Alfred Fannin’s diary of the Rising is written as a long letter – with daily, or twice daily entries, addressed to his brother, Edward, a doctor with the Royal Army Medical Corps in Malta; it began on Tuesday 25 April and ended on Monday 1 May, and was posted on 6 May. The ‘diary’ consists of 27 pages of manuscript. There is also a subsequent 3-page letter to Edward of 10 May which refers to the immediate aftermath of the Rising: martial law, curfew and executions. Alfred realised that ‘There has been nothing like this in our generation’, and so, unable to get into work, he decided to recount what was happening in Dublin. Edward fortunately followed his brother’s request to keep the letter for him; the documents were preserved by Alfred in a brown manila folder entitled ‘April 1916 Rising of Sinn Fein’ – like other contemporaries Fannin was confused about who was behind the Rising, mistakenly attributing it to Sinn Fein.
Alfred Fannin, his wife, Violet, and two children, Sylvia and Eustace, lived in a fashionable part of South Dublin, at 32 Herbert Park, a street for professionals – lawyers, doctors and academics. His neighbours included Eoin MacNeill and The O’Rahilly. Alfred was a significant figure in Dublin’s medical, Methodist and commercial circles. He was managing director of the Fannin family firm, a surgical and medical supply business with well-known premises on Grafton Street. His medical connections, including his brother-in-law, Dr Alfred Parsons, a Senior Consultant Physician at the Royal City of Dublin Hospital, allowed him to give detailed information about casualties and how the hospitals were coping. On 28 April he provides a dramatic account of going in a Red-Cross motor car from Herbert Park to Grafton Street to get medical supplies for the R.C.D. Hospital, observing troop movements and sentries, and running the gauntlet of broken glass and debris from looting. As Methodists, the Fannins were closely involved with the Centenary Church in St Stephen’s Green, and he describes watching the developments on the Green from the church roof. He was also a businessman and his comments showed concern over the interruption to his work and ‘loss of trade’. He looked after his staff, whom he paid in full, though he stated that this would ‘mean £70 to £80 out of pocket’. One interesting aspect that Fannin records with wry humour is the temporary social changes he witnessed, with middle-class, well-to-do people (including himself) having to go out shopping for supplies.
Fannin’s account of the events in Dublin is written in a detached and calm manner. Like many Dubliners, Fannin and his family longed for the return of normal everyday life; they did not really grasp the long-term consequences for Ireland. On the final day he wrote how they usually hated the chiming of the nearby church clock. Yet ‘throughout this week we have felt it the one thing permanent and regular apart from the forces of Nature and the work of God’.
This was written as a private letter, expressing a personal point of view, and his observations were largely limited to the South side of Dublin, the areas where he lived and worked. Though still a Unionist, he does not express any hostility towards those involved in the Rising. As a source the ‘diary’ is invaluable as a largely first-hand account (though some content comes from others and from rumours). It provides good information and images – the surprise and confusion at the outset, military aspects and the fighting in South Dublin, the role of rumour and tales of German landings, the looting and food shortages.
Alfred Fannin’s diary of the Rising, TCD MS 10841, was presented to the Library by Mrs Brynhild McConnell (daughter of Edward Fannin) in 1995. She received the manuscript from her cousin Dr Eustace Fannin, son of Alfred Fannin, to whom the manuscript had been returned. They have been published as ‘Letters from Dublin, Easter 1916: The Diary of Alfred Fannin’ Edited by Adrian and Sally Warwick-Haller, (Dublin) 1995.
Sally and Adrian Warwick-Haller