1916: Looters turned anything they could into weapons on O'Connell Street

A cast iron toffee axe — normally used to break up large slabs of toffee in confectioner shops — became a weapon in the hands of a looter in O’Connell St.

It was thrown at a policeman during the chaos of the 1916 Rising.

Just before 12pm on Monday April 24, Patrick Pearse stood at the front of the GPO and read the Proclamation declaring the Irish Republic. Shortly afterwards, the looting in Dublin’s main street began.

At almost the same moment as the Proclamation was being read, Dublin Metropolitan Police (DMP) Constable James O’Brien was shot dead by the rebels in Dublin Castle Yard, and Constable Michael Lahiff was shot at St Stephen’s Green.

The DMP were immediately withdrawn to their barracks. Being an unarmed force, they would have been targets for the rebels and, with only their standard issue wooden batons, they would have had no way to defend themselves against the rebels’ rifles.

This left the streets without their normal law enforcement at a time when the city was descending into chaos.

Most of the looting took place in the first three days, amid the crossfire between the rebels and the British, but before the fires took firm hold in the central streets.

Lower Sackville St was a focal point, with clothes, sports, and toy shops proving popular. Noblett’s and Lemon’s confectioners shops were looted for chocolates and sweets; the toffee axe may have come from one of these.

The Cable Shoe Company had its windows smashed, and contemporary newspapers reported that people were seen trying on boots and shoes, and returning for another pair if the first selection failed to fit correctly.

Lawrence’s Photographic and toy emporium was also cleared of its contents. Fireworks were taken, and The Irish Times described the scene: “Rockets rushed up in the air and burst with a sound like a cannon, and all the smaller sorts of fireworks were thrown whizzing about among the crowd. Finally the premises were set on fire and burned to the ground.”

It was these fires, started by looters and spread from building to building, which caused the massive destruction of the city centre.

Brenda Malone is a curatorial researcher for the National Museum of Ireland’s ‘Proclaiming a Republic: The 1916 Rising’ exhibition, which opened at the Collins Barracks museum in Dublin on March 3.

 

Read more about items in the museum collection in Ms Malone’s blog, ‘The Cricket Bat that Died for Ireland’.

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