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Saturday 16 December 2017

From a workhouse to a biscuit factory - the other rebel outposts

Analysis

Rising sites on Dublin's southside
Rising sites on Dublin's southside

Some of the most famous sites associated with the Easter Rising - such as Liberty Hall or the GPO - lie north of the Liffey.

Yet what of the sites south of the river? Most of the positions seized by the Irish Volunteers and the Irish Citizen Army (ICA) were on the southside, including some of the areas where the heaviest fighting took place.

Walking a rough loop through Dublin's south inner-city will take you to some of these lesser known sites of the Rising.

The South Dublin Union (1), near Kilmainham, was Ireland's largest workhouse, housing 3,200 inmates on a sprawling 50-acre complex roughly on the site of what is now James Hospital (some of the original buildings can still be seen there).

It was seized by members of the Irish Volunteers under Eamonn Ceannt, one of a number of sites chosen in order interfere with British reinforcements that might come into central Dublin from the various barracks around the city.

The South Dublin Union was the site of intense fighting on the Monday, Tuesday and Thursday of Easter Week - some of the unsung heroes of the Rising were the staff who continued to look after the inmates throughout the week.

Moving east, at Usher's Island on the south quays, the Mendicity Institute (2) was seized by small number of Volunteers under Sean Heuston, in an attempt to interfere with troops who might be emerging from the Royal Barracks (Collins Barracks) across the river (Heuston and his small band held it from Monday to Wednesday).

A charity for Dublin's poor that was located in a former aristocratic town-house, the original building has been demolished - but the outer walls survive. It is located beside the James Joyce Bridge, and next to the Georgian house that was the setting for Joyce's short story The Dead.

Continuing east but moving away from the Liffey, Volunteers under Thomas MacDonagh seized the enormous Jacob's biscuit factory (3), located on the block enclosed by Bishop Street, Bride Street, Peter Street and Peter Row, between St Patrick's Cathedral and Aungier Street.

The factory had two large towers that acted as observation points, while its location was close to both Camden Street and Patrick Street - routes for troops entering the city centre from Portobello Barracks in Rathmines and Wellington Barracks (now Griffith College) on the South Circular Road.

As it happens, little fighting took place here, though the roughly 100 volunteers who seized the factory were abused by local residents, many of whom were Jacob's workers themselves or were the families of soldiers serving in the British Army.

MacDonagh surrendered in nearby St Patrick's Park on Sunday, April 30 and some of the factory was looted after the Volunteers had left.

Three members of the Jacob's garrison were executed - MacDonagh himself, Major John MacBride and Michael O'Hanrahan.

Most of the factory was eventually demolished, though fragments of the ground storey and one of the towers are still visible on Bishop Street between the DIT campus on Aungier Steet and the National Archives of Ireland.

St Stephen's Green (5) was also the scene of fighting, having been occupied on Easter Monday by members of the Citizen Army led by Michael Mallin. The ICA ejected civilians from the park, and were roundly condemned when one of their members killed a man retrieving a handcart from a barricade near the Shelbourne Hotel.

On Tuesday morning, British troops occupied the Shelbourne Hotel (6) and were able to fire down into trenches that the ICA had dug in the park. The ICA then abandoned St Stephen's Green and retreated to the Royal College of Surgeons (4) on the west side of the park, the facade of which still bears the marks of small arms fire.

Finally, the easternmost Volunteer outpost was in and around Boland's Mill (7), overlooking the Grand Canal (the current Treasury Building is built on the site of the original bakery). This complex was seized by rebels led by Eamon de Valera, including as few as 100 poorly-armed Volunteers.

The location of the area was significant, as it covered transport links that connected Dublin to the ferry port of Kingstown (Dun Laoghaire), the rail terminus at Westland Row, and the roads leading into the city that crossed the Grand Canal at Mount Street.

This area saw some of the heaviest fighting of the Rising on Wednesday, April 26, as members of the Sherwood Foresters were ambushed at Northumberland Road and Mount Street Bridge (8). The area had relatively narrow Victorian streets that formed a natural bottleneck. The British lost over 200 dead and wounded in the encounter, with fighting continuing in the area into Wednesday night.

A number of the Volunteers were also killed in the fighting. One, Michael Malone, had been killed in 25 Northumberland Road. He was briefly buried in the garden and is commemorated by a memorial on the wall of the house.

A small monument marks the scene of the fighting at Mount Street Bridge, while the old schoolhouse on Northumberland Road (now a hotel), which was also seized by the Volunteers, still bears some battle scars from the Rising.

John Gibney is Glasnevin Trust Assistant Professor of Public History and Cultural Heritage at Trinity College Dublin

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