This week Liam Brady explains what happened in Derry when word of the Easter Rising spread from Dublin.
British Soldiers Called to Dublin
On Monday night the ceilidhe mor was held and was proving a great success, but the whispering went round that a rising had taken place in Dublin and that the Volunteers had taken charge of that city.
Such was the excitement that the ceilidhe broke up at eleven o’clock. We were told that all English soldiers were to report at their barracks at once and notices to that effect were thrown on the screen of every picture house in the city. Earlier in the day the British military in Derry were entertaining themselves and their friends. They had a gala day in Saint Columb’s field near their barracks. This consisted of the usual sporting events such as running, jumping and band playing.
They had a pageant of the Zulu War. Troops were dressed as Zulu warriors with their native costumes and, of course, their faces blackened. During the height of the sport when the soldiers of the Empire had subdued those who dared to rise up against British rule an urgent despatch arrived ordering the troops to proceed to Dublin at once.
The men were rushed to the barracks, were given their full war kit and proceeded to the station where a special train was held in readiness for them. Some of the soldiers landed with their faces still black from the paint of the Zulu War and thus gave rise to the rumour that black troops had been used against the Republican forces. Cavanagh called a parade for Tuesday night in the John Mitchel Hall where he instructed the Volunteers in first aid. When Joe Logue and John McGilligan were proceeding to the hall that night they met an old friend, M. McK. ‘Hello, men, where are you going?’ said Mick. ‘To the hall,’ replied Joe and John. ‘To the hall,’ said Mick, raising his voice and looking greatly surprised. ‘Did you people not start enough trouble in Dublin?’ (meaning the Rising, of course). ‘Do you think you can fight the whole British Empire?’
‘Let me tell you,’ he continued, ‘you will be all killed, every one of you,’ emphasising the last few words. Joe and John smiled and said ‘We are Volunteers and we will see this fight through.’
Mick looked puzzled. Then he asked, ‘Men, are you in earnest?’
When he got the answer that they were, and as regards being killed, ‘ we will have to take that chance,’ he answered, ‘If you are prepared to fight and die for Ireland, I might as well go with you.’ So he went that night and became a Volunteer.
Another parade was called for Wednesday night where further instructions were given and St. John’s Ambulance books were distributed along with some bandages. I supplied strips of white cloth that night. Tom McLaughlin and Edward J. Duffy, who had brought the books and bandages had also a large first aid chart of the human body. Cavanagh had muster and the Volunteers were taught the best way to stop bleeding and how to fix emergency bandages.
The general release came and by Christmas, 1916, the Derrymen were all out
That night Duffy took the first aid chart home and as the hall as constantly under the eyes of the detectives they followed him, believing that he was carrying some important plans or documents.
He was arrested at twelve o’clock - the first Volunteer arrested in the city. At midday next day Seamus Cavanagh, Joseph O’Doherty, Vincent O’Doherty, Charlie Breslin. Paddy Hegarty, John Fox, Paddy Shiels and Eamonn MacDermott were arrested. Raids were carried out throughout the city but not one rifle or one round of ammunition was found. The John Mitchel Hall came in for a complete wrecking, the ceiling and walls were torn down and the floor boards were pulled up in a vain search for arms and documents.
The days following were days without hope, and the future so dim that it looked as if it was the end of another chapter in Irish history. But, instead, it was only the beginning. The Volunteers who were left would meet in secret to discuss events following the Rising and the arrests. The prisoners were all deported to England. From Derry Jail the Derrymen were taken to Richmond Barracks in Dublin and thence to Frongoch, Wakefield and Wormwood Scrubbs Prisons and back to Frongoch. There they met old friends and must have talked over the events of the Rising and started their preparations for a more effective organisation than they had before.
The general release came and by Christmas, 1916, the Derrymen were all out. They had not been cowed or subdued but on the contrary had been infused with a greater determination than before. They now bore the honoured mark of the felons of our land. They prepared for the future. The fight came and they proved themselves men of courage and daring who loved justice and fair play and hated everything evil, especially the evil oppression of their country and they vowed never to rest until they had done their part to break the chains of slavery that bound their motherland. In Derry City, as in the rest of Ireland, welcome home ceilidh were held in honour of the returning prisoners and the men who had left Derry eight months before, despised, insulted and looked on as fools, were returning to find themselves acclaimed on all sides. The ceilidh mor was arranged by the Cumann na nBan and it was a great success.
Growth of Sinn Fein
Sinn Fein Clubs were springing up all over Ireland. The Volunteers in Derry secured the Richmond Street Hall where they organised a club under the name of the Padraig Pearse Sinn Fein Club. The hall was neatly fitted out for the purpose. Forms, tables and chairs were procured. The walls wore coated with a good class washable distemper of shades pleasing to the eye. Sheila and Mary O’Doherty decorated the walls with Gaelic designs of exquisite beauty and in keeping with the fine Gaelic spirit that was to be found in those same rooms in the coming years. Sinn Fein started functioning. The families and friends of the interned men were the first members of the reformed and re-constituted organisation, now out-and-out Re-publican. Soon these were followed by a large portion of the population. The Ard Fhels or annual convention of Sinn Fein was held in the Mansion House, Dublin. Eamonn MacDermott was appointed delegate to represent Derry City.
The Ard Fheis adopted the following Constitution: Whereas the people of Ireland never relinquished their claim to the separate nationhood, and whereas the Provisional Government of the Irish Republic, Easter, 1916, in the name of the Irish people and continuing the fight made by previous generations, re-asserted the inalienable right of the Irish nation to Sovereign In-dependence and re-affirmed the determination of the Irish people to achieve it, and whereas the Proclamation of an Irish Republic at Easter, 1916, and the supreme courage and glorious sacrifices of the men who gave their lives to maintain it, have united the people of Ireland under the flag of the Irish Republic, be it resolved that we, the delegated representatives of the Irish people, in convention assembled, declare the following to be the constitution of Sinn Fein:—
1.-The name of the organisation shall be Sinn Fein.
2.-Sinn Fein aims at securing the international recognition of Ireland as an Independent Irish Republic. Having achieved that status the Irish people may by referendum freely choose their own form of Government.
3.-This object shall be attained through the Sinn Fein Organisation which shall in the name of the Sovereign Irish People –
(a) Deny the right and oppose the will of the British Parliament and British Crown or any other foreign Government to legislate for Ireland.
(b) Make use of any and every means available to render impotent the power of England to hold Ireland in subjection by military force or otherwise.
4.-Whereas no law made without the authority and consent of the Irish people Is or can be binding on their conscience. Therefore, in accordance with the resolution of Sinn Fein adopted in Convention 1905, a Constituent Assembly shall be convoked comprising persons chosen by the Irish constituencies as the Supreme National Authority to speak and act in the name of the Irish people and to devise and formulate measures for the welfare of the whole people of Ireland.
Next week-The Volunteers in Derry reorganise.