Defending the College during the Easter Rebellion were some British Army soldiers who happened to be on leave in Dublin. South African Garnet King was one of these.
Funerals of patriots have often proved to be pivotal moments in Irish history. The funeral of Thomas Ashe (1885-1917) is a particularly poignant case. In life he was a popular and cultured school teacher, a founding member of the Irish Volunteers and leader of the 1916 Rising in Ashbourne, Co Meath. In death he came to epitomise the struggle and suffering of his generation for Ireland’s cause. He died aged 32 on 25 September 1917 in the Mater Hospital after incarceration in Mountjoy Prison, a hunger strike and botched force feeding. The tragic brutality of his death, coming after the protracted executions of the other 1916 leaders the year before, resulted in an upsurge of support for the republican movement.
The funeral on 30 September 1917 therefore presented an opportunity for a pageant of political propaganda along the lines of the funerals of O’Donovan Rossa and Parnell. It also provided a significant challenge for the Volunteers and other republican forces who had lost men and arms and were struggling for cohesive leadership. However, the opportunity was defiantly seized and a large funeral procession to Glasnevin cemetery was planned involving various republican forces along with the Dublin Fire Brigade and around 30,000 members of the public who had travelled from across Ireland to line the streets. City Hall was also seized from British forces for the lying in state. The graveside oration was delivered by the young Michael Collins who, after a volley of shots, took inspiration from Pearse’s oration at the graveside of O’Donovan Rossa and proclaimed ‘Nothing additional remains to be said. That volley which we have just heard is the only speech which it is proper to make above the grave of a dead Fenian’. A statement of intent for the years to follow.
One unlikely observer from the side-lines was Elsie Mahaffy, the daughter of Trinity College provost John Pentland Mahaffy, who kept a careful record of the 1916 Rising and aftermath, in a scrapbook which includes diary entries, newspaper clippings, pamphlets, photographs, postcards and other collected memorabilia.
Whilst holding firmly to her unionist point of view (describing his death as ‘suicide’, and the procession as being ‘attended by thousands of armed rebels’) Elsie was clearly mesmerised by the press coverage of Ashe’s death and funeral. The type and amount of material she collected on the funeral in particular displays an awareness of this as a key event in the evolution of contemporary Irish politics. The most remarkable items are three photographs of the cortege and procession, which indicate that Elsie was sufficiently fascinated to join the crowds herself and to take the images as the procession passed her. We would welcome any further information on the location or participants in any of these photos.
The scrapbook also includes newspaper clippings detailing the funeral arrangements and order of procession, as well as numerous clippings from after the event. In addition Mahaffy has also pasted in a memorial card and a copy of ‘Let me carry your cross for Ireland, Lord’ the poem written by Ashe in Lewes jail. She devotes a number of pages to a description of the circumstances of his death, the government reaction, his lying in state in City Hall, and the ‘huge funeral’.
Whilst captivated by the tragic story and unfolding public reaction, we cannot know if this had any effect on her politics. However, she may have held the same view as General Sir Bryan Mahon, then head of British forces in Ireland, who commented that republican forces were now ‘exhibiting discipline to a degree which is perhaps the most dangerous sign of the times.’
A fuller account of Elsie Mahaffy’s scrapbook, written by Lucy McDiarmid, can be found on the Library’s 1916 digital resource ‘Changed Utterly’. The scrapbook has been digitised in its entirety and is available on the Library’s Digital Collections site.
Sydney Auchinleck – female despite the name – was an impressive woman from an early age. A published poet in her teens, she wanted to be an engineer but Trinity College wasn’t ready for that in the early 1900s, or indeed even by the end of the 1960s. Sydney consoled herself by becoming the first female chemistry graduate and a mechanic in her spare time. Her story is included in a memoir recently published by her family one of whom has volunteered this guest blog post.
Norman Parsons Jewell was born in County Antrim and entered Trinity College Dublin in 1903. He was a star athlete in boxing, athletics and rugby and when he finished his medical degree he went to join the Colonial Medical Service in Seychelles. At the outbreak of WWI he joined the East African Medical Service with the rank of Captain and was eventually awarded the Military Cross. Jewell’s memoir has now been published by his family and this guest post by his grandson outlines his career:
In the aftermath of the First World War, many seasoned soldiers turned to a life of adventure, seeking out new adrenalin-fuelled challenges to replace the heroics of the battlefield, or to suppress the memory of its atrocities, or both. The conquest of Mount Everest, the world’s highest peak, became an attractive objective, and three attempts were made in the early 1920s by British mountaineering teams. These included the Irishmen Charles Howard Bury (the 1921 ‘Reconnaissance’ Expedition) and Richard William George Hingston (1924). Both had served with distinction in the war (Howard Bury in France, Hingston in the Middle East), and their war diaries form part of the Library’s First World War resource, ‘Fit as fiddles and as hard as nails’.
The 1924 expedition, which Hingston joined as a medical officer and naturalist, is famous for resulting in Everest’s greatest mystery: George Mallory and Andrew Irvine broke off from the group to make a final attempt on the summit on 8 June 1924, and were spotted near to the summit only to then disappear into the cloud cover, never to return. Mallory’s body was only recovered in 1999 at 26,755 ft (8,155 m) – what caused their deaths, or whether they actually made it to the summit remains a matter of conjecture, despite the fact that this attempt was the best documented of its time.
The official photographer, John Noel, devoted himself to recording a filmed record of the expedition. The result, The Epic of Everest, is one of the most remarkable pieces of documentary film-making of the early 20th century. With Noel preoccupied with filming (as well as the logistical nightmare of transporting bulky equipment up the slopes alongside its own team of mules and porters), the remainder of the group dutifully compiled still photographs with their ‘tourist variety’ cameras. Their published report, The Fight for Everest, details the travails of the Himalayan photographer: the tendency to ‘under-expose in tropical Sikkim and over-expose in arctic Tibet’; the unwelcome effects of the lack of oxygen on development times and their ingenious solution to the problem of drying negatives in sub-zero conditions:
‘We threaded as many as 50-60 [negatives] on cotton as soon as they were washed and suspended them in rows in the apex of Noel’s double-walled tent. Then we brought in great glowing trays of smouldering Yak dung and set those on the floor so that the heat might rise and circulate about the films and prevent them from freezing … Noel complained that he had to sleep in the tent; we complained that he was the only man to have a fire in his bedroom.’
Given such challenges, it is remarkable that so many enduring images made it back, including those taken by Hingston and now housed in M&ARL. Hingston not only took images of his fellow mountaineers, sherpas, and the region itself, but also birds and insects as part of his work as a naturalist. M&ARL also holds Hingston’s annotated maps of the area, correspondence with colleagues at Camp II, and letters he sent to the Natural History Museum on his return. These include taxonomical lists of the specimens he collected, including a species of Black Attid spider. He discovered this creature living at 22,000 feet – the highest known habitat for any animal.
One of the most emotive items in the collection is the notebook Hingston took with him to record the expedition, TCD MS 10473, which was then worked up into a more legible copy, TCD MS 10474. With echoes of the diary of Scott of the Antarctic, this is both a record-keeping exercise and a personal notebook, with each entry written in pencil commencing with location and height in feet, but betraying little of the extreme conditions. A single page 36 recto, datable to 8 June, describes the final ascent by Mallory and Irvine: ‘eyes glued to the mountain. There is just a chance of Mallory and Irvine getting to the summit’, but finishes sombrely on 10 June, ‘there can be no doubt; the worst has happened.’
A full list of the Hingston papers is available on the M&ARL online catalogue. The Hingston papers were fully digitised in 2010 as part of the EuropeanaTravel project funded under European Commission’s eContentplus programme, and are available via the Library’s Digital Collections site.