Henry Hanna (1871-1946), barrister and later High Court judge, was an engaged observer of events in Ballsbridge over the course of the Easter Rising. His diary (TCD MS 10066/192), a photocopied typescript, is now part of the papers of playwright Denis Johnston (1901-1984). The Hanna and Johnston families lived within a few doors of each other on Lansdowne Rd, Dublin. Johnston did not always agree with Hanna’s version of events in 1916, annotating the typescript with red-inked expostulations.
The action opens on Easter Monday, 24 April 1916. Hanna was on manoeuvres in the Dublin mountains with his battalion of the Volunteer Training Corps, known as the ‘Gorgeous Wrecks’, when they got word that the city was in the ‘hands of the rebels’. Their attempts to return to Beggars Bush Barracks brought them directly into the line of sniper fire resulting in casualties. Hanna recognised the immediate danger of being on the street in his uniform and headed for his home at 54 Lansdowne Rd.
Hanna’s account of the events of ‘Black Easter Week’ is a litany of alarms and rumours circulating around the city, interspersed with his eyewitness accounts of events in his neighbourhood. His proximity to the Lansdowne Rd station meant he could monitor the rebel forces excavating trenches across the railway line, cutting off access to the city. He kept vigil in his attic overnight which afforded him a view along the railway line between Lansdowne Road Station to beyond Bath Avenue Bridge, a hotspot of rebel activity. Hanna spent considerable time sourcing bread and tins of bully beef for the troops defending Beggars Bush Barracks and trying to find a way of delivering it. Matters for the Hanna family worsened when the rebels took possession of the house next door which increased the possibility of being caught in the crossfire. On Thursday 27 April, one of the heaviest days of fighting that Hanna had witnessed, he narrowly missed being shot as a bullet whizzed by his head as he looked over the railway gates at Lansdowne Rd. Residents on Lansdowne Rd watched the bombardment from the steps of their houses during daylight hours. At night the safest place to sleep was on the floor to avoid stray bullets. By Thursday food was getting scarce and tales of looting in the city were prevalent. The surrender of the Four Courts on Saturday 29 April marked the beginning of the end, although fighting in the suburbs continued for some days. Hanna’s lasting memories of the Rebellion were of the city ablaze at night, the noise of the cannonade, the nerve-racking sounds of sniper fire, and the compulsion to see what was going on and to talk to one’s neighbours.
Felicity O’ Mahony
Manuscripts & Archives Research Library