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24 September 2014
Wars and Conflict - Witnesses

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

Image of an armoured personnel vehicle

An armoured personnel vehicle ©

On Tuesday morning I was ordered up to the roof, behind a thick balustrade there of granite at the corner of Henry Street and O’Connell Street. We noticed that the British troops were beginning to encircle us and I could see troops moving about freely on the tower of Amiens Street railway station. I reported back to central control below on the ground floor that these people were there and asked would I fire on them. I was told not to because they were the Inniskillings – an Irish regiment – and they might be friendly. Well, a very short time after that they indicated their feelings to me when they opened fire on me with a machine-gun. I got a right belt from a bit of granite on top of my head.

On the Wednesday, I think it was, the British mounted howitzers in the back of the Rotunda Hospital grounds and they began to lob incendiary shells on the GPO. So we dealt with them as best we could with the hoses available. And then the fire became more intense, they began to come oftener, and then they shut off the water supply. So we had to retreat from the top of the roof into the lower floor and we barricaded the window overlooking the street. A young lad called Sammy Reilly, who is now a caretaker of Columbia University in New York, and myself were on sniper duty, and we stopped a lot of movement at the top of the street, because when they saw the place on fire they thought they could move in. That night they brought an armoured car that they had built in Inchicore railway works around the corner of the then Great Britain Street – it’s now Parnell Street – into O’Connell Street and it proceeded to clank on down towards us. So I said to Reilly, ‘You take the right aperture and I’ll take the left,’ and we concentrated fire and stopped it. We must have killed the driver or injured somebody because it stopped there and eventually that night, when all the lights were out, they came along and pulled it back where it had come from.

Image of The Starry Plough

The Starry Plough, flag of the Irish Citizen Army ©

From that time on the civilians cleared. There was nobody around at all – although I do remember one fellow who emerged from somewhere down towards O’Connell Bridge, dressed up in the usual businessman’s style – bowler hat, rolled umbrella, striped suit – and that fellow walked the whole way up from O’Connell Bridge up to Abbey Street corner – and you could see the bullets knocking the dust up around his feet – and climbed over the barricade at North Earl Street and disappeared from sight. That evening, I think, a couple of drunks wandered out and started to abuse us, shouting up at us, and they were shot down from below by British troops. They showed them no mercy at all, although it was us they were abusing. A Red Cross man ran out to attend to these fellows then, and the British began to fire at him, but he managed to get away safely. Then a fellow appeared at the door of Clery’s the big drapery establishment opposite the GPO. It was the headquarters of the Citizen Army and it had their flag, the Plough and the Stars, on top of it. But this fellow came out with a mattress wrapped around him and he ran like blazes. But when he got to the middle of the street he tripped and fell. We all thought he was a goner because the fire was desperate. But he discarded the mattress then and ran like the hammers of hell for the GPO and got in safely. I found out afterwards that it was Gearoid O’Sullivan, who later became Adjutant-General of the Free State army.

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