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Back in Time

Poverty, manslaughter and stealing apples: police records shed light on Dublin 100 years ago

The books contain information on the arrests of figures such as Seán Lemass, James Larkin, James Connolly, and Constance Markievicz.

LIFE IN DUBLIN in the early 20th century was tough, especially given the huge class divide. However, it was also a time of remarkable change.

Newly-released digitised Dublin Metropolitan Police records show us what life was like from 1905 to 1918.

The records cover some of Dublin’s major historical events, including the 1913 Lockout, the 1916 Rising and its aftermath. Over 30,000 people were arrested during this period and these details are all contained in the records.

The UCD Digital Library partnered with SIPTU and the Garda Museum and Archives to present four volumes of records which are available online here.

Life at the time

During 1916, many people living in Dublin were quite poor and had terrible housing conditions. Thirty-six per cent of housing consisted of one-room tenements. Thirty per cent of infants in Ireland died because of malnutrition and weakness.

There were many arrests around this time for stealing. In the records you can see examples of the items taken including “onions and apples” and “boots” and “minerals from a shop”. You can also read the details of cases like the four teenage girls who were arrested for stealing wool from a bale at North Wall and the 38-year-old man was arrested for stealing pencils.

Pádraig Yeates, one of the main people behind getting the books together, said that the records give new insights into this revolutionary period.

He said:

For instance, one thing that immediately jumps out is the presence of British army soldiers in these records and the absence of insurgents. Over a quarter of all men arrested in Dublin in 1916 were soldiers, mainly absentees and deserters


Here are some of the arrests that caught our attention…

1. Séan Lemass (as John Lemass) arrested for manslaughter

lemass Sean Lemass' arrest (down as John Lemass) fifth row from the bottom / Prison Book 5 / Prison Book 5 / Prison Book 5

Seán Lemass, former Irish Taoiseach, was arrested on 29 January 1916 for manslaughter. Lemass accidentally shot his two year old brother, Herbert.

The revolver went off by mistake in the family’s living room on Capel St and Herbert died in Temple Street Hospital from a head wound left by the bullet. Lemass, as shown in the records, was only 16 and a half years old at the time.

This is a little-known part of Lemass’ history, even his biographers did not mention the event. Eunan O’Halpin, a Trinity Professor in contemporary Irish history, wrote about the incident in The Irish Times.

Politics - President Kennedy Visit to Ireland - Dublin Seán Lemass with American President John F. Kennedy in 1963. PA Archive / Press Association Images PA Archive / Press Association Images / Press Association Images

2. James Larkin and James Connolly’s arrests in 1913

larkin and connolly Record of James Connolly and James Larkin's arrests in 1913. / Prison Book 3 / Prison Book 3 / Prison Book 3

The 1913 Lockout was the culmination of months of disagreements between William Martin Murphy, who owned the Irish Independent and controlled the Dublin Tramways Company, and the Irish Transport and General Workers’ Union (ITGWU).

On 15 August 1913, Murphy told his workers they had the choice of the union or a job. Any worker who didn’t sign a pledge to disown the union were “locked out”.

Ireland O'Connell Street The statue of trade-union icon James Larkin on O'Connell Street AP Photo / Shawn Pogatchnik AP Photo / Shawn Pogatchnik / Shawn Pogatchnik

James (Jim) Larkin’s arrest was one of the standout scenes of the Lockout. Larkin was highly involved in representing the workers during the Lockout.

On 31 August, Larkin snuck into the Imperial Hotel, owned by Murphy, and addressed the crowd for a few minutes, before being arrested for “incitement to crime”.

He was released on bail in September. He was sentenced two months later, on 27 October, to seven months in prison. He was released early from Mountjoy Prison on 13 November.

James Connolly was arrested for ‘incitement to crime’ on 30 August 1913. He had been coming from Belfast to help run the strike. His sentence was to pay £200 bail money or face three months in jail. He went to jail but was later released after going on hunger strike.

3. Revolutionaries’ arrests in 1918

1916 rising arrests / Prison Book 5 / Prison Book 5 / Prison Book 5

Two years after the Easter Rising, many of the main revolutionaries were still catching the attention of the Dublin Metropolitan Police.

W T Cosgrave, who succeeded Michael Collins as the President of the Free State, was arrested for the offence of “Defense of the Realm” on 17 May 2018. He was marked down as 38-year-old with the occupation of “publican”.

Constance Markievicz’s arrest is filled in directly after Cosgrave for the same offence. She was 40 at the time and gave her occupation as “none”.

1916 Easter Rising commemoration Easter Rising themed mural celebrating the centenary this year. Padraig Pearse, Constance Markievicz and James Connolly, pictured respectively. Niall Carson / PA Wire Niall Carson / PA Wire / PA Wire

Count George Noble Plunkett, father of the 1916 Proclamation signatory Joseph Mary Plunkett, was also booked for the same offence. The 69-year-old gave his occupation as “gent”. What a boss.

Slightly further down the page, revolutionary Maud Gonne McBride, (W B Yeats’ love interest) was arrested and “handed over to military for internment”.

The punishments

Many of those arrested had to pay fines or face a prison service. There were also some more unusual repercussions.

Michael Saufey received “6 strokes of rod” after stealing apples. Francis Keegan and J J Ashe also got the same sentence after robbing minerals.

Twenty-three year old Kathleen Mallingham was arrested in 22 August 1916 for keeping a brothel. She had to pay £25 “to keep peace”.

To read more about the cases, check out the documents here.

Read: 6 facts you might not have known about Dublin city

Read: You can step into the Dublin of 1916 thanks to this new website

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