Bray, the 1916 Rising and it's aftermath by Henry Cairns
The Volunteers are formed
On November the 21st 1913 an advertisement appeared in the ‘Freeman’s Journal’, announcing a public meeting on the 25th of November to form an Irish Volunteer Force. Bray men Joe Kenny and PJ Farrell both members of the I.R.B. attended the inaugural meeting in the Rotunda Gardens and were instrumental in the formation of a company of volunteers in Bray. This was carried on amidst a largely hostile population. When Home Rule reached the statute book in May 1914, nationalists paraded in triumph in Bray and Delgany and bonfires were lit in Glencullen, Ballycorus and Killiney. Nationally, the volunteer movement grew rapidly and by July 1914 companies had been formed throughout the country with a combined membership of 180,000 men.
Bray and The First World War
In 1914 the population of Bray was 7,690 and of these 930 men enlisted. They joined for various reasons some patriotic, others at the behest of their clergy, employers and political leaders and some to fight for little Belgium, but many enlisted because they were unemployed. At a time when there was almost no social welfare, army family allowances were very attractive indeed. A married private soldier with 3 children would receive 23 shillings a week with an extra 2 shillings for each additional child. Compare this with the average unskilled labourer’s wage of 17/6d a week.
One hundred and fifty five Braymen were killed in the war and many more maimed or captured. One Brayman, Jack Greer joined Roger Casements Irish Brigade while a prisoner in Germany and paid the price of a prison sentence when he was released in 1918.
The Home Front
Meanwhile in Bray the International Hotel and the Meath Industrial School had been opened as hospitals for the duration. The first for convalescent soldiers and the second for fitting artificial limbs. Senior pupils from Aravon School helped in the hospital and cricket matches between pupils and soldiers were organised.
Princess Patricia Hospital, formerly the International Hotel. Source: Wicklow Library Service
Between the men away at the front and wives and mothers receiving British Army allowances, plus the fact that there were four Army hospitals in the South County Dublin/North Wicklow area alone, each with a plethora of aid committees from sock knitters to bandage rollers and refugee committees organising everything from housing to education and garden allotments for Belgian refugees, the whole of North Wicklow was buzzing with activities in support of the war effort.
Wounded Soldiers in The Duke of Connaught Hospital, 5th July 1917 (formerly the Meath Industrial School, now St. Patrick’s Loreto Primary School). Source: Wicklow County Archives
The only Irish volunteer company drilling in Wicklow by Easter 1916 was the Bray unit. It was composed of 2 sections, Bray/Enniskerry and Shankill. The O.C. was Captain Tarrant.
On Easter Sunday morning the Bray Company assembled in the People’s Park on the Dargle Road. In all 35 men turned out, the largest number being from Shankill. Among those present were Joe Kenny, Bill Forde, Stanley McConnery, John Twamley, Corkey McNamara, Charlie Brien, Paddy Martin, Tom Sutton, Stephen Mulvey, Nickey Mulvey, Jack Sheehan, James Higgins, Michael Higgins, James Breen, John Breen, Michael McGarry, John McGarry, George McGarry, James McGarry, P.J. Farrell, James McCarthy, John Fox and Lukey Leggett. There was an air of excitement about the men as they had been ordered to bring two days rations.
Mac Neil’s countermanding order
Earlier that morning Joe Kenny was standing outside the church on the Main Street reading MacNeill’s countermanding order in the Sunday Independent when he was approached by Arthur Griffith. Ever vigilant for touts, Kenny suggested that they walk towards the railway station along Florence Road and talk on the way. Griffith gave Kenny a letter signed by Eoin MacNeill. He directed him to read it himself and then take it to the secretary of the Bray Company. It was also to be read by P.J. Farrell. Kenny mentioned that Farrell was no longer a member of the volunteers but Griffith said that nevertheless he was to read it.
The letter was MacNeill’s countermanding order cancelling the Easter manoeuvres. Kenny brought it down to the People’s Park and read it to the assembled volunteers. The Bray Company was then dismissed. There was no armed action in Wicklow during the Rising, however many Wicklow people took part in The Rising or were detained while trying to join the rebels.
I’m for Dublin boys, who’s with me
After the company was dismissed, 3 men broke ranks and declared that they were going to Dublin. They were Bill Forde, John Twamley and Stephen Mulvey. Before setting off for Dublin Mulvey cut the telephone lines around Bray Head and at the back strand in Bray.
Stephen Mulvey was born in 1879 to Julia and James Mulvey at No. 44 Back Street, Bray. He attended St. Peter’s National School in Little Bray where he picked up the nickname ‘Steenie’. He left school at the age of 14 to become a general labourer. A great Gaelic footballer and leading light in the Bray Emmets Club, he was deeply involved in the Centenary Commemorations of the 1798 rising, he was present at a fundraising lecture held in the assembly rooms Bray, attended by released Fenian dynamiters, Timothy Featherstone, Henry Dalton and James Egan. Mulvey joined the Irish volunteers shortly after their inception. An active volunteer from the start, he took part in all the training activities in the Bray area.
Stephen Mulvey, 1947. Source: Author’s collection.
Mulvey walked into Dublin successfully evading R.I.C. and army patrols on the way. On reaching the city he made contact with volunteers occupying the Dublin Bread Company in O’Connell Street at about 5.30 on Tuesday morning, remaining there until the position was overrun and retreated to the Hibernian Bank which they held until Wednesday night, pulling back to the G.P.O. on Thursday. On Friday morning Mulvey received a bullet wound in the left leg but was able to continue his duties. On Friday evening he took part in the evacuation of the wounded from the G.P.O. to Jervis Street Hospital under the command of Desmond Fitzgerald and Captain J.J. Doyle, medical officer. He returned to the G.P.O. and during the confusion which reigned after the general surrender, Mulvey along with several others made their way into the Coliseum and in the early hours of Sunday morning crawled over the Ha’penny Bridge and lay in a laneway until morning when he was brought to the home of Mrs. Flanagan in Wilford Place where his wound was attended to and he was nursed for the next fortnight.
John Twamley became a member of the Irish Volunteers at their inception in November 1913. In 1916 he was a linesman in the engineering department of the Post Office, working and living in Bray. In April of that year he was summoned to a meeting in North Fredrick Street where he was told of the projected rising and was instructed to collect intelligence regarding the location of cross channel trunk cables and to obtain plans of all underground cables and secret wires running to Dublin Castle and the Vice Regal Lodge, and to obtain tools to open manhole covers and cut stays, poles etc. Twamley was allotted the Bray/Shankill area and was given instructions to contact a Mr. Higgins of Bray, a member of the I.R.B. who was to supply 8 men to carry out sabotage under Twamley’s orders. Higgins brought Twamley to County Council offices near Shankill where there was a plan of the Bray area. The map was copied and the pair then walked around the important points and discussed how best to cut communications. At a further meeting in Liberty Hall attended by James Connolly, Twamley was given his instructions as to when to start cutting communications. At noon on Easter Sunday, Twamley received a dispatch from James Connolly telling him that the rising was off. On Easter Monday morning at 10 O’Clock, he reported to Liberty Hall where he was told that the rising was taking place at 12 noon and that he was to go to Bray at once. That afternoon, Twamley was present in the People’s Park in Bray when MacNeill’s letter was read out. He immediately set out across the fields to the railway line. He climbed the poles and cut the telegraph and telephone wires and all the railway signal wires, after that he cut the telephone wires between Bray and Shankill and the underground cable at Shankill.
Due to the loud whistling of the locomotives held up on the Bray to Dublin line, which attracted the attention of the police in the nearby barracks he was forced to make a hasty retreat. He then proceeded to Dublin, calling in to the Lamb Doyles for a drink on the way. He eventually reached the G.P.O. where he met Dermot Lynch who told him that they had already received word of his efforts in Bray that morning and that they were very satisfactory. He was immediately put in charge of a party of men on the Henry Street side of the Post Office with instructions to see that they got food and rest and would be ready to relieve the other parties on the roof of the G.P.O.
On Tuesday he was instructed to get a party of men and proceed to Lower Abbey Street to build an obstruction across where Wynn’s Hotel stood. He ordered the men to break the doors and windows and throw out all available materials for a barricade. This they did with great gusto, throwing out tables and chairs, bales of paper and all types of office equipment. Having erected the barricade they reported back to the G.P.O. and took up their positions on the ground floor again.
Another Bray Volunteer, Tom Sutton worked as an engine driver for the Dublin, Wicklow and Wexford railway. When he arrived at Harcourt Street Station on Easter Monday evening, he was unable to contact the Volunteers owing to the heavy British military presence in the vicinity. It was his practice to carry a .22 rifle in the cab of his locomotive and using this he did some sniping at British soldiers from the canal bridge and Cullenswood Bridge, near Ranelagh. In the middle of the week he carried dispatches for the O.C. of the Enniscorthy Volunteers. On Tuesday of Easter Week, Sutton was on the Railway Bridge over Adelaide Road at about 7pm. when he observed British Soldiers with 3 handcuffed prisoners, moving towards the tobacconist shop at ‘Kelly’s Corner’. He saw the officer in charge point to the shop and a soldier threw a grenade through the window, Sutton fired on the Soldier and saw him stagger and fall. When he fired again, the British used their prisoners as shields and moved around the corner. From what he learned afterwards, Sutton believed that the officer was Captain Bowen Colthurst and his prisoners were Francis Sheehy-Skeffington, Thomas Dickson and Patrick MacIntyre. Colthurst was later tried and found guilty of the murder of these men but was adjudged to be insane.
Between 1917 and 1920 Sutton was engaged in carrying despatches on the railway and was involved in many operations against crown forces in the Bray area. He was arrested and interned from May to December 1921 in Collinstown and the Curragh. During the Civil War he took part n operations against the Free State Army at Crookslinng, Blessington, Ballinascorney, Enniskerry, Glen of the Downs and Bray. His service ceased after October 1922 due to ill health.
In the Spring of 1917 after the General Amnesty the South County Dublin volunteers were re-organised into the 6th Battalion of the Dublin Brigade comprising units all around South County Dublin with the Bray, Shankill and Enniskerry sections designated as C. Company, 6th Battalion, Dublin Brigade.
Taking the Bray Company of the Volunteers as an example, between 1919 sand 1921 its strength never exceeded 40 men, at no time during that period did they possess more then 4 good Lee-Enfield service rifles and it is interesting to note that of the 926 men who enlisted in the British Army only 2 joined the Volunteers after they were demobbed. The company was involved in 22 operations against crown forces. Out of the 40 volunteers, 5 took part in 10 or more operations, 8 in between 3 and 9 and 27 in not more than 3. This was not as a result of their lack of enthusiasm but rather the scarcity of weapons, equipment and resources.
The Rise of Sinn Féin
Shortly after the election a victory rally to be held at Bray Townhall, was proclaimed. It was to have been addressed by Fr. Michael O’Flanagan, Vice President of Sinn Féin When the Bray Company tried to march up the Main Street, their way was blocked by a large force of R.I.C. men with batons drawn. An ugly situation was averted by the intervention of Fr.O’Flanagan who advised the volunteers not to try to break through the cordon.
In 1919 Dáil Éireann called upon all Irish people to boycott the R.I.C. as agents of a foreign power. As a result, recruitment slowed to a trickle and resignations from the force increased. However, in Wicklow the effect of this boycott was minimal. When Sinn Féin council member Paddy Murphy read the 1916 Proclamation at Bray Townhall on 15th August 1919, he was arrested on a charge of sedition. Other Sinn Féin members in Bray at the time were Joseph Lynch, Paddy Martin, Paddy Waldron, James Hoey, Tom Sutton, S. McConnery, James Tier, Seamus Rochford, Joe Sheridan, Bill Earls, Barry Traynor, Ncholas Mulvey, Paddy Hall, James MacSweeney, Tom Bolger, Andy Kavanagh, Frank Leggett, Tom Martin, Joe Waldron, Nan Nash, Nora O’Carroll, Mary Gallagher, The Miss Robinsons, The Miss Griffins (Enniskerry) and Rebecca O’Toole (Kilmacanogue) all of whom went to prison.
Following an order from G.H.Q., members of the Bray Company raided the Income Tax Inspectors house on the Meath Road and seized his books which were brought to a field in Shankill and burned.
Lack of weapons
By the end of 1918 the strength of the Bray/Shankill Company was about 40 men but they had only about a dozen weapons of indifferent quality available to them. Weapons had become very difficult to come by. During the 1st World War it had been the practice of soldiers on leave to bring their rifles home with them and there was always the possibility of buying or stealing one. However, the Government put a stop to this practice in January 1918 and when the war ended the following November even the possibility of buying a pistol or revolver brought home as a souvenir ended. For the moment Bray had to make do with what they had.
Little or nothing was happening in the county in the early part of 1919. When the Lord Lieutenant proclaimed 7 districts as being in a state of disturbance, Wicklow was said to be trouble-free and police barracks in Rathdrum, Aughrim, Redcross and Laragh were closed and officers transferred elsewhere.