The terrace of houses in Moore Street, No.s 10–25, in the Irish capital of Dublin, much in the news of late, is of great importance to the world and should be recognised as such by Irish people and internationally. The terrace is of great importance in terms of being
an urban WWI battlefield
of opposition to imperialist war
of the struggle of the working class
of women’s struggle for equality
of the struggle of the world’s people against colonialism and
a surviving centuries-old European street market.
In this article I intend to develop this argument and these points.
In the closing days of Easter Week, in the cancelled and hurriedly rescheduled Easter Rising in Dublin, after five days of fighting, siege and a number of days of artillery bombardment, the garrison of the General Post Office, the Headquarters of the Rising, evacuated their burning building and occupied a terrace of sixteen houses in Moore Street. They broke into No.10 and tunneled from house to house up to No.25, until the whole of the terrace and back yards had been occupied.
Meanwhile, a charge of a dozen Volunteers on the British Army barricade at the northern end of that street, at the junction with Parnell Street, had failed to reach its objective; machine-gun fire had injured some and killed others. The leader of that charge, mortally wounded in a side-street, wrote a note to his wife as he lay dying there (the words are reproduced on a plaque in the laneway named after him: O’Rahilly Parade).
That history, and of it as a market in childhood memory, is what engages many people — perhaps most – of those campaigning for the preservation of that terrace of houses and of the thousands who support their efforts. But there are aspects of international importance to that 1916 Rising not usually alluded to and which deserve to be noted, celebrated and commemorated.
A RISING AGAINST WORLD WAR
James Connolly, the revolutionary socialist or communist and trade union leader, had been calling for an uprising for years and his public exhortations intensified with the onset of WWI. A section of the Irish Republican Brotherhood was also anxious to engineer an uprising during that War — “England’s difficulty is Ireland’s opportunity” was a well-known saying among Irish nationalists. But for Connolly, the issue was much more than that – the dispute between some capitalists about which of them would control the Earth’s resources and markets was sending millions to die, workers fighting workers in battlefields in which the instigators of the slaughter would never set foot. While millions died, those big capitalists would continue to make great profits, supplying armies with weapons, transport and equipment, fuel, clothing, food …..
A few years earlier, an international socialist conference had threatened revolution on their capitalist masters should they dare to start a world war. Indeed, some revolutionary socialists saw war as an opportunity to instigate socialist revolution. Unfortunately they were outnumbered by social democrats who, despite their earlier militant words, when it came to the crunch, lined up the workers of each country behind their capitalist masters against their own class brothers in other countries.
There were few socialist parties and prominent socialists that took the opposite stand but one of those who did was James Connolly. Among the other things that characterised the 1916 Rising was that it was the first significant uprising of the 20th Century against World War. The next uprisings of that kind would be the 1917 Revolutions of February and October in Russia, with another in Germany in 1918.
The Proclamation of the insurgents in 1916 addressed itself to “Irishmen and Irishwomen”. Although not one of the seven signatories was a woman, there were a number of them prominent in the command structures of the Rising and in the preparations also. And also of course in the lower ranks during the Rising itself.
Constance Markievicz (nee Gore-Booth) of the ICA was, despite her planter family and quasi-aristocratic background, third-in-command of the Stephens Green/ College of Surgeons area. Kathleen Lynne, also of the ICA was Chief Medical Officer for the Dublin insurrectionary forces and third in command in the Dublin Castle/City Hall garrison. It was at the premises of Cumann na mBan founder member Jenny Wyse-Power, No.21 Henry Street, that the 1916 Proclamation was signed in secret a week before the Rising.
Kathleen Clarke was de facto a member of the IRB, work and powers delegated to her on the eve of the Rising by her husband, Tom Clarke, one of the architects of the Rising and first of the seven signatories. Elizabeth O’Farrell was one of the Cumann na mBan nurses accompanying the men in the GPO and one of three to proceed to occupy Moore Street; she carried the short truce communications to the British and back to the leaders on the Rising surrender day, accompanied Pearse to the surrender point in Parnell Street and then carried Pearse’s and Connolly’s surrender instructions to a number of garrisons in Dublin. And Winifred Carney, James Connolly’s secretary, was in the GPO and later Moore Street with her typewriter and a Webley revolver.
It is difficult for us today perhaps to realise how progressive it was for any general public document 16 years into the 20th Century to address itself specifically to “Irishwomen”. No country in the whole world had given all its women the right to vote by 1916 although the suffragette movement was in full flow throughout most of Europe and in the European colonies. While it is true that New Zealand gave European women the right to vote as far back as 1893, it was for European settlers only and also linked to a reform movement against the sale and consumption of alcohol. Elsewhere in the world outside the colonial Antipodes and the Scandinavian democracies, the extension of the franchise to women did not seem close in 1916. Nevertheless, in Canada, women got the vote in 1917 – but again, women of European descent only. In Britain, women did not receive full rights to vote until 1928. Yet in a large part of the United Kingdom, a cross-section of people making a bid for independent nationhood, were ostensibly recognising women as citizens with equal voting rights as early as 1916.
Given the preponderance of males in all organisations of all shades of Republican and Nationalist outlook, the inclusion of women in the address had to have been agreed by the men in the top leadership. No doubt women, through their agitation for full franchise as well as by their active participation in so many facets of the movement, helped to convince the men. Connolly is often credited with responsibility for this inclusion but there is no reason to believe others among the signatories would not have taken that position themselves (although Kathleen Clarke did allege that one of those would not). Patrick Pearse had previously supported the vote for women and a number of men in the leadership had female partners who were active on that issue, as for example was Grace Gifford, Joseph Plunkett’s fiancee. The 1916 Proclamation was the first insurrectionary proclamation of the 20th Century (and almost first ever) to specifically include women in its address on a basis of gender equality.
The participation of women in the Rising however had a much sharper illustration than their inclusion in the Proclamation – they were present in most of the fighting posts throughout the Rising, whether as members of Cumann na mBan or of the Irish Citizen Army – several were killed or injured, many were arrested and one was sentenced to death (though sentence was commuted later).
The participation of Cumann na mBan made the 1916 Rising the first uprising of the 20th Century (and probably prior to that) in which women participated in their own organisation, in their own uniform.
The participation of women in the Irish Citizen Army, where they shared equal status with men, made the 1916 Rising the first uprising of the 20th Century (and almost first ever) in which women participated in an armed and uniformed organisation, and in equal status with their male comrades.
HOPE AND ENCOURAGEMENT TO THE PEOPLE OF THE COLONIES
The British Empire in 1916 was huge – around 13 million square miles of territory in 1916, nearly a quarter of the world’s area. It was said that the “sun never set” upon the Empire because at any moment during 24 hours, some part of the Empire would be receiving light from the sun. Around 450 million people were under the Empire’s dominion.
And of course, there had been resistance. Even after resistance had been beaten, there had been further uprisings – in fact, some areas such as that of the present-day Afghanistan were in almost constant rebellion. But rebellions were mostly localised and even when they took on a more sweeping character, such as the Mahdist War of 1881-’89 in the Sudan or the Boxer Uprising in northern China in 1900, they had been crushed by British military might.
The news of the Easter Rebellion in Dublin ran around all parts of the British colonial world, from the nearer to the most remote. And some of the news was carried by the Irish in the British armed forces. Tom Barry, later to be undefeated guerrilla leader in the War of Independence in West Cork, read about the Rising while serving in the British Army in Mesopotamia (now Iraq). The Connaught Rangers, hundreds of which were to mutiny in India in 1920, were also in Mesopotamia in 1916. These Irish units of the British Army and Irish men in British units serving outside the United Kingdom, served not just next to English, Welsh and Scottish soldiers but also next to soldiers drawn from colonial peoples; they were often serviced too by colonial people in auxiliary roles and mixed to a degree with the colonial populations among which they were stationed, in markets, eating houses, bars and sex-houses. Just four years later, during the mutiny of the Connaught Rangers, it is recorded that Irish rebels in British Army uniforms had communicated their mutiny and their reasons to the Indian traders.
The 1916 Rising took place in what had been considered, the previous century, the second city of the British Empire. Now past those ‘glory days’, Dublin was still a city of the Empire’s “home base”, the United Kingdom. And the Empire’s Army had been obliged to shell one of the UK’s own cities in order to suppress that Rising! To many a colonial subject contemplating resistance or even outright revolt, it must have seemed like a signaling bonfire, one that proclaimed that the end of the Empire was nigh and called the peoples under subjugation to revolt, to finish it off. And, indeed during the War of Independence, the Nehru and Ghandi families were to make contact with Irish Republicans and Ho Chi Minh is reported to have been inspired by the Irish struggle.
Nor was it only those colonial people in the British Empire who were inspired but those in the French, Dutch, Belgian, Portuguese and Spanish colonies too. Ho Chi Minh, as a Vietnamese, was under the French empire and led his people in armed resistance to the Japanese and French occupation in 1941. Over the three decades following the Easter Rising, anti-colonial struggles around the world intensified and pushed the former colonial powers into “de-colonisation” — i.e. imperialism and neo-colonialism.
WORKERS OF THE WORLD
The Irish Citizen Army had been founded in 1913 as a workers’ armed organisation to defend against the attacks of the Dublin Metropolitan Police. The DMP carried no firearms then, though they were well able to kill and maim with their truncheons, a fact they demonstrated during the 1913 Lockout. But it was clear that Connolly at least knew that at some point the workers would come up against the full force of the State which, at that time, meant the British empire and the Colonial regime in Ireland. He called publicly for the ICA to train in and to carry firearms. The Royal Irish Constabulary, policing the rest of the colony outside Dublin, was indeed armed. And British Army units were stationed across the country, many of the garrisons in Dublin alone.
The ICA fell into a kind of disrepair after the workers’ defeat in the Lockout but was soon enough dusted off and reorganised. WWI began the same year the last striking workers of the Lockout, the Jacobs girls and women, marched back to work. It was certain that Connolly would try to stage a rising during the war and suspected that the Republicans, or “advanced nationalists” as they were called then, would do so too. As the war dragged on and the bodies heaped higher, Connolly grew increasingly impatient, contemptuous and even desperate, berating the “nationalists” for not rising and threatened to bring out the couple of hundred ICA on their own.
But the Irish Republican Brotherhood had been planning to rise and in late January 1916, alarmed by Connolly’s threats, brought him into secret negotiations. When he emerged a few days later after what many thought had been his kidnapping, he had been sworn into the IRB and was part of the Military Council, planning the Rising for the Easter weekend. And that would mean that the ICA would also commit to the Rising.
On Easter Monday morning, around 220 men and women of the Irish Citizen Army marched out of Liberty Hall or mobilised elsewhere in Dublin. Two of the important fighting areas in Dublin were given over to their command, Dublin Castle and Stephens Green. ICA members fought elsewhere too, including the GPO. One account has them as the first to occupy the top of the GPO’s roof and another as hoisting the “Starry Plough” on top of William Martin Murphy’s Imperial Hotel in Clery’s building (the last flag of the Rising to remain flying). At least one was killed in the fighting evacuation of the GPO and a number took part in the occupation of the 1916 Terrace in Moore Street. The 1916 Rising was the first occasion of the 20th Century when a workers’ unit rose in their own units, in their own uniforms and under their own commanders.
SURVIVING STREET OF A CENTURIES-OLD MARKET QUARTER
Authorisation was granted for the development of a market in the Moore Street area by the Dublin and General Markets Act of 1831. But the Act mentioned the location as being around “Coles Lane market”, which means there was already a street market in the area. It is probable that street trading had been going on in that area for centuries before that. Moore Street was something of a modern street of its time in the area, laid down around 1763 (and, it is worth noting, before the Great Hunger and earlier than the city’s main street, O’Connell Street), mainly as a residential street with some businesses. In following decades Moore Street would become the main street of a whole market area which included the aforementioned Coles Lane along with many other streets, laneways, cul-de-sacs (“turnings”) and mews.
All of that was demolished and buried by the 1970s ILAC “development” of Irish Life ltd.(later joined by Chartered Land, which dispossessed the households, shops, stalls and workers for a paltry compensation, to the benefit not only of the ILAC partners but also of Dunne’s Stores and Debenhams. All that remains of that street market quarter is Moore Street, with street traders struggling in difficult circumstances to make a living, harassed by Dublin City Council officials, along with small shops, granted short leases or expensive longer ones by Chartered Land or the ILAC – and under constant threat of demolition or of ILAC expansion.
Since the 1916 Rising has all those aspects of international importance listed above, clearly the Moore Street terrace also embodies them all, being the last fighting place of the Rising’s HQ garrison and containing around 300 men of the Irish Citizen Army, the Irish Volunteers and three members of Cumann na mBan.
On the basis of those points alone, the site should be a recognised world heritage site. That the terrace and surrounding streets are, according to the National Museum of Ireland ‘the most important historic site in modern Irish history’and ‘a surviving urban WWI battleground … beyond price’ (as stated by the Imperial War Museum) and they include the last street of a centuries-old European street market adds icing to the cake – a cake that should be made available for the world to share.
Documents consulted include
various accounts of the 1916 Rising,
including biographies and Witness Statements of participants (latter now available on line),
along with Moore Street – the story of Dublin’s market district (2012) by Barry Kennerc and
Moore St: A Report (UCD 1974)
- When I first wrote and published this article, though I knew about some Indian and Irish revolutionary connections, I was unaware of some very strong other connections about which I have just been made aware: