoon firing was very heavy, and sounded much nearer us. From our upper windows we could see a crowd at the other end of Mount Street, and before very long there were the nurses in their white aprons, evidently carrying in the wounded. We were too far away to see all that was going on, but we could occasionally catch the flash of the rifle shots, and the awful sound of the shooting, which went on from about one o'clock until between eight or none at night without ceasing for a single instant, sounded very near indeed.'

Maie and her companions in the GFS Lodge were listening to one of the most significant incidents of Easter Week: the 'Battle of Mount Street Bridge'. Three small garrisons of volunteers had established themselves in houses overlooking a bridge over the Grand Canal on one of the main roads from the port, Kingstown (now Dun Laoghaire), where British troops would arrive from England. The 59th North Midland division - three brigades of the South Staffordshire, North Staffordshire, Lincolnshire, Leicestershire and Sherwood Forester regiments had been mobilised on Monday night and were on their way. Many had only been in training for a few weeks since volunteering, as they thought, to fight in the First World War. They were greeted warmly in Kingstown and set off on foot for Dublin city centre, only to be ambushed at the junction of Northumberland Road and Percy Place. A detailed account of the incident by military historian Paul O'Brien can be found HERE. Ultimately the rebel garrisons were defeated and their leaders killed, but the losses on the British side were far greater; urged by their commanding officers to press on down the direct route to Trinity College regardless of sniper fire from 25 Northumberland Road on the south side of the canal and Clanwilliam House on the north, they were picked off one after another. Four officers were killed and 14 wounded, and 216 'other ranks' killed or wounded. Civilians also lost their lives at Mount Street Bridge, including Mrs Elizabeth Kane who was killed and her daughter seriously wounded when their house came under fire; a local grocer who was killed as he tried to cross the line of fire; and a dentist, Mr C Hanchette Hyland, who had gone out to give assistance to the wounded - as did many local residents - but on his return was shot by a stray bullet as he stood in the doorway of his house in Percy Place.

Mount Street Memorial
Grand Canal from Mount Street Bridge

Thursday, 11 August 2011

Bookshops of Belfast pt 2

I can't quite remember whether the APCK bookshop on the corner of Howard Street and Donegall Square became Gardiners or vice versa, but I think it was the former. Whichever, it was the source of most of the Armada paperbacks that I collected from the age of around nine or ten: long series of Enid Blyton Famous Five and Mallory Towers books, followed by the more sophisticated adventure stories of Malcolm Saville, set in real locations around England, and the family sagas of Noel Streatfeild. I can recall calculating how many different titles it would be possible to squeeze out of a book token or a (rare) five pound note, then enjoying the crackle of the orange-and-white Penguin paper bags as two or three were wrapped up for me. Children's books were in the south-west corner of the shop, which was narrow but bright, with large plate glass windows down the length of its Wellington Place frontage. From time to time however it would be plunged in gloom when the windows were boarded up after bomb blasts.

Some time during my teenage years APCK moved to Callender Street, opposite the back door of Marks & Spencers. We used to trade off patient endurance as mum browsed the clothing counters for increased time in the APCK, but it's also the first bookshop I remember visiting on my own, without a clock-watching parent. It had the advantage of being next door to the Skandia, a Swedish coffee shop and bistro-style restaurant which with its brown decor and flowered pottery mugs was the height of 70s chic. hours of scanning the shelves of APCK or kneeling on the floor sampling blurbs, author biographies and first chapters took me through Puffins and Peacocks to the Penguin adult fiction list, laced with thrillers from Granada and with historical novels by Jean Plaidy, Georgette Heyer and Margaret Irwin.

Much less time was spent in either of Belfast's more traditional bookshops. School prizes came from Mullans in Donegall Place; we were allowed to make requests which were sometimes accurately fulfilled and sometimes not when the order arrived and the prize books were stacked in enticing piles on the table in front of whichever dignitary was presenting them in the Whitla Hall of Queen's University or, later, the lecture hall of our own new school building. But Mullans was a tall, narrow shop with very little space for browsing and the shelves reached far above my head. W. Erskine Mayne in Donegall Square was similar, but a little more spacious. It was the headquarters of the Northern Ireland branch of the Puffin Club, of which I was an enthusiastic member, so for a while I did feel an obligation to shop in Erskine Mayne's, especially after the managing director of the firm hosted a wonderful Puffin Club barbecue with lots of imaginative games on the beach and in the garden of his spectacular Elizabethan-revival house in Groomsport. But I don't really associate the shop with hours of browsing.

Many very happy hours, however, over very many years, were spent in the Church House Bookshop, run by the Presbyterian Church in Ireland in its grand headquarters building in Fisherwick Place. This was on the way back to the Great Northern Railway station in Great Victoria Street, so again it was a question of making sure we left enough time at the end of any shopping trip to do justice to its extensive stock before catching the train home. I remember carpets, good bright lighting and the fact that it stocked the seductive hard-backed volumes of the Oxford Children's Library, with their vivid cover illustrations, cellophane-coated dust-jackets and delicate b/w text illustrations that brought the characters so vividly to life. I knew I ought to admire the Rosemary Sutcliffs most, especially as I was interested in ancient history, but my favourites - books that inspired me to the point of shaping and influencing my life to this day - were Elfrida Vipont's Quaker family series beginning with The Lark in the Morn and The Lark on the Wing, featuring aspiring singer Kit Haverard; and William Mayne's tale of a group of cathedral choristers A Swarm in May. I discovered these in Finaghy Library, but bought my own copies in Church House.

Gill & Macmillan's History of Ireland in several paperback volumes was probably bought, one at a time, from the University Bookshop or from Gardiner's in Botanic Avenue, my bookshops of choice in my late teens and in university holidays, along with numerous other books about history or English literature to provide extra quotes in A-level essays. Even after I started working in Hatchards in Piccadilly no visit home was complete without a visit to one or other of these shops, usually both, to top up my growing library of Irish poetry, fiction, biography and history. A copy of Fortnight magazine and one or two more abstruse pamphlets would usually be added to my purchases in order to give me a feel for how the province's cultural life was developing in my absence.

And then there was Waterstone's, established and generously stocked in the mid-80s in a beautiful building in Royal Avenue, not far from Castle Junction. My brother was its first deputy manager and even had the first part of his wedding reception - champagne and cake - on the mezzanine floor.  He moved to England not long after; some years later fire destroyed the shop and now Waterstone's trades from much reduced premises in Fountain Street. But the Dublin-based Eason's, once in Ann Street, is now in a more prestigious site in Donegall Place and I'm relieved to find it carries a reasonable selection of Irish-interest books. This may prove to be a lifeline once the University Bookshsop really has closed its doors for the last time. And I can't finish without mentioning No Alibis in Botanic Avenue, which specialises in crime fiction. Its presence can't quite make up for the loss of Gardiner's on the opposite side of the road, which seems to have vanished without trace, but No Alibis is quirky and characterful with friendly, knowledgeable staff and a good range of books within its subject area, attractively displayed. That's what I'm looking for in a bookshop.