‘Such excitement! Dublin is in the hands of the Sinn Feiners’. So opens Lillian Stokes’ account of the 1916 Easter Rising, and it continues in much the same lively vein.
Lillian (Lil) Stokes (1878-1955) came from a prominent Dublin family with links to the Jellett, Purser and O’Brien dynasties. She found herself caught up in dramatic scenes when trying to make her way back from Phoenix Park on Easter Monday, 24 April 1916; she dodged bullets as she weaved her way around the Guinness Bathing House, the Royal Barracks, and the Four Courts and made it home to her parents who ‘had not heard a word of what was going on and had not noticed the firing’. Inquisitive and brave, it was not long before Lillian headed out again. On her way she managed to cover most of the main areas of action:
‘I went and looked at the Trenches at the [St Stephen’s] Green gates; they were chiefly manned by children – lads of 16 or 17 … Inside the gates they were standing ready, with bayonets fixed. When I got to the Castle I saw horrible signs of the morning’s first victims of the Rebellion. Volunteers were still on the roofs of the opposite houses’.
Eager for information (and a cup of tea), she paid a call at the Provost’s house at Trinity College, as she was friendly with Provost Mahaffy and his daughter Elsie – herself a chronicler of the Rising. Lillian records how the Provost’s chef was the first to tell her of the shooting of 4 members of the reserve volunteer force known as the ‘Gorgeous Wrecks’ (so nicknamed on account of their advanced age and their tunics’ inscriptions ‘Georgius Rex’), at Mount Street Bridge. Lillian walked home in that direction to witness the aftermath of the scene for herself.
The following day, Tuesday 25 April, she headed out with her friends ‘Maive and Harrie’, and ‘Pauline and Kitty’ for ‘it was impossible to stay indoors hearing firing in all directions and not knowing what was happening’. She describes her shock at the devastation, the looting and the barricades, and ‘such young boy faces looking along their gun barrels watching’. She gives an account of the battle of Mount Street Bridge; occupations in Lower Leeson Street; the activities of a local sniper; smuggling tea to soldiers; makeshift hospitals; the search for bread; trouble obtaining passes in and out of the city and so on. Tantalisingly, she mentions her younger brother Henry, who was appointed as doctor for the captured and injured James Connolly, but gives very few details.
Miss Stokes and her friends also ventured out immediately after hostilities ceased, although they expressed a reluctance to ‘go and see the misery of the town … the rebels have been cleared out of [St] Stephen’s Green – their dead are buried in their trenches’ and she and her party ‘ were just in time to see 70 prisoners from Bolands march past, fine looking fellows … of course they looked shabby and dirty, they had been fighting for seven days … it made one miserable to see them. The leader in Bolands was a fine looking man called the Mexican, he is educated and speaks like a gentleman’.
With the encouragement of her brother Henry, Lillian Stokes was moved to publish her experiences of the Rising in the Winter issue of the journal Nonplus in 1960. The original typescript account was donated to the Manuscripts & Archives Research Library earlier this year by Lillian’s great nephew Dr Michael Purser after he became aware of the Changed Utterly blog project. We are extremely grateful to Dr Purser, and are delighted that the project has encouraged the donation of such material to enhance our collection. The account has been added to the MARLOC online catalogue and has been digitised in its entirety for the Library’s Digital Collections site.
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