In one of the last days of the Easter Rising, Friday April 28th, 1916, the worst civilian atrocity ever perpetrated by the British Army in Ireland took place in Dublin city centre when 15 civilians were murdered in North King Street. The facts of the massacre were buried until 2001 and no British soldier was ever charged with murder. 100 years on the victims are to be remembered this weekend.
The atrocity occurred after one of the fiercest battles of Easter week when the Rebels engaged the British around North King Street.
Starting on Thursday the British tried to take the area but encountered massive resistance with the regiment involved, The South Staffordshires, suffering 14 deaths and 32 woundings. Eventually the order was given for a full frontal assault.
General Lowe gave the order that no rebels were to be taken prisoner and it was the civilians of the area that felt the vengeance of the forces of the crown.
Enraged about the losses they had suffered trying to take the street, the troops broke into the homes of the locals and shot or bayoneted 15 civilian men whom they accused of being rebels. They killed three men at 170 North King Street, then broke into number 172 and killed two men. In number 174 two more were shot dead.
Two other civilians, Paddy Bealen and James Healy, were killed at number 177 and in 27 North King Street another four men, who all worked there at the Louth Dairy were found dead in a basement and one more man was killed at number 91. The fifteenth James Moore was shot dead on adjoining Little Britain Street by the British troops.
About two weeks later, on the 10th of May, Bealin and Healy’s bodies were found buried in the cellar of number 177, when a boy saw blood on the barrels in the cellar and a ‘heavy smell’. Healy, whose body was also found in the cellar appears to have been killed when going to work in Jameson’s Distillery after the ceasefire on April 29th.
It was the discovery of the two bodies in the cellar of number 177 that prompted an inquest, in which the jury found that the two had, ‘died from shock and haemorrhage, resulting from bullet wounds inflicted by a soldier or soldiers’, in whose custody they were, ‘an unarmed and unoffending prisoner’.
Colonel Taylor, who had been in command that day told the court, ‘no persons were attacked by the troops other than those who were assisting the rebels or who had arms in their possession’
The Coroner’s Court refused to accept Colonel Taylor’s statement as accurate. The mothers and wives of those killed were invited to try to identify the soldiers in a line-up at Straffan barracks in Kildare, but were unable to pick them out because all the soldiers who had served in North King had been removed from the line up.
The military inquest into the killings found that the soldiers had killed civilians but its findings were kept secret,’There are many points that could be used for hostile propaganda’.
In a private document prepared for the Prime Minister, Asquith, senior civil servant Edward Troupe judged that in at least one case, that of the killing of James Moore, one Sergeant Flanders should, under normal circumstances, be charged with murder. Elsewhere, he found that soldiers whose explicit orders were not to take prisoners, ‘took [it] to mean they could shoot anyone they suspected of being an active rebel’.
‘The root of the mischief’, he concluded, ‘was the military order to take no prisoners’.
Troupe thought, ‘If the case had occurred in England, the right course would be to refer the case to the D of PP [Department of Public Prosecutions.] However, under the circumstances, he viewed taking any action against the troops as ‘undesirable’. ‘There are many points that could be used for hostile propaganda…nothing but harm could come from this’.
The results of the Court of Inquiry were in fact buried and not brought to light until 2001.
The killings were raised in the House of Commons by Irish Party MPs and there were demands for a public inquiry.
General Maxwell defended the soldiers actions although he admitted that “possibly unfortunate incidents” had occurred.
The authorities halted the inquests, held a secret military inquiry that found no-one responsible and refused a public inquiry.
It was not until 2001 that a secret government memo was released which admitted that some of the troops could have been guilty of unlawful killing.
Tomorrow the first ever memorial to the victims will take place thanks to the efforts of the Stoneybatter and Smithfield People’s History Project.
A parade leaves from Kavanaghs Pub in Aughrim Street at 2pm tomorrow to North King Street for the plaque unveiling. For more information please go to Stoneybatter and Smithfield People’s History Project Facebook page.