One glaring omission from the whole focus on 1916 has been the story of the presence of between 5,000 and 6,000 Irish soldiers from the British army’s Irish regiments that Easter week in Dublin.
They included three battalions of the Royal Dublin Fusiliers and from Portobello Barracks, Rathmines (now Cathal Brugha), the Royal Irish Rifles, drawn from Belfast, Antrim and Down.
The Irish in khaki outnumbered the rebels by three to one.
And they, with the Irish policemen, lost 60 men, nearly as many as the 64 rebel dead. Fourteen RIC men were killed, three members of the Dublin Metropolitan Police (DMP) and 43 Irish military.
And let’s not forget the 315 Dublin civilians who did not ask to be sacrificed by Pearse or anyone else.
Indeed for every one Easter week rebel, there were
(a) 119 Irishmen in the British navy/army/air forces in that era, from every creed and county, every single one of them a volunteer, and
(b) 102 Irishmen who stayed in Redmond’s pro-Allies National Volunteers after their September 1914 split.
Where was the real Ireland that week? And most of Connolly’s ITGWU members were in khaki in the trenches in Belgium and France resisting the Kaiser’s invaders.
The one-sided, simplistic schoolroom propaganda of 1966 lives again.
What a contrast with the generous words of the great Sean Lemass on the 50th anniversary: “It must in their honour and in fairness to their memory be said - they were motivated by the highest purpose.”
That can hardly be said of a young Dublin volunteer Garry Holohan who, after the Easter Monday morning Magazine Fort raid, murdered a 17-year-old boy named Playfair in cold blood at Islandbridge on the orders of Paddy Daly, later to be second-in-command of Collins’s ‘12 Apostles’, and who commanded the Dublin Free State troops as GOC Kerry Command during their three 1923 massacres of Irregular prisoners.
Young Playfair’s father was O/C of the fort, and was serving with an Irish regiment in France.
One policeman, Constable James O’Brien, was shot through the head at the gates of Dublin Castle; another, Michael Lahiff, at the Grafton Street Dublin Fusiliers’ Memorial Gate into St Stephen’s Green by that landed gentry countess brandishing a Mauser.
Both were known to be unarmed, as were all uniformed DMP men, like our own gardaí since 1922, and were murdered in cold blood by the Citizen Army on Easter Monday.
A third, Constable Frith, died on April 27 from shots fired at College Street ‘B’ District DMP Barracks. The DMP lost another eight in 1919-’21 when the vast majority - around 450 - of the crown forces’ dead were neither military nor Tans/Auxiliaries, but Irish Catholic, regular RIC men. Is it not time to cherish ALL the dead children of this nation equally.
23 Merton Drive