Dublin 8 And The Rising

  • Wed, Mar 23, 2016 @ 21:35

Jake O'Donnell, a Pats fan and history student at Trinity College, investigates the unique roles played by two of Dublin 8's most iconic buildings, Kilmainham Gaol and the nearby Royal Hospital.

A twenty-minute walk from the gates of Richmond Park lies a former key stronghold of British control in Ireland.

The Royal Hospital Kilmainham was founded in 1680 by The Great Duke of Ormonde, James Butler of Kilkenny Castle, who based the idea of the hospital on the beautiful Les Invalides built by Louis XIV to house his French army pensioners in Paris.

James Butler planned the Royal Hospital to have the same function as Louis' Les Invalides and in 1684 when construction was complete in Kilmainham, the first British army pensioners moved in.

The Hospital remained relatively unchanged, keeping its primary function of housing the current generation of army pensioners, throughout the 18th and 19th centuries.

The Hospital which usually only cared for about 200 army pensioners began to adopt an increasing militaristic function during the 19th and early 20th centuries.

Military personnel began obtaining a large presence in the building and permanently taking over their own rooms in the building.

By 1916, the Royal Hospital was now the official residence of The Commander-in-Chief of the British army.

Masters of the Hospital began to be prominent members of the British army, with many carrying the esteemed titles of Field Marshals or Generals.

Military ceremonies and events became frequent on the grounds of the hospital over the 19th century, with Queen Victoria also being hosted in the Hospital during two of her visits to Ireland during that time.

It is safe to say that while the Hospital still maintained its original function of caring for its soldiers of yesteryear, the Hospital was now, in 1916, an important headquarters of the current British army in Ireland.

When the rebellion began in Easter 1916, the Hospital although not directly attacked or stormed,found itself under consistent fire from a group of rebels stationed 500 metres away in the Malt House on Bow Lane.

The Hospital became an important strong point during the Easter week and many British soldiers were sent there to use as a headquarters during their fight to quell the rebels.

At its peak during the rebellion the Hospital housed 2,500 men, in buildings that were originally built to accommodate just 400.

Records tell us the extent of the situation, explaining that every last inch of space in the building was being used to store either the men or their equipment.

Resources in the Hospital during the week were tight and even the pensioners still left in the Hospital at the time, were forced to live off an Active Service Diet of simply bully beef and biscuits.

Two machine gun sections placed on the roof of the hospital eventually silenced the division of rebels in the Malt House, but not before the rebels had claimed their own casualties killing their share of British troops stationed
in the hospital. The names of whom are now filed on a complete list in the Board Room of the Hospital.

The history of Kilmainham Gaol just across the road from the Royal Hospital, is one that is even more intricately linked with the early modern and modern history of nationalism in Ireland and not just the history of 1916.

The Gaol has held as prisoners, leaders from the rebellions of 1798, 1803, 1848, 1867 and 1916.

Consequentially the Gaol has been a site of incarceration for some of the most famous names in Irish nationalist history including Robert Emmet, Anne Devlin, Jeremiah O'Donovan Rossa, Charles Stewart Parnell, Willie Redmond and the majority of the leaders from 1916.

Kilmainham Gaol although the British's prison and asset was to arguably become the battleground where the rebel's biggest victory came.

It was the location where public support for the British was to completely disintegrate, and support for the rebels began to stem. Kilmainham Gaol became synonymous with the infamous executions of May 1916.

The horrifying stories of the executions of the leaders of the rising spread across the city and the country, garnering huge sympathy and support for the helpless rebels who were put in front of a firing squad and shot.

The grim telling of James Connolly unable to even stand from his injuries, being stretchered out into the Kilmainham prison yard and tied to a chair, to be shot, was the story that drew most attention and indignation towards the manner of the executions.

The actions of the British army as decided in the Richmond Barracks and carried out in Kilmainham caused outrage in Ireland, wasn't well received in Britain and brought unwanted attention from America in a time when Britain was attempting to coerce The United States into the ongoing war in Europe.

It can be argued that Kilmainham's baptism of the rebel leaders as martyrs rather than the rising itself, was the standout event which spread nationalism and support for an Irish Republic across Ireland.

Had Britain just incarcerated the leaders of the rising, perhaps public support would have stayed with Britain throughout the rest of the first World War.

But as a result of the executions, the idea of home rule was no longer seen as far enough for the majority of the Irish public.

Mainstream support now looked to the future for an Irish Republic, leading to both a War of Independence and a bitter Civil War within the next decade.

It cannot be said to what extent the events in Dublin 8 in May of 1916 shaped the future of Ireland over this next decade and beyond, but it certainly can't be denied that the executions and subsequent view of the leaders as martyrs, had a huge effect.

Jake O'Donnell



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