Despite knowing about the upcoming Rising, the British government in Ireland did little to prepare for it. Monday morning there were a total of 400 British soldiers on hand to respond to the rebellion. Townshend claims that there were 100 for each of the four barracks (Richmond, Marlborough, Royal, and Portobello). The rest of the police force had taken advantage of the holiday and had gone to the races. The small force engaged the rebels during Monday afternoon, but were unable to displace the Volunteers. This was a short lived victory for the rebels however, as by Monday night General Lowe had taken command, an additional 150 troops had arrived from Belfast with more reinforcements coming from England, and a colonel had brought up the artillery from Athlone. Lowe’s plan was to establish communication along the Kingsbridge-North Wall-Trinity College line, cutting the city in half, and then isolate the rebel forces from each other.
Martial law was declared that Monday, and the fate of Dublin was left in the military’s hands.
Tuesday, 25 April
By Tuesday morning, Townshend estimates that the military strength was up to 3000 men and Lowe estimated the rebels to be about 2000 strong, but he knew little else. There was also the fear that the rebellion could spread to the countryside, so he needed additional reinforcements to control the countryside while he focused on the city.
Despite not knowing the exact situation, Lowe’s men were able to achieve a few victories. By the end of Tuesday, they had dislodged Mallin’s men from St. Stephen’s Green and into the Royal College of Surgeons. A unit attempted to repair a section of the damaged railroad at Amiens Street but were attacked by the rebels positioned along Annesley Bridge. They fought for two hours before the British were forced to retreat.
That night, the British were able to position the four 18 pounder field guns and the guns on the HMS Helga. The British would use these pieces of artillery to great effect on Wednesday, focusing their fire on Liberty Hall, O’Connell Street, and Boland’s Mill. Connolly had once said that Britain would never fire artillery at Dublin because it was a modernized capitalistic city. One wonders what Connolly’s thoughts were during the intense bombardment.
Despite the limited engagements, Tuesday was still a day of tragedy. The shock of the rebellion shattered the complacency that had taken over the Irish government. With a crisis on their hands, the military responded swiftly and harshly. An example of the kind of repression the military would use during the rest of was week was the arrest of a pacifist, feminist and prominent Irish social figure-Francis Sheehy-Skeffington.
Born in 1878, Francis Sheehy-Skeffington he was a well known writer and radical activist and would inspire a character in James Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. He was a journlist and socialist who had regular dealings with many of the Irish Volunteers who took part in Easter Rising such as James Connolly and Constance Markiewicz. He even joined the Irish Citizen Army in 1913, but left when it became a military entity.
Sheehy-Skeffington, disapproving of the military nature of the rising, went out Tuesday to discourage looters. He was arrested by British Lieutenant Morris and taken to Portobello Barracks. Later that night Captain J.C. Bowen Colthurst wanted to go led a raiding party up to Harcourt Rd. (south of St. Stephen’s Green) and he took Sheehy-Skeffington as a ‘hostage’. On the way there, he killed a young man named Coade before ransacking a house owned by the alderman Tom Kelly. He arrested two men Thomas Dickson and Patrick McIntyre, and took them back to the barracks. He reviewed the papers he found at the alderman’s house and the papers on Sheehy-Skeffington. Wednesday morning, he took the three men out to the yard and shot them, claiming they were dangerous men and he shot them to prevent the men from escaping.
The commander of Portobello Barracks, Francis Vane, was not there during the shooting. When he found out, he demanded that Colthurst be arrested. Instead, the bodies were buried in the yard, Hanna Sheehy-Skeffington was not told about her husband’s death, and Colthurst broke into her house to find evidence that Francis Sheehy-Skeffington had helped planned the revolution. Hanna eventually found out what happened to her husband. Vane pressed to prosecute Colthurst and Vane lost his command while Colthurst kept his rank.
Colthurst was finally arrested May 9th and would later be court-martialed and convicted of insanity. He was sentenced to Broadmoor Hospital, but was released in 1918 and resettled in Canada. Vane was dishonorably discharged from the army and went on to become involved in with the Boy Scouts.
Wednesday, 26 April
During Wednesday, the British tightened their grip on the city. Using their artillery to bombard positions such as O’Connell Street and Boland’s Mill, Lowe sent his new reinforcements from England into the city to further cut the rebels off from each other.
One unit was sent to attack Heuston’s position at Mendicity Institute. With only 26 Volunteers against hundreds of British soldiers, Heuston held until the British were so close, they could throw grenades into the building. His troops were the first to surrender.
The Sherwood Foresters, a unit that had arrived from Britain, were sent down Grand Canal Street, near Beggar’s Bush Barracks. They were held up where Grand Canal meets Mount Street by heavy rebel fire. The Volunteers had fortified various positions along the street, meaning that the Foresters were caught in their cross-fire as they repeatedly tried to take the position. After five hours of fighting and losing 240 men wounded and killed, they defeated the rebels and took the position, but many historians have wondered why they didn’t try another path into Dublin.
Additionally, the 3rd battalion commanded by de Valera was only 200 meters from this battle and yet they did not help. This has been explained with de Valera’s inexperience and the fear that once the British took Grand Canal and Mount Streets, they would quickly attack Boland’s Mill. However, this kind of inexperienced cripple the rebel’s efforts throughout the week and did not bode well for the Rising.
If you enjoy this post, please consider contributing to my KO-FI.
Francis Shehy Skeffington: By photographer not identified [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Foster, R. F. Modern Ireland 1600-1972
Townshend, Charles. Easter Rising: the Irish Rebellion
Townshend, Charles. the Republic
Foster R.F. Vivid Faces
Morris, Jan. Heaven’s Command
Coogan, Tim Pat. Michael Collins: the Man Who Made Ireland
Coogan, Tim Pat. Eamon de Valera: the Man Who was Ireland
Valiulis, Maryann Gialanella. Portrait of a Revolutionary: General Richard Mulcahy and the Irish Free State
Fanning, Ronan. Eamon de Valera: a Will to Power