Remembering the Past
The Battle of Mount Street Bridge
BY AENGUS Ó SNODAIGH
Among the tales of tragic deaths during Easter week 1916 there are has many stories of heroism and miraculous escapes, feats of endurance and unwavering spirit. The events around the GPO in O'Connell Street are well known and well documented. The events in the outlining outposts dotted around Dublin and in the areas of activities in the other counties are not as well known. The heroic spirit of the 1916 Rising is captured in the experiences of one man, Joe Clarke.
On Easter Monday, after Eamonn de Valera led his contingent of Volunteers into Boland's Bakery, a number of Volunteers were sent out to secure the approach road from Dún Laoghaire and to stall the anticipated British reinforcements who would disembark there and head towards the city centre.
The 17 Volunteers in the outposts were distributed around the Mount Street Bridge area as follows: the Parochial Hall was held by four Volunteers, 25 Northumberland Road had four Volunteers initially, though two were sent home for being to young, Clanwilliam House was occupied by seven Volunteers and there were two Volunteers in the Schoolhouse. A female dispatcher brought news on Wednesday of nearly 2,000 having landed in Dún Laoghaire and that the 7th Battalion Sherwood Foresters were heading towards them.
The reinforcement column met its first resistance when it paused at Carisbrook House near Jury's Hotel today. They responded to sniper fire by riddling the house, though it didn't contain any Volunteers. The column was thus alerted that the Volunteers were in the area. They had gone more than 500 yards further when they came under sustained fire from the two Volunteers in 25 Northumberland Road. It took five hours of sustained firing to dislodge the defenders. Ten British soldiers fell at the first volley. Volunteers in the other outposts close by also began picking off the attackers who were and remained exposed to their fire.
Finally, the house was rushed and Volunteer Lieutenant Michael Malone was shot dead as ``he coolly came down the stairs to meet them, his pipe in his mouth''. The other Volunteer in the house, Section Commander James Grace, succeeded in secreting himself behind a cooker and after several hours escaped from the area. He was arrested some days later.
While the British soldiers attacked 25 Northumberland Road, they also moved against the Schoolhouse and the Parochial Hall. The Volunteers in both continued a fierce firefight until flames drove them from their stations. Sceilig (J.J. O'Kelly) describes the scene in Dublin's Fighting Story:
``The Parochial Hall, lying between 25 Northumberland Road and Clanwilliam House, was held by four men: P.J. Doyle in command, Joe Clarke, William Christian and J. McGrath. Standing well back from the footpath on the Sherwood Foresters' line of march, it had advantages and disadvantages. Though it afforded no view of the advancing troops, the four defenders poured volley after volley into them whenever they attempted to dash or to crawl past it, thus halting them until they were shot down by the marksmen of Clanwilliam.
``As in the case of the more advanced post, no aid, no message reached them from Boland's Bakery. Withal, they held out until six o'clock on Wednesday. Having fired their last shot while their being assailed with a very inferno of bombs, as well as revolver and rifle fire at close range, they retreated by the back to Percy Place. Here they were intercepted and seized by British troops, now practically in possession of all approaches and exits.
``Joe Clarke, on being searched, was found in possession of his revolver, and placed with his back to a door, hands up. With his own revolver he was fired on, the bullet piercing the door just above his head.
``Immediately, the door was thrown open, an indignant doctor rushed out, having narrowly escaped being shot as he attended one of a yardful of wounded British soldiers; and after an almost miraculous escape, Joe was led away, his hands bound behind his back.''
The fight at Clanwillaim House continued as British soldiers tried in vain to cross Mount Street Bridge:
``The rebels poured fire into the troops with devastating effect - as one soldier was killed, another crawled over or around him, only to be halted himself. The entrance to the bridge became a mass of dead and wounded soldiers. Again and again, an officer would step up and lead a few men in a charge over the bridge. And again and again, they would be shot down, falling to join the heap of bodies on the bridge.''
When eventually the house was engulfed in flames and with their ammunition expired, the surviving four Volunteers escaped over the back wall. When the final charge came, one officer threw a grenade at one of the remaining intact windows; it bounced back and exploded, killing him.
Joe and his comrades from the other outposts were first brought to Ladd Lane Barracks, before joining the other captured Volunteers and later those who'd surrendered, when being transported to British jails to serve their sentence or to be interned. Joe was first held in Wakefield Prison, before being transferred to Frongoch in Wales. Similar to others, who were interned, mainly in the Frongoch Concentration Camp, Joe returned to Ireland more resolute than ever. Though a father of three and needing to help provide for them, he rejoined the struggle and submerged himself in IRA activities in his native county.
Up to 250 British soldiers were killed or wounded and their morale shattered by the gallant band of Volunteers around Mount Street and their advance was delayed by a day. Four Volunteers lost their lives in the battle, which raged over the two days: Michael Malone, Dick Murphy, George Reynolds and Patrick Doyle. Five others escaped arrest, while four were captured, including north County Dublin man Joe Clarke.
Joe Clarke was to remain active for seven decades in promoting and fighting for The Republic he declared along with the other Volunteers in 1916 and which he fought for at the Battle of Mount Street Bridge during the Easter Rising 84 years ago this week.