Today at The Rising, we’re focusing on civilian casualties that resulted from Easter Week. Over 1,700 civilians were admitted to hospital in Dublin with injuries inflicted due to the Rebellion. The most concentrated group of victims of Easter Week were the ordinary poor of Dublin city centre: civilian casualties significantly exceeded military and rebel casualties combined. The facts surrounding civilian deaths remain unclear and disputed. For the vast majority of the civilian casualties, there was no legal recourse, no verified accounts of killings and the victims were buried in haste.
The majority of civilian casualties came from the poverty-stricken districts of Dublin’s north inner city in close proximity to the fighting. Twenty-nine children are recorded as casualties. Mistaken identity, stray bullets or accidents cannot account for the large number of civilian casualties and the clusters of deaths in the North King Street, Church Street, Manor Street area, and in the districts around Marlborough Street and Moore Street points to a more sinister motive.
The hostility of Dublin’s poorest citizens threatened the Volunteers’ control of the city centre during Rebellion. Accounts of drunkenness and looting in the north inner city abound in contemporary reports and for those with loved ones fighting on the Western Front, in particular, contempt for the rebels was profound. In his 1937 biography of Michael Collins, the writer Frank O’Connor noted:
‘Their sons, husbands, brothers, were at the front, fighting the Germans; the separation money flowed like water through the streets, and now the dirty pro-Germans were attacking it. Attacking the blessed separation money.”
The sustained looting of the Sackville Street area and the venom spewed towards the insurgents was remarkable. Volunteers had orders to use all necessary force to disperse unruly crowds.
Arthur Agnew, a member of the Kimmage garrison, who occupied Kelly’s shop overlooking O’Connell Bridge, recalled:
‘Our orders were that the looters were to be stopped and made drop their loot on the street. If they failed to do this, they were to be shot’.
The Citizen Army garrison at Stephen’s Green faced similar hostility with enraged local people attacking Volunteers in the streets. Citizen Army Volunteer Rosie Hackett recalled that as her comrades attempted to exit the Green on Tuesday morning ‘the crowd was making attempts to attack us, but Chris [Cafferty] held them up. When anyone showed a gun, that was enough for the crowd’.
Likewise, when Citizen Army member William Oman fled City Hall, he was chased for his life through the street:
‘I heard one of the mob shouting: “There’s one of them”. I ran, with the mob at my heels. I had only to go about 150 yards to my home. Before my people could get the door open, a man came up and stood beside me at the door while the mob was trying to get at me. I was then taken into the safety of my own home.’
On our Facebook page and Twitter feed, we have posted many images of the destruction of Dublin city centre after the 1916 Rising. Newspapers on both sides of the Atlantic published countless images of the ruins of Sackville Street (today O’Connell Street) and the surrounding area in the months after the Rising. If you’re interested, you can check out some of this post on the Capuchin Archives Facebook page, which showcases a fabulous collection of illustrated booklets about the Easter Rising. I have used copies of these booklets at the National Library of Ireland and the Boston Public Library.