During the Rising some of the most significant mobilisations of working class women in the city, were not undertaken as part of the Rising, but rather as protests against the Volunteers. The witness statements collected by the Bureau of Military History are peppered with accounts of women, many of them soldiers’ wives, physically confronting Volunteers across the city. Their activities were concentrated in the southwest and northeast areas of the inner city, some of the most deprived areas of Dublin. This post considers the physical remains associated with the short-lived Jacob’s outpost in Fumbally lane and the role the women of the Liberties had in shaping the activities of the 2nd Battalion in the area.
The garrison of the 2nd Battalion at Jacob’s biscuit factory saw little action during Easter Week. For much of the Rising, the c.170 women and men in the vast building busied themselves sniping at British soldiers, building internal barricades and waiting for an assault from the British Army that never came. Jacob’s was ostensibly selected on account of the broad vistas afforded by the factory’s towers, as well as providing a useful store of food (WS733, 32). The Volunteers’ initial plan was to take over Jacob’s, with outposts in Fumbally Lane and Camden Street, to link up with the Citizen Army at Portobello (WS263, 14). This plan was only partially successful. While the outposts in Camden Street endured until Thursday, the Fumbally Lane outpost lasted less than seven hours, before being forced to retreat by local people opposed to the Volunteers.
The 2nd Battalion of Volunteers mustered at the Harcourt Street side of Saint Stephen’s Green on Easter Monday (WS0397, 4). At about 12 o’clock the Volunteers, and half a dozen women from Cumann na mBan, arrived at Jacobs (WS0263, 16-7). Once inside, the group commenced barricading the windows with bags of flour, and breaking out the glass where necessary. Battalion commander Thomas MacDonagh made his HQ on the ‘main floor’ of the factory (WS0263, 17). Another section of about 50 men under the command of Tom Hunter marched down Kevin Street and New Street and into Fumbally Lane. Half of the company occupied the City of Dublin Maltings (called Barmack’s in the Witness Statements), while the other half took over adjacent houses (WS0716).
The Maltings lay on the south side of Fumbally Lane, amid the maze of narrow streets and tenement houses of Dublin Liberties, one of the city’s most deprived areas. Its four-story malt house provided a good vantage point over Blackpitts, covering the approach of British soldiers from Wellington Barracks on the South Circular Road, and overlooking a large open space to its west. The Maltings survive almost entirely, and have been converted into offices. The east range of the complex dates to before 1864, but most of it was constructed between c.1864 and c.1907. A letterhead on the City of Dublin Malting’s PLIC claim depicts the Maltings c.1916.
The Volunteers occupied the top floor of the west range of the Maltings, immediately putting the building into a state of defence. They smashed and barricaded the windows. Francis J. Ussher of the City of Dublin Maltings outlined the damage done in his application to the Property Losses (Ireland) Committee (PLIC):
All the glass in malt house windows were broken out of top loft. Also some sashes for the purpose of giving clean vision at the enemy and the anticipated battle 25th or 25th in the open space opposite as stated to the writer by a Sinn Fein officer same evening while in occupation of premises (NAI PLIC/1/4044).
Outside the Maltings, barricades were erected at either end of Fumbally Lane and Malpas Street (on Blackpitts and in Clanbrassil Street). A coachbuilders’ yard in Blackpitts was forced open, and the lumber taken to form barricades, along with shutters from shops, and delivery carts from the surrounding dairy yards (WS0312, 5, WS0822, 4; WS0397, 4; WS0139, 4; WS0716, 6). Tenement houses in both Malpas Street and Fumbally Lane were occupied, knocked through, and loop-holed. In Fumbally Lane, a block of four houses covering the approach of British soldiers coming down Clanbrassil Street from Wellington Barracks was taken over (WS0716, 6), while at least two tenement houses in Malpas Street were occupied and loop-holed (WS0423; WS0267, 10; WS0716, 6).
The substantial redevelopment of the streets around the City of Dublin Maltings, and the widening of New Street, has swept away most of the houses occupied by Volunteers on both Fumbally Lane and Malpas Street. A block of six contemporary houses survives at the southeast end of Fumbally Lane. Very few PLIC claims were filed in the area, and consequently we don’t know if any of the dwellings were occupied by Volunteers. A single claim was made for Malpas Street, for No. 10, a since-demolished tenement building. Its proprietor Mrs Dora Canavan with an address in Rathmines, filed for damages to the walls and window of the building by ‘disorderly men and boys on the day of the rebellion breakout’ (NAI PLIC/1/86).
The outpost at Fumbally Lane did not last long. On Monday night the Volunteers retreated back to Jacob’s, largely due to the hostile reaction of local people in the Liberties. As Thomas Slater recalled in his witness statement, ‘they [the Volunteers] were in a dangerous position and no useful purpose was being served; they were attacked on all sides by civilians’ (WS0263, 18). From the outset the inhabitants of the area greeted the Volunteers with opposition, attempting to tear down the barricades, pelting them with stones, and shouting abuse of them. Chief among the protesters were women from the tenements whose husbands were fighting on the Continent with the British Army. The Separation Women, as they were known, were in receipt of an army separation allowance that was key to their survival in the precarious world of Dublin’s overcrowded tenements.
The Separation Women figure prominently in all the witness statements of Volunteers who were stationed at the Maltings outpost. Fianna member Seamus Pounch, who was in Malpas street, recalled, ‘some of the people were very antagonistic towards us, partly from the fact of being put out of their homes and mostly because they were of a pro-British type, soldiers’ wives and relatives’ (WS0267, 11). Volunteer Vincent Byrne remembered ‘when we came out on the street, a lot of soldiers’ wives and, I expect, imperialistic people – men and women – came around us. They jeered and shouted at us’ (WS0423, 2). Similarly, William Stapleton noted, ‘this was a very hostile area. We were boohed and frequently pelted with various articles throughout the day. We were openly insulted, particularly by the wives of British soldiers who were drawing separation allowance and who referred to their sons and husbands fighting for freedom in France’ (WS0822, 5). Thomas Pugh had particularly harsh words for the women describing them as ‘like French revolution furies’ (WS0397, 5).
The stern resistance shown by the residents of the Liberties made the Volunteers’ position untenable. Physical confrontations broke out at the barricades when locals attempted to tear them down. Ugly scenes ensured as the Volunteers tried to stand their ground, firing shots to keep the crowd at bay (WS0397, 5). The standoff culminated in the killing of at least three civilians by the Volunteers, including 15 year old Eleanor Warbrook from Malpas Terrace, who was shot in the face, and later died in Mercer’s Hospital . Eleanor’s death is not mentioned in the Witness Statements, but the death of a man, who physically tackled the Volunteers was. Vincent Byrne recalled the incident:
‘One man in the crowd was very aggressive. He tried to take the rifle off one of our party. Lieutenant Billy Byrne told him to keep off or he would be sorry. The man, however, made a grab at the rifle. I heard a shot ring out and saw him falling at the wall’ (WS0423, 2).
Volunteer Michael Walker remembered the man being ‘shot and bayonetted’ (WS0139, 4).
Another man, suspected to be an undercover policeman was shot at the eastern side of Fumbally Lane. The incident was recalled by William Stapleton:
In the evening at Crosskevin St. end a man, who appeared to be a plain-clothes policeman, was ordered to move on. He had been observing our positions and taking notes. He refused to do so, and instructions were given that he was to be fired on. It so happened that one of our best shots was at the barricade and he opened fire and shot the man dead (WS0822, 5).
Return to Jacobs
The local opposition to the Volunteers’ actions must only have been compounded by the civilian deaths. On Monday evening they were forced to return to Jacob’s followed by an angry crowd. William Stapleton recalled the events:
As dusk was falling, about 7 or 8 o’clock, we retreated from the barricades to our headquarters at Jacob’s factory … and while waiting to be admitted at one of the large gates we were submitted to all sorts of indignities by some of the local people. It was difficult to preserve control due to the treatment. We suffered from these people. We were actually struck, and those in uniforms had their uniform caps knocked off, yet nothing of and those in uniforms had their uniform caps knocked off, yet nothing of an untold nature took place by way of retaliation … We were eventually admitted into Jacob’s factory and dispersed throughout the building … No sooner had we barricaded the entrance when the mob tried to burst the gate in. They kicked and barged it with some heavy implements, but seeing that that was of little effect they tried to set fire to it with old sacking which had been soaked in paraffin and pushed under the door and ignited … MacDonagh ordered me to remove the shot from my shotgun cartridges and fire a couple of blanks through the iron grid at the top of the gates in the direction of the mob in the hope of frightening them off. I did this and they dispersed after a short time (WS0822, 6).
The protests from local residents at Jacob’s continued throughout the week. During one incident Volunteers were prevented from removing a wooden access ladder from the back of the building. The men started breaking the ladder with sledgehammers when, ‘some of the immediate residents, hearing the noise, came to their windows and started a. wordy battle, they being of different opinions as to our actions, so that the work had to be stopped, uncompleted’ (WS0734, 26-7).
The Separation Women have an uncomfortable place in the narrative of 1916. They represent the largest mobilisation of working class Dublin women during the Rising, and were a significant presence on the streets in the northeast and southwest areas of the inner city. The Volunteers oscillated between dismissing them in distinctively class-conscious language, and rationalising their actions as dupes of the British State, who did not understand the Republican cause. In a rare contemporary diary, Seosamh de Brún vented his frustration:
Are these the people we are trying to free? Are they worth fighting for? The dregs of the population. They don’t understand. Patience! They are the product of misrule. If fighting for them improves their condition that alone consoles. Maintenance money has changed them .
Recent work has taken a more nuanced approach to the Separation Women, attempting to understand their actions in the context of the precarious world of Dublins’s tenements. As Narianna Kretschmer has put it:
Ultimately, separation women’s reactions must be understood as the result of a complex, interwoven relationship between emotional, political, social and economic influences. No one facet alone can fully explain why separation women jeered at the defeated rebels and looted abandoned Dublin shops. However, when all factors are viewed together, a picture emerges of women who every day faced the threat of homeless and starvation, and who had absolutely no recourse through which to voice their complaints .
 Joe Duffy’s list of Children Killed in 1916 Rising [http://static.rasset.ie/documents/radio1/joe-duffys-list-of-children-killed-in-1916-rising.pdf].
The diary of an Irish rebel fighting in the 1916 Rising [http://www.irishcentral.com/roots/history/The-diary-of-an-Irish-rebel-fighting-in-the-1916-Rising-PHOTOS.html]
 Narianna Kretschmer, ‘The Female Dregs of Dublin”: Political Repression, Socioeconomic Deprivation and the Separation Women of Easter 1916’, B. A. Thesis