My Granny, the Looter -- One of Many During Easter Week

To have a relative who was ‘out’ in 1916 – that is, someone who took part in that mad assault on the British Empire known as the Easter Rising – is something to be treasured.

Of course, there were plenty of other people ‘out’ in Easter Week – all of them risking life and limb, not for Ireland, though, but for themselves and their families as they smashed in windows and took whatever plunder they could carry from city centre businesses.

There were probably more looters out and about in Dublin that week than there were rebels holed up in the GPO. My granny, Maggie, was one of them – and we still have the dishes she ‘liberated’ to prove it: Four soup bowls with a Milan stamp on the back . . . they are testament to another, less noble side to the Rising.

Above, one of the bowls my granny Maggie looted during the Rising.

Maggie was a teenager at the time, and a tenacious one, given that dishes weren’t the only things she set her sights on that fateful week.

The story goes that she was looting a butcher’s shop when she spied a prize shoulder of ham. Determined to get more than that and hauling the ham along, Maggie sought out more booty from the shelves. A man nearby kindly offered to hold the ham while she went foraging. Needless to say, that was the last time she saw that lump of meat.

Maggie was just one of many who ransacked city centre premises during the Rising. The first business to fall was Noblett’s sweet shop on Sackville Street, the plate glass window of which shattered as the last words of the Proclamation were fading on Padraig Pearse’s lips.

A shower of sweetstuffs,chocolate boxes and huge slabs of toffee were taken by the crowd in double-quick time, all the while ignoring pleadings from Volunteers and from Fr Michael Flanagan, from the Pro-Cathedral,who had arrived on the scene.

Women and children were the first to start looting on Easter Monday. Businesses in Earl Street and Abbey Street were ransacked while Pearse and Connolly sipped tea and ate sandwiches inside the GPO.

Clery’s, Elvery’s and McDowell’s jewellers all fell victim to looters, with the Illustrated Sunday Herald reporting: “McDowell’s, the jewellers, was broken into and some thousands of pounds worth of jewellery taken. Taafe’s, the hosiers; Lewer’s, Dunn’s hat shop, the Cable shoe shop, all were gutted, and their contents, when not wanted, were thrown pell-mell into the street.”

Volunteers with batons try to discourage plunder

One witness recalls seeing people in the Gresham Hotel with jewellery they had bought from the looters. In his memoir, On Another Man’s Wound, Ernie O’Malley recalled arriving onto Sackville Street and being pestered by looters hawking their booty: “Diamond rings and pocketsful of gold watches were selling for sixpence and a shilling, and one was cursed if one did not buy.”

Meanwhile, Volunteers with batons tried in vain to protect business, and the journalist Francis Sheehy Skeffington, who would not survive Easter week, stood atop a tram car and pleaded with people not to steal.

One Volunteer described witnessing looters carrying a stolen piano from the direction of Mary’s Lane. They ignored warnings to stop, and only did so after a volley was fired over their heads. The would-be plunderers scarpered, leaving the piano in the middle of the street.

The bizarre sights didn’t end there. Several Volunteers broke into the Waxworks Museum and were soon to be seen parading up and down in all manner of outlandish costumes.

The looting lasted for most of the week. CItizens had gone mad and no manner of threats or impeachments would disuade them from their path.

In his book, Dear, Dirty Dublin: A City in Distress, 1899-1916, Joseph O’Brien wrote that “according to police statistics for 1916, 425 persons were proceeded against for looting during the rebellion and 398 of these were either fined or imprisoned”.

The Irish Independent reported on May 11, 1916, how a mother and daughter had been charged with being in illegal possession of “two mattresses, one pillow, eight window curtains, one lady’s corset.. one top coat, two ladies coats, five ladies hats and four chairs.”

In the same news report, it was noted that two ladies from Camden Street had been prosecuted for being in possession of, among other things, “3lbs of tea, 12 boxes of sweet herbs…some lemonade and cornflower.” The constable told the court that the accused told him: “We were looting, like the rest. We had a bit out of it, too!” They were sentenced to a month in prison each.

The testimony of Royal Irish Regiment Sergeant Flethcher-Desborough, found in the Bureau of Military History, states that “months after the end of the Rising, flower sellers and paper vendors round the pillar, sported fur coats and bejewelled fingers, which they could never have bought with the profits from their flower selling.”

The rebellion of 1916 highlighted two sides to the Irish coin – fearless patriotism and venal greed. We celebrate the patriotism and ignore the baser motives of those who were ‘out’ that week 100 years ago. In my own family’s case, were it not for four soup bowls from Milan, those darker deeds may have been lost to history entirely.

Posted on  by historywithatwist

Views: 736

Tags: 1916, Easter Rising, Family History, Irish Freedom Struggle, history, looting, social

Heritage Partner
Comment by That's Just How It Was on February 20, 2016 at 8:53am

My Granny was holed up in the tenements at the back of the Four Courts on Chancery Street- heavily pregnant with her 6th child ., with the tenements full of other families'......... saying the Lords Prayer .......... 100 years ago.

Your Milan soup bowls are to be treasured... it was an era of poverty, desperation, and soup bowls were not on the household possessions of people like your granny and mine. Although my granny did have box fulls of treasure's that her 'Master' in the big house had given her , for her hard work and service when she got married,!!!!   

What the looters done in 1916, is just take advantage of the turbulence caused in, the GPO... tea / herbs , lemonade , and cornflour ... they just wanted something to have , because they had no money to buy it... A drop of soup in the soup bowls, would not have gone amiss either . !!!     


Comment by David Lawlor on February 20, 2016 at 5:03pm

Very true. It's funny, my granny lived in East Arran Street, which is also behind the four Courts. Small world!

Comment by Micheal O Doibhilin on February 21, 2016 at 7:45am

it is interesting to see what people looted - usually luxuries, things they would not normally be able to buy - pianos, luxury soup bowls, fancy dresses etc. Kids looted cricket bats, rockets, sweets - again, for most, not what they could normally buy. There are little or no references to people looting food! Even the rebels, when they took food, did not steal it but "paid" for it with promissory notes drawn on the Irish Republic.

Comment by David Lawlor on February 21, 2016 at 5:13pm

Very true Micheal, the rebels were very disciplined when it came to looting, and did their best to curtail it. Dublin's poor took the moment to get a taste of luxury for the briefest of times.

Heritage Partner
Comment by That's Just How It Was on March 1, 2016 at 8:04am

My sentiments exactly michale dunne .... 

Comment by David Lawlor on March 1, 2016 at 10:17am

You/re right, Michael. Funny you should mention Benburb St. I grew up a few minutes walk away from there, in Stoneybatter

Comment by michael dunne on March 1, 2016 at 11:26am

As in the famous opening lines of "Darby O'Gill and the Little People" there would be 'lashins and leavins' of fruit and vegetables from the fruit markets and the cheapest meat to be had at nearby Foleys butchers of Benburb Street.This butchers is a part of local lore, supplying the imperial army of the Barracks (now the National Museum of Ireland) with meat, and the local people a;so benefiting from keenest prices. (probably to offset any threat of boycotting because of the butchers supplying meat to the local garrison a very lucrative contract)

If you are going to rob, or more precisely to thieve, forget the sheep or the lamb and go for something worthwhile like a bullock or heifer from the nearby Cow Market. Better still, steal something easily transported and of value that could be sold or even kept to speculate upon. Speculation had a different meaning in the 17th century. Was it right that the first mirrors were taxed and it be an offense to speculate on ones image except unless one was part of the Royalty? Fair play to Aunt Maggie. She knew her stuff.

The people of these tenements had it rough but later when it came to rehousing them in the vast urban sprawls of Dublin, devoid of services and shopping, well a lot of these people kicked. Was it Petula Clarke, Lulu or Cilla Black who sang “Downtown” When you're alone and life is making you lonely, you can always go downtown!

Today's Centenary Dublin is suffering a loss of places one can safely go to with confidence. Many have packed their bags and those who remain do so with trepidation as the 'minority' of homeless swells with much of our young people looking over their shoulder, hoping not to be the next lot to be kicked down the social ladder.

Comment by brendan woods on March 4, 2016 at 2:45pm

used to be a frequent visitor to dublin a few years ago,but now hotels been jacking up their prices better to go some where else like westport which is a very good town and very good bars every where round town center

Comment by David Lawlor on March 5, 2016 at 4:33am

Yep, Westport is a great spot - and if you overindulge, therre's always Croagh Patrick to help with the purge


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