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24 September 2014
Wars and Conflict - Witnesses

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Martin Walton
CURIOUS JOURNEY: An Oral History of Ireland’s Unfinished Revolution,
by Kenneth Griffith and Timothy O’Grady,
(Mercier Press, 1998).

Image of Thomas MacDonagh

Thomas MacDonagh executed 3rd May 1916 ©

I joined the Volunteers just three weeks before the Rising. I was only fifteen years of age at the time, though I had grown to six feet and so was taken in as a man. I think I attended two meetings, had instructions on how to handle a rifle, and we had one bit of field drill. I remember Thomas MacDonagh taking our names in case we were shot, so that the relatives would be looked after. We all knew there was something big on for Sunday, though we didn’t know what. I found out afterwards that our job was to have been the taking of Ship Street barracks – that’s the barracks behind the Castle – but of course owing to historic events known to everybody now it was cancelled. We were then mobilized for the following morning, but I missed that as I was only a latecomer to the Volunteers. I believe that Captain Colbert called to the house that morning with a message that I was to go to such and such a place, but I never got it. I had a desperate toothache that day and I went down to Drumcondra Road to get my tooth out, but because it was a bank holiday the dentist wasn’t open, and I remember coming back home and my father putting whiskey on it. About four o’clock in the evening then we heard a terrible burst of machine-gun fire and my cousin, an orphan girl who lived with us, she became terribly worried. She was very attached to Tom Cotter, who was one of the three sons in that family who were out in the Rising, and he to her, and she said, ‘O my God,’ she said, ‘he’s out in that.’

My plan then was to get into town by pretending to go to work on Tuesday, but I found out my parents had taken the valves from my bicycle because they didn’t want me to get involved. But I insisted I’d be sacked if I didn’t go to work, and I managed then to get into O’Connell Street. I could see looters emptying the shops out, and there were some dead horses that had been shot under the Lancers, who had tried to take the GPO on the Monday. Hamilton Norway had just renovated the GPO from top to bottom and had done a terrific job on it, but all the windows were knocked out and the place was barricaded. There was an upturned tramcar too. A general scene of desolation. So I called in to the GPO and asked where C Company, Second Battalion was, and I saw all the lads in there and all the hustle and bustle, and I was told it was in Jacob’s Factory, the biscuit factory in Wexford Street. It’s very hard for people today to believe that a man living on the north side of Dublin had hardly ever been across to the south side, but I had no idea where Wexford Street was and so I had to inquire my way across. Trinity College at this time was held by the Officers Training Corps and the GRs. (A reserve training force comprised primarily of middle class, over-age Irishmen). They had an armband with GR on it in honour of the King, but we used to call them the Gorgeous Wrecks or the God’s Rejected. The whole of Dame Street was completely held under fire by them. Now I had no uniform or rifle, no arms of any description, but as bad luck would have it I had a green suit which looked damned like a uniform and I was nearly shot at the Lower Castle Gate.

Image of Con Colbert

Con Colbert executed 8th May 1916 ©

When I arrived then at Jacob’s the place was surrounded by a howling mob roaring at the Volunteers inside, ‘Come out to France and fight, you lot of so-and-so slackers.’ And then I started shouting up to the balustrade, ‘Let me in, let me in.’ And then I remember the first blood I ever saw shed. There was a big, very, very big tall woman with something very heavy in her hand and she came across and lifted up her hand to make a bang at me. One of the Volunteers upstairs saw this and fired and I just remember seeing her face and head disappear as she went down like a sack. That was my baptism of fire, and I remember my knees nearly going out from under me. I would have sold my mother and father and the Pope just to get out of that bloody place. But you recover after a few minutes.

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