A first-hand civilian account of the 1916 Rising has been returned to Dublin almost a century after being written by a visiting English opera singer.
Elsie McDermid’s 26-page letter to her mother featured on BBC’s Antiques Roadshow just five weeks ago, prompting Dublin city library service to contact her nephew who had brought it to be valued.
Colin McDermid has made a digital copy available to be part of the Dublin City Public Library and Archive’s Proclaiming the Republic exhibition in the first half of 2016, but it is also planned to make it available online.
The letter reads like a week-long diary of the Rising and its aftermath. It opens on Tuesday, April 25, the day after fighting started, and continues until the next Tuesday, three days after the rebels surrendered.
From her Merrion Square lodgings, after her opera company’s shows at the Gaiety Theatre were cancelled, she saw the first British soldiers being shot in the battle for Mount Street Bridge.
She and friends headed for lunch at the Shelbourne Hotel early in the week, finding soldiers digging trenches, and a crowd at a corner near St Stephen’s Green told them “the place was in the hands of the ‘Sinn Féiners’ [Shinn Fayners]”.
Their house was later taken over by ‘Tommies’ and guests were forced to sleep on the landing. From the floor behind her bed, she wrote on Saturday morning: “I’ve just had a lovely bath but had to get out in a hurry as they started at the back and the bathroom has a big window and I could hear their bullets hitting the side of the house.”
Senior librarian Tara Doyle said the letter, valued along with other items from Elsie’s 1916 visit at over €7,000, is a rare “live as-it-happened” account from the eye of the storm.
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