The Diary of Rosamond Jacob: Witness to the Aftermath of the Rising
By Dr Leeanne Lane
The rising on Easter Monday passed unnoticed by the Waterford activist, Rosamond Jacob. Her diary entry for 24 April reads: ‘Wet day, nothing doing’. The following morning news of events in Dublin began to trickle down to Waterford. Local Volunteer, Seán Matthews recorded that a gunboat was stationed at the port, a military guard placed on Waterford General Post Office and Customs House while a semi-armed train arrived in the city. Matthews was arrested together with other local Volunteers, Liam Walsh and P. Brazil. Throughout the next few weeks Jacob recorded the second-hand information she received, often days after the event, writing that the period was one of ‘wild suspense and rumours’. On 2 May she noted that there were still no trains from Waterford to Dublin while Powers’ Hotel was forced to close its bar ‘by whoever it is that commands the military here, I suppose as a punishment for harbouring Sinn Féiners & having disaffected views’. On the 3 May she noted that ‘this was the day Pearse, Clarke and MacDonagh were shot, at about 4.30 in the morning I believe’. On 9 May she noted the murder of Francis Sheehy-Skeffington, shot ‘for being himself I suppose’.
Active in suffrage and advanced nationalist politics in Waterford, Jacob had forged a number of friendships with similarly-minded individuals in Dublin. When the rising broke out she was anxious to hear of their safety and, cognizant of the difficulties of receiving letters given the disruption to communication networks, she resolved to travel to Dublin, arriving on 13 May. Her diary offers a description of the damage to various streets consequent on the British government response to the rebellion. Travelling past the Four Courts by tram she described the state of the building as ‘…a testimonial to the bad shooting of the British army; lots of bullet holes feet away from the windows, above them, below them, and at the sides of them. The block between O’Connell St & Beresford Place is smashed to bits, a few back walls left standing but the fronts gone’.
She recorded the destruction of O’Connell Street noting the damaged streetscape ‘from the bridge to the Pillar, only a few houses on the left corner of the quays left’. While only the front of the Imperial Hotel remained, with destruction on Henry Street, Abbey Street and most of the streets leading from lower O’Connell Street, it was the General Post Office that, she states, was the most ‘appalling site’: ‘heaps of stones inside & long crooked pieces of burnt metal and huge empty window holes and piles of stones and rubbish all along the pavement before it. All that remained of the building according to her testimony was ‘bare walls’ with ‘no roof, floors or windows’. Although she viewed the scenes of wreckage over two weeks after the rebellion she noted that there ‘were little curls of smoke out of some of the ruins still, & bits of wall about 40 feet and 8 wide standing up here and there among them.’ Patricia Lynch’s slightly more contemporary account of the state of demolition in the Workers’ Dreadnought, 13 May 1916, also testified to how ‘dense clouds of smoke obscured the ruins’. A similar scene of destruction met Jacob the next day on her way to visit the Somers in Delgany: ‘the dispensary near Ball’s Bridge all over bullet marks & broken windows and another house or two nearly as bad’. Jacob heard how Lasairfhíona Sommers had been arrested near Jacob’s factory and searched in Trinity College.
In Dublin Jacob also saw the ffrench Mullens, hearing from Mrs ffrench Mullen of how their house in Moyne road was searched by soldiers following the incarceration of her son Douglas in Richmond Barracks, and Madeline in Mountjoy, the latter a member of the Irish Citizen Army stationed in St Stephen’s Green and later the College of Surgeons. On 15 May she called on Hanna Sheehy-Skeffington in Grosvenor Place and from there attempted to see Madeline in Mountjoy but had to leave before she gained entry. In the waiting room she met Miss O’Rahilly, Mrs Seán Connolly, Mrs Seán McGarry and Mrs Ashe. There is a sense in Jacob’s diary entries for this period that she was desirous to make a connection with people who had been involved in the rebellion and the physical sites connected with it; before she returned to Waterford on 15 May she made sure to visit Pearse’s school, St Enda’s, in Rathfarnham.
It is noteworthy that by this stage in May, Jacob was able to traverse the city freely. This was by contrast with Patricia Lynch’s description replete with the restrictions to freedom of movement: ‘Euston Station was crowded with soldiers, and one might have imagined it to be in the hands of the military. Very few civilians were to be seen. Only single tickets were being issued to Holyhead, and boat tickets were not being sold at all’. Lynch had to wait at the Town Hall in Kingstown to get a pass to travel into Dublin. Once in the city she noted: ‘Westland Row Station … was guarded by police, and on coming out one saw at once the shops all smashed and broken. The barricades were still across the streets and soldiers guarding them. Men required a pass to go anywhere at all. Women needed them to get out of the city.’ Lynch went to Trinity College to get a pass which then had to be countersigned in Dublin Castle and was subjected to a degree of ‘cross-examination’.
Dr Leeann Lane, School of History and Geography, Dublin City University; author of Rosamond Jacob. Third Person Singular (Dublin: UCD Press, 2010).