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24 September 2014
Wars and Conflict - Witnesses

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

Image of a view of the Four Courts

A view of the Four Courts ©

Tom Bannon and I went down further and further until we were brought in through a hole in the wall from Church Street into the Four Courts, and I met my uncle Joe MacGuinness there and I was received with great affection and joy. He was in uniform, puttees they wore, and he introduced me to Captain Fahy, who was later the Ceann Comhairle – that’s the Speaker of the Dail – and to Peadar Clancy, who was of course butchered a few years later on Bloody Sunday. Ned Daly, the commandant, was there too, of course. So then he said I was to go down to the kitchen where the girls were and I made my way down through sandbags and Volunteers and got into the kitchen, which seemed to be full of food. There was no light, only little candles, but as far as I could make out there was a big range and there were several girls cooking there. So nobody knew me and I just sat down on a box waiting patiently until directed to do something. Captain Fahy came in after a while and he said, ‘Is there any tea?’ and somebody said they’d make a cup for him. So then I asked if I could have a cup too and after that a young fellow came in, one of the Fianna – Sean Howard* I think his name was – and they said ‘Would you like a cup, Sean?’ ‘I certainly would,’ he said ‘I’m frozen.’ Well he took it and he spat it right out and he said, ‘Well you’re Cumann na mBan maybe, but it’s Cumann na Monsters you are. You want to kill us off, that’s terrible tea.’ What happened was that they had cooked a meal of turnips during the day in a big iron pot, and they didn’t empty out the water. They just put about a pound of tea into the pot and this was the tea they made – turnip tea. And it was, of course, appalling, I’ll never forget it.

So then we were told we could go upstairs and lie down for a while, and we went up and wrapped ourselves in the ermine and sable robes of the judges and we got some sleep or rest at least. Then in the morning we heard a movement at the door and a figure appeared and somebody said, ‘That’s Barney Mellows,’ that was the brother of Liam Mellows. Well he came in and he said that Peadar Clancy had taken over a post in Church Street, that there was going to be heavy fighting on the quays and that the British were coming in from the Curragh and Dun Laoghaire. He wanted two of the girls to volunteer to go to the house and look after the men there.

Image of the damage to the Four Courts

Another view of the Four Courts, showing the damage done to the building and to the tram standards and wires ©

Well I thought, ‘This is what I would love to do now’ but I daren’t speak out of turn. Then one of the girls said ‘My brother Mikey is out there, I’ll go’. Then nobody else said anything and I was afraid to speak, and finally somebody said, ‘Let that fat girl from the country go, she’s not tired like the rest of us.’ And that’s what I was – a big fat country girl, you know, with a glorious complexion, which was all I had to recommend me, along with the enthusiasm. So of course I was up like a shot and the two of us went out. And we had a very hazardous trip across. It was ankle-deep in glass, you know, because they’d broken all the windows in the Four Courts, and we went along cops and robbers, stopping and going, along the side with the sniping going on around us and the big gun booming out in the bay. Eventually we got out through a hole in the wall into Church Street and finally into this small artisan’s dwelling, a nicely kept little house owned by a Mr Lennon at 5 Upper Church Street. He told me that he had sent away his wife and three children and then he said to me, ‘Now, there’s going to be a lot of heavy fighting here’ – and there was, much more than we’d really thought, you know – ‘and we have no stretcher,’ he said, ‘but we’ll manage.’ So he took a stepladder and broke all the rungs out of it and nailed a hearthrug onto it, and this made a very excellent stretcher. So he said, ‘I’ll leave this in the corner and if there’s anybody wounded you know where it is.’ And within an hour wasn’t he on it himself. He was the first casualty.


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