The GPO Garrison
Easter Week 1916
A Biographical dictionary
It is the centenary of the Easter rising this year. 100 years on from an historic event and we will continue to be plagued with books on the matter, and rightly so. Many will tell stories of what happened, some may even have my nana’s tale of how she was playing in Parnell street in Dublin City Centre as a 5 year old girl when a British soldier brought her in off the street for her own safety but not before looting a handful of sweets and placing them in her apron. Many will be factual accounts of what happened but Jimmy Wrens book has taken a different angle. The General Post Office is the symbolic point of the rising but it was here where the leaders read out the proclamation (a remarkable document) and here where the winning and losing was to be. Donnycarney native, and old neighbour of mine, Jummy Wren has decided to list all those who were in the gpo, all 572 of them. Not only that we get an illustration and a breakdown of all the people involved, in fairness to the author the rank and file equal coverage. Those executed soon after may, in some instances, get a few extra lines, not many though in this book of equals.
There are some some amazing facts hidden in the collective tales. O’Connell’s boys school taught 29 of the participants, the age profile (like any army) is so young, 28% of combatants were under 20, more kids gone off to war which has continued through the generations. Liverpool provided some people and buenos aires was the furthest someone came to fight for the cause with many hailing from Dublin’s north side and of course many soldiers ended up in opposite sides a few short years later in our countries Civil War.
There are some fascinating insights into many of the 572 soldiers who participated in the GPO garrison with many of today’s politicians having ancestry involved. There’s the human story of people like Mary (may) Gahan, a 17 year old revolutionary who fought in the rising and subsequent Irish civil war, after fighting for the cause of what she believed to be Irish freedom May then emigrated to Australia and had 10 children before dying in 1988. There must have been some fascinating dinner parties around her house!
Or how about Antil Makapaltis, a merchant seaman originally from Finland who appeared at the GPO and offered his services until his ship was due to depart the following Thursday. Antil never made it for that trip and stayed for the week until the GPO was evacuated and he was then incarcerated.
Or Eamon (Ted) O’Kelly who lived through a hunger strike, a Black and Tans ambush and the Easter Rising only to be fatally wounded during the Second World War when the Germans bombed London during his time living there.
The historic element will be written about in many other times wren has written about the people. As it marks an event 100 years gone past all the participants have passed away, thankfully their stories haven’t and works like this are essential to keep it in public knowledge and discourse. It’s amazing how such a bloody and initially unpopular event has polarised our country and the spotlight will shine until the summer months at least whilst those of all persuasions claim the heroes to themselves.
One striking aspect of the human side to this story is how people who ended up as enemies during the Civil War and then became citizens, with many leaving their revolutionary days behind as they participated in society, some politicians, many civil servants and business people. It’s a fact of life that things progress but Wren lists their future careers in a kind of “where are they know” dialect which is fascinating at times
Finally the 16 men who lost their lives are all listed, and subsequently the 6 who were executed to accompany the 69 who were injured over the week of fighting for the GPO garrison.