The Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland

Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland

Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland

The Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland, a large medical school to train doctors and surgeons, has stood on St Stephen’s Green, Dublin for over 200 years.

On Tuesday the 25th April 1916, the nationalist rebels were forced to flee under heavy machine gun fire from St Stephen’s Green Park to the nearby large, imposing medical school.

Countess Constance Markievicz had managed to gain access to the college by threatening the college porter with her gun. He and his family were locked up in their quarters as Commandant Michael Mallin’s company took over the building. They put snipers up on the roof and raised the Irish tricolour flag.

The medical college was closed for the Easter holidays so there was very little food or supplies in the building. Commandant Mallin, a former British soldier who had served in India, organised his garrison in an orderly military fashion. The garrison however came under immense fire as the British moved three heavy machine guns and gunners on to nearby roofs to attack them.

Desperately short of food, Nellie Gifford and the other women in the garrison kept up a constant search to find new food supplies, raiding nearby buildings.

Margaret Skinnider was shot during an attempt to disable a nearby British machine gun post and was brought back to the college for medical treatment for her wounds.

As the situation worsened, Chris Caffrey and Nellie Gifford were dispatched to the Jacob’s Biscuits factory to request much needed food and ammunition supplies for their garrison.

A cache of sixty rifles belonging to the college’s Officer Training Corps was found in the college, but the exhausted and hungry men and women in the garrison were under constant heavy attack from the surrounding British forces.

On Sunday morning, 30th April, Nurse Elizabeth O’Farrell – carrying a white flag – came to the college with orders from Britain’s General Lowe and the surrender order signed by Padraig Pearse and James Connolly. She told them that the GPO had fallen and that they must agree to surrender.

With heavy hearts and great reluctance, Michael Mallin and Countess Constance Markievicz agreed to surrender. They took down the Irish flag from the college roof and hid it inside Margaret Skinnider’s coat before she was transported by ambulance to a nearby hospital.
As they left the college building, Major De Courcy Wheeler could not believe such a small group had manged to withstand such heavy attack from his forces.

A hostile crowd jeered and taunted them as they were marched through the streets to Richmond Barracks, led by Michael Mallin.

St. Stephen’s Green

St. Stephen's GreenMany visitors to Dublin’s beautiful city centre park are unaware that it too played a part in the 1916 Rising.

On Easter Monday the 24th of April 1916, Michael Mallin’s company, made up mostly of the men and women of the Irish Citizen Army, marched from Liberty Hall through the city streets to St Stephen’s Green, the large 22 acre public park located in the very heart of Dublin city.

The former resident’s park had reopened to the public in 1888 following the generosity of Arthur Guinness-Lord Ardilaun, who had it re-designed, creating a lake, waterfall and large herbaceous borders.

On that warm sunny Easter bank holiday Monday, the park was filled with families and visitors, who were ordered by the rebels in the name of the Republic, to leave the park immediately. The park superintendent refused to leave as he wanted to take care of the park’s water fowl.

St. Stephen's Green aerial viewCountess Markievicz arrived in her car to inspect the garrison and Commandant Michael Mallin asked her to stay as he needed sharp shooters and she was an excellent shot. She was his second-in-command.

A Red Cross station run by Madeline Ffrench-Mullen was set up in in the bandstand for the wounded and the glass house and pavilions were used for the wounded and as an army kitchen. They dug trenches and set up barricades around the roads outside of the park. There was some firing, but as night fell it began to rain and the garrison tried to find shelter to sleep.

In the early hours of Tuesday morning, they came under heavy attack from British machine gunners located up on the roof of the Shelbourne Hotel, which under cover of darkness had been taken over by the British army who had positioned a heavy machine gun there.

The park provided little cover for the rebels from such an onslaught of firing. A number of men died, some were wounded. Commandant Mallin tried to carry some of his men to safety. Realising that their position was far too open and untenable he gave the order to evacuate St Stephen’s Green.

Countess Markievicz sculptureCountess Markievicz led a party to the nearby Royal College of Surgeons, the large medical school on the west side of the park and they managed to gain entry there. As the whistle sounded, the men and women under his command fled to the safety of the college building. They left their dead in the park and much of their supplies as they escaped under intense enemy machine gun fire.

During the week of the Rising both the British soldiers and the Rebels agreed to a twice daily truce or cease fire to enable the ducks, swans and birds to be fed and to swim and dabble in the water.

In St Stephen’s Green there is a statue of Countess Markievicz. Information panels to mark the Centenary of 1916 Rising were unveiled in March 2016.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

Hong Kong Macau Irish Festival logoThis year I am spending St. Patrick’s Day over in Macau and Hong Kong as I am taking part in The Script Road – Macau Literary Festival and also the Hong Kong Macau Irish Festival.

There are lots of writer events along with a St Patrick’s Day parade and a dinner in Macau.

I will also be taking part in Mise Eire – a concert marking the 100th Anniversary of the 1916 Rising – that is being held in Hong Kong.

It’s going to be busy, but I will be back home to Dublin in time for our own very special 1916 Easter Rising Commemorations.

Liberty Hall

Modern Liberty Hall.jpegThe original Liberty Hall building stood on Beresford place (near Eden Quay) overlooking the Dublin’s River Liffey. It was home to the Irish Transport and General Workers Union which was founded by the labour activist Jim Larkin and was used for meetings and social events.

In 1913 Larkin and the Union called for a strike for better pay and conditions for the thousands of Dublin workers. The Employer’s Federation, led by William Martin Murphy, reacted by locking out the workers and replacing most of them with scab labour.

During the long months of the 1913 Lockout, thousands of workers and their families were fed every day at the Union’s crowded soup kitchens in Liberty Hall run by Countess Markievicz, Maud Gonne and Nellie Gifford. Larkin and James Connolly also set up a workers’ army-The Irish Citizen Amy.

1n 1914 many of the workers had to return to work as Union funds had run out. Nellie Gifford continued to work in Liberty Hall, giving cookery classes and dance classes to its members.

When the war broke out in 1914, the Union hung a large banner across the front of Liberty Hall declaring, ‘We serve neither for King or Kaiser, but Ireland.’


In 1916 James Connolly was running Liberty Hall. Connolly’s Citizen Army and The Irish Volunteers united to plan and fight in the 1916 Rising. Liberty Hall became a hub of operation with bombs and ammunition being made and supplies organised for the rebellion against the British in Dublin. The proclamation was also secretly printed there.

Thousands turned up in Liberty Hall on Easter Sunday 23rd April 1916 only to discover that Eoin McNeill, head of the Volunteers, had issued orders cancelling the Rising. However Padraig Pearse, Tom Clarke, Sean MacDiarmada, James Connolly, Thomas MacDonagh, Joseph Plunkett and Eamonn Ceannt were determined to go ahead with the planned rebellion.

On Easter Monday 24th April, a much reduced army of rebels gathered at Liberty Hall and set out across the city. Padraig Pearse and James Connolly led their large group of men and women towards the GPO. Nellie Gifford marched with her group under Commandant Michael Mallin to take St Stephen’s Green. The Rising had begun.

On Wednesday 26th of April, Dublin was a city was at war. A British gun-boat, the Helga, sailed up the River Liffey and bombarded and destroyed the Union building which was actually unoccupied.

Liberty Hall was later rebuilt and restored but in the 1950s, it was declared unsafe and had to be demolished. The new Irish Workers’ Union headquarters, a sixteen storey glass tower, designed by architect Desmond Ri O’Kelly was finally completed in 1965.

Dublin’s first and tallest skyscraper, a controversial landmark.

There are plans to replace it though many Dubliners have come to like it.

National Library of Ireland

The National Library of Ireland on Kildare Street in Dublin was my first step to writing about the 1916 Easter Rising.

This wonderful old library is one of my favourite places in Dublin. I am a library member and regularly visit it for research purposes. It contains a huge amount of literary and historical documents, manuscripts, books and photographs. The library is not just an archive of the past for us to discover, but also a national treasure trove for us to explore.

The NLI contains many of the important 1916 documents, letters and personal papers of those involved in the 1916 Rising and it was there I began my research into the Gifford family.

I was privileged to be able to get access to the Gifford, MacDonagh and Plunkett family papers. These papers are a huge resource for historians, academics, students and writers and for anyone who has an interest in history.

It was very fitting that after all my time researching and writing my book, Rebel Sisters, that it was launched in the National Library on 4th February 2016.

Signatories 1916, an exhibition based on the seven leaders of the Rising who signed the proclamation, is on display in the Main Hall of the Library throughout 2016.

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