Monday, April 09, 2012

Getting the Guns

  • Part 1: Hitting the Road
  • Getting the Guns
  • Easter Monday's Battle Arrays
  • Howth Gunrunners' 1914 Route
  • 1,700 Take On the British Empire
  • Heritage Partner Mercier Press: irish Publisher Irish Story
  • Heritage Partner: Know Thy Place ... Discover the Archaeology of Your Ancestors  

  • Part 2 in the Series ‘Tracing the Rising: 
    Easter Week in Dublin 1916'

    By Robert A. Mosher

    My next visit to Dublin will include a number of walking tours -- the road to Howth will be one and the longest of them. I expect, however, that I’ll be taking the train back into Dublin -- and will not have to deal with the Dublin Metropolitan Police or the King’s Own Scottish Borderers. This is the story behind why I want to do it.

    German Mauser rifle of the type landed at Howth. Wikipedia Commons.

    Ulster Shows the Way

    On April 25, 1914, the Ulster Volunteer Force landed 216 tons of guns and ammunition purchased from a Hamburg, Germany arms dealer, specifically 11,000 7.9mm M1904 Mannlicher rifles, 9,000 German 7.92mm Model 1888 Commission Rifles (a Mannlicher pattern German rifle), 4,600 Italian 10.35mm Vetterli-Vitali rifles, and 5 million rounds of ammunition in five round clips (with possibly 2 million of this for the Austrian and German rifles). The Italian rifles were left over from an earlier shipment, 400 of which had been intercepted and seized by British Customs officials in Belfast.

    Unionist crowds queue to sign the Solemn League and 
    Covenant outside City Hall on 28 September 1912. Photograph 
    courtesy  of National Museums Northern Ireland
    The collier Clyde Valley collected this cargo from the SS Fanny in a rendezvous at sea and then sailed for Belfast Lough. On the evening of April 24, she arrived outside the port of Larne, where she met a number of smaller vessels. These delivered smaller parts of the shipment to Belfast, Bangor, and Donaghadee, while the Clyde Valley offloaded the remaining cargo in Larne.

    This gun-running grew out of Sir Edward Carson’s introduction of Ulster’s Solemn League and Covenant on September 28, 1912, which declared that the Protestants of Northern Ireland would resist rule from Dublin, by force of arms if necessary. On January 13, 1913, those Uniunteer Force (UVF).onists who had already begun military training in several organized militias were embodied as the Ulster Vol

    Ireland Alarmed and Unarmed

    From an Irish Citizen's Army recruiting poster.
    The creation of the UVF drew several responses from the rest of Ireland.  Though not a politically nationalist movement, the Irish Citizen Army (ICA) was created November 19, 1913, to protect members of the Irish Transport and General Workers Union (ITGWU) in future labor actions after clashes with the police during the recent general strike. A week later, on November 25, the Irish Volunteers were formed by a group of Irish Nationalist leaders.

    In the wake of the Clyde Valley episode, Patrick Pearse commented that “there is only one thing more comical than a Unionist with a rifle, and that is a Nationalist without one.” More importantly, he also said that, “Ireland unarmed will attain just as much freedom as it is convenient for England to give her. Ireland armed will attain ultimately just as much freedom as she wants.”

    Between the lapse in 1907 of the Peace Preservation (Ireland) Act of 1881 and December 1913, it was possible to ship arms to Ireland and to purchase arms legally through gun clubs that could be formed with the approval of two magistrates. Guns were also bought singly and legally in Britain and then illegally brought to Ireland; they were bought or stolen from soldiers of the British army garrison in Ireland or stolen from the Royal Irish Constabulary; and stolen from the residences of legal owners, among other methods. However, such methods result in a hodge-podge of weapons using different ammunition, which does not lend itself to an effective military organization.

    Erskine Childers
    Supporters of the Volunteers, including Alice Stopford Green, Eoin MacNeil, The O’Rahilly, Darrell Figgis, and Roger Casement concluded that the best way to help the Irish cause would be to buy rifles for the volunteers. Darrell Figgis agreed to travel to Germany to find and buy the guns. He recruited Erskine Childers to transport them back to Ireland aboard his boat Asgard. Childers and Figgis went to the continent, and, after some effort, linked up with Michael and Moritz Magnus in Hamburg, who offered them 1,500 Mauser rifles and 49,000 rounds of ammunition, having been willingly persuaded that the buyers were Mexican. The rifles were 11mm Model 1871 Mausers, single shot, and using black powder, with no ejector for the spent cartridge.

    All at Sea

    With the supplier found, Childers returned to Wales, where Asgard was docked, to make sure she was ready. Then he went on to Dublin to meet with the young secretary of the Volunteers, Bulmer Hobson, to arrange for the landing of the arms. The small harbor of Howth, near Dublin, was selected as the principal landing place, and they would make the landing in daylight to avoid the many problems associated with a nighttime landing.

    Molly & Erskine Childers on the Asgard  in 1910
    Knowing that Asgard could not carry the entire shipment, they recruited Conor O’Brien to help. Asgard would sail out of Wales, and O’Brien, aboard his boat Kelpie, would sail out of Foynes, County Limerick. The two would meet at Cowes, near Southampton, on July 7, to work out final details. They would rendezvous with Figgis and the guns aboard the tug Gladiator out of Hamburg at the Ruytigen Lightship in the Scheldt Estuary. Childers crew would include his American-born wife Molly, Gordon Shephard (a future RFC brigadier), and Mary Spring-Rice, daughter of Lord Monteagle and cousin to Ambassador to the United States Sir Cecil Spring-Rice, and two paid hands –- Patrick McGinley and Charles Duggan.

    Gladiator left for the rendezvous July 10, carrying the guns in bundles of 20 rifles packed in straw and wrapped in canvas, along with the ammunition boxes. On July 12, 1914, the Kelpie was first on the scene. Although the plan called for the two boats to each carry half the shipment, O’Brien only loaded 600 rifles and 20,000 rounds. Later that evening, Childers arrived with Asgard and took aboard the remaining 900 Mausers and 29,000 rounds. Asgard was towed by Gladiator across the Channel to the vicinity of Dover, where it would call in and drop off Figgis. Bad weather forced Childers to put some 4,000 rounds of the ammunition overboard. Erskine turned at the Lizard, and put into Milford Haven to drop off British Royal Flying Corps officer Gordon Shephard. A storm in the Irish Sea forced Childers to wait in Holyhead until 
    July 24 for the weather to clear.

    A Walk in the Sun

    Unloading the Asgard
    Bulmer Hobson arranged for more than 800 volunteers from the Dublin Brigade to assemble on July 26, for a march to Howth, where Childers on Asgard would land the guns and ammunition. The volunteers would help unload and then carry it all away. The route followed by the Volunteers to Asgard, using my sources and Google Maps, was apparently Bachelor’s Walk – O’Connell Street – Parnell Street – Summerhill – Ballybough Road – Fairview Strand – Marino Mart – Clontarf Road - Howth Road – Dublin Road- Howth Road – Harbour Road, for a total distance of just under 10 miles (and a planned round trip of just over 18 miles).

    Clash in the Streets

    When Asgard came into Howth and recruits began unloading the rifles and ammunitions, the Customs Officers there telephoned the Dublin Metropolitan Police and verbally reported the landing. Dublin Metropolitan Police Assistant Commissioner Harrell assembled a force of DMP and elements of the King’s Own Scottish Borderers (KOSB) under Major Haig, in support. Harrell marched them out to Malahide Road and formed them up to block the way for the returning column of Volunteers.

    Volunteers leaving Howth with arms.
    When the Volunteers returning from Howth saw the police, Hobson, Figgis, and Thomas McDonagh went forward to attempt a negotiation of passage. At the rear of the column, Volunteers began to slip away and scatter in order to try to get back into Dublin with the arms and ammunition they were carrying. It quickly became apparent to Harrell that he would be unable to effectively prevent the arms from reaching the city, although they did manage to seize a few weapons (eventually returned to the Volunteers when it was determined that the seizure was illegal). Harrell turned the column of police and soldiers back toward the city, followed by an increasingly hostile crowd. As the column turned westward onto Bachelors Walk, the soldiers turned in hopes of scaring off or intimidating those in the crowd throwing stones and brickbats, but the soldiers opened fire, leaving three killed and 38 wounded (of whom one later died).

    More From WG on the Easter Rising:
    * Dublin, Easter Monday, 1916: 1,700 Take On the British Empire
    * Unspoken Tales of the Women in Ireland's Freedom Struggle


    A week later, on the night of August 1, another ship, the 40-ton Chotah, landed the balance of the shipment at Kilcoole. O’Brien had transferred his cargo to Chotah at a rendezvous southwest of Bardsey Island. It was believed that Chotah’s size and engines made it better suited than Kelpie for the final run into Kilcoole.

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