‘And so the pillar lived to fall another day…’

The role of Trinity College Dublin during the Easter Rising has been well documented, and during the course of the commemorations, numerous personal experiences of this period have been brought to public attention.  An eye-witness account by alumnus James Alexander Glen was presented to the Manuscripts & Archives Research Library just over 50 years after the events of 1916, and it is a record of his involvement in the protection of the College (TCD MS 4456). We know from other manuscript sources that JA Glen, the son of a farmer, was born in Newtowncunningham, County Donegal, and entered College in October 1911, aged 17 years. He received his early education at Foyle College, Derry. In 1914 he was awarded a scholarship in classics, graduating with a BA in Winter 1915 and MA in Summer 1919. He joined the TCD Officer Training Corps (OTC) in his second year as an undergraduate. He was a recipient of a silver cup, one of a number of replicas of the two original cups that were presented to the College by local business who had benefited from OTC actions during the Rebellion.

TCD MS 4456 fol. 1
TCD MS 4456 fol. 1

At the outbreak of trouble, a uniformed Glen and a fellow artillery officer, with whom he had enjoying an outing to the Phoenix Park, made a cautious journey to TCD after their tram was halted in O’Connell Street. They met with a group of Australian and South African soldiers en route, who subsequently volunteered to act as lookouts on a portion of the College roof. Under the direction of AA Luce and EH Alton (both OTC captains and College professors), operations began to protect the College from within the walls. The gates were closed, ammunition distributed and sentries were posted at various locations.

As events unfolded during Easter Week, Glen was ordered to follow a colonel to an attic window in one of the College buildings that overlooked Westmoreland Street and O’Connell Street. The ‘red-tabled and red-hatted senior officer’ was considering a possible plan to demolish Nelson’s Pillar, and enquired of Glen about the type of artillery that would be required for such an operation. The pillar was seen to act as a shelter for the rebels as they moved between Clery’s department store and the General Post Office. As Glen himself recognised, even with his limited knowledge of firearms, this method would not have been a success even with the most powerful of guns. While parts of central Dublin were destroyed during Easter week, the pillar remained standing until 8 March 1966 when, fifty years after the events of 1916, it was severely damaged by explosives planted by the Irish Republican Army. The remnants were later removed.

TCD MS 4456 fol. 2
TCD MS 4456 fol. 2

The manuscript is in very good condition, consists of five sheets written in the author’s hand, and can be consulted in the Manuscripts & Archives Research Library.

Aisling Lockhart