Prelude to the birth of a nation
The story of the
1916 Easter Rising is writ large in Irish history. But what is often overlooked
is the contribution made by Irish communities in England and Scotland
in providing many of the insurgents, arms and explosives and then taking
part in the actual fighting. DR MICHAEL MAGUIRE investigates.
By DR MICHAEL MAGUIRE
THEY came from across Irish communities in England and Scotland.
More than 70 men and at least 10 women are known to have travelled over
from the shores of Britain to participate in the Easter Rising.
Some eye witnesses claim that there were as many as 100 men.
Others would probably have travelled to Ireland had their mobilisation
orders not been delayed.
Six of the men were killed in action — one of the highest casualty
rates of any of the units involved.
Many of these participants had been born in England and Scotland —
some had never even been to Ireland before.
In the words of the Soldiers Song: They had come from a land beyond
the sea to man the gap of danger.
Organising for The Rising
The Easter Rising was masterminded by the Irish Republican Brotherhood
(IRB). About a fifth of its 2,000 members belonged to its circles in England
— particularly in Liverpool and London and in West Scotland —
giving them three seats on the IRB Supreme Council.
The secretive IRB — some of whose members were too old for combat
— had an open military wing in the form of the Irish Volunteer companies
in London, Liverpool and Glasgow with about 100 in each city.
In the midst of the British war effort these Volunteers drilled and trained
for the coming Rising.
Some of the London Volunteers practiced their marksmanship in a Leicester
Square shooting range while the Liverpool Volunteers installed their own
rifle range in a basement.
Arming The Rising
The IRB’s long history of secret activities was particularly suited
to obtaining and smuggling vital arms to Ireland.
IRB members were influential in ensuring that the 1,500 old German rifles
purchased in Belgium by London Home Rule supporters organised by Alice
Stopford Green, Mary Spring Rice and Erskine Childers were successfully
landed by yachts in Howth and Kilcoole just before World War I broke out
Smaller amounts of more modern rifles and pistols were subsequently obtained
in Britain through raids and purchases from soldiers and smuggled to Ireland
— often by the women members of Cumann na mBan and the boy scouts
of Fianna na Eireann.
The Scottish IRB and Volunteers were a particularly important source of
Over 500lbs of explosives and several hundred detonators were stolen in
at least three raids on Scottish coal mine magazines in 1915 and early
One consignment of explosives was smuggled by a counterfeit wedding
party complete with Cumann na mBan confetti throwing.
Awaiting The Rising In Dublin
In late 1915 the young and unmarried members of the IRB and Volunteers
were advised to leave Britain to avoid their pending military conscription.
Even in Dublin they were not safe from the conscription threat as Jimmy
Reilly from London was arrested and forcibly conscripted.
Men from Glasgow, Liverpool, Manchester and London who were unable to
find employment in Dublin were billeted in the Kimmage estate at Larkfield.
Eventually numbering over 50 — although some accounts say as many
as 80 — this Kimmage Garrison spent the several months awaiting
the Rising by manufacturing cartridges, grenades and pikes.
Michael Collins dubbed them the refugees but Padraig Pearse — who
lectured them on street fighting — called them: “The first
standing army in Ireland since the days of Patrick Sarsfield.”
He also accorded them the honour of being the HQ Company of the Volunteer
Another 20 or so volunteers from England and Scotland who had found
employment in Dublin were billeted at 28 North Frederick Street.
It required the combined efforts of Thomas Clarke, Sean MacDermott and
Michael Collins to persuade many of the very reluctant English and Scottish
volunteers to surrender as they thought they would be executed or sent
to fight in France.
In the event only John McGallogly was court martialled — for having
captured a British Army officer.
His death sentence was commuted to 10 years penal servitude as he was
only 17 years old.
His older brother James also fought in the Rising.
The other surviving English and Scottish men were shipped in the dung-covered
pens of cattle boats to prisons in Britain.
Most ended up in the Frognoch Internment Camp. Many give false names and
hence were not properly recognised in later histories.
But the London-born Sean and Ernie Nunan, Thomas O’Donoghue and
the Liverpool-born King brothers Patrick, George and John were identified,
forcibly conscripted into the British Army and harshly imprisoned for
All the prisoners and internees were released by late 1917.
Fighting in Dublin
Even before the Rising commenced the Kimmage Garrison suffered its first
casualty when London Volunteer Dan Sheehan was drowned trying to capture
a Kerry radio station.
On Easter Monday morning the Kimmage men armed mostly with shotguns and
carrying picks and crowbars for barricade construction travelled into
central Dublin by tram.
Joined by their North Frederick Street compatriots the English and Scottish
Volunteers were mostly deployed in the area around the GPO.
Because of the delayed mobilisation of many of the Dublin Volunteers these
English and Scottish Volunteers formed as much as half of the initial
force in this key area.
Their unfamiliarity with Dublin resulted in London-born Joseph Good and
Scottish-born John McGallogly separately getting lost because they didn’t
know where the GPO was when they ordered to withdraw to it from their
The London accents of Wiliam Daly and John O’Connor also almost
got them shot by Dublin men hearing their voices as they went up the stairs
to erect roof aerials on the Abbey Street wireless school.
Their fellow London volunteer Patrick O’Donoghue used this wireless
to tap out the Morse code that announced the birth of the Republic to
the outside world.
Dublin civilians sheltering in their houses were also surprised by the
English and Scottish accents as the volunteers bored their way through
buildings when movement on the streets became too dangerous.
In the course of the Easter week fighting the English and Scottish volunteers
suffered five fatalities — the Glaswegian-born Charles Corrigan,
Michael Mulvihill, Patrick Shortis, Sean Hurley and Jimmy Kingston.
There may have been other insurgent fatalities from England as eye-witnesses
reported the death of a Citizen Army member with a cockney accent called
And Joseph Good recalled the death in action of a London member of the
International World Workers Organisation.
Women in The
Margaret Skinnider — a Glasgow-born Cumann na mBan member who had
been very active in smuggling explosives — attached herself to the
Irish Citizens Army garrison in the College of Surgeons as they, unlike
the Volunteers, allowed women to engage in actual combat.
Dressed in a green uniform with knee britches her training in a Ladies
Empire Defense Rifle Club made her a very effective sniper.
She was wounded three times while leading a sortie to burn buildings in
At least 10 other English and Scottish women — a high proportion
of the estimated total of 60 Cumann na mBan members involved — participated
in the Rising but they were confined to more traditional nursing, cooking
and dispatch and delivery roles. Although these were dangerous enough
activities in burning buildings and on bullet-swept streets.