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"Jacob's Biscuit Factory, 1916" (2006)

Witness statements and commentaries


WS 139 – Michael Walker witness statement

 

Michael Walker was present at the inaugural meeting of the Irish Volunteers in 1913. He and his brother John were both posted to Jacob’s on Easter Monday. His statement describes a hostile crowd in Blackpitts “singing and dancing to English songs of a quasi-patriotic nature”. He and his brother escaped from Jacob’s after the surrender but were subsequently arrested and sent to Stafford jail.

 

 

WS – 204 Seán Murphy witness statement

 

Seán Murphy joined the IRB in 1901, and quickly became centre of the club to which he belonged, which met in the Foresters’ Hall in Parnell Square. He joined the Volunteers in 1913. He was involved in arranging for Eamon de Valera to meet Thomas McDonagh on Holy Thursday, 1916, apparently to be sworn in as a member of the IRB.

He missed the start of the Rising due to being in Bray on business, and joined the Jacob’s garrison on Monday evening. After the surrender, Slater describes talking to Sean McDermott in Richmond Barracks. McDermott said: “The cause is lost if some of us are not shot”. Slater was sent to Knutsford Jail, and thence to Frongoch internment camp, from which he was released at Christmas, 1916.

 

 

WS 215 – Michael Hayes witness statement

 

Michael Hayes was a founder member of the Irish Volunteers in 1913. He managed to avoid arrest after the Rising. He sheltered a number of his Sinn Féin colleagues during the War of Independence and was arrested in 1920 and interned in Ballykinlar camp. While in prison he was elected as a Sinn Féin TD in the 1921 General Election for the National University of Ireland. He was released, like the other TDs, after the Truce of August 1921. He supported the Treaty and served as Minister for Education from January to September 1922. He was Ceann Comhairle from 1923 to 1932.

Hayes lost his seat in the 1933 General Election. In 1938 he was elected to Senad Éireann and remained in the Seanad until 1965. He was the Fine Gael leader in the house for most of this time. He served in the Irish Department in UCD from 1932 onwards and was made Professor in 1951. He was a member of the governing body of UCD and the Senate of the NUI. He died in 1976.

His statement expresses disapproval of the IRB and ambiguity about the Rising: he decided that “this was the only course but that the venture was a hopeless one.”

 

 

WS 216 – Louise Gavan Duffy witness statement

 

Sister of George Gavan Duffy, later Minister for Foreign Affairs in the First Dáil, Louise Gavan Duffy founded Scoil Bhríde, Ireland’s first Gaelscoil for girls. Her statement describes her journey through Dublin on Easter Monday, arriving finally at the GPO, where she asked to see Pearse: “I said to him that I wanted to be in the field but that I felt that the Rebellion was a frightful mistake, that it could not possibly succeed, and that it was, therefore, wrong.”

Pearse suggested that she help out in the kitchens, and she agreed to this, since it was not active service. She stayed there until the GPO was evacuated on Friday, and next morning went to Jacob’s “to see what they were going to do there.” Her statement is more reflective and politically aware than most of the others.

 

 

WS 263 – Thomas Slater witness statement

 

Thomas Slater, born in Scotland, joined the IRB in 1905 at Peadar Kearney’s urging. He was 17 years old. The earlier part of his statement describes early recruitment to the IRB, its resurgence with an influx of younger members, and the establishment of the Irish Volunteers. Slater became adjutant with C Company, 2nd Battalion. He was active in the Howth gun-running, and attended the funeral of O’Donovan Rossa.

 

He details McDonagh’s decisions not to occupy Trinity College or the Telephone Exchange, arguably bad military omissions.

 

 

WS 267 – Seamus Pounch witness statement

 

Seamus Pounch was a member of Fianna Éireann, and of the so-called “Surrey House Clique”, a number of Fianna boys who used to meet regularly at Countess Markievicz’s house in Leinster Road, Rathmines. The earlier part of his statement recalls various Fianna activities and experiences, including routing a visiting troupe of Liverpool Boy Scouts, attending O’Donovan Rossa’s funeral and participating in the Howth gun-running.

 

In Jacob’s, he was responsible for provisions, and describes raiding surrounding shops for bread, potatoes and other food. He also describes a “miniature céilí” in the factory and the construction of an improvised Tricolour from materials to hand.

 

(See 2005/168 for a fragment of the Tricolour.)

 

 

WS 270 – Eily O’Hanrahan O’Reilly witness statement

 

Eily O’Hanrahan was the sister of Michael O’Hanrahan, who was executed for his part in the 1916 Rising. The earlier part of the statement describes her involvement with Cumann na mBan, and a journey she undertook to Enniscorthy, county Wexford, on the Wednesday before the Rising, to deliver a dispatch (sewn into the lining of her red fox fur) to the leader of the Volunteers there. She assumed this dispatch to be an order to rise. On her way back, she met Min Ryan, whom, she later concluded, had delivered a countermanding order. This was confirmed years later by the recipient of both, Seamus Doyle.

 

She paid a short visit to Jacob’s to report on a second trip to Wexford. Her brothers, Michael and Henry (Harry) were in the garrison. Later in the statement, she vividly describes visiting Michael in Kilmainham on the night before he was executed.

 

 

WS 312 – Seosamh De Brun witness statement

 

Seosamh de Brun arrived at the revolution by tram, having run home to change into uniform when he met some mobilised Volunteers. His account of his time in Jacob’s is strong on the physical deprivations suffered by the garrison – initially poor sleeping and washing arrangements, only biscuits and sweets to eat. He also describes a study circle set up by some of the garrison, which used books from the Jacob’s library. De Brun took part in the bicycle sortie to relieve Boland’s Mills. His statement is 19th century Romantic in style, full of idealistic admiration for his superiors and convinced of the importance of Jacob’s in the overall scheme of the Rising.

 

 

WS 376 – Padraig O’Ceallaigh witness statement

 

Padraig O’Ceallaigh went to the Fairyhouse Races on Easter Monday, and while there, heard about the Rising. He arrived at the GPO that night and was told to go to Jacob’s. His statement is interesting on the class composition of the garrison – “practically all of the middle and working-class – clerks, shop-assistants, tradesmen, labourers – ‘the great common people of Ireland’”. He also tells us “that the Rising was a gallant but hopeless venture which could not end but in early defeat seemed the general feeling amongst the Jacob’s garrison.”

 

 

WS 397 – Thomas Pugh witness statement

 

Thomas Pugh was a member of the Socialist Party of Ireland, but joined the Volunteers rather than the Citizen Army because Richard Mulcahy persuaded him. When the order for a rising on Easter Sunday was countermanded, he went to an exhibition of paintings in the Royal Hibernian Academy, and mobilised next day. He claims to have seen James Connolly marching down Stephen’s Green. He describes the women in the Coombe as “like French revolution furies”. He found a hoard of crystallised fruit and chocolate in Jacob’s and gorged himself. He later met his wife in Knutsford jail, where he was sent after the surrender.

 

 

WS 421 – William Oman witness statement

 

William Oman preceded his involvement with the Rising with an operation for appendicitis, carried out under the auspices of Dr Kathleen Lynn. He was a bugler with the Citizen Army. On Easter Monday, he was posted to Castle St., just beside City Hall, but came under fire from troops, and escaped, just ahead of a hostile mob, to his home in High Street. Next day, he joined the Jacob’s garrison, but was sent later that week to bring supplies to the College of Surgeons, and stayed there afterwards with his Citizen Army comrades. He reveals that the Citizen Army nickname for Countess Markievicz was “Lizzie”.

 

 

WS 423 – Vincent Byrne witness statement

 

Vinny Byrne was 15 years old at the time of the Rising. His statement, 75 pages long, begins with his experiences in Jacob’s in 1916 (the first 7 pages) and continues to outline his activities as a member of Michael Collins’s “Squad”, a group of men selected to carry out targeted assassinations, mainly of British Intelligence agents and alleged informers. He details his exploits in detail and with blithe insouciance, often writing “and that was another informer out of the way.” He was also involved in many raids for arms, including that on the Great Northern Railway yard and the B+I sheds at Sir John Rogerson’s Quay. He shot two of the British agents targeted on Bloody Sunday.

 

 

WS 532 – John McDonagh witness statement

 

John McDonagh was the brother of Thomas McDonagh, one of the signatories of the 1916 Proclamation, one of the executed leaders and officer in charge of the Jacob’s garrison. John later became a well-known film director and playwright in the US (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0331084/). The earlier part of his statement gives details of living with Thomas and his family at Oakley Road in Ranelagh, and of attempting to start a scheme to insure Volunteers against loss of livelihood. He also recounts a mission to Cashel on Holy Thursday with a message in code about the forthcoming Rising.

 

McDonagh last saw his brother in Richmond Barracks after the surrender. He himself was sent to Knutsford Jail and thence to Frongoch. He was released in August 1916.

 

 

WS 716 – Michael Molloy witness statement

 

Michael Molloy’s statement tells the whole story of the printing of the 1916 Proclamation, and why it was done in two halves (see CSORP/1916/8086 for a half-copy). He was chosen by James Connolly to oversee the printing, as he was an experienced compositor. He tells us that Liberty Hall contained 99 rooms in 1916, which seems excessive. He was detailed to Fumbally Lane, one of the Jacob’s outposts, at the start of the Rising, and later did duty on one of the Jacob’s towers. He carried with him the piece of paper signed by the signatories to the Proclamation until he found himself in Richmond Barracks after the surrender, when he chewed it up and spat it out to prevent its discovery. He was sent to Knutsford Jail, and thence to Frongoch. He was released in August 1916.

 

WS 822 – William James Stapleton witness statement

 

William Stapleton joined the Volunteers in 1915, at the age of 17, and was ordered to the Jacob’s garrison in the Rising. He subsequently became a member of Michael Collins’s “Squad”, and carried out many executions during the War of Independence, which are detailed later in his statement. He was also involved in the burning of the Custom House. His account is striking for its dispassionate descriptions of the most chilling activities.

 

He is very vocal on the “separation women”, whose husbands and sons were in the British Army, and who gathered in force outside Jacob’s to hurl insults at the occupants and anyone attempting to join them. On Tuesday of Easter week, Stapleton was involved in the bicycle patrol which was sent out to draw the fire of British troops firing on Boland’s Mills. On their return, one of the patrol was shot as they turned into York St, and subsequently died of his injuries.

 

 

WS 995 – Eamon Price witness statement

 

Eamon “Bob” Price, husband of the actress Maire Nic Shiubhlaigh, also in Jacob’s in 1916, precedes his account of the surrender in Jacob’s with his views on “the influences which led to the establishment of Óglaigh na h-Éireann and the chain of events which culminated with the Truce.” He includes the general apathy after the death of Parnell, the Boer War, the end of land agitation, the establishment of the Gaelic League, Cumann na mBan and na Fianna, the 1913 Lockout and the formation of the Ulster Volunteers. His description of the surrender is low-key but vivid. At the time when he gave this statement, he had retired as a Major General in the Irish Army.