Sir John French’s Ireland Despatch

The Despatch of Field Marshal Sir John French, Commander in Chief of the Home Forces. Printed in the Supplement to the London Gazette of 21 July 1916. It dealt with the rebellion in Ireland. French became commander of British troops at home when he was removed from command in France and Flanders in late 1915.

Sir John French
Sir John French.

General Headquarters,
Home Forces,
Horse Guards,
London, S.W.
29th May, 1916.

My Lord,-
I have the honour to forward herewith a Report which I have received from the General Officer Commanding-in-chief, Irish Command, relating to the recent outbreak in Dublin and the measures taken for its suppression.

2. It will be observed that the rebellion broke out in Dublin at 12.15 p.m. on April 24th, and that by 5.20 p.m. on the same afternoon a considerable force from the Curragh had arrived in Dublin to reinforce the garrison, and other troops were on their way from Athlone, Belfast, and Templemore. The celerity with which these reinforcements became available says much for the arrangements which had been made to meet such a contingency.

3. I was informed of the outbreak by wire on the afternoon of the 24th ult., and the 59th Division at St. Albans was at once put under orders to proceed to Ireland, and arrangements were put in train for their transport. After seeing General Friend I gave orders for the movement of two brigades to commence as soon as their transport could be arranged. I am aware that in doing so I was acting beyond the powers which were delegated to me, but I considered the situation to be so critical that it was necessary to act at once without reference to the Army Council.

4. On the morning of the 28th April General Sir John Maxwell, K.C.B., K.C.M.G., C.V.O., D.S.O., arrived in Ireland to assume command.

5. I beg to bring to your notice the assistance afforded to me by the Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty, who met every request made to them for men, guns and transport with the greatest promptitude, and whose action enabled me to reinforce and maintain the garrisons in the South and West of Ireland without unduly drawing upon the troops which it was desirable to retain in England.
I have the honour to be,
Your Lordship’s most obedient Servant,
Commanding-in-Chief, Home Forces.

From the General Officer, Commanding-in-Chief, The Forces in Ireland.
To the Field-Marshal, Commanding-in-Chief, The Home Forces.
Irish Command, Dublin,
25th May, 1916.

My Lord,-
I have the honour to report the operations of the Forces now under my command from Monday, 24th April, when the rising in Dublin began.

(1) On Easter Monday, 24th April, at 12.15 p.m., a telephone message was received from the Dublin Metropolian Police saying that Dublin Castle was being attacked by armed Sinn Feiners. This was immediately confirmed by the Dublin Garrison Adjutant, who reported that, in the absence of Colonel Kennard, the Garrison Commander, who had left his office shortly before, and was prevented by the rebels from returning, he had ordered all available troops from Portobello, Richmond and Royal Barracks to proceed to the Castle, and the 6th Reserve Cavalry Regiment towards Sackville Street.
The fighting strengths of the troops available in Dublin at this moment were: –
6th Reserve Cavalry Regiment, 35 officers, 851 other ranks.
3rd Royal Irish Regiment, 18 officers, 385 other ranks.
10th Royal Dublin Fusiliers, 37 officers, 430 other ranks.
3rd Royal Irish Rifles, 21 officers, 650 other ranks.

Of these troops, an inlying picquet of 400 men, which for some days past had been held in readiness, proceeded at once, and the remainder followed shortly afterwards. At 12.30 p.m. a telephone message was sent to General Officer Commanding, Curragh, to mobilize the mobile column, which had been arranged for to meet any emergency, and to despatch it dismounted to Dublin by trains which were being sent from Kingsbridge. This column, under the command of Colonel Portal, consisted of 1,600 officers and other ranks from the 3rd Reserve Cavalry Brigade. Almost immediately after the despatch of this message telephonic communication in Dublin became very interrupted, and from various sources it was reported that the Sinn Feiners had seized the General Post Office in Sackville Street, the Magazine in Phoenix Park, The Four Courts, Jacobs’ Biscuit Factory, and had occupied many buildings in various parts of the City.

As the occupation of the General Post Office by the Sinn Feiners denied the use of the telegraph, a message reporting the situation in Dublin was sent at 1.10 p.m. to the Naval Centre at Kingstown, asking that the information of the rising might be transmitted by wireless through the Admiralty to you. This was done.

(2) The first objectives undertaken by the troops were to recover possession of the Magazine in Phoenix Park, where the rebels had set fire to a quantity of ammunition, to relieve the Castle, and to strengthen the guards on Vice-Regal Lodge and other points of importance. The Magazine was quickly re-occupied, but the troops moving on the Castle were held up by the rebels who had occupied surrounding houses, and had barricaded the streets with carts and other material. Between 1.40 p.m. and 2.0 p.m., 50 men of 3rd Royal Irish Rifles, and 130 men of the 10th Royal Dublin Fusiliers reached the Castle by the Ship Street entrance. At 4.45 p.m. the first train from the Curragh arrived at Kingsbridge station, and by 5.20 p.m. the whole Cavalry Column, 1,600 strong, under the command of Colonel Portal, had arrived, one train being sent on from Kingsbridge to North Wall by the loop line to reinforce the guard over the docks.

(3) During the day the following troops were ordered to Dublin : –
(a) A battery of four 18-pounders R.F.A., from the Reserve Artillery Brigade at Athlone.
(6) The 4th Dublin Fusiliers from Templemore.
(c) A composite battalion from Belfast.
(d) An additional 1,000 men from the Curragh. This message being sent by one of the troop trains returning to the Curragh. During the afternoon and evening small parties of troops were engaged with the rebels. The 3rd Royal Irish Regiment on their way to the Castle were held up by the rebels in the South Dublin Union, which they attacked and partially occupied; a detachment of 2 officers and 50 men from the 6th Reserve Cavalry Regiment which was convoying some ammunition from North Wall, was surrounded in Charles Street, but succeeded in parking their convoy and defended this with great gallantry for 3 1/2 days, when they were relieved ; during this defence the officer in command was killed and the remaining officer wounded.

The rebels in St. Stephen’s Green were attacked, and picquets with machine guns were established in the United Service Club and the Shelbourne Hotel with a view to dominating the square and its exits. At 9.35 p.m. Colonel Kennard, Officer Commanding Troops, Dublin, reached the Castle with another party of 86 men of the 3rd Royal Irish Regiment.

The defence of the Docks at North Wall was undertaken by Major H. F. Somerville, commanding a detachment from the School of Musketry, Dollymount, reinforced by 330 officers and men of the 9th Reserve Cavalry Regiment. The occupation of the Customs House, which dominated Liberty Hall, was carried out at night, and was of great assistance in later operations against Liberty Hall.

(4) The situation at midnight was that we held the Magazine, Phoenix Park, the Castle and the Ship Street entrance to it, the Royal Hospital, all Barracks, the Kingsbridge, Amiens Street, and North Wall railway stations, the Dublin telephone exchange in Crown Alley, the Electric Power Station atPigeon.House Fort, Trinity College, Mountjoy Prison, and Kingstown Harbour. The Sinn Feiners held Sackville Street and blocks of buildings on each side of this, including Liberty Hall, with their headquarters at the General Post Office, the Four Courts, Jacobs’ biscuit factory, South Dublin Union, St. Stephen’s Green, all the approaches to the Castle except the Ship Street entrance, and many houses all over the city, especially about Balls Bridge and Beggar’s Bush.

(5) The facility with which the Sinn Feiners were able to seize so many important points throughout the city was, in my opinion, due to the fact that armed bodies of civilians have been continually allowed to parade in and march through the streets of Dublin and throughout the country without interference. The result was that the movement of large forces of armed civilians, particularly on a holiday such as Easter Monday, passed, if not unnoticed, unchecked, and no opposition could be offered to them at the moment when they decided to act. Further, the Dublin police, being unarmed and powerless to deal with these armed rebels, were withdrawn from the areas occupied by them.

(6) At the time of the rising Major-General Friend, then commanding the troops in Ireland, was on short leave in England, and when visiting your headquarters at the Horse Guards on that day heard the serious news from Dublin. He returned that night, and arrived in Dublin early on the morning of the 25th April. He has informed me that at a conference with you it was decided to despatch at once two infantry brigades of the 59th Division from England to Ireland, and that the remaining infantry brigade and artillery of this Division were to be held in readiness to follow if required.

(7) On April 25th, Brigadier-General W. H. M. Lowe, Commanding the Reserve Cavalry Brigade at the Curragh, arrived at Kingsbridge station at 3.45 a.m. with the leading troops from the 25th (Irish) Reserve Infantry Brigade, and assumed command of the forces in the Dublin area, which were roughly 2,300 men of the Dublin garrison, the Curragh Mobile Column of 1,500 dismounted cavalrymen, and 840 men of the 25th Irish Reserve Infantry Brigade.

(8) In order to relieve and get communication with the Castle, Colonel Portal, Commanding the Curragh Mobile Column, was ordered to establish a line of posts from Kingsbridge station to Trinity College via the Castle. This was completed by 12 noon, 25th April, and with very little loss. It divided the rebel forces into two, gave a safe line of advance for troops extending operations to the north or south, and permitted communication by despatch rider with some of the Commands. The only means of communication previous to this had been by telephone, which was unquestionably being tapped. The Dublin University O.T.C., under Captain E. H. Alton, and subsequently Major G. A. Harris, held the College buildings until the troops arrived. The holding of these buildings separated the rebel centre round the General Post Office from that round St. Stephen’s Green; it established a valuable base for the collection of. reinforcements as they arrived, and prevented the rebels from entering the Bank of Ireland, which is directly opposite to and commanded by the College buildings.

(9) During the day the 4th Royal Dublin Fusiliers from Templemore, a composite Ulster battalion from Belfast, and a battery of four 18-pounder guns from the Reserve Artillery Brigade at Athlone arrived, and this allowed a cordon to be established round the northern part of the city from Parkgate, along the North Circular Road to North Wall. Broadstone Railway Station was cleared of rebels, and a barricade near Phibsborough was destroyed by artillery fire. As a heavy fire was being kept up on the Castle from the rebels located in the-Corporation buildings, Daily Express offices and several houses opposite the City Hall, it was decided to attack these buildings. The assault on the Daily Express office was successfully carried out under very heavy fire by a detachment of the 5th Royal Dublin Fusiliers under 2nd Lieut. F. O’Neill. The main forces of the rebels now having been located in and around Sackville Street, the Four Courts and adjoining buildings, it was decided to try to enclose that area north of the Liffey by a cordon of troops so as to localise as far as possible the efforts of the rebels.

(10) Towards evening the 178th Infantry Brigade began to arrive at Kingstown, and in accordance with orders received the brigade left Kingstown by road in two columns. The left column, consisting of the 5th and 6th Battalions, Sherwood Foresters, by the Stillorgan-Donnybrook road and South Circular road to the Royal. Hospital, where it arrived without opposition. The right column, consisting of the 7th and 8th Battalions, Sherwood Foresters, by the main tram route through Ballsbridge, and directed on Merrion Square and Trinity College. This column, with 7th Battalion leading, was held up at the northern corner of Haddington Road and Northumberland Avenue, which was strongly held by rebels; but with the assistance of bombing parties organized and led by Captain Jeffares, of the Bombing School at Elm Park, the rebels were driven back. At 3.25 p.m. the 7th. Battalion, Sherwood Foresters, met great opposition from the rebels holding the schools and other houses on the north side of the road close to the bridge at Lower Mount Street, and two officers; one of whom was the Adjutant, Captain Dietrichsen, were killed and seven wounded, including Lieutenant-Colonel Fane, who, though wounded, remained in action. At about 5.30p.m. orders were received that the advance to Trinity College was to be pushed forward at all costs, and therefore at about 8 p.m., after careful arrangements, the whole column, accompanied by bombing parties, attacked the schools and houses where the chief opposition lay, the battalions charging in successive waves carried all before them, but, I regret to say, suffered severe casualties in doing so. Four officers were killed, 14 wounded, and of otlher ranks 216 were killed and wounded. The steadiness shown by these two battalions is deserving of special mention, as I understand the majority of the men have less than three months’ service. In view of the opposition met with, it was not considered advisable to push on to Trinity College that night, so at 11 p.m. the 5th South Staffordshire Regiment, from the 176th Infantry Brigade, reinforced this column, and by occupying the positions gained allowed the two battalions Sherwood Foresters to be concentrated at Ballsbridge.

In connection with this fighting at Mount Street Bridge, where our heaviest casualties occurred, I should like to mention the gallant assistance given by a number of medical men, ladies, nurses and women servants, who at great risk brought in and tended to the wounded, continuing their efforts even when deliberately fired at by the rebels.

(11) Meanwhile severe fighting had taken place in the Sackville Street quarter. At 8a.m. Liberty Hall, the former headquarters of the Sinn Feiners, was attacked by field guns from the south bank of the River Liffey, and by a gun from the patrol ship Helga, with the result that considerable progress was made. During the night of 26th/27th April several fires broke out in this quarter and threatened to become dangerous, as the fire brigade could not get to work owing to their being fired upon by the rebels. Throughout the day further troops of the 176th Brigade arrived in the Dublin area.

(12) On 27th April the 5th Leinsters, 2/6th Sherwood Foresters, 3rd Royal Irish Regiment, The Ulster composite battalion, under the command of Colonel Portal, began and completed by 5 p.m. the forming of a cordon round the rebels in the Sackville Street area, which operation was carried out with small loss. About 12.45 p.m. Linen Hall barracks, which were occupied by the Army Pay Office, were reported to have been set on fire by the rebels and were destroyed. By night-fall the 177th Infantry Brigade had arrived at Kingstown, where it remained for the night.

(13) At 2 a.m. on the 28th April, I arrived at North Wall and found many buildings in Sackville Street burning fiercely, illuminating the whole city, and a fusilade of rifle fire going on in several quarters of the city. Accompanied by several Staff Officers who had come with me, I proceeded to the Royal Hospital. After a conference with Major-General Friend and Brigadier-General Lowe, I instructed the latter to close in on Sackville Street from East and West, and to carry out a house-to-house search in areas gained. I was able to place the 2/4th Lincolns at his disposal for the purpose of forming a cordon along the Grand Canal, so enclosing the southern part of the city and forming a complete cordon round Dublin. During the afternoon the 2/5th and 2/6th South Staffords arrived at Trinity College, and this additional force allowed me to begin the task of placing a cordon round the Four Courts area in the same way as the Sackville Street area, which had already been so successfully isolated. During the evening the detachment of the 6th Reserve Cavalry Regiment, which had been escorting ammunition and rifles from North Wall, and had been held up in Charles Street, was relieved by armoured motor lorries, which had been roughly armoured with boiler plates by the Inchicore Railway works and placed at my disposal by Messrs. Guinness.

Throughout the night the process of driving out the rebels in and round Sackville Street continued, though these operations were greatly hampered by the fires in this area and by the fact that some of the burning houses contained rebel stores of explosives which every now and again blew up. In other quarters of the city the troops had a trying time dealing with the numerous snipers, who became very troublesome during the hours of darkness.

(14) Owing to the considerable opposition at barricades, especially in North King Street, it was not until 9 a.m. on the 29th April that the Four Courts area was completely surrounded. Throughout the morning the squeezing out of the surrounded areas was vigorously proceeded with, the infantry being greatly assisted by a battery of Field Artillery commanded by Major Hill, who used his guns against the buildings held by the rebels with such good effect that a Red Cross Nurse brought in a message from the Rebel leader, P. H. Pearse, asking for terms. A reply was sent that only unconditional surrender would be accepted. At 2 p.m. Pearse surrendered himself unconditionally, and was brought before me, when he wrote and signed notices ordering the various “Commandos” to surrender unconditionally. During the evening the greater part of the rebels in the Sackville Street and Four Courts area surrendered.

(15) Early on the 30th April two Franciscan monks informed me that the Rebel leader Macdonagh, declining to accept Pearse’s orders, wished to negotiate. He was informed that only unconditional surrender would be accepted, and at 3 p.m., when all preparation for an attack on Jacobs’ Biscuit Factory, which he held, had been made, Macdonagh and his band of rebels surrendered unconditionally. In the St. Stephen’s Green area, Countess Markievicz and her band surrendered and were taken to the Castle. These surrenders practically ended the rebellion in the City of Dublin.

(16) Throughout the night of the 30th April-1st May isolated rebels continued to snipe the troops, but during the 1st May these were gradually cleared out, and in conjunction with the police a systematic house-to-house search for rebels and arms was continued.

(17) During the severe fighting which took place in Dublin the greatest anxiety was caused by the disquieting reports received from many parts of Ireland, and chiefly from –
(a) County Dublin,
(b) County Meath,
(c) County Louth,
(d) County Galway,
(e) County Wexford,
(f) County Clare,
(g) County Kerry.

(18) On the 27th April, as soon as troops became available a detachment was sent by sea from Kingstown to Arklow to reinforce the garrison at Kynoch’s Explosive Works, and a small party was sent to assist the R.I.C. post over the wireless station at Skerries. On the 28th April a battalion of the Sherwood Foresters was despatched by rail to Athlone to protect the artillery and military stores there and to hold the communication over the River Shannon.

(19) Brigadier-General Stafford, the Garrison Commander at Queenstown, was directed to use his discretion in the employment of troops under his command, and on 30th April he was reinforced from England by one battalion of the 179th Brigade, 60th Division, a battalion of the Royal Marines, and later by the remainder of the 179th Brigade.

(20) Brigadier-General Hackett-Pain, who assumed command of the troops in Ulster, made effective use of the troops under his command, and it was largely due to the dispositions made by these two Commanders that the Sinn Feiners in the South and North of Ireland were restrained from taking a more active part in the rebellion. I received the greatest assistance from the Inspector-General, Royal Irish Constabulary, and from all his inspectors and men, and throughout the rebellion I worked in the closest co-operation with them. In many districts small posts of these gallant men were isolated and had to defend themselves, against overwhelming numbers, which they successfully did except in very few cases. It was with great regret I received the report on 28th April that a body of Royal Irish Constabulary, under Inspector Gray, had been ambushed by the rebels at Ashbourne, which resulted in Inspectors Gray and Smith and eight constables being killed and 14 wounded. It was not until 30th April that I was able to spare a mobile column to deal with this body of rebels, the leaders of which were secured. In other parts of Ireland similar attacks on police posts had been made by armed bands of Sinn Feiners. In order to deal with these, as soon as the Dublin rebels had been crushed, I organised various mobile columns, each consisting of from one to two companies of infantry, a squadron of cavalry, one 18-pounder gun and an armoured car. Each column was allotted a definite area, which, in close co-operation with the local police, was gone through, and dangerous Sinn Feiners and men who were known to have taken an active part in the rising were arrested; in addition many arms belonging to Sinn Feiners were surrendered or seized. I am glad to be able to report that the presence of these columns had the best possible effect on the people in country districts, in many of which troops had not been seen for years.

(22) That splendid body of men, the Dublin Metropolitan Police, could give me little or no assistance, because they were unarmed. Had they been armed I doubt if the rising in Dublin would have had the success it did.

(23) I am glad to report that the conduct of the troops was admirable; their cheerfulness, courage and good discipline, under the most trying conditions, was excellent. Although doors and windows of shops and houses had to be broken open, no genuine case of looting has been reported to me, which I consider reflects the greatest credit on all ranks.

(24) I wish to acknowledge the great assistance I received from the Provost of Trinity College; the clergy of all denominations; civilian medical men; Red Cross nurses, who were untiring in their attention to the wounded, often rendered under heavy fire; ambulances provided by Royal Ambulance Corps; the Irish Volunteer Training Corps and the members of St. John’s Ambulance Corps; the Civilian and Officers Training Corps motor cyclists, who fearlessly carried despatches through streets infested with snipers; telegraph operators and engineers; and from the lady operators of the Telephone Exchange, to whose efforts the only means of rapid communication remained available. I am glad to be able to record my opinion that the feelings of the bulk of the citizens of Dublin being against the Sinn Feiners materially influenced the collapse of the rebellion.

(25) I deplore the serious losses which the troops and the civilian volunteers have suffered during these very disagreeable operations.
I have the honour to be,
Your most obedient servant,

From the General Officer Commanding-in-Chief, The Forces in Ireland, to The Secretary of State for War.
Headquarters, Irish Command,
Dublin, 26th May, 1916.

My Lord,
In amplification of the report on the operations undertaken by the troops in Dublin, which I forwarded to Field-Marshal Lord French on 25th May, I think it desirable to bring to your notice the difficult conditions under which the troops had to act.
(1) The rebellion began by Sinn Feiners, presumably acting under orders, shooting in cold blood certain soldiers and policemen, simultaneously they took possession of various important buildings and occupied houses, along the routes into the City of Dublin, which were likely to be used by troops taking up posts.
(2) Most of the rebels were not in any uniform, and by mixing with peaceful citizens made it almost impossible for the troops to distinguish between friend and foe until fire was opened.
(3) In many cases troops having passed along a street seemingly occupied by harmless people were suddenly fired upon from behind from windows and roof-tops. Such were the conditions when reinforcements commenced to arrive in Dublin.
(4) Whilst fighting continued under conditions at once so confused and so trying, it is possible that some innocent citizens were shot. It must be remembered that the struggle was in many cases of a house-to-house character, that sniping was continuous and very persistent and that it was often extremely difficult to distinguish between those who were or had been firing upon the troops and those who had for various reasons chosen to remain on the scene of the fighting, instead of leaving the houses and passing through the cordons.
(5) The number of such incidents that has been brought to notice is very insignificant.v (6) Once the rebellion started the members of the Dublin Metropolitan Police-an unarmed uniformed force-had to be withdrawn, or they would have been mercilessly shot down, as, indeed, were all who had the bad luck to meet the rebels. In their absence a number of the worst elements of the city joined the rebels and were armed by them. The daily record of the Dublin Magistrates’ Court proves that such looting as there was was done by such elements.
(7) There have been numerous incidents of deliberate shooting on ambulances, and those courageous people who voluntarily came out to tend to the wounded. The City Fire Brigade, when turned out in consequence of incendiary fires, were fired on and had to retire.
(8) As soon as it was ascertained that the rebels had established themselves in various centres, the first phase of operations was conducted with a view to isolate them by forming a cordon of troops round each.
(9) To carry out this streets were selected, along which the cordon could be drawn. Some of these streets, for instance, North King Street, were found to be strongly held, rebels occupying the roofs of houses, upper windows, and strongly constructed barricades.
(10) Artillery fire was only used to reduce the barricades, or against a particular house known to be strongly held.
(11) The troops suffered severe losses in establishing these cordons, and, once established, the troops were subjected to a continuous fire from all directions, especially at night time, and invariably from persons concealed in houses.
(12) To give an idea of the opposition offered to His Majesty’s troops in the execution of their duty, the following losses occurred: –
Killed. Wounded.
Officers 17 46
Other ranks … 89 288
(13) I wish to draw attention to the fact that, when it became known that the leaders of the rebellion wished to surrender, the officers used every endeavour to prevent further bloodshed; emissaries were sent in to the various isolated bands, and time was given them to consider their position.
(14) I cannot imagine a more difficult situation than that in which the troops were placed; most of those employed were draft finding battalions or young Territorials from England, who had no knowledge of Dublin.
(15) The surrenders, which began on April 30th, were continued until late on May 1st, during which time there was a considerable amount of isolated sniping.
(16) Under the circumstances related above, I consider the troops as a whole behaved with the greatest, restraint, and carried out their disagreeable and distasteful duties in a manner which reflects the greatest credit on their discipline.
(17) Allegations on the behaviour of the troops brought to my notice are being most carefully enquired into. I am glad to say they are few in number, and these are not all borne out by direct evidence.
(18) Numerous cases of unarmed persons killed by rebels during the outbreak have been reported to me. As instances, I may select the following for your information: –
J. Brien, a constable of the Dublin Metropolitan Police, was shot while on duty at Castle Gate, on April 24th. On the same day another constable of the same force, named M. Lahiff, was shot while on duty at St. Stephen’s Green. On April 25th B. Waters, of Recess, Monkstown, Co. Dublin, was shot at Mount Street Bridge, while being driven into Dublin by Captain Scovell, R.A.M.C. All these were unarmed, as was Captain Scovell. In the last case, the car was not challenged or asked to stop.
(19) I wish to emphasize that the responsibility for the loss of life, however it occurred, the destruction of property and other losses, rests entirely with those who engineered this revolt, and who, at a time when the Empire is engaged in a gigantic struggle, invited the assistance and co-operation of the Germans.

I have the honour to be,
My Lord,
Your obedient Servant,
(Sgd.) J. G. MAXWELL,


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