Dublin Visit 1917

 Dublin after the 1916 Rising.                Extract from Memoir of Labhras O Nuallain

My second visit to Ireland came in 1917, during the period of the first Great War of 1914-‘18. On that occasion, I travelled with my father,Michael Nolan, on his regular annual holiday of one week from his work as a goods checker at the extensive marshalling-yard of the London, Midland and Scottish railway in the district of Ancoats.

Postcard courtesy W.Field, Youghal
Postcard courtesy W.Field, Youghal

 During that crossing in 1917 to Dun Laoghaire, I was allowed by my father to take a little ramble around the corridors adjoining the third-class saloon in which we were travelling. I came across groups of soldiers, sitting or lying on the deck, each with a large gun close by his side. A few of the soldiers called me over, said a few words to me but I did not respond and I scuttled back to my father. A few minutes previously, I had heard some man saying to my father that they were “going across to fight the Irish”!  Such a statement meant nothing to me, but somehow those words remained with me for a long time after that morning.  Obviously, at the age of five years I was completely unaware of whatever significance lay behind that statement.   None the less, I think my curiosity had been aroused , and it was heightened, to some extent, when we arrived at Westland Row station on the boat-train from Dun Laoghaire.
Sackville Street
         We crossed over from the station to Lincoln Place and then along Nassau street, by the railings surrounding Trinity College Park and into College Green. The time of the morning was probably around seven o’ clock. It was summer time and the air was sharp and clean. The streets were silent, with only an occasional passer-by.  It was probably a Sunday morning, but there were no church bells to be heard.  As we headed round the corner, and on to the front gate of Trinity College, there slowly clanked into view from Westmoreland Street a large grey-green tank, heading down Nassau street.
We continued on our way, along Westmoreland Street, heading for O’ Connell Bridge.  There we halted and my father took a long look down O’ Connell Street, then named Sackville Street.  There I saw, halfway down the street, a very large strange-looking building on the left-hand side.  As l learnt, in later years, that very building was the battered remains of the General Post-Office which had been taken over by the men and women of the Irish Volunteers and the Citizen Army during the Easter week rising of 1916.  It had been shelled by the British Navy gunboat, H.M.S. Elga, which was anchored at the south bank of the river Liffey, close to Butt Bridge, and facing the Custom House building on the opposite bank of the river.  It was that same gunboat that had demolished Liberty Hall, the headquarters of the Citizen Army, and also of the Irish Transport and General Workers Union during that same week.
There was little or no traffic to be heard or seen early that Sunday morning; no jangling of the tramcars or the rumble of horse-drawn vehicles.  Everything was quiet, save for the hurrying footsteps of the occasional pedestrian moving across O Connell Street in the vicinity of Nelsons Pillar, which bestrode the centre of O‘Connell Street, with a statue of Lord Nelson perched on the top of the pillar.
My father said not a word to me about what we had seen and we moved on.      ©   L.Ó Nuallain

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