Any news from Dublin? How Irish exiles in America knew about the 1916 Rising before relatives in Ireland

IRISH exiles in the US knew about the Easter Rising before the news reached most of their relatives back home, writes Ray Ryan.

Any news from Dublin? How Irish exiles in America knew about the 1916 Rising before relatives in Ireland

The ingenuity of two Kerry brothers and the groundwork done by the 1916 leaders and Clan na Gael in America was largely responsible.

British intelligence knew a rising was planned, that Roger Casement was on his way from Germany in a submarine, and that the Aud was on the high seas with weapons to be landed on the west coast.

Known members of the Irish Volunteers, Irish Citizen Army and Irish Republican Brotherhood, who were organising the revolution, were under surveillance. British navy ships patrolled the coast and the Royal Irish Constabulary were on full alert across the south-west.

Roger Casement
Roger Casement

Casement’s capture and the detention of the Aud and its munitions cargo eased British fears of an imminent Easter Rising. But it did not stop their determination to prevent detailed news of the happenings in Kerry being reported.

Easter Saturday’s morning papers carried brief accounts from local correspondents — the first vague indications that something big was up — but there was no mention of Casement. However, news of his arrest leaked out in Dublin later that day.

Sean T O’Kelly was walking across what is now O’Connell Street, near Nelson’s Pillar, when he met T F O’Sullivan, a journalist on the Freeman’s Journal, who asked him to convey to the Volunteer leaders a bit of important news he had just received. O’Sullivan told him a British Army Intelligence officer had called to the Freeman’s Journal editor with an order that on no account was anything to be published about Casement’s arrest or the sinking of a German boat off the south coast.

British moves to suppress the story did not surprise the leaders of the Rising, who had planned how they would tell the world there was a revolution in Ireland and that a Republic had been declared. Central to those plans were the Ring brothers, Tim and Eugene, telegraphers at Valentia Cable Station in Kerry who were the links between Patrick Pearse and John Devoy, the Clan na Gael leader in New York.

The Rings sent a coded message to Devoy’s housekeeper to the effect that “mother had been successfully operated on” — the signal for the Clan leader to launch a publicity blitz that there was a Rising in Ireland. Some historical accounts referred to ‘Tom’ instead of ‘mother’.

Newspapers across the US devoted vast space to the story, almost as soon as London itself had received the news. It made the front page of the New York Times on 14 successive days. The Ring brothers were later arrested. Tim was jailed in Frongoch in Wales, while Eugene was detained in Cahersiveen barracks before being released.

News of the Rising was slow in spreading across Ireland. Communications between the capital and the rest of the country were broken. Transport was disrupted.

Some British officers in Dublin didn’t even hear about it until late in the day. They had gone to the Irish Grand National at Fairyhouse, where a bay gelding ominously named Civil War came fourth.

There was no word of a Rising at a rain-marred race day at Cork Park, but a horse named All for Ireland came second in a mile-and-a-half hurdle, ahead of Her Majesty.

Sketchy details of the Rising did not emerge for several days. People who managed to get out of the city were repeatedly asked: “Any news from Dublin?”

Lack of accurate information led to wild rumours and frustration among newspaper editors whose papers, unlike those in Dublin, continued to be published. “Details at Last” was the May 1 headline on the Cork Examiner just after the rebels surrendered.

The Western People admitted in its April 29 edition, five days after the Rising began, it was unable to offer definitive information on the events.

“We have not the means of knowing at this writing how matters actually stand, for all communication with the metropolis by rail or newspaper or letter has been absolutely cut off since Monday and we are perforce living, as it were, on a desert island...”

A reporter who sailed across the Irish Sea a few days after the Rising described the capital as being like “a city of the dead”.

Not a soul was to be seen but pickets of infantry posted at intervals down the quay. Every house was closely shuttered and barred. Not a factory chimney gave a sign of smoke. Fires were burning in different parts of the city. A few vessels moored alongside the deserted quays gave no sign of life.

“It was hard to realise but it was none the less a fact that we found a capital city within 300 miles of London, absolutely cut off from the outer world,” he wrote.

Joseph Mary Plunkett, the man who planned the Rising, organised a wireless communications system earlier in the week. The aim was to tell the rest of the world through Morse code that the Irish Republic had been declared. It kept repeating the message for over 24 hours but no one ever knew if it was picked up because the equipment could not receive signals.

However, the exercise was hailed by some as the world’s first pirate radio station — 48 years before the offshore Radio Caroline emerged in 1964. Ronan O’Rahilly, who started the ship-based Radio Caroline, had a direct link with the Rising. His grandfather, The O’Rahilly from Ballylongford, Co Kerry, one of the Volunteer leaders, was killed when he led his men in a charge along Moore Street as part of the GPO evacuation.

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