Weekend of The Easter Rising 1916
Fr Eugene Nevin's evidence
Tuesday 18th April, a young man came to me with a letter from Mrs O’Doherty whom I knew as an energetic worker in the Movement urging me to attend a meeting and concert she had organised for Sunday 30th in a hall in Parnell Square. That was the day of the General Post Office surrender when of course the proposed meeting did not, as it could not, materialise.
In the afternoon of Good Friday I was absent preaching in a city church, and during my absence Pat and Willie Pearse called to see me. I was and am so sorry they couldn’t wait my return as I never saw them after.
We priests were kept very busy all that week, but especially the next afternoon, evening and far into the night, hearing the confessions chiefly of young men who crowded round the Confessionals and it must have been evident to the least observant that there was something unusual afoot.
Next day Easter Sunday morning I was celebrant at the High Mass, 12 o’clock, at the conclusion of which I found Eoin MacNeill’s eldest son waiting with a letter and verbal messages from his father for me
The following is a copy of the letter:
Rev Eugene Nevin, C P
This is to authenticate my order in today’s Sunday Independent. Great influence will be needed at the first possible moment and in every direction to secure faithful obedience to that order throughout the country and avert a very great catastrophe.
Fully occupied as I was Saturday evening, night and Sunday morning, I had no time or opportunity for seeing any papers so the contents of the letter were a surprise to me: But “their’s not to reason why”, and a verbal message asked me to go round to the different centres at once and impress on the leaders and the boys the importance of obeying the order not to “parade” next day. Reporting progress in the evening at Dr Seamus O’Kelly’s, 53 Rathgar Road, I did as requested visiting first the most important centre the nearby “Larkfield”, Kimmage Road, Count Plunkett’s suburban residence. This was in reality a hidden magazine and arms’ factory combined, where a fair amount of the material used in Easter Week was turned out under the direction of Engineer Rory O’Connor and a close relative of the Count, an Engineer also. Many of the workers there were Irish refugees from the conscription law in England. The Count was not in residence and the only male member of the family I met that afternoon was George who assured me MacNeill’s Order would be obeyed and there would be no parade. But at the same time I noticed a war kit complete, piled in the centre of the drawing room with an officer’s broad sword laid atop. As far as I recollect George was in uniform so likely the kit I saw was Joseph’s who as everybody knows was one of the signatories of the Declaration of Independence suffering with the others the patriot’s death.
I next went to seek out Eamon Kent, Commandant of the 4th Battalion, at his residence, Dolphin’s Barn. He was not at home, but being assured from many inquiries that the Order would be obeyed I desisted form further efforts and went in the evening as directed to 53 Rathgar Road. There I found a goodly number of those prominent in the Movement among them Miss MacNeill, sister of Eoin. All were pleased with my report so we spent a pleasant couple of hours together, never dreaming, at least I didn’t, of the powder magazine ready to be exploded under us.
Next forenoon Easter Monday, Bank Holiday, I was surprised and not a little shocked to hear and to see the Volunteers marching down the Kimmage and Harold’s Cross Roads, on towards the city. I didn’t know what to think, what to surmise, but all doubt was soon dispelled as news of the first clash of arms and sounds of rifle fire reached us. The Battle of Dublin, Easter Week 1916 had begun, though ending in apparent defeat and disaster, was clearly a pointer and an assurance that –
“Freedom’s battle once begun,
Bequeathed by bleeding sire to son
Though baffled oft, is ever won”.
We were outside the area of the fighting; nearest post occupied by Captain Seamus Murphy, 4th Battalion, was Marrowbone Lane Distillery, being about two miles off. Headquarters of the Battalion under Commandants Kent and Brugha were located in South Dublin Union Buildings; and the military cordon drawn tightly round the city rendered it difficult and dangerous to get through.
Two of our Fathers on hospital sick calls early that afternoon were hard set to get back. Many people on business or visiting friends in the city, caught within the circle, were almost starved and scared to death the whole week, food being impossible as well as dangerous to try to procure. Bakers’, meat and grocery shops were soon emptied and new supplies out of the question. Severe hardship and sufferings were endured all round.
Stories innumerable are told of the heroic efforts of mothers, wives, sisters and girl friends of the Volunteers risking their lives endeavouring to bring food relief to the different posts. But all this as well as the fighting that took place is part of the general history of the Rising which has been told by those fully competent in some cases by those who took an active part in it.
By pre-arrangement I called in the afternoon at Dr O’Kelly’s, Rathgar. On my way through Harold’s Cross I met the mother of a Volunteer whom I had known, since as an Altar Boy he used to serve my Mass. “Pat” she said “is gone into the city with the boys and I’m afraid I will never see him again, but if he is killed, well thank God he died fighting for Ireland and not for any other country”. That was the noble, self-sacrificing attitude of many Dublin and Irish Mothers then. Though suffering the indignity of prison and deportation, Pat has been assistant in the National Library for long years past.
Arrived at 53 Rathgar Road, I found there the doctor himself, John MacNeill and his son Councillor Tom Kelly and John Fitzgibbon, all in a state of utter consternation: John MacNeill and Tom Kelly chiefly, stunned and bordering on desperation because there was a rebellion on and they weren’t in it. Tom was very excited chaffing under the restraint he was now forced to endure; but for John MacNeill I felt greatest sympathy by reason of the position he had held, the mental torture he was enduring, the blame for failure he would have to shoulder, the obloquy perhaps, that in consequence would attach to his name. All these anguishing thoughts passed through his harassed mind and were plainly written on his face. Yet the world knew then, as it knows today, that a more honest or more upright man than John MacNeill never trod the soil of his native land. I spent that day of rumours and war alarms with them. Both John and Tom Kelly stood the danger of immediate arrest did they appear in public, so they had to keep or be kept indoors, but the Doctor and I went out frequently towards the city seeking for information, easy to get but hard to rely on. Who I wonder starts those lying rumours? One told that Dublin Castle was taken: … It wasn’t true.
So the day wore on filled with sensational rumours, the crack of rifle shooting, the rat-ta-tat of machine guns and the occasional loud bursting of bombs – Kimmage made I thought – the big guns had yet to be brought into play; they will tomorrow and the following days dealing death and destruction of the devoted city.
Night coming on provision had to be made for shelter. Tom gratefully accepted the Doctor’s kind offer of hospitality but John’s decision to go to his home at Rathfarnham, a distance of 3 miles, alarmed everyone of us, knowing as we did he would have to pass under the windows of two RIC Police Barracks. However he was determined to go, and no amount of persuasion could alter his decision. We reasoned with him, argued, told him how safe he was there at least for the night instead of facing imminent danger; all to no purpose, go he would. The strain of the day’s happenings with his anomalous position as Leader and not there, was beginning to tell on him now, and poor man he seemed dazed and reckless as to consequences. Fearful of what might befall him I went almost to the length of physically trying to detain him as he put on his overcoat and prepared to mount his bicycle. To assuage my anxious feelings as he thought, but it was to disturb them all the more, he said, putting his hand in his overcoat pocket, and firmly grasping something there to show he was armed, “if they attempt to arrest me they won’t have it all their own way”. That ended further remonstrance, and was the last word passing between us for fifteen months. I watched him and son as they cycled together up Rathgar Road until the bend hid them from view, then darkness, the night and returning to Mount Argus where for the next five days we had to listen to the booming of big guns, the bursting of shells and to see the red glare of Dublin’s great buildings given to the flames.