At Home Abroad: Boy Unidentified, Infant Unidentified
By Regina Costello
“It was pouring bullets for six days”– Joe Duffy*
Thoughts of the 1916 Easter Rising are often shrouded in those of pride for the heroes fighting for Irish freedom, in a retrospectively poorly thought-out rebellion that lasted six days. Lost in the uproar are the dozens of children who lost their lives. The streets that were their playgrounds were transformed into battlefields. That is where they were that fateful Easter Monday morning.
Others were out and about too. 300 rebels marched from Liberty Hall to O’Connell Street. There they waited for the Angelus bell from the Pro-Cathedral to signal the start of the revolution.
The bulk of violence occurred near today’s ILAC center, a shopping complex. But back in 1916, this neighborhood was that of several narrow streets, home to pubs, vegetable stalls, with bakeries and local butchers.
As the uprising began, the sounds of war that are breaking glass, shouts and screams were misunderstood by the playing children who were lured by the fracas to the source. The loud rhythmic galloping of horses on the cobble stoned streets instilled a sense of excitement in an otherwise quiet morning. The riders were British soldiers from the Linenhall Barracks on Bolton Street, taking to the streets armed with lancers bound for The General Post Office.
Who were these children? The majority came from the Linen hall slums of the inner city. Living conditions were both overcrowded and unhygienic, which contributed to poor health of an already impoverished people. Records indicate that up to 62% of kids died under 10 years of age because of the horrendous living conditions.
It is no wonder really that they took off in their homemade boxcars towards the commotion and buzz just a stone’s throw away. The broken doors and smashed windows of local businesses provided an opportunity for these kids. They likely had nothing to lose but stood to gain some much-needed food for empty bellies or a coat to warm their bodies on chilly spring days. There is documentation of this, including one account that reads, “a fresh-faced youth crossing the street [Sackville Street] with an armful of boots.
First and Last Taste of Chocolate
It is also written that many kids made a dash for Noblett’s sweet shop on North Earl Street, that was for some, their first and last taste of chocolate. Another source documents that fireworks were stolen from Lawrence’s Toy Shop, they were set off on the street and killed three children.
Death certificates indicate that most of the dead children were shot accidentally. Six were aged ten and under. Most of them were between 11 and 16 years old. The dead included babies.
Catherine Foster was walking her two-year old son, John Francis, when gun shots were fired along the quays. He was shot in his pram, and although Mrs. Foster rushed him to nearby Richmond Hospital, it was already too late.
John Kirwan from North Cumberand was reported missing and lay in Jervis Street Hospital, unrecognizable for a month. His mother identified him by the lucky coin in his pocket that was a Confirmation gift.
Christopher Hickey, age 16, was with his father and both were shot and bayonetted. Brigid McKane hid behind her father as Irish rebel leaders shot the lock on their front door; she landed a bullet in the head.
The names and stories of these children were buried with them for almost a century. In the early 2000s, there were rumblings to build a memorial for their tragic deaths. One such effort came from the Jack and Jill Foundation in 2013.
The Biggest Egg Hunt in Ireland
They organized the biggest egg hunt in Ireland as a fundraiser. The hunt consisted of more than 100 fiberglass eggs. Those solicited to design and paint them were well-known artists and household names, including Irish Journalist and Broadcaster Joe Duffy.
Duffy’s self-admission of inadequate art skills were a blessing in disguise because he came up with a novel and historically important idea for the design of his egg: he wanted the name of each child who died, and their age placed inside individual balloons painted on his egg.
Little did he realize that he had undertaken a massive project. He discovered Dr. Ann Matthews, who, in 2011, made a call to commemorate the children of the Rising.
Joe used the list that she had begun to compile. He added to it, using numerous sources, including death certificates, census records, newspapers, pension and compensation claims and information from families who responded to a public request for information. The latter proved pivotal for several reasons: none of the dead had direct descendants and the memory for many of them lived in family stories from grand nieces and nephews. It dismantled confusing data and shed light on factual data.
This was especially true with the mix up in the identification of what is reputed to be the first death of the rising. It seemed to be a child of a British Army Commandant whose family was residing in Magazine Fort, a munitions depot in the Phoenix Park. For the longest time it was thought that 14-year-old Gerald Playfair was shot dead; records and documentation attested to his demise. Information from the public shed light that it was actually his 23-year-old brother George Alexander who was shot when the depot was raided.
Duffy’s final count is that of forty killed under 17 years of age; both Catholics and Protestants; thirty boys and ten girls. Some unknowns remain including a 14-year-old “Male O’Toole,” and a “Boy Unidentified.”
The 1916 Irish Proclamation reads, “cherishing all the children of the Nation equally.” The memories and stories of the forty children Duffy identified will never be buried and forgotten again. The monies raised from the egg hunt built a commemorative playground and garden in St. Audeon’s Park in Dublin 8. The designers involved a wide array of individuals from City planners to young family members.
Agreement was reached that the area honor both the children who died and provide enjoyment for today’s youngsters. The stories and memories of those children who perished are detailed in Joe’s book, and their names are engraved in St. Audeon’s Park. Thanks to John O’Brien, Jr., now they are additionally recorded and remembered in At Home Abroad, here on this page, and the OhioIANews website, forever.
Bridget Allen, Christopher Andrews, Mary Anne Brunswick, Christina Caffrey, Christopher Cathcart, Moses Doyle, Charles Darcy, Patrick Fetherston, John Francis Foster, James Fox, William Fox, Neville Fryday, John Gibney, John Healy, Christopher Hickey, Patrick Ivors, Charles Kavanagh, Mary Kelly, Patrick Kelly, James Kelly, John Kirwan, Bridget McKane, John McNamara, William Mullen, Joseph Murray, William O’Neill, Male O’Toole, Mary Redmond, Patrick Ryan, George Percy Sainsbury, Walter Scott, Bridget Stewart, Margaret Veale, Philip Walsh, Eleanor Warbrook, Christopher Whelan, Boy Unidentified, Infant Unidentified.
Sources consulted: to Email App
*Joe Duffy pays tribute to forgotten children of Easter Rising at book launch. Irish Independent Newspaper, October 16, 2015.Children of the Rising by Joe Duffy: the forgotten casualties of 1916. Report by Catriona Crowe, The Irish Times 11/6/15.
40 children were killed in the 1916 Rising but they are barely mentioned in our history. thejournal.ie 11/29/15
Irish Proclamation from the 1916 Rising. www.1916rising.net
Joe Duffy’s List of Children Killed in the 1916 Rising. www.staticrassett.ie
Children of the Rising: The untold story of the young lives lost during Easter 1916, Joe Duffy. Children of the Revolution. Published in 20th-century / Contemporary History, Features, Issue 3 May/June2013, Revolutionary Period 1912-23, Volume 21
The Raid on the Magazine Fort, Phoenix Park, Easter Monday 1926. Eamon Murphy. www.fiannaeireannhistory.wordpress.com 2015
*Regina is a Graduate from the National University of Ireland, Galway and a Post Graduate from the National University of Ireland, Dublin. She is the former Curator of the Irish American Archives at the Western Reserve Historical Society, former Executive Director of the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument Commission and former Executive Coordinator of the Northern Ohio Rose Centre. She serves on the Board of Directors of the Mayo Society of Greater Cleveland and The Irish American Charitable Foundation. She can be reached at rc*******@am*******.net