Many people know about the Battle of Mount Street and how 15 men fought a force of Sherwood Forresters 1,600 strong and, with the support of some rifle fire from the coastal railway line (and at very long range, from Jacobs Factory), kept them from crossing the Grand Canal for five hours. But what if the British soldiers had been landed at the Dublin docks instead? In fact, why did the British prefer to land them in Dun Laoghaire, seven miles away?
THE FIGHTING IN THE NORTHSIDE DOCKLANDS
It has been historian Hugo McGuinness’ contention for some time that it was the resistance that British troops encountered around the docks and at Ballybough at the beginning of the Rising, coupled with a history of the workers’ resistance of the 1913 Lockout, that convinced the British that it would be a very bad idea to attempt to land troops in the Dublin docks. Hence the choice of Dún Laoghaire and bringing them from there into Dublin along the coast road. From there, unless they took a considerably roundabout route, they would pass by either the Volunteers in Bolands’ Mill or their comrades at the Mount Street and Northumberland Road outposts. And so, the Battle of Mount Street Bridge.
At the start of the 1916 Rising on the outskirts of the northside Dublin area of Ballybough, the Volunteers and the Irish Citizen Army mobilised to prevent British troops approaching from the Musketry School in Fairview or from any other units approaching from that direction. For a number of recent years, the East Wall History Group and historian Hugo McGuinness have been working to acquaint people with the history of the 1916 resistance in this area. See map of Annesley Bridge area today here: https://www.google.ie/maps/place/Annesley+Bridge,+Dublinemail@example.com,-6.2409037,17z/data=!3m1!4b1!4m2!3m1!1s0x48670e5ee8f4dad1:0x9d9ebc34b28e0aa4
In 2014, the “1916 Rising: Battle at Annesley Bridge” walking tour organised by the East Wall History Group was a huge success. Led by Hugo McGuinness as guide, it was estimated that almost 200 people took part.
As the East Wall History Group commented in an introduction to eight videos they have put up from the walking tour ( http://eastwallforall.ie/?p=2376 ):
‘The events at Annesley Bridge in 1916 generally receive only a small mention in the history of the Rising. In fact, there was fierce fighting at the time, not only at the bridge but throughout the surrounding areas. There were a great number of casualties, including civilians, though an exact figure has been difficult to compile. Our walking tour, for the first time, attempted to tell the whole story – from the radicalisation of the local residents in the years previous, to the events on Easter Week 1916 and how sporadic sniper battles continued after the Rising had ‘officially’ ended.‘
That there was a military engagement at Annesley Bridge was known but it has been generally thought of as a minor skirmish. Hugo McGuinness’s original research along with compilation and examination of references has uncovered a much more important story, one containing a number of armed engagements – and with far-reaching consequences.
THE RECENT PRESENTATION
On 28th April, a full hall in the Gibson Hotel of mostly North Wall residents received a presentation from historian Hugo McGuinness on “The 1916 Rising: The Fight in the Docklands”, a talk organised by the East Wall History Group. Using an electronic slideshow of photos and maps to illustrate his talk, Hugo took the audience through an amazing story of Irish resistance courage, tragedy, comedy, bungling and initiative, with lots of little vignettes.
Of particular impressiveness was the group of Volunteers who ran down a street to engage a detachment of British soldiers from the Musketry School at Dollymount who were heading down East Wall Road towards the docks. The detachment of British soldiers had slipped out of an engagement with a blocking force facing Annesley Bridge. A small group of Volunteers ran down North Dock Road to cut them off and engaged them, stopping their progress. Then there was the Volunteer who put a British machine gun out of action with one shot when he hit the water-cooling mechanism.
Hugo’s audience were told of the Irish sniper in the docks whom the British nicknamed the ‘trade unionist’ – he took up position around 8am and always finished at 5pm. There was the floating gun platform in the Liffey, not just the Helga. There were no feeding arrangements made for the soldiers sent into Dublin so they looted homes and warehouses.
Many local people were interned in a large goods shed. Many houses were strafed by machine guns and a number of civilians shot dead – one man later put an empty picture frame on the wall in his hall to surround a pattern of bullet-holes there. A member of the Dublin Metropolitan Police was killed by British troops and his colleague pallbearers were held up for hours at a checkpoint manned by the Dublin Fusiliers – some residual hostility from the Lockout perhaps? Martial law here meant that if you were seen in the area, you were warned and, if seen again, you were shot! If you did not respond to a military challenge you would also be shot. Nevertheless, children hung around the troops and gathered intelligence for the insurgents – but one was killed too.
Just before concluding, Hugo mentioned the research of another historian (whose name I did not catch), showing a rise later in 1916 and in subsequent years of names give to children following some of the better-known participants in the Rising and also a rise in personal names in Irish.
As is often the case with those who are passionate about their subject, Hugo’s presentation was a little overlong, in my opinion and he had to rush the end. The projector threw the bottom part of the image frames, which often contained a separate photo or map, too low, so that one had to stand to see them over the heads of those in front. Those are the only two faults I felt in what was an engaging and engaged presentation of well-researched material about a fascinating but understated part of the history of the 1916 Rising, with a working class and lower middle class flavouring sprinkled throughout.
After the talk, a number of the audience joined the organisers in the bar of the Gibson Hotel where history continued to be discussed. In the foyer to the bar/restaurant, a small exhibition of panels entitled “Casualties and Prisoners” had been set up.
Inside the bar, the surroundings were plush and out of synch with the area. Although the bar was only moderately busy, the service was very slow; later we were harassed to leave as the bar was closing, although we had been served pints only ten minutes earlier. There was no arguing from the group but a number remarked that they would not be drinking there again.
The refreshments element apart, for which no responsibility lies with the group, this was another very successful event among a number organised by the East Wall History Group. Rumour has it Hugo may have a book coming out soon – I can hardly wait.