The Easter Rising Part Five – The Royal Hospital & the South Dublin Union

Royal Hospital

The Royal Hospital, Kilmainham, was the headquarters of Brigadier General William Lowe, who assumed command of the British forces in Dublin at the time of the Rising, and there was serious fighting in the vicinity, most notably at the South Dublin Union, not far out of shot to the right (south), and easily within range of a British machine gun sited on the roof of the hospital.

Royal Hospital Burial Grounds

The hospital now houses the Irish Museum of Modern Art, but at the time of the Rising  some 2,500 British troops were billeted in the building.  There are two graveyards on either side of the road here; Bully’s Acre, behind the wall to the left, and the Officers’ Burial Ground, behind the iron railings on the right.

Royal Hospital Burial Grounds

The entrance to Bully’s Acre.  Note the Wellington Memorial, all 203 feet of it, towering above the Liffey valley from its site in Phoenix Park.

Royal Hospital Burial Grounds

The gates are always, unfortunately, locked, but,…

Royal Hospital Burial Grounds

…as the information plaque on the wall by the entrance informs us,…

…at the northern end of Bully’s Acre,…

…somewhere in the background in the Private’s Burial Ground, lie a number of British soldiers killed during the Easter Rising.

Royal Hospital Burial Grounds Panorama

Panoramic photo taken through the bars of the locked gates.  The Private’s Burial Ground is at the far end and not visible in this photo, but seven casualties, three Sherwood Foresters, one man from the Royal Irish Regiment, and two Royal Irish Rifles, who were killed or died of wounds during the Rising, are buried there, as well as one man from the Royal Irish Lancers who died earlier in April 1916.

Royal Hospital Burial Grounds

Entrance to the Officers’ Burial Ground; again, the gates are always locked.


There is a single First World War burial in the Officers’ Burial Ground, that of Lieutenant Colonel Charles Blackburne D.S.O., Mentioned in Despatches, of the 5th Dragoon Guards (Princess Charlotte of Wales’s), attached H.Q. Staff, Dublin, who died, along with two of his children, when the R.M.S. Leinster was torpedoed on 10th October 1918, although this is not his headstone.

Royal Hospital Burial Grounds

Looking west across the Officers’ Burial Ground (above)…

Royal Hospital Burial Grounds

…and east, this time from the western end of the plot.


The map now has the Royal Hospital marked in mauve towards the left of the contested area. The larger of the two blue areas just to the south east of the hospital is the South Dublin Union, a fifty acre site that catered for Dublin’s destitute, infirm and insane.  Enclosed behind a high wall, the Union consisted of a number of hospital buildings, living quarters for more than 3000 patients, doctors, nurses and auxiliary staff, churches, an infirmary and a morgue, a bakery, and many other buildings connected by a network of streets and alleys, interspersed with areas of green lawn.

Royal Hospital

As the majority of British military installations in Dublin were located to the west of the city, the seizure of such a large complex, overlooking Kingsbridge (now Heuston) Station down in the valley, would enable the Volunteers to disrupt the movement of troops from Richmond Barracks (see map) and the Royal Hospital towards the fighting in the city centre.  IRB Military Council member Éamonn Ceannt and 120 men had seized the Union early in the day, along with a number of outlying buildings in the area, including Watkins Brewery in Ardee Street, the Jameson Distillery in Marrowbone Lane, and Roe’s Distillery in Mount Brown, although their failure to take the station was something of an oversight.

Royal Hospital

Later on that first day, a piquet from the Royal Irish Regiment stumbled upon an outpost of Volunteers of the 4th Battalion near the eastern end of the Union.  The British, after taking immediate casualties as Ceannt’s men opened fire, regrouped, eventually fighting their way inside the tin huts the rebels were defending, and forcing them to surrender.  It was here that Margaret Keogh, a nurse in uniform, was shot dead by British soldiers; it is thought that she was the first civilian casualty of the Rising.

When I first wrote this post, I was unable to enter the hospital buildings,…

…but I have now had the chance put that to rights,…

…so here we are in March 2018,…

and it isn’t hard to imagine…

…the sound of hundreds of British boots…

…echoing across these cobblestones.

A small display in the museum tells the story of Bully’s Acre.

Royal Hospital

The sudden occupation of the complex and the fighting that erupted in the grounds of the Union prevented the evacuation of hundreds of staff and patients. As a running battle was fought throughout that Monday through the alleyways and hospital corridors, both sides suffering heavy casualties, and many civilians were caught in the crossfire.  The Royal Irish Regiment managed to take many of the Union buildings after fierce fighting but, despite their objections, were then ordered to withdraw and return to barracks!

Royal Hospital

Heavy fighting would again take place at the Union again on Thursday 27th, the British machine gun firing from the roof of the Royal Hospital (above) playing its deadly part, but the story of Cathal Brugha, the Irish officer who single-handedly held off British assaults despite suffering terrible injuries, will have to wait for another time, hopefully when I have had the opportunity to take some photos at St James’ Hospital, which now occupies the site of the Union (although some of the old buildings, I gather, still exist).

Attention shifted elsewhere as the week went on, and the Volunteer garrison in the Union finally capitulated on Sunday when news of the rebel surrender reached Ceannt.  Outside the hospital entrance, the structure on the right…

…bears a plaque you might find of interest.

Royal Hospital Burial Grounds

Walking back towards Bully’s Acre,…

…the two graveyards on either side of us, and ahead, the Richmond Tower.  A couple of shots taken through the second entrance to Bully’s Acre you can see on the right still show no signs of the Private’s Burial Ground (below).

The Richmond Tower,…

…and not so far away…

…the object of our final stop on this tour, Kilmainham Gaol.  But that is for later.  For now, we shall finish this post with a few more photos taken whilst walking the streets to the south of the hospital in March 2018,…

…where Eamonn Ceannt’s men were based,…

…the houses unchanged from over a hundred years ago.  This street can be clearly seen on the earlier map within the area controlled by Ceannt’s 4th Battalion, crossing the northern tip of the South Dublin Union.

Next, we’re off to take a look at Collins Barracks, where the resident Royal Dublin Fusiliers, who thought they would soon be heading off to France, would instead find themselves fighting their countrymen on the streets of Dublin.

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