Easter Week Garrisons: Shelling, Sniping & Hand-to-Hand Combat

Source: 
Press Release

Today at The Rising, we are taking a look at accounts of the various garrisons held by the Irish Volunteers during Easter Week in the Bureau of Military History Witness Statements Collection. This collection contains digitized statements of witnesses and participants in the Easter Rising, as well as the Irish Civil War and War of Independence. This is a free resource available to the public, and we encourage our readers to search this collection for themselves.

The experience of ordinary Volunteers during Easter Week varied considerably depending on their brigade. Several garrisons, such as Four Court and City Hall, were subjected to heavy shelling, constant sniping and sporadic close quarters combat, while others, notably the GPO, Jacob’s Factory and Stephen’s Green, saw virtually no hand to hand combat. Throughout the week, the military were reluctant to engage directly with the entrenched Volunteer garrisons, preferring to wait until overwhelming force (facilitated by reinforcements) would convince insurgent leaders that their position was hopeless.

An artist’s interpretation of a scene inside the GPO during the Rising, (A print by T. Kiersey of the painting by W. Paget in the National Museum of Ireland

James Slattery in Jacob’s Factory noted that ‘I enjoyed a very quiet week’. [1] Volunteer Vincent Byrne recalled that he ‘had a great time eating plenty of cocoa chocolate and biscuits galore’. [2] Yet the outpost of Boland’s Mills at Mount Street endured an intense assault on Wednesday afternoon, resulting in dozens of dead and wounded in close quarters fighting but overall the military’s cautious strategy ensured that hundreds of Volunteers spent the week within their posts, waiting to fight an enemy that never materialised. Casualties in these areas were largely inflicted while Volunteers were carrying out isolated sorties and from unrelenting sniper fire emanating from nearby buildings.

‍Jacob’s Biscuit Factory as it looked during Easter Week, 1916. Image from the publication “The Sinn Fein Revolt, Illustrated” (1916)

While most Volunteers remained inside their garrisons during the week, that does not mean that they had an easy time. In contrast to the relative calm at Jacob’s Factory, snipers unnerved the insurgents as the week progressed at the College of Surgeons. Citizen Army man Frank Robbins recalled:

The strain was now taking effect on a number of our men; Sergt. Joseph Doyle gave out completely for want of proper rest. This was not to be wondered at. In my own case, after the ‘cease fire’ order that night, I fell fast asleep, lying face down with my rifle pointing to the Shelbourne Hotel. I had had only two hours’ sleep out of a period of sixty hours’ duty, and that was on the roof of the College of Surgeons on Monday night. Only the ideal which inspired us enabled all to suffer and endure so much until the human frame could no longer bear the strain. [3]

Sleep deprivation was also a significant problem at Boland’s Mill garrison, as Andrew McDonnell remembered:

‘I cannot remember the days of the week, or day from night for that matter. They all seemed to run into one another. Sleep we got in fits and starts, and if you managed to remove your boots once in a while you were lucky. You lay down anywhere when you were told you could sleep’. [4]

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Source
- Press Release

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