On Friday, March 24th, 1916, Dublin was the startled witness of a sudden mobilisation of the Irish Citizen Army in the middle of a working day - a mobilisation in response to a call coming with the most dramatic unexpectedness. Never was the call so sudden, never was the response swifter or more reassuring in its promise for the future.
For some occult and inexplicable reason the British Government decided upon the instant suppression of a nationalist journal, The Gael. The journal in question was the latest recruit to the ranks of true Irish journalism, and circulated mostly in the south and midland counties, but as far as we are aware had not in any sense exceeded the limits of candid and outspoken criticism of those who govern Ireland, and those who support them. It was not jingo, it was Irish, but quietly and thoroughly educational rather than aggressive.
But swift upon the decision of the Government a body of military and police raided the premises of the printers in Liffey Street, seized all the type forms, dismantled the machinery, and carried all the vital parts off to Dublin Castle along with all books and papers connected or believed to be connected with the journal. No explanation was given other than a notification that action was taken by virtue of a warrant from General Friend.
Simultaneously with this raid the police all over the city entered the shops of newsagents, and totally without warrant or legal sanction proceeded to search their premises and confiscate all copies of The Gael they could find. Right here in their illegal and bullying proceedings they encountered their first reverse.
A number of the Dublin Metropolitan Police entered the shop of the Workers' Co-Operative Society at 31, Eden Quay, and demanded all copies of The Gael. The little girl in charge was not at all daunted by the bullying of the uniformed daylight burglars and coolly answered that she had no authority to give up the property placed in her charge. Then the policemen proceeded to rummage around among the papers. Meanwhile word of the raid had been sent to Mr. James Connolly, who is also Manager of the Workers' Co-Operative Society, and he arrived on the scene just as one of the police got in behind the counter. Inquiring if the police had any warrant they answered that they had not. On hearing this, Mr. Connolly turning to the policeman behind the counter as he had lifted up a bundle of papers, covered him with an automatic pistol and quietly said:
"Then drop those papers, or I'll drop you."
He dropped the papers. Then he was ordered out from behind the counter, and he cleared. His fellow burglar tried to be insolent and was quickly told that as they had no search warrant they were doing an illegal act, and the first one who ventured to touch a paper would be shot like a dog. After some more parley they slunk away vowing vengeance.
Immediately they had gone the Countess Markievicz arrived with news of the raid upon the printing plant of The Gael, and in the belief that this was a prelude to a further general suppression as in 1914, it was resolved to mobilise the Irish Citizen Army to protect the Workers' Republic and Liberty Hall.
Whilst the mobilisation papers were being signed, there came a fresh invasion of police headed by a sergeant and with reinforcements of the police. This invasion was met in the same manner with a request for the production of the warrant. The sergeant said he could assure Mr. Connolly that a warrant was issued, but was told that the reputation for veracity of the police was not good enough for his word to be taken without the document. As the police saw that the forces of the defenders had been augmented, and the Countess amongst others was lovingly toying with a large automatic whilst a number of rifles were peeping round the corner, the sergeant concluded that we had "reason" on our side and withdrew.
After they had withdrawn the office staff wondering what article in The Gael had caused such an action on the part of the British Government, resolved to look through the paper and see. But lo, and behold, we discovered that the current issue had not yet arrived, none but old copies were on the premises, and consequently we had been fighting the police to keep them from taking from us papers that we had not got. We were like Irishmen fighting for freedom in Flanders, and not knowing what it means at home.
Just as we made this discovery we were "honoured" by a visit from Inspector Bannon and a largely augmented force of constables, all ready for business. To our civil inquiry for his authority the Inspector produced the document in question and proceeded to read it for our benefit, whilst both parties stood lovingly eyeing each other, with their fingers upon the triggers of their weapons. The warrant produced by the Inspector was the original warrant for the seizure of The Gael, and its concluding paragraph authorised the police and military to enter all newsagents' shops, and seize all copies of the paper they could discover.
As we had just discovered that we had none of the paper in the shop we informed the Inspector in our politest manner that he could search the shop for it as he had brought the warrant, but would not be allowed to search Liberty Hall, "warrant or no warrant." To which the Inspector answered that he would not dream of entering Liberty Hall. We believe him, but they were not always as considerate. No search at all was made, beyond a mere formal turning over of the papers on the counter.
Meanwhile the messengers with the call to arms had been speeding all over the city, and everywhere the boys responded in the most loyal manner. In the machine shops of the railways in factories, in the dockyard, along the docks, in the holds of coal boats, in stables, on carts, lorries and yokes of every description, in buildings in process of erection, the call reached the men, and on the instant tools were dropped, work abandoned coats hastily snatched up, and within five minutes of receiving the summons the men were on their way despite the threats, promises, or supplication of foremen, bosses, superintendents or owners. Staid middle-class men in the streets, aristocratic old ladies out shopping, well-fed Government officials returning from lunch were transfixed with horror when they beheld the spectacle of working men with grimy faces and dirty working clothes rushing excitedly through the streets with rifle in hand and bandolier across shoulders, on the way to Liberty Hall Visions of guillotines in College Green, and battues of loyal sweaters fleeted across their visions, and Dublin Castle and the Viceregal Lodge were immediately attacked by batteries of telephone calls imploring the British authorities for news.
In an hour from the first issue of the summons Liberty Hall was garrisoned by a hundred and fifty determined armed men, and more were trooping in every few minutes. It was splendid to see the enthusiasm of the men, and when in the course of the evening all the Women's Ambulance Corps trooped in closely followed by the Boy Scouts, excitement and longing for the battle was running high in all our veins. The Irish Volunteers also were on the alert and stood, we are informed, under arms until after two a.m. on Sunday morning. Since then Liberty Hall has been guarded day and night.
All through Saturday the wildest rumours were current but at Liberty Hall everything was quiet. The men were on the job, and every man was confident of his neighbour as well as himself.
It is understood that every military preparation was made for an attack upon Liberty Hall, but the preparations were countermanded at the last moment. This is confirmed by a writer in the Belfast Northern Whig of Tuesday, March 28th.
The Royal Irish Constabulary in Portobello Barracks professed to be anxious to attack us, but the soldiers, being soldiers and not professional spies and bullies like the R.I.C. did not express any desire to make war upon their own countrymen.
The British Government thought to make a coup that would demoralise the national forces, and suppress all their papers, but they reckoned without the splendid discipline of the armed manhood of Ireland.
So endeth the first chapter. Who will write the next?
As a sequel to this military raid upon the liberties of the Irish people, and as a counter to her activities at Liberty Hall, the Countess Markievicz was served with a notice from General Friend forbidding her to enter the County Kerry for the purpose of delivering a lecture at Tralee on Sunday, March 26th. As we had no desire to hear of our comrade being arrested at some obscure railway station on the way down, and interned, another lady was sent in her place with a message. This messenger, Miss Marie Perolz, got safely through, and had the time of her life entertaining policemen, soldiers and detectives who informed her that she was a Russian subject, etc., in the apparent belief that they were interviewing Madam Markievicz.