This year being the centenary anniversary of the 1916 Easter Rising in Dublin, there has been more than the usual effort put into relating and remembering events that led to Ireland becoming an independent nation. Here, we don’t have a particular date for an Independence Day – as does America with the 4th of July – but it was with the Rising that Ireland declared its independence from Britain. As I think of those fateful events that took place one hundred years ago I am reminded of a family member who was in Dublin city at the time.
My husband’s grandfather, Christopher, tried to join the British army when he was 13 years old; his older brother, Michael, was already fighting in France with the 8th Battalion of The Dublin Fusiliers. He never said much about the Rising, yet he lived in one of the tenement buildings of inner city Dublin and probably heard the gunfire from his home, but I do remember him speak proudly of Michael. There was a glint in his eye as he recounted how his brother had given him his army cap to wear as they walked through the streets of Dublin, when he was home on leave.
Were they just a couple of young lads who wanted to be soldiers? Or did Michael join up because he was influenced by John Redmond, Irish nationalist politician and MP in the British House of Commons? Over 100,000 Irishmen volunteered to join the British Army, many of them hoping that Ireland would be given home rule in return for their support, as John Redmond had proclaimed having finally managed to get the Home Rule bill passed in the House of Commons. This, however, was put on hold because of the war with Germany.
What must it have been like for an Irish soldier serving in the British army, dug into a trench in Flanders, to hear of an Irish Republic being proclaimed back home? Michael was part of 16th (Irish) Division that suffered horribly in a gas attack launched by the Germans on the 27th of April 1916 at Hulluch. There were 2,128 Irish casualties, many of whom died in agony. The survivors suffered chronic lung and breathing conditions for the rest of their lives. This is how the Chaplain to the Dublin Fusiliers described the scenes after the attack in a letter home to his father:
“Many men died before I could reach them and were gone before I could pass back. There they lay, scores of them (we lost 800, nearly all from gas) in the bottom of the trench, in every conceivable posture of human agony; the cloths torn off their bodies in a vain effort to breathe while from end to end of that valley of death came one long unceasing moan from the lips of brave men fighting and struggling for life.” (2)
Hearing the news of an uprising taking place near his family home, did Michael worry about the safety of his younger brother, Christopher, so eager to be a soldier? Or that of his older sister, Eileen, who had looked after the family since the recent loss of their mother? How did his father feel when members of the Dublin Fusiliers, his son’s regiment, were shot by fellow Irishmen in the streets of Dublin?
Michael didn’t worry for too long about his family back home, he was among those who died in that gas attack on April 27th 1916. He was 20 years old.
If you would like to experience a virtual guided tour of Dublin during the 1916 Rising, including old photographs and film footage, this link will bring you there Dublin Rising 1916-2016.
Source (1) “The People’s War Book and Pictorial Atlas of the World.” USA & Canada, 1920, p. 132.–
Source (2) Dublin Fusiliers – Hulluch