Dublin: Today, the corner of Church and North King Streets is relatively quiet. Only a ten-minute walk from the Liffey and the Four Courts, the biggest noise comes from the rush hour traffic twisting haphazardly north, south, east and west. But in 1916 and 1920 this was a scene of terror as Irish rebels took it to the British in their quest for freedom.
The terror of that period might be permanently forgotten if not for two lonely plaques hitched high up on walls as if they were afraid of being stolen, never mind read. The first plaque on the northwest corner of a deserted pub is dedicated to Kevin Barry, the IRA boy-soldier of myth and legend. It reads:
H Coy. 1st Batt, Dublin Brigade IRA
Was Taken Prisoner in This
Vicinity 20th Sept 1920
In Action Against the British
Forces in Defence of
The Irish Republic
For Which He Gave His Life
In Mountjoy Gaol 1st Nov 1920
The British — always clueless when it came to the Irish — hanged Barry on November 1, 1920, All Saints Day, a Holy Day of Obligation, guaranteeing him national sainthood in the eyes of the Irish. He would be the first of the “Forgotten Ten” — young men, some completely innocent — who were hanged by the British in the months leading up to the truce in July of 1921.
If you cross Church Street and walk about 100 paces east on the north side of North King Street, you’ll come to a wall with a brand new plaque. There’s not a lot of the North King Street of 1916 left, but this plaque is close to where #27 once stood. I wrote about how my Aunt Kathleen was both a hostage and an eyewitness to atrocity when the British murdered 16 completely innocent civilian men. You can read Kathleen’s terrifying story here:
The plaque is in both Irish and English and reads:
The North King Street Massacre
On the night of Friday/Saturday 28th/29th April 1916,
during some of the fiercest fighting of the Rising,
sixteen innocent civilians, who were sheltering in their
homes, were brutally murdered by British crown forces.
Christopher Hickey (16) Thomas Hickey (38) Peter
Connolly (39) Peter Lawless (21) James McCarty (36)
James Finnegan (40) Patrick Hoey (25) Edward Dunne (39)
John Walsh (34) Michael Hughes (50) Michael Nunan (34)
George Ennis (51) Patrick Bealen (30) James Healy (44)
John Biernes (50) William O’Neill (16)
The tragic demise of Peter (Peadar) Joseph Lawless, James McCartney (note different spelling), James Finnigan and Patrick Hoey can be read in the witness statements regarding my aunt.
Seán O’Casey in "Drums Under the Window" could have been writing about North King Street and its hapless victims:
I know, I know.
You signed no proclamation;
you invaded no building;
you pulled no trigger;
I know, I know.
But Ireland needed you all the same.
Many will die like that
before Ireland can go free.
They must put up with it.
You will be unknown forever;
you died without a word of praise;
you will be buried without even a shadowy ceremony;
no bugle will call your name;
no gunshot will let loose
brave echoes over your grave;
you will not be numbered among the accepted slain.
Beautiful words, but O’Casey was wrong — they are remembered. It’s there on that shiny new plaque. In time the shine will be replaced by a patina, but their names won’t fade, not while one Irishman or Irishwoman remembers their sacrifice.
* Dermot McEvoy is the author of the "The 13th Apostle: A Novel of a Dublin Family, Michael Collins, and the Irish Uprising" and "Irish Miscellany" (Skyhorse Publishing). He may be reached at [email protected]. Follow him at www.dermotmcevoy.com. Follow The 13th Apostle on Facebook here.