Trinity College, a few hundred yards south of the GPO, was only lightly defended on the morning of 24th April 1916, as momentum in the streets grew. About fifty members of the Officer Training Corps (even their CO was away), under a Captain and a Lieutenant, and a number of soldiers present, or nearby, at the time, closed the gates and took to the roof to defend the College against the expected rebel assault.
Which never came. The College occupied a commanding site in the city, midway between the GPO and another rebel-held position at St. Stephen’s Green, and contained military stores, hundreds of rifles, and thousands of rounds of ammunition. Lack of manpower, as much as anything, was cited as the reason that the College, along with one or two other key locations, was left untouched. And there is no doubt that mobilisation resulted in a disappointing turnout for the Volunteer leaders, not least because Eoin MacNeill, who was responsible for creating the Volunteers in 1913, and who was their Chief-of-Staff at the outbreak of the Rising, was opposed to the idea of a rebellion without popular support as he felt it had no chance of succeeding; he, and other like-minded moderates, was therefore not included in the planning of the rebellion, and when, at the last moment, he confronted Pádraig Pearse and learned of the plans, he responded by placing a last-minute news advertisement in the newspapers advising Volunteers not to take part.
The First Battalion reported a turnout of only one third, amounting to less than 300 men as opposed to a full strength of 750. The Second Battalion assembled just 50 men, despite two attempts at mobilisation. Companies in the Third Battalion managed about 30 men each, a quarter of their strength, the total for the battalion failing to reach 150, and the Fourth Battalion estimated no more than one hundred. The total number of Irish Volunteers who mustered on 24th April 1916 failed to reach 1000, less than half the number that Joseph Plunkett, member of the Irish Republican Brotherhood Military Committee* and principal planner of the Rising, considered he required to achieve his objectives.
*see GPO post for details.
Once the gates were closed little serious fighting took place here, although British snipers on the roof could pick off any unwary rebel who showed himself in the streets below, and high up on the western facade of the College rebel bullet holes are still evident on the pillar to the right of the windows as well as, perhaps, above the piece of architectural sculpture (I have no idea what that is called).
Soldiers from a number of regiments, including some Australians, Canadians, New Zealanders & South Africans, were among the men who were either in, or made for, the college campus as the Rising began, their sniping experience proving invaluable as the day progressed not only in dissuading any thought of a rebel assault on the college during the afternoon, and stopping them from taking the nearby Bank of Ireland building, but also preventing looting in nearby shops.
This wonderful map by a Colonel J. P. Hally, about whom I know nothing, was published in a 1967 book about the Rising; British forces are marked in red, Irish forces in blue, and I have marked the GPO in green, Dublin Castle in pink, and Trinity College in yellow (and will add others in future posts). Bearing in mind the blue (Irish) positions, it isn’t difficult to see why the College could have made such a strategical difference to the rebel positions had they had the manpower to take it on the first day.
Within the college courtyard.
By the end of the first day, British reinforcements had arrived and more were on their way, and the opportunity to capture the college had been lost.
A hospital was set up within the grounds to treat wounded civilians and combatants, and some of those who died were temporarily buried in the college grounds.
On Wednesday 26th April a British eighteen-pounder gun, based at the college and dragged up the street to the quayside, along with the twelve-pounder guns of the Royal Navy vessel Helga, moored in front of the Custom House, would reduce Liberty Hall, just across the river, to rubble, and British artillery would later fire on Boland’s Mill and in Sackville Street.
Looking towards the college entrance from the college courtyard. By the end of the week some 4,000 British troops were billeted on the college grounds.
Liam Ó Briain; “The occupation of the city was incomplete from the start. Trinity College and the Provost’s House should not have been neglected. Shortage of men forbade the occupation of the commanding Shelbourne Hotel in the Stephen’s Green area. With more men, de Valera could have occupied the stretch of the canal on either side of the Mount Street Bridge instead of only a house or two, and so on.”
And we shall visit St. Stephen’s Green next.