“I say deliberately that in the whole of modern history, taking all the circumstances into account, there has been no rebellion or insurrection put down with so much blood and so much savagery as the recent insurrection in Ireland.” (Davies, 2015, 82 col. 952)
This quote is from John Dillon, Irish Parliamentary Party (IPP) MP for Mayo East, in an emotional Commons speech on the 11th of May 1916. It was in response to the aftermath of The Rising which presented executions, accusations of military immorality, martial law, arrests and the destruction of the city which were all mounting contentions in danger of collapsing an already precarious situation in Ireland. The tone and nature of John Dillon’s speech was a shift from what would have been heard from the IPP in the house of commons previously. McGarry in his book “The Rising Ireland: Easter 1916” challenges the often “simplistic heroic” narrative which surrounds the Rising. The Rising “was not to strike a blow for freedom but to kill the Irish Party’s efforts to fashion a peaceful path to independence.” (McGarry, 2011, p. 121). It shifted previous nationalist incentives and “resuscitated Irish Anglophobia “ (McGarry, 2011, p. 4). John Dillon continued with his outrage, anger and shifting sensitivity “I am proud of their courage, and, if you were not so dense and so stupid, as some of you English people are, you could have had these men fighting for you, and they are men worth having”. (Davies, 2015, 82 col. 945).
The event captivated so many not only for the devastating after effects but in the way it was conducted. Above all The Rising was “public drama” and an “astonishingly effective piece of street theatre” (Townsend, 2005, p. 355), it was “theatre and gesture” (Killeen, 2009, p. 77). Scenes of carnage and bloodshed played out on the streets capturing the public’s imagination. Eyewitness accounts around the time captured this spectacle. Looters descended upon Sackville and neighbouring streets, described as “dissolute drink-crazed harpies” (Yeates, 2016, p. 58). An English clergyman at the time wrote home of how “The slums of the north and south banks of the river have vomited their horrible brood’ (McGarry, 2011, p. 146). “The civilian inhabitants close to the barracks (Linenhall) prayed together. Huddled in their houses, and sheltering in the houses of their neighbours, without food, and struggling to breathe when the wind blew the caustic fumes their way. Shadows from the dancing flames flickered in the surrounding streets and laneways” (Molyneux & Kelly, 2015, p. 195). Surrounding the real threat and violence there was a certain degree of excitement and wonder. Which came to a climactic end by the closing days of the week.
On Friday General Sir John Maxwell had issued a proclamation while stating he wished to keep loss to a minimum he would “not hesitate to destroy all buildings within any area occupied by the rebels” (Killeen, 2009, p. 99) On the same day the fires which burned on and off during the week had reached their peak. (Sinn Féin Rebellion Handbook, 1917, p. 29). The east side of Sackville street was burnt out. Beyond it included Cathedral street, Earl street, Abbey Street, Eden Quay and Malborough street all damaged by fire (Sinn Féin Rebellion Handbook, 1917, p. 29; O’Farrell, 2013, p. 131). On the west side of Sackville Street and beyond the areas affected were Henry street, Henry place, Moore street, Cole’s lane running back to Samson’s lane, Lower Abbey street back to Prince street and the whole block from the GPO back to Arnotts. (Sinn Féin Rebellion Handbook, 1917, p. 29; Killeen, 2009, p. 85). It wasn’t until Saturday till the fire brigade returned efforts in putting out the flames (O’Farrell, 2013, p. 245) “The only street in Dublin with any pretensions to boulevard or processional status was an inferno” (Killeen, 2009, p. 87). The actors and instigators of the rebellion who were first seen as playing toy soldiers (Townsend, 2005, p. 158) by the end of the week left very evident consequences. The positioning of the rebels though criticised for their tactical merit (McGarry,2011, p. 121; Killeen, 2009, p. 77) laid this phantasmagoria projected by the light of the fires to witness and when the insurrection was crushed the most visible effect was the wide-scale destruction of Sackville Street and adjoining thoroughfare.
Prime minister Asquith addressed Dillion after his Commons speech expressing a “supreme desire” to Dillion “‘not to embitter, but to allay, the feeling.” (Davies, 2015, 82 col 952). The cabinet was aware of the corrosive effect the aftermath of the Rising would have on Irish public opinion. From the beginning of the Rising until 8 days later the country was without a national newspaper. When the 4th of May issue of the Irish Independent finally arrived this corrosive effect was evident “round us, in the centre of Ireland’s capital is a scene of ruin which is heartbreaking to behold” (Morrissey, 1997, p. 72). The question the cabinet faced apart from the ideological captivation of The Rising was the more pragmatic, how will we pay and deal with this destruction?
Destruction of the 1916 Rising I found to be an extremely interesting topic. Away from the similarly fascinating political and personal stories of The Rising we also have a very practical problem and a evident physical transformation of Dublin’s landscape. It was hard to avoid or side step such an issue. The PLIC Property losses Ireland Committee was the eventual answer to compensate The 1916 Rising. The origins of the paper came out of the issues raised by the Dublin Business of Commerce and the formation of the Dublin Fire and Property Losses Association, which was a who’s who of the Irish Business world at the time. Both were heading by William Martin Murphy who was infamous for his involvement in the 1913 lockouts and his denouncing of rebel leaders, how they deserved “little consideration or compassion” (Morrissey, 1997, p. 71).
The formation of the PLIC is a complex back and forth between those affected financially by The Rising and the British Government represented, on behalf of Asquith, by Robert Chalmers, Under-secretary from May until September 1916 And Herbert Samuel, Home secretary to Dublin (Sinn Féin Rebellion Handbook, 1917, p. 252). The committee consisted of “William J Goulding, William John Osborne, of Montgomery & sons., and Mr Samuel J Pipkin, General Manager of the Atlas Insurance Company (Sinn Féin Rebellion Handbook, 1917, p. 258). William J Goulding was a close business associate of William Martin Murphy both involved in putting and end to the all-Ireland railway strike of September 1911, a committee to compensate family members of Dublin Metropolitan Policemen killed in The Rising and both were connected through the transport industry with Murphy owning the trams comapny and Goulding the Great Southern Western Railway GSWR. So the committee was formed due to business outrage and though the PLIC was an assessment body set up by the British Government it did not stray far from the influence of the Dublin Business world. The terms of the committee were outlined as followed.
(a)(i.) to ascertain what were the sums covered, for ordinary fire risks, by insurance policies in force at the time of the destruction of the property (ii.) to advise what part Is such sums would normally have been paid by the insurance companies if the destruction had been caused by accidental fire: and
(b) having regard to the information obtained under the foregoing heads (i) and (ii) to advise how, on analogy, the several claims of uninsured persons could be fairly dealt with. For the foregoing purposes, looting may be deemed to be burning, but no consequential damages of any kind are to be taken into account. In no case will any grant be made in respect of the property of person in complicity with the outbreak. (Sinn Féin Rebellion Handbook, 1917, p. 258).
Personal injury claims were not entertained along with consequential loss and other exceptions. This leaves the claims which were accepted to be considered almost wholly in the realm of personal property and building damage. Giving us a very clear idea of how a destroyed Dublin looked and how much the damage of The Rising cost financially. My analysis took several approaches to investigate the papers with the historical context briefly outlined previously. I first decided to analysis the overall scale of the damage the Rising caused. Then exploring the context of the papers in regards to rejected claims and why they were rejected. This was to cover the arguments that many insurance companies were claiming a force majeure which left those who had insurance at a loss. I then examined looting and its effects along with plotting all claims on scatter graph to identify outliers which lead me to a business vs personal analysis. Looting was also examined due to its special mention in the terms and the class dimension surrounding it. Finally a geographic perspective was examined showing rebel and crown force positions along with a heat-map of all damages. This can be found in following blog posts which will be snippets of my findings and thoughts.
Davies, Mark. “Hansard Corpus”. Part of the SAMUELS project. Available online at https://www.hansard-corpus.org/. 2015
Killeen, Richard. A Short History of the 1916 Rising. Gill & Macmillan, 2009.
McGarry, Fearghal. The Rising: Easter 1916. Oxford University Press, 2011.
Molyneux, Derek, and Darren Kelly. When the Clock Struck in 1916: Close-Quarter Combat in the Easter Rising. The Collins Press, 2015.
Morrissey, Thomas J. William Martin Murphy. Published on Behalf of the Historical Association of Ireland by University College Dublin Press, 2011.
Ó’Corráin, Daithí. “They Blew up the Best Portion of Our City and … It Is Their Duty to Replace It’: Compensation And reconstruction in the Aftermath of the 1916 Rising.” Irish Historical Studies, vol. 39, no. 154, 2014, pp. 272–295.
O’Farrell, Mick. 1916, What the People Saw. Mercier, 2013.
Sinn Féin Rebellion Handbook: Easter. Irish Times, 1917.
Townshend, Charles. Easter 1916: the Irish Rebellion. Penguin Books, 2015.
Yeates, Pádraig. “Looters, Deserters and ‘Ordinary Decent Criminals’ in 1916” The Impact of the Irish Rising 1916 Dream & Death. History Publications Ltd, 2016.