From Journal archives 1916: Derry woman's vivid eyewitness account of Easter Rising
This weekend marks the actual 100th anniversary of the Easter Rising and the events which would lead to partition and the establishment of the Free State.
We have gone back into the archives to find out how the ‘Derry Journal’ covered the events in the immediate aftermath back in April and early May 1916 as news filtered through.
The ‘Journal’ staff at the time repeatedly comment on the British Government and War Office’s media blackout during the initial period of the Rising, which prevented impartial accounts reaching the North West, while rail and post was also severely restricted.
But one eyewitness - a Derry woman who was visiting Dublin- found herself in the thick of the action and revealed all on upon her return.
The woman had gone to Dublin to visit some friends on the Easter Saturday, April 22, staying in a hotel in the Rutland Square District. She arrived back in the Derry a week later with an extraordinary account of what she had witnessed.
Speaking to the ‘Journal’ at the time, she said: “The first intimation I received of anything unusual occurring was soon after 1pm on Easter Monday. We had just reached Clery’s extensive drapery establishment when we heard a noise in the direction of the General Post Office. When I looked across I saw the windows being broken from the inside. After each thrust of short sticks or mallets, flakes of the glass fell with a crash on the footway. I noticed that the damage to the windows was being done by about half a dozen persons, three of whom seemed only young boys, while three were men much beyond middle age.”
She then describes how a flag was “hoisted over the Post Office buildings, one fold of which was green in colour”. She initially thought the culprits “freak marauders under the influence of drink”.
Returning to the hotel she relates how she saw the Lancer Regiment cavalry passing, but moments later two were shot dead. That evening, she added, the area was thronged with people. The Post Office windows had been barricaded “with bags apparently filled with sand or clay” with a line of barbed wire “tightly drawn from the Post Office pillars across to the other side of the street”, while young men in civilian dress with rifles near furniture barricades.
Moving on to the Rotunda, she saw a few hundred soldiers marching towards Nelson’s Column.“Several volleys were fired and I saw the people on the street running helter skelter in all directions.
“The soldiers halted at once and seemingly opened a heavy fire in the direction of the Post Office”.
The next morning the woman and a friend, out of curiosity, decided to see what was happening but when shooting broke out and they hot-footed it back to their hotel. She said that in the hotel on Tuesday night the machine gun fire rang through the air and told how looters- “young street arabs, hatless women, old men” were “hurrying past with parcels in their arms” , including boots hats and clothing and “several bare-footed urchins carrying boxes of sweets in their arms”.
She also saw a child of around 11 passing the hotel being shot and killed, and described how bread vans and other vehicles were brought in to carry the dead and wounded to hospitals and mortuaries.