Speech given by Paddy Holahan
Personal Recollections of the fighting in the Four Courts Area 1916
In the paper which I am going to read to you, I have endeavored to get down notes and personal recollections of the fighting in the Four Courts area during Easter Week, 1916. In the time at my disposal I would not be able to cover all aspects of it, but I have endeavored so far as I can to do justice to the men who took part in it, many of whom then and since have given their lives for the cause we all hold so dear.
As one of the senior officers of Fianna Eireann, I was aware of the date on which the rising was to take place. I had been selected as one of the group of Fianna detailed to attack and destroy the Magazine Fort in the Phoenix Park. In preparation for this, our group received special training in the use of explosives. The training was carried on for some weeks previously in the Father Mathew Park, our instructor being Thomas McDonagh. I can well remember how he impressed on us that we were to take the place without loss of life. I may say that this view of warfare disconcerted me somewhat, as after the sham battles we had been practicing, my imagination conjured up pictures of volunteers and Citizen Army charging the British with gory results.
All was set to go off, when Easter Sunday morning came. I had been at early Mass, and went to the Father Mathew Park to get some rifle practice on the range. I had just got the gun from the care- taker, when Capt. Tom Hunter came up and asked me if I had seen the morning paper. I replied that I had not. He then told me of the countermanding order. As I was attached to the 2nd. Battn., he said I had better come with him to Liberty Hall.
When we arrived there, there was great excitement, messengers coming and going. I was kept busy until late in the afternoon, when I was told to go home and await further instructions.
Our house was well known to all the Fianna, and late that night my brother and others arrived ,and with them , the news that on the morrow we would carry out our original instructions. We were all up early on the Monday morning, as we had to re-mobilise our group. Being unable to get into with them all, we had to call on the services of some Volunteers. They all assembled at our house; the newcomers received their instructions, and we then set out for the Park, some of us proceeding by the Ballybough tram, others on bicycles, as they wanted to a football at Whelan’s on Ormond Quay.
On reaching the park, we started to kick football, and according to plan, worked closer to the main gate of the Fort as the game progressed. At last the ball was put through the gate, and one of our party approached for permission to get the ball. When he gained admission, and got near the sentry, he held him up. The remainder of the party lost no time in getting inside. The remaining sentries had still to be dealt with. One instead of putting down his rifle position, one short was fired, and he was wounded and held prisoner with the other soldiers in the guard room.
We then started to execute out plan to destroy the Fort, entering the different stores, laying our explosives, setting the fuses alight, locking the door and throwing the keys back into the stores. The men in charge of the prisoners had, in the meantime, collected all the arms and ammunition in the guard room, By some accident.
We did not enter the high explosive store. Perhaps it was fortunate for us, as we would never have been able to get to get out of the place in time, but it spoiled the plan to blow up the Fort, although it saved our lives.
The only means of transport that could be procured was an outside car. On to this we packed the rifles and ammunition which we had captured, and escorted by some of the party on bicycles we started on our journey towards the city. We had not gone far when we realized that a boy, I believe he was Fort commander’s son, was running towards Island Bridge Barracks. He was followed by one of our officers on a bicycle, and as he failed to stop when called on, he was shot as he entered the Commander’s House at the bend of Island Bridge Road. We had of course released our prisoners before we left the Fort. Our job was this much of a success that we caused a fire which destroyed a large quantity of ammunition, and took the Brigade some days to extinguish. On our return Journey, having passed G.H.Q. Parkgate and the Royal, now Collins Barracks, we turned off the Quays and made contact with the Volunteer post at Red Cow Lane and North Brunwick Street.
Like our group of Fianna, the Battalion of the Dublin Brigade had been busy mobilizing, and the 1st Battalion having mobilized at Black- hall place marched , under the commend of Comdt. Ned Daly, to take over the Forth Courts and the surrounding area. For the first portion of the week, headquarters were at the entrance gates to the North Dublin union. A first aid post was established in the Father in Mathew Hall, and men were posted St . Bridge, Jameson’s Distillery and Malt House, and in house adjoining the junctions of streets covering the most likely lines of approach. It was to the North Dublin Union Headquarters were posted. And we were allocated to posts at the Corner of Red Cow Lane and North Brunswick Street.
We could hear heavy firing to the south of the Liffey, and we located it as from the Mendicity Institution. I might mention that the Mendicity had been taken over by D Company of the 1st Batalion, which was under the command of Sean Heuston, who was a Fianna Officer, as well as being a Volunteer Officer. He had received his instructions direct from James Connolly to the effect that he was to hold the place for three or four hours, so as to delay approach of troops from the Royal Barracks to the centre of the City and the Four Courts. You can judge how well Sean Heuston carried out his task, when I tell you that, after receiving some reinforcements, he held the post for three days. Another way of estimating the importance attached by the enemy to his fight is to examine the sentences the garrison received when they were courtmartialled. Every man attached to the garrison was sentenced to penal servitude, with terms ganging from one year to life, whilst their gallant leader paid the ultimate sacrifice with his death at the hands of the firing squad.
On hearing the heavy firing I have mentioned, we redoubled our efforts to make our positions as strong as possible. During this day of feverish activity, the few showers which fell were hardly noticed. Later the sun was kind, and came out, and came out, but when darkness fell with all the street and house lights out, there was a complete black- out, during which the nerves of everybody were at their tensest awaiting the expected attack. Prowling about the dark deserted rooms, imagination exaggerated things. For instance, I entered one room, and was startled to see an armed confronting me where I did not except to see anyone. I immediately challenged, and receiving no reply, fired at my own reflection in a wardrobe mirror.
Most of Monday and Tuesday, the volunteers were occupying houses and strengthening the barricade. There was plenty of material to hand, as the house in Church St. opposite the chapel were only in course of erection. Messrs Kelly’s builders yard in North Brunswick St. was also availed of. And from the local foundries, boilers, etc., were commandeered. There was one barricade which I remember well, because it had a cab in the centre of it. It was most convenient when you wanted to remark, this weak spot was always well guarded.
Among the houses occupied were four around Red Cow Lane, Moore’s Coach Dairy – at the junction of Church St. and North Brunswick St., - and Reilly’s public house at the corner of North. King St. and Church St., which later came to be known as “Reilly’s Fort.” Barricades were erected at the quay end of Church St., and across the Bridge, and the late Peadar Clancy charge of the occupying party.
There were also strong barricades across Church St., at the Chapel and Father Mathew Hall. Further up, a diagonal one crossed Church St. from Moore’s Coach Factory to North. Brunswick St. In fact, there were barricades everywhere around, covering the most likely routes of enemy approach. I might mention that no tenanted houses were occupied. The occupiers who were dispossessed were helped to bring their belongings to the North Dublin Union Or to the Technical Schools in Bolton St.
The first skirmish occurred on the Quays, shortly after noon. A party of the 5th and 12th Lancers on horseback, escorting five London and North Western lorries coming from the North Wall laden with munitions, were fired on from the Four courts. They backed into Charles St. where they occupied some houses and the collier Dispensary. There they were held until Tuesday. Some of the lancers charged wildly up church St., two being shot dead, one opposite the Chapel, and one at North Brunswick St. corner. The remainder huddled in the harrow street. The animals were maddened with hunger, and the soldiers shot some of them and released others which clattered about the streets for hours. An armoured truck appeared on Thursday and brought them off, but not before they had been subjected to several attacks, in the course of which a Flanna officer was severely wounded, and the British officer in charge, a Lt. Hunter, killed.
Also in action were the men at the Church St. barricade, ever on the watch to the prevent movement along the quays. It was this group which captured Lord Dunsany and Captain Lindsay, as the latter were motoring from Kingsbridge to their regimental headquarters at Amien’s St. They failed to stop when challenged, and Lord Dunsany was wounded. The volunteer Captain who took them remarked jokingly that there was no danger of their entering “The Glittering gates’ just yet. He alluded to a play of Lord Dunsany’s which had been popular at the Abbey Theatre about a burglar breaking open the shining gate of heaven. The playwright remarked that he congratulated himself on having been taken by literary men. He was sent to Jervis St. Hospital, and I understand did a good turn later on there by, if not shaving, at least lending his razor to several of our men, so that they might shoe the shaven cheek of innocence to the British military when they started searching the hospital.
Tuesday brought the work of strengthening barricades, loop-holing houses, and provisioning the garrisons and the civilians still left in the area, with the help of the staff in Nonk’s Bakery, who continued to work day and night at this essential job. It was determined to reconnoiter Broadstone station, and a party of the Volunteers and Fianna were picked. At dusk, they advanced up Constitution Hill, then turned to the left and worked along the high wall at Prebend St. One of the Fianna officers reached the open space at the acqueduct bridge, he was shot through the lung, but not with standing wound, he managed to return to the Courts and report to Comdt. Ned Daly. The latter then ordered a retirement to North Brunswick St.
Thereafter the Volunteer snipers at the Northern outposts at Nth. Brunswick Street, corner kept up a constant fire on Broadstone Station. The attic windows at Clarke’s Dairy were particularly useful for this. Soldiers going on sentry duty and military snipers who pushed southwards from the station, were met with accurate fire, and several killed. It was from this fire Lieut. Gray of the Royal Dublin Fusiliers met his death. The upper portion of the dairy was also loopholed towards the south, and the later in the week fire from this direction was responsible for several casualities amongst, the military turning the corner from North king street into church Street,
On Wednesday Volunteer picqueta patrolled the streets, and maintained communication with headquarters at the G.P.O. It was reported that an amoured car had been seen in the vicinity Bolton Street ,some of our outposts were under constant fire from positions which were located in Christ church and Powers Distillery.
It had been ascertained that there were isolated enemy garrisons in the Bridewell and in the Linenhall Barracks, and it was decided to round them up.
A Party was detailed to capture the Barracks. The garrison, which numbered some forty unarmed men of the Army Pay Corps were summoned to surrender, but refused. Gelignite was placed in position in the wall facing Lurgan St., and the Barracks door burst open with sledge hammers. The garrison then surrendered. At the Bridewell a number of policemen were found in the cellars. They were brought into the Four Courts.
At 3.p.m., in order to avoid a re-occupation of the Linenhall Barracks by the encircling forces, it was set on fire, and in the course of the day the blaze assumed large proportions. During Wednesday night it lit up the streets with a murky glow. By Thursday it had travelled to Messrs. Moore’s, the druggists, in Bolton St., and then became really spectacular. Large barrels of oil were tossed into the air and exploded, and a cloud of stifling smoke shrouded the district. Attempts were made to confine the fire by hosing, and these were partially successful. Even on Thursday night, the blaze made the streets bright as day, but by Friday it had subsided, and pitch darkness once more reigned. The remaining tenements were hastily evacuated in North King St. expect by those whose grin business it was to stay there and fight to the death. Shops were hastily barricaded with corrugated iron and planking.
Nine o’clock in the morning of Thursday brought another skirmish to the men at the Church St. Bridge barricade. Soldiers were seen advancing in single file along the south side of the quays along Usher’s Quay. Fire was immediately opened on them, and they took cover behind the stone pillars at Ganly’s Wool Stores. It was on this day that the British plan of cordoning the Fourt Courts was seen taking shape.
The intention was to occupy Queen St. as far as North King St., and thence along North King St. to Bolton St. They must not have been aware that North King St. was strongly held, and that my own garrison in North Brunswick St. was outside the cordon.
From dawn on Friday until the end, the attack all over the city became intense. Heavy firing was heard from all directions. In the afternoon, this attack finally came towards North King St. The military advanced via Capel St., and about 6.45.p.m an armoured car arrived at the Technical Schools, which, as I have already told you, was occupied by evacuated tenants. They were again evacuated, and the school made military headquarters. A barricade was made with the school furniture, which was thrown out of the windows. It extended from the schools to Yarnhall St. opposite. About 250 soldiers under Lt. Col. H. Taylor arrived, and immediately busied themselves with rounding up the local residents and interrogating them. The armoured car was active all the evening, rushing troops into Bolton St. the local outposts were warned to expect heavy fighting that night. Extra supplies or bombs and ammunition were brought to Reilly’s, to Clarke’s Dairy, and to other posts. At dusk, an armoured car rushed from Bolton St. but was pulled up by the barricades at Langan’s, across North King St. at Coleraine St. In the ensuing exchange of fire, one soldier was killed and machine gun fire killed a Volunteer
When night came, this attack was resumed. It had been anticipated, a further barricade having been constructed across the North King Street end of Beresford Street.
An armoured car appeared again, and its fifteen occupants jumped out and proceeded to fire into every house along North King St. The few occupants lay face down in the rooms whilst the bullets pounded the walls over them. At the same time, fire from the Malt house and from the Coleraine St. barricade was opened and several soldiers fell. One soldier, endeavouring to club in a door with the butt end of his rifle, killed his comrade when the rifle went off. From the occupied houses the British maintained a heavy fire ion Langan’s barricade, and it was soon realized that daylight would make it untenable. It was pitch dark, and the only guide to a target was the flash of a rifle. A scream or a groan announced when a bullet had reached its mark. The attacking British clambered to the roof tops, and from this vantage rained down bombs on the street until the answering bullets made the roofs untenable. One group of British succeeded in making a lodgment in a house between North Anne St. and Church St., and bored through house after house to near church St. Attackers and defenders were now opposite one another on each side of the narrow street, and the din became infernal. The sound of crashing timber, the shouted commands of the officers in charge of the attack, the scream of bullets resounded continually. Stable of flame come from rifles and machine guns, the woodwork of windows was splintered, the bags of meal at loopholes were cut to pieces and spilled into the Street.
At about 3 a.m. the barricade at Langan’s was evacuated, but still continued to draw fire through the right and form an obstacle to the cars. A disused house of the corner of Beresford St. was occupied to enable bombs to be dropped on the armoured vehicles should they penetrate.
At dawn on Saturday, the position was that several houses on both sides of North King St. were occupied by the British; and the Malt House in Beresford St. came under heavy fire from the backs of the house in North Anne St. and the south side of North King St. A bayonet charge by the military towards Reilly’s in Church St. was allowed to pass from Reilly’s and enfilading fire from the Beresford St. barricade, and from the Malt House. Night or nine soldiers were killed and several wounded. In faces of the continued attack from all sides, the barricade at Beresford St. was evacuated early in the day, the Malt House holding out till 5 p.m.
Meanwhile, the military attack on the west side had developed. The Staffordshire and Sherwood foresters were transported in armoured cars on Friday evening towards Smithfield by Queen St. They occupied various houses, in the neighbourhood, and erected a barricade from Queen’s St. to George’s Lane opposite. Late on Friday night under cover of darknest, they finally took up positions at Egan’s public house at the corner of Smithfield Mkt. In the course of these operations they sustained several casualties.
Between 8 and 9 a.m. on Saturday Reilly’s public house was evacuated, and shortly afterwards a party of soldiers occupied it. They were immediately subjected to a heavy fire from the barricade in Church St. and from Nth. Brunswick St., and found their positions untenable. A party of them endeavoured to escape towards Bolton St. but were at once shot down. The remainder were held in the house, and an attempt started to encircle them by working through the rere of Monk’s Bakery to North King St. to Neary’s shop. From this position they engaged the soldiers in Kavanagh’s shop on the opposite side of the street. On the other side of Reilly’s they outflanked them by occupying Ball’s drug Store. The whole of the fighting thus became concentrated in the small portion of Upper Church St. between North King St. and Nth. Brunswick St. a 50yds length of street.
Saturday from 3 p.m. to 7.30 p.m. saw most desperate fighting in this position. Continual efforts were made to relieve the soldiers in Reilly’s and gain a footing in church St., and the two contestants were only a street width apart. As soldiers appeared from North King St. into Church St. they came under fire from Clarke’s Dairy, Moore’s Coach Factory opposite, and the barricades near the Church, and several of them fell. At length they gained cover in the Blanchardstown Bakery in this corner opposite Reilly’s but were fired on continually. A young soldier was hit, and fell in the street. The Volunteers shouted that they would cease fire to allow him to be removed. The sergeant major in but changed his mind. A few minutes later the same sergeant was hit himself and also fell in the street.
Fr. Albert, one of the Capuchin Fathers, had been on duty in the Richmond Hospital, and on Saturday afternoon he heard rumours of the surrender at the G.P.O. With Dr. O’Carroll and Dr. Miles, he proceeded to my outpost to confirm it. I told him I had heard nothing of it. Another Capuchin Father, Fr, Augustine, was greatly concerned about the safety Mathew Hall. At 4 p.m. he sent a message to the British Military commander by a volunteer Red Cross man in which he asked for an interview. The messenger returned and said the reply was ‘You are all rebels and asked to see the officer in command. Lt. Col. Taylor came. It was decided to send the Red Cross man to my position to interview me. Just then a Volley struck the pavement. Col. Taylor immediately covered the Red Cross man with his revolver. As a result of this incident , Father Augustine volunteered to go himself. He called up to me from the street, and I replied stating I would not personally make any term with the military, but would agree to a temporary truce for the removal of the wounded, provided the military at Broadstone ceased fire also. The conditions of this truce were ratified by Lt. Col. Taylor and Gen. Lowe’s son. It was to last from 7.30 p.m. on Saturday until 10 a.m. Sunday morning. Dr. O’Carroll accompanied by a military sergeant and a corporal confirm this truce, another Volunteer officer being held by the military at North King St. as a hostage until their safe return.
Meanwhile Fr. Columbus, of Church St., when returning from Jervis St. Hospital met Miss O’Farrell conveying the surrender order to commit. Daly at the Four Courts. It was then about 6 p.m. on Saturday. Fr. Columbus, bearing a small white flag, interviewed Commit. Daly at the Chancery St. entrance. The surrender was arranged, and the arms passed out through the railings to the soldiers outside, and the arms passed out Volunteers were marched along the quays to Capel Street and thence via Britain St. to the open space in front of the Rotunda railings.
The truce at North Brunswick St. was closely observed by both sides, the Volunteers standing to arms all night. During the truce, in the upper portion of Church St. two military officers advanced a short distance beyond the line.