The GPO–Easter Monday 24th April 1916

GPO DublinIt is hard to believe but on Monday 24th April 1916 – a hundred years ago – The Rising began!!

On Easter Monday 24th April 1916 Dublin’s, General Post Office was taken over by a large group of Nationalist Rebels led by Padraig Pearse and James Connolly. The members of The Volunteers and The Irish Citizen Army, armed with guns and sundry array of weapons, marched from Liberty Hall towards Sackville Street.

The day was sunny and crowds gathered heading for the races at Fairyhouse, to Phoenix Park or to the seaside. Many of the shops were shut but the GPO remained open to sell stamps, for letter and parcel post and for members of the public to collect government allowances and pensions.

James Connolly, the Union leader and head of the Irish Citizen Army, alongside Padraig Pearse, Joseph Plunkett and William James Brennan Whitmore had led the rebel army toward the large imposing neoclassical landmark building which had been designed by Francis Johnson and built in 1818.

With its large stone portico and six towering granite columns, the GPO was the hub of both postal and telegraph communications in the city. They stopped outside on the street and Connolly gave the order to turn left and charge the GPO.

Customers and staff were all ordered out of the building as the rebels smashed the glass windows and barricaded them. The green, white and orange Irish tricolour flag and the green and gold flag of the Irish Republic were both hoisted and flown up over the building
Padraig Pearse joined by James Connolly and a few others stepped outside where he declared an Irish Republic as he read out the proclamation of The Provisional Government Of The Irish Republic To The People Of Ireland to the crowds of curious onlookers on the street.

Some listened but others chose to walk away. Copies of the printed proclamation were left for the public to read.

The rebels came under attack a short while later by a party of Irish lancers, the mounted cavalry on horseback who came down Sackville Street. Coming under heavy fire from the rebels, the riders and horses were forced to retreat.

On Easter Monday the long cherished dream of a rising against the British had finally happened with a number of key building and locations captured by the force of 1,200 men and women throughout the city.

The GPO garrison, headquarters of the rebellion, was well fortified and they set up barricades. They had a supply of food from the well- stocked kitchens of the nearby hotels and took over the adjacent Metropole Hotel. Commandant Brennan and a group of men were sent to take over the buildings opposite the GPO on Earl Street.

The rebels watched in dismay as around them local people began to loot the nearby shops and businesses immediately, smashing glass windows and doors and stripping the business of their stock.

Taken by surprise, the British Army sent more soldiers to Dublin to quash the rebellion. By Wednesday they had a heavy machine gun and two other guns trained on the GPO which came under steady and constant b ombardment from the British gunners. A British gun ship had sailed up the Liffey and destroyed Liberty Hall.

By Thursday much of Sackville Street on both sides was ablaze. The Imperial Hotel, the Metropole Hotel and the surrounding shops and cafes were on fire as the sky filled with flames and smoke. The street had become a raging inferno. James Connolly was badly wounded, shot in the leg.

The fires raged on and by Friday evening the decision to evacuate the GPO which had already started to burn was made.
The O’Rahiily and a number of the Volunteers tried to make a run for Moore Street but he was fatally injured. The rest of the garrison escaped through Henry Street and Henry Place to Moore Street where they began to boring holes between the houses there trying to get to safety.

The GPO was now totally ablaze, most of the building destroyed. As machine guns raged relentlessly against them and fires raged, and with little food in the city, Padraig Pearse knew they could not continue as innocent civilians were being shot and killed. With heavy hearts the decision was made to surrender – with Pearse and Connolly both signing the surrender order.

On midday Saturday 29th April Nurse Elizabeth O’Farrell stepped out with a white flag. Later she accompanied Padraig Pearse to meet General Lowe to officially surrender. She also helped deliver the surrender orders to all the other rebel garrisons.

On Sunday the remaining rebel garrisons had all reluctantly agreed to surrender too.

The men and women of the rebel garrisons were marched under army escort through the hostile crowds to Richmond Barracks. Some of the women were transferred to Kilmainham Jail.

Under General Maxwell’s orders, many were transported almost immediately to prisons across Britain and Wales. Determined to stamp out any further chance of rebellion, General Maxwell also ordered the trial and execution of the leaders of the rising – many of whom would be sent to Kilmainham Jail to await their fate.