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It is obvious that the strictest secrecy as to intention had to be preserved, otherwise the plan would have been betrayed. A secret which is committed to several thousand persons ceases to be a secret. The Irish secret service knew that a rising had been planned, but they did. not suspect that it would take place so soon. Indeed, at the very moment when the rebellion began a council was actually being held in Dublin Castle to determine
what steps should be taken to cope with the insurrection when it took place. The secret service, I understand, expected the attempt at rising to be made on Whit Monday. The result was a state of unpreparedness that is almost incredible. General Friend, who was in charge of the troops in Ireland, had left the country on Easter Saturday, and was in England when he heard the news of the outbreak. The lord lieutenant had arranged to pay
a visit to Belfast on official affairs, and was making ready to start when the news came to the viceregal lodge that the Sinn Feiners had revolted. There was a racemeeting at Fairy House, and many of the officers and soldiers were there. Very few troops were stationed in Dublin, and many men were on leave. It is said in Dublin that if the rebels had known, they could have taken Trinity College and the headquarters of the Irish command with ease, there were so few persons on the premises to defend them. Easter Monday is a bank-holiday, and therefore the shops and business offices were closed.
That was the state of Dublin when suddenly a small body of armed men came out of Liberty Hall and marched along Abbey Street into O'Connell Street and thence to the general post-office. Simultaneously other men marched to strategic points such as Westland Row railway station and the road leading to Kingstown, along which troops from England would be obliged to pass. Another company of men set off to take Dublin Castle, where some harassed officials, as I have stated, were wondering what they should do to cope with the rebellion that they believed to be likely to take place on Whit Monday. The Countess Marckevitz led at company of men and boys and women and girls to St. Stephen's Green and the College of Surgeons. Considerable knowledge of strategy was displayed by the rebels, together with some strategic ineptitude. It was, for example, extremely foolish to seize St. Stephen's Green Park, which was exposed on every side to attack, and had to be abandoned on Easter Tuesday, when the soldiers arrived and began operations.
All the men were disposed at the points of vantage, and about eleven o'clock on the morning of Easter Monday the rebellion began. The post-office was seized, St. Stephen's Green Park was occupied, the College of Surgeons was entered, and private houses on roads of consequence were taken. The attempt to seize Dublin Castle failed after the policeman on guard outside it was murdered; and the rebels
then took the offices of the Dublin "Daily Express," which are near the castle, and ejected the reporters and staff from it.
THERE was to be a matinée at the Abbey Theater on Easter Monday. We were to produce Mr. W. B. Yeats's little vision. of Ireland, "Kathleen ni Houlihan," together with a new play by a new author, "The Spancel of Death" by Mr. T. H. Nally. There is something odd in that conjunction of plays, something almost anticipatory of what was about to happen; for Kathleen ni Houlihan, the poor old woman, is the figure of Ireland dispossessed and calling to her children to regain her inheritance for her.
"What is it you want?" the young man says to Kathleen, the daughter of Houlihan, when she comes to his home on the evening of his marriage.
"My four beautiful fields," she answers, "and the hope of driving the stranger out of my house."
I had gone down to the theater from my home in St. Stephen's Green about nine o'clock that morning so that I might deal with my correspondence before the matinée began, and while I was working in my office a stage-hand came to me and said that he thought we would not be able to hold a performance. I said "Why?" He replied:
"I think there's a rebellion or something on. The Sinn Feiners are out." I laughed.
"Listen!" he said, and I listened. I could hear distinctly the dull sound of rifle-firing.
"Oh, that 's only some one skylarking," I answered. But it was n't skylarking.
A man came into the theater while I was wondering about the thing. He was pale and agitated.
"I've just seen a man killed," he said brokenly.
"Is it true?" I interrupted.
"I was outside the castle," he went on. "The policeman went up to stop them, and one of them put up a rifle and blew his brains out. The unfortunate man!"
"But-but what 's it for?" I asked feebly. "What 's it all about?" "God knows," he answered.
I went to the front of the theater and looked into the street. I could see little knots of men and women and children at the corners of the streets which run at right angles to O'Connell Street, and every now and then some one, suddenly alarmed, would run away. There was a heavy feel in the air, that curious physical sensation of waiting for something to occur which precedes all dreadful events, and, disturbing it ominously, the flat rattle of distant rifles.
There were no policemen anywhere. Mysteriously and swiftly, the whole of the Dublin Metropolitan Police had vanished from their beats.
"Well, this is damned funny!" I said. There is a wide lane at the side of the Abbey Theater which runs parallel to the Liffey and ends at the side of Liberty Hall. While I was standing outside the theater, wondering whether I ought to abandon the performance or not, I heard shouting and the rumble of heavy carts, and looking up the lane, I saw a procession of wagons approaching me. Each wagon was piled high with cauliflower, and was guarded by armed youths. I began to laugh again. There was something irresistibly comical about those wagon-loads of cauliflower, the commissariat of the rebels. We had not yet realized that serious things were about to happen, and so we made jokes! There were funny descriptions of interminable meals of cauliflower-breakfasts, dinners, teas, and suppers of cauliflower. I remembered how sick the soldiers in France and Flanders became of plum and apple jam, and I wondered how long it would be before the rebels became bored with cauliflower.
People turned up at the door of the theater, unaware that anything had happened. Some of the players, unable to catch a tram, came to the stage-door bewildered.
"What's up?" they said, and I answered jocularly:
"Oh, don't you know? There's a rebellion on, and we 're all republicans now!"
IN every tragical happening there is an element of the ridiculous, and it is the business of the artist to strip the ridiculous from the tragical, and leave only the essential tragedy. The realist, such a realist as Mr. Bernard Shaw, insists on showing everything, the ridiculous and the tragical; and so it is that one is puzzled by disturbing laughter in so beautiful a play as "Androcles and the Lion." There was much that was ridiculous in the Dublin rebellion, and all who lived through it can tell many funny stories. I think now of the woman who telephoned to me at the theater to inquire about a friend.
"What's up?" she asked when I had told her that her friend had left the theater to go home, and when I told her that a rebellion was "up," she exclaimed: "Oh, dear! What a day to choose for it! Easter Monday! The people won't enjoy themselves a bit!"
I told the attendants to shut the theater, and went into O'Connell Street. Crowds of people were wandering up and down or standing about in an expectant manner. All round me I could hear men and women asking the question which was general that day in Dublin, "What 's it for?"
I looked across the street, and saw that the windows of the post-office had been broken. Furniture and sacking were piled behind every window, and stretched on top of these were boys with rifles, lying there, waiting. Some of the rebels were distributing bills, in which the heads of the provisional government announced the establishment of an Irish republic. Some one began to deliver an oration at the base of the Nelson pillar, but the crowd had no taste for oratory, and it did not listen long. There were two flags on the top of the post-office, a green one, bearing the words "Irish Republic," and a tricolor of orange, white, and green; and that was all. One saw volunteer officers, carrying loaded revolvers, passing about their du
ties, instructing pale boys who were acting as sentinels; and when one saw how young they were, there came again into the mind that sense of the ridiculousness of it all, and one thought, "This is all very well, this playing with rebellion and establishing a republic; but wait-just wait until the police catch you at it!" One thought of them as boys who had let their lark run away with their wits. All this joking had gone too far, and presently there would be trouble, and some sorry people would be mumbling excuses to a magistrate. It was as if boys, letting their imaginations feed too fat on penny dreadfuls, had forgotten that they were only pretending to be wild Indians attacking Buffalo Bill, and had suddenly scalped a companion or halved his skull with a tomahawk.
"It'll be over when dinner-time comes," some one said to me. We were all extraordinarily lacking in prescience. We still thought of this thing as a kids' rebellion, a school-boys' escapade. "Silly young asses!" people were saying; "they 'll only get into trouble."
I got tired of hanging about O'Connell Street, and so I went home. At the top of Grafton Street I crossed over to the park, and saw that the gates were closed, and barricaded rather ineffectively. man was standing inside the gates, holding a rifle, and looking intently down Grafton Street. Some girls were chaffing him, and asking him if he was not scared to death, and what would his mother say if she could see him, and was he not afraid that she would give him a beating. But he paid no heed to their chaff, though now and then, when some one obscured his vision of the street, he gruffly ordered them away and, if they did not move speedily, threatened to shoot them. "G' long with you!" they would say, still chaffing, but a little uncertain. After all, he might shoot.
I walked along the side of the green toward the Shelbourne Hotel. Inside the railings I could see boys digging trenches and throwing up heaps of earth for shelters. Other boys were stretched on the
turf, with their fingers on the triggers of their rifles, and they, too, like the boys at the post-office, were waiting. I heard a man say to one lad who was digging into the soft earth:
"What in the name of God are you doin' there?" and the lad replied:
"I don't know. I'm supposed to be diggin' a trench, but I think I'm diggin' my grave."
It is said, and I believe it to be true, that none of these lads knew what was to happen that day. Some of them had come up from the country to take part, they imagined, in an ordinary demonstration, a route march. It is said of some of them who were deputed to capture Westland Row station-their task was not told to them until they had reached the stationthat when they heard what was to be done, they sent for a priest, made their confessions to him, and received the host. They told the priest that they were ignorant until that moment of what was about to take place, and he advised them to drop their rifles and uniforms when dusk came and go to their homes.
"Oh, no," they answered; "we joined this thing, and we ought to go on with it." There was much of that kind of young chivalry that week in Dublin. I doubt whether many of the volunteers funked when the moment came, although they must have felt that they had been led into something like a trap.
At the Shelbourne Hotel there was a barricade across the street, composed of motor-cars and vans that had been taken from their owners by the volunteers. Inside the green there was much movement and hurrying to and fro. At each gate. there was a small group of armed sentries, who challenged every vehicle that passed. If the vehicle was found to be above suspicion, it was allowed to pass on. If the driver of it failed to halt when challenged several times, he was fired on.
I went into the house where I was living. It overlooks the green, and from my bedroom I had as clear a view as was possible to any one. I saw women walking about inside the green, and I saw three
Photograph by Underwood and Underwood
little girls who could not have been more than fifteen years of age running busily about. They were members of the Countess Marckevitz's corps of Girl Guides and they were acting as messengers. On the opposite side of the green I could see the tricolor of the republic floating over the College of Surgeons. A man came to see me.
"Will there be a performance at the Abbey to-night?" he said, and I answered:
"I don't know. You'd better turn up, anyhow. Perhaps it will be all over by eight o'clock." I was told later that the D'Oyley Carte Opera Company, who
were to begin a fortnight's engagement at the Gaiety Theater that day, did not abandon their intention until a few minutes before the hour at which the performance was due to begin.
AFTER tea I walked round the park. On one side of the green, near the Unitarian church, there was a pool of congealed blood. I almost sickened at the sight of it. On this spot a second policeman had been murdered. I use the word "murdered" intentionally. It is, I think, true to say that the rebellion was conducted by its leaders as cleanly as it is