The Battle of Mount Street Bridge is a part of the 1916 Easter Rising that is rarely mentioned. Yet this battle is surely one that should have been at the forefront of the Irish history books and a mandatory part of every Irish history syllabus. This article will be dedicated to those volunteers who took part in the 1916 Easter Rising at Mount Street Bridge / Clanwilliam House / Parochial Hall. It has been said that this was one of the fiercest and bloodiest battles of the Easter Rising 1916, and the only man involved who has any real iconic status in the Irish history books is De Valera.
Commandant De Valera, Lieutenant Michael Malone of the 3rd Battalion (IRB), James Grace (Section Commander) and the other volunteers set out on the day of the Rising to march to Boland’s Mill. Their remit was to secure Boland’s Mill and Mount Street Bridge, which was a well-known route from Kingstown Port (now Dún Laoghaire Harbour) to Dublin, at whatever cost. They had to prevent British reinforcements from entering Dublin. They had suspected that the British Military would send for reinforcements when the insurrection started. As this was one of the main routes from the port into Dublin City, it was necessary to secure this route immediately.
Mount Street Bridge was in a leafy community, just on the outskirts of Dublin City. Well known for its wealth and middle class lifestyle, the residents were not therefore, prepared for what was about to happen in their tree-lined suburb – and which would go down in history as one of the bloodiest battles fought in the Easter Rising.
When they arrived, De Valera, Malone, and Grace set out the strategic posts at which they thought they would have the best vantage points for observation of the British troops' arrival. The first of these strategic places along the route (from the Bridge to the junction of Northumberland Road and Pembroke Road) was Carisbrooke House, which was only occupied for a short period of time. The second was No. 25 Northumberland Street. The third and fourth were the Parochial Hall and schoolhouse, with the fifth and final position being Clanwilliam House. This was a large three-story Georgian building that commanded an excellent view of Mount Street Bridge and Northumberland Road. This was of the utmost importance in terms of positioning for rifle fire because it was nearest to the city centre.
Immediately on entering the strategic designated points, the volunteers began to turn their posts into fortresses using furniture to reinforce and barricade the locked doors. With all of these strategic points now covered, De Valera marched approximately one hundred men to Boland’s Mill (see my article on De Valera.)
At Northumberland Street, Malone, Grace, and two young boys: Paddy Byrne and Michael Rowe, took up their positions. The schoolhouse was taken over by Adjutant Denis O’Donaghue, Robert Cooper, and James Doyle. The Parochial Hall was occupied by William Christian, James McGrath, Patrick Doyle, and Joseph Clarke. Clanwilliam House was occupied by Section Commander George Reynolds, Daniel Byrne, William Ronan, and James Doyle.
They were all in their respective positions by Monday afternoon. All was quiet until the volunteers saw troops in uniform and fired on them, killing or injuring many of them. These troops were, however, elderly Home Defence Forces going home from maneuvers. Though they were carrying rifles, they had no ammunition. Not surprisingly there was a very violent public outcry when this news spread. The local residents ran from their homes to attend the wounded and carry the dead men from the roadside. When Patrick Pearse heard of this, he was quick to respond and issued an order prohibiting all his troops from firing at anyone who was unarmed, whether they were in uniform or not. Having now succeeded in bringing the wrath of the public down on them, all went quiet on Mount Street Bridge.
The battle had begun at the General Post Office (the nerve centre of the Rising) on Easter Monday morning. As the week unfolded, fighting continued throughout the city, intensifying as the days progressed. It has since been alleged that in the heat of the gun battle, fifteen unarmed civilians were shot dead at the back of the Four Courts.
At Mount Street, the British Military onslaught – which had been anticipated almost immediately by the rebels at Mount Street Bridge - did not materialise as soon as they had expected. Very early on the Wednesday morning, however, a female dispatcher (it is now thought that this woman was a member of Cumann na mBan) brought news that nearly 2,000 troops of the 7th Battalion Sherwood Foresters were heading towards them, having landed at Kingstown Port. The British Military had sent for reinforcements from England. Some of these soldiers were only barely out of training and had never used a rifle before. Caught off guard, the British Army only had four hundred troops to confront what they thought were roughly 1000 insurgents. With Dublin Castle being virtually undefended, they knew that reinforcements were desperately required.
In the meantime, the Irish Republican Army intelligence network had now accessed the revealing information that there were even more reinforcements on their way: as many as twenty thousand men. On hearing this news, Lieutenant Malone, realising the desperate battle that lay ahead, made the decision to send home the two young lads: Paddy Byrne and Michael Rowe. At Clanwillian House, the decision to send another young boy home had also been made by Section Commander George Reynolds.
What was unknown to Lieutenant Malone at the time was that the schoolhouse had been vacated (for unknown reasons) and its garrison had taken up position at Boland’s Mill. By now a total of seventeen volunteers had taken up a defensive position on the Street.
Having now been advised that British troops were heading toward them in Northumberland Street, Malone and Grace made ready for the onslaught that was to follow. As the British troops approached the junction of Northumberland Street and Haddington Road and tried to force their way down Northumberland Street, they were met with a volley of shots from Malone and Grace which claimed the lives of a number of British soldiers. The British Soldiers were ordered to storm the building, but were met again with fire, and more injured British soldiers lay wounded or dead. Lieutenant Michael Malone and Section Officer James Grace had halted the progress of the might of the British Army, for the time being.
The British failed to outflank the 25 Northumberland St building, due in part to the fact that they had not brought with them an essential part of their armoury, the Lewis machine gun. By this time however, the British soldiers had succeeded in procuring hand grenades. So with the British soldiers charging the building once again, some were able to get near enough to throw the hand grenade, which blew down the front door of 25 Northumberland Street, at the same time as British troops had gained entry through the back door on Percy Street.
On hearing the explosions and seeing the troops storming their way in through the front door, Grace - who was standing in the hallway- opened fire, aiming point blank at the British troops, while shouting to Malone and the others to get out. Grace’s gun jammed at this point, and he sought refuge in the cellar, just as Malone came running down the stairs with a gun in his hand. He fired off a shot before he was caught in a hail of bullets, killing him instantly. To secure the building; more grenades were thrown into the cellar. James Grace however had taken cover behind an old metal stove, and avoided serious injury. He remained undetected until after the battle.
The British Regiment of the Sherwood Fosters then moved toward the schoolhouse. They had to pass by the Parochial Hall where they were met with a hail of fire from the Volunteers. Once again, the British troops suffered horrendous causalities, as soldiers made of up three divisions to form the Sherwood Foresters fell dead or wounded on the roadside.
With all their ammunition now well spent, outmatched by the sheer numbers of British troops and military equipment, the volunteers in the Parochial Hall tried to retreat by the back door. They were immediately arrested by the British Military. Joe Clarke, one of first volunteers who was captured on Percy Street, was then pushed up against the door and the British soldier, fired straight at him. However, he missed him, and the shot went through the door, narrowly missing a Doctor who had come to help treat the wounded. Shocked and dazed, he retreated.
With the success of now having taken 25 Northumberland Street and the Parochial Hall, and having found the Schoolhouse empty, Clanwilliam House was the next destination for the British troops. In Clanwilliam House, however, the Volunteers had a great observational advantage. The volunteers opened fire on the advancing troops. Volleys of shots rang out, as they made their way up Northumberland Street toward Mount Street Bridge, killing or injuring many.
With only a handful of men in Clanwilliam House - among them: George Reynolds, Daniel Byrne, William Ronan and James Doyle – a desperate battle ensued, with the British troops failing to cross the Bridge time after time. Wounded and dead British soldiers lay littered across the roads, with the cries of the wounded being heard by doctors and nurses in Sir Patrick Dun’s Hospital, which was nearby. They came to assist, and a brief ceasefire ensued while men were treated or taken from the battlefield.
Moments later, the battle resumed with the same vigour as before. Having failed to gain the momentum in the previous onslaughts, some British troops did manage to get over the bridge under cover of gunfire from their battalion. Unable to gain entry by the door, which was barricaded, they climbed through a window. They then began to throw grenades into each room, hoping to clear the building. The house soon caught fire.
Some sources say that throughout the battle at Mount Street Bridge, the Volunteer positions were supported by sniper fire from Boland’s Bakery and the nearby railway tracks. Their actions kept the small British garrison in the adjacent Beggars Bush Barracks pinned down for the duration of the Rising. Other historical notes would suggest, however, that while De Valera had over a hundred Volunteers, only two streets away in Boland’s Mill, his command never reinforced the Volunteers at Mount Street.
Finally, with the might of 2000 British soldiers, explosives and machine guns now at their disposal, the British troops at last managed to overcome the small group of insurgents that had held Clanwilliam House.
As Clanwilliam House and the other rebel strongholds on Mount Street Bridge were secured, the volunteers were taken as prisoners. Reports at the time stated that the area presented a grisly sight, carpeted with British causalities.
“They lay all over Northumberland Road, on the house steps, in the channels along the canal banks and in Warrington Place,” witnesses recalled, “the place was literally swimming with blood.”
- Fearghal McGarry, The Rising, Ireland Easter 1916, p173
The middle to upper-class locals of Northumberland area came out of their homes to congratulate the British troops.
The story of the Battle of Mount Street Bridge is both tragic and heroic. It is a little known fact that there were more civilian casualties in the 1916 rising than there were military casualties. In later analysis of the Mount Street Bridge battle, historians differ in their opinions on the tactics that were deployed by both the British Army and the Irish Volunteers. Analysing all of this information is for historians, while the object of this article is purely to pay tribute to those men who fought gallantly on Mount Street Bridge – and who it would appear, history had virtually ignored.
All the captured volunteers were taken to Ladd Street Barracks. From there they were transported to various prisons in England and Wales, including Wakefield and Frongoch Concentration Camps. On release, Joe Clarke returned to Ireland and re-joined the Irish Republican Army in its quest to see an independent Ireland.
More information at: (Paul O'Brien: Irish Military Historian)
More from this series:
Mary Thorpe is the author of "That's Just How it Was," available on Amazon, Kindle, Gardner's Wholesale Books UK, Bertems, and Ingrams.
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