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'Rumours of mischief brewing': Fascinating documents give insight into British response to Rising

Hundreds of documents are being released to mark the centenary of the Easter Rising.

DOCUMENTS RELATING TO the Easter Rising are being released online, 100 years after the event took place.

The project will post hundreds of internal police telephone messages, secret government communications, telegraphs and letters from the collection of the University of Oxford’s Bodleian Libraries under the Twitter handle @1916live and on 1916live.com.

The files span the course of the rebellion, from the outbreak of fighting on 24 April to the surrender of rebel headquarters on 29 April. Many of the documents were time-stamped to the minute.

Sir Matthew Nathan, the top civil servant in Dublin Castle, compiled the documents and took them out of Ireland in his personal papers after the Rising. They were given to the Bodleian Libraries following his death.

The project has been carried out by a team of volunteers led by journalist Naomi O’Leary, who came across the files while researching a documentary.

“Many of them are clearly written in great urgency in the middle of the upheaval of the Easter Rising, and their concision and immediacy makes them a gripping account of this key moment in our history,” O’Leary said, adding that they paint a “rich and nuanced picture” of the rebellion and the response of British authorities.

O’Leary added that she hopes the project “helps the documents to reach a wider audience and gives rise to further study”.

I think it’s particularly appropriate to release them on social media, 100 years to the minute since they were logged, as the telephone messages are the records of a relatively new system of technology that allowed for instant communication — affording Dublin Castle an important strategic advantage over the rebels.

The documents were gathered as evidence for the Royal Commission on the Rebellion in Ireland.

Mike Webb, of the Bodleian Libraries, said hundreds of Dublin Metropolitan Police messages, scribbled on pink sheets of paper apparently taken from message pads, are included.

They give an extraordinarily vivid street-level view of the rising hour-by-hour.

“This will bring a somewhat neglected source back to life – patchy, sporadic, instantaneous, sometimes confused reports that allow us to see history as it happens rather than filtered through decades of reflection and discussion,” he added.

Here are some sample quotes from the documents:

  • 23.4.1916

Irish politician John Dillon, in a letter to Matthew Nathan:

I have heard much disquieting rumours as to mischief brewing – I trust they are without foundation.
  • 12:20pm, 24.4.1916, telephone message

Superintendent G Division to Viceregal Lodge, residence of Lord Lieutenant Wimborne:

The Sinn Fein volunteers have attacked the castle and have possession of the GPO. They have Stephen’s Green Park in their hands and have turned out the people and locked the gates.
  • 10.40pm, 25.4.1916, telephone message

Constable Heffernan to Dublin Metropolitan Police Chief Commissioner:

While in plain clothes at North King St endeavouring to purchase bread, I was made prisoner by the Sinn Fein Volunteers … I did not know any of the volunteers, but think they were all Dublin men and would know them again, Commandant Daly’s name was mentioned the majority were in plain clothes, wearing green hats.
  • 10.50am 26.4.1916, telephone message

Dublin Metropolitan Police Superintendent D Division to Chief Superintendent:

Mrs McGrath’s cleaner here who lives in North Brunswick St has made her way down a few minutes ago, and she states that there are people on top of Richmond Hospital, signalling to Sinn Feiners the movements of military … she thinks some of the people on the hospital are students but there is no doubt they are giving Sinn Feiners all information they can.
  • 1.25pm 27.4.1916, telephone message

Dublin Metropolitan Police Chief Superintendent to Chief Commissioner:

Count Plunkett lives at 26 Fitzwilliam Street and his daughters have been seen getting in large quantities of provisions these last few days and it is believed things are not right there.
  • 2.35pm 29.4.1916, telephone message

Caretaker, 15 Eden Quay City of Dublin Steam Packet Company Offices, to a police office:

My wife, three children and myself are starving here and the military will not allow us out, could you please do something for us?
  • 8.14pm 29.4.1916, telephone message

Dublin Metropolitan Police Superintendent A Division to Chief Superintendent:

The Citizens Army are still in possession of Jacobs and they have hoisted the Republican flag for the past hour from the highest tower of the building and they state the truce is only until Monday and that they will not surrender but will start fighting again on Monday when the truce is over.

More documents can be viewed here.

Read: Pat Kenny will helm jury to decide Pádraig Pearse’s fate

Read: It’s 100 years to the day since the Easter Rising began

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