The Easter Rising has shocked Dublin, with the city and its people scarred by the fighting. The area around Sackville Street in ruins. Compared to the fighting on the Western Front the loss in life has been relatively slight, with less than 500 people dying in the week of fighting. But Dublin is not the Western Front; people thought they were safe here from the war and are shocked by the blood-letting that descended onto the city’s streets. The fighting cost the rebels some 64 men killed. With 132 of its soldiers killed, the British army has had a worse time of it, but civilian deaths outnumber the combined deaths of the combatants. More than 250 civilians died in the fighting. Larger numbers of people in all categories have been injured by the fighting.
Civilian casualties are inevitable when fighting takes place in a densely populated urban centre. Most of the civilians killed or wounded were the unlucky recipients of stray bullets. But there are some more unsavoury incidents. In house-to-house fighting in the North King Street area it appears that British troops were shooting men without distinguishing between rebels and bystanders.
The perpetrators of the North King Street killings can at least claim to have been acting in the heat of battle. The actions of Captain Bowen-Colthurst in the Portobello area are harder to fathom. During the week he arrested a small number of men, held them overnight, before ordering them executed by firing squad without any semblance of trial. Bowen-Colthurst himself also shot some people he met on the street and suspected of involvement in the Rising or of having disloyal thoughts, including a city councillor who is now fighting for his life in hospital. The dead include two barmen, two journalists from pro-British newspapers and the pacifist socialist Francis Sheehy-Skeffington (arrested as he returned from a quixotic attempt to stop looting in the city centre). In the barracks the five bodies of Bowen-Colthurst’s victims are buried in quicklime to obscure his crimes.
Dubliners may think that with the rebellion over things can begin to return to normal. General Maxwell, Britain’s military governor, has other ideas. He still has his extraordinary martial law powers. He is determined to use them to pacify the country and prevent any future rebellion. The leaders of the Rising will be tried by military courts empowered to hand out death sentences. Maxwell also intends a general crackdown on disloyal elements, with mass arrests of suspicious characters planned.
Soldier guarding ruins (BBC)
Captain John Bowen-Colthurst (The Cricket Bat that Died for Ireland: Objects from the Historical Collections of the National Museum of Ireland) (this particular post is a fascinating account of Bowen-Colthurst’s bloodlust and its aftermath)
Sheehy-Skeffington faces the firing squad (The Irish Revolution; image is from a TG4 drama documentary)