In the aftermath of the Rising photographs played a key role in shaping memories of the event. In addition to press photography, postcards were a popular medium for the circulation of photographic images. Among the UCD Curran Collection is a suite of postcards published in 1916 shortly after the Rising. The images, focused tightly on the area around O’Connell Street, document the dramatic damage wrought on the iconic street. Prominent too are photographs of barricades. The images typically depict uniformed British soldiers posing with their weapons. The barricades themselves, thrown together from carts, drays and household furniture, capture something of the disruption of the episode. While the British Army barricades around O’Connell Street were committed to image, those in the lesser known battlefields are documented only in sources like the Witness Statements collected by the Bureau of Military History (BMH) in the late 1940s and ’50s.
Barricades were central to the strategy of the First Battalion of Volunteers in the North King Street area. The web of narrow streets and lanes extending north from the Four Courts was easily blockaded, and the industries and building yards dotting the area provided ample materials for the purpose. The First Battalion of Volunteers, under the command of Ned Daly, initially aimed to hold a line running from the Four Courts to Cabra, linking up with the 5th Battalion in North County Dublin and with the garrison in the GPO. (WS0201, 5, WS0162, 3). Their position also aimed to defend against attack from the Royal (Collins) and Marlborough (McKee) Barracks to the north and west (WS0162, 3).
On Monday the Volunteers set about securing the area, occupying and fortifying buildings and building barricades. They took over and barricaded key buildings including St. John’s convent, Fr Matthew Hall, Moore’s Coach Factory, Clarke’s Dairy, Reilly’s Public House, and the Four Courts. By Tuesday afternoon, they had built over 20 barricades in an area stretching from Church Street Bridge to Coleraine Street and from Smithfield to the Fruit Markets. They sealed off the ends of the main arteries of North Brunswick Street, North King Street and Church Street, and set up blockades at Mary’s Lane, Cuckoo Lane and Chancery Place, facing east towards the markets, and at May Lane and Hammond Lane facing west towards Smithfield.
The barricades were built with a variety of articles taken from adjoining houses, stores, yards, including barrels, boxes, carts, cabs, old furniture, planks, sacks filled with sand and rubble (WS0162, 3). On North Brunswick Street, Glynn’s and Cullen’s building yards were raided for cement, sandbags, and building materials (WS0313, 3). Further south on Church Street, rubble and old timber from ruined tenements and materials from an adjacent construction site were used to build ‘a massive brick barricade’ (WS0619, 6; WS1686, 16). The Volunteers even recruited men from the crowds queuing at Monk’s Bakery to carry materials from the building site to nearby barricades in exchange for bread (WS0314, 11).
Carts and cars were commandeered from all over the area, upturned and piled into makeshift defences. In May Lane, Liam Archer took carts from Jameson’s Distillery (WS0619, 6), and on North Brunswick Street, Moore’s Coach Factory was occupied and carts, traps, a motor bike, and household furniture were thrown into a barricade defending the junction of Church Street and North Brunswick Street (NI PLIC/1/3022). The ‘formidable’ barricade outside Reilly’s Fort was reported to be ‘at least 14 feet high’, (WS920, 16). On Church Street Bridge the barricade included a cab, a motor taxi, and barrels of porter commandeered from a local publican (WS0842, 8-9). This barricade was reinforced with stone setts dug up from Hammond Lane, bed-ends from the adjacent Starkey’s Foundry Yard, and the Volunteers spread broken glass bottles in front of the barricade to prevent enemy forces approaching on their hands and knees (WS0842, 11).
The tactics employed by the Volunteers were not mere improvisation. In 1915 Connolly had published articles on the tactics of urban warfare, gleaning lessons from the insurrection in Paris in 1848:
The insurrection of Paris in June, 1848, reveals how districts of towns, or villages, should be held. The streets were barricaded at tactical points not on the main streets but commanding them. The houses were broken through so that passages were made inside the houses along the whole length of the streets. The party walls were loopholed, as were also the front walls, the windows were blocked by sandbags, boxes filled with stones and dirt, bricks, chests, and other pieces of furniture with all sorts of odds and ends piled up against them (Workers’ Republic, 24 July 1915).
Volunteer Seán Cody reported that ‘lectures in street fighting and the construction of barricades and road blocks from all available materials were given to us at regular intervals by officers from Headquarters’ Staff, and all men were expected to acquaint themselves with the layout of streets, important buildings, entrances to factories, position of windows and any information which could be of use in the course of a Rising’ (WS1035, 4). Similarly, Volunteer Liam O’Carroll from Cabra recalled attending lectures by Connolly on urban house to house fighting and by MacDonagh on open air guerrilla fighting (WS314, 2-3).
During the Rising O’Carroll held the eastern end of North Brunswick Street facing Smithfield. In the week before the Rising he had walked the area with Ned Daly deliberating on the best position for barricades.
We proceeded into North Brunswick Street, through Red Cow Lane, to the vicinity of the Richmond Hospital … “Well, now”, he [Daly] said … tell me exactly what preparations you would make for the purpose of defending the position against an attack by the military, approaching from Stoneybatter”. I went round and examined the area in the immediate vicinity; and I selected the spot immediately east of the old Richmond Hospital as the most suitable point to defend; I also found to the west of this point a carrier’s yard – Cullen’s, I think – in which there was an amount of timber and heavy lorries; I decided that this would be very suitable material for the erection of a barricade; I pointed out four or five houses on each side of the street, and opposite to one another, and. explained the loop-holing I would do, and the breaking-in from one house to another, and the provision of rear exits. Commandant Daly informed me then that he was very satisfied with the plan; and he then said: “You may be called on very shortly to carry out that plan” (WS0314, 6-7).
Both the Volunteer witness statements and the Property Losses Ireland Committee (PLIC) claims indicate that O’Carroll and his men carried out their plan. The PLIC was set up in the aftermath of the Rising to address the substantial damage to property that had occurred during the Rising. Businesses or individuals who had suffered losses could claim for compensation from the committee. The PLIC archive provides a fascinating insight into the material culture of Dublin households in 1916. They also aid in the mapping of the Rising, by noting which buildings were occupied by which parties, and what damage was done in the process. There was a cluster of claims for damage due to ‘rebel occupation’ around the junction of Redcow Lane and North Brunswick Street near O’Carroll’s barricades. Most of the occupied houses have since been demolished, but on the southern side of the street Nos 73-76 survive. The four properties are visible on the 1950 BMH Air Corps photo of the much changed junction.
The only valid PLIC claim for these properties was by one Thomas Nolan, who lived and ran a grocer shop out of No. 75 North Brunswick Street. On Monday afternoon he and his family were evacuated from their home by Volunteers who ‘said they wanted them for the Irish Republican Army’. Nolan and his family were given shelter by Dr Joseph O’Carroll in the Richmond Hospital on Monday, and they stayed with a friend for the rest of the week. When Nolan returned to his house on Wednesday at noon, he found ‘shop door & gates open and Volunteers gone, and my shop looted’. The house was searched by Crown forces on Sunday morning, and the family returned on Monday. After the Rising Nolan made a claim to the PLIC for damage to his home and for loss of stock by looting (PLIC/1/506).
The east side of North Brunswick Street was also heavily fortified. G Company took Moore’s Coach Factory (Nos 1 to 3) as their headquarters (WS1035, 9). Clarke’s Dairy on the diagonally opposite corner was also occupied. In addition, they took possession of a number of dwellings around the junction of North Brunswick Street and Upper Church Street. Most of Moore’s Factory was demolished to build apartments, but No. 3, the late-eighteenth century dwelling that formed part of the property, survives. Mary J. Moore resident of the house in 1916 claimed £165 from the PLIC for extensive damage to the structure and its contents. According to Moore’s claim, the hall door was smashed in by rebels and the locks were blown off; holes were bored through the walls of the house and the factory; bricks were removed from the external sides of windows; window glass was smashed; and the internal walls were damaged by bullet holes (PLIC/1/2102). In addition, furniture from the house was hauled out of the house for use in barricades, and personal effects were broken or stolen. Moore included a matching gold bracelet, brooch and earrings, a mother of pearl beads and a while ostrich fan worth £1 in her PLIC claim. Little trace of the structural damage cited by Moore is apparent on the façade of No. 3 today. Traces of earlier brown brick are visible on both gables of the building, and it appears that the entire façade of the building may have been rebuilt after 1916.
Across the road, at No. 100, the humbler dwelling of Mrs Catherine Nolan, was also damaged by the Volunteers. Nolan reported that her house was ‘taken over by rebels’, and claimed for property ‘destroyed by them whilst in possession’. Among her itemised possessions were two mattresses, bed linen, 3 ½ dozen cigarettes, food, and a hand saw (PLIC/1/3810). Only the much-altered façade of No. 100 North Brunswick Street survives. The buildings either side, also occupied by the Volunteers, have since been demolished.
Catherine Nolan’s PLIC claim makes no mention of damage to her home from wall boring, but we know from BMH witness statements that it was a tactic used in the vicinity. As the fighting escalated during Thursday, both Volunteers and British soldiers were forced to advance by boring through houses to avoid constant streams of gunfire in the narrow streets. As Reilly’s Fort came under increasing pressure, members of G Company commenced boring through houses at the corner of North Brunswick and Church Streets in a bid to reach the position. They took hammers, sledge hammers, chisels and saws from Moore’s Coach Factory (PLIC/1/3022) and broke holes through the party walls of a terrace of early eighteenth-century houses on the western side of Church Street. Seán Cody gave this account of events:
On Thursday the British advanced, from Bolton St. up North King St. firing from all directions, and severe fighting was taking place at the barricade near Reilly’s public house which held Lieutenant Shouldice’s men, and immediately north of this post we of “G” Company and others were burrowing our way through party walls of houses to come nearer to the junction of North King St. and Church St. We pushed out windows and under the shining example and command of Paddy Holohan kept up a terrific fire on the barricade through which the British were advancing … During the night of Thursday, I think, we were attacked as it seemed from an sides, and when dawn arrived we could hear the voices of British soldiers all down North King St. towards Bolton Street (WS1035, 13).
Gearoid Ua h-Uallacháin, a member of Fianna Eireann, also recounted a plan to reach Reilly’s Fort through the adjoining houses and to bomb out the soldiers with tin-can hand grenades. The men were carrying out this operation when news of the surrender reached them (WS328, 66). Although the southern corner of North Brunswick Street and Church Street Upper has been demolished, most of the building through which the Volunteers tunnelled survive. They are Nos 116-22 Upper Church Street, and No. 44 North King Street, the site of Reilly’s Fort.