All images courtesy of Clinton P. Shaw
A copy of the 1916 Proclamation given by Robert Hill Shaw to Eric Shaw in 1975
In 1970 I began corresponding with my cousin, Robert W.H. Shaw of Surbiton, on family history and genealogy. We exchanged many letters and family photographs. I met him at his home in Surbiton on a number of times. On one of these visits, he told me that he had been in O’Connell Street in Dublin on Easter Monday, 1916. I encouraged him to record his memories. A couple of years later, he sent me his memories in a typed version, together with photographs of his father, Robert Hill Shaw, a medical doctor who had served with the Royal Army Medical Corps from 1914 to 1920, with the rank of captain, and other photographs that I have inserted in his script. He also gave me a copy of the 1916 Proclamation, a section of which appears above.
Eric Shaw Clarecastle Co. Clare November 2020
Eric is the great-grandson of Albert and Eleanor Shaw and cousin to Robert W. H. Shaw.
My Memories of Easter Week in Dublin, 1916
by Robert William Hill Shaw
At Easter 1916, I was a young lad of nearly 9 years old and in the preceding twelve months I had suffered from a succession of childish ailments, including chickenpox, scarlet fever and measles and had an operation for the removal of a small bone from my nose. I was therefore, rather run-down and my father, Captain Robert Hill Shaw, R.A.M.C. decided that a summer in the country in Ireland would do me a lot of good and it was arranged that I should go to my uncle and aunt at Rath Lodge, Co. Longford (Uncle Albert and Aunt Ellen). So my father and I caught the Irish Mail from Euston on Saturday, April 22nd and travelling via Holyhead and Kingstown arrived in Dublin on the Sunday morning, where we stayed at 86 Ranelagh Road with my Uncle Richard, my father’s brother. My father had obtained leave of absence from the Army and was to have taken me down to Rath Lodge himself. However, things were to turn out otherwise. On the morning of Easter Monday, April 24th, my father and I, with my Uncle William, another of my father’s brothers, set out by chauffeur-car to pay a visit to a sister of my Uncle Dick’s wife, Aunt Helena, who was a nun and lived in a convent at Kingstown (now Dun Laoghaire). After our visit, we returned to Dublin and on proceeding along Sackville Street (now O’Connell Street) we were surprised to find a considerable crowd of people outside the G.P.O., whose windows appeared to be broken. As we passed, many of the turned and stared at us curiously. A squad of men, wearing leggings and bandoleers with rifles at the slope, marched smartly across our front, heading for the G. P. O. and coming from the direction of Talbot Street, possibly a small detachment arriving from the country. They took no notice of us. We proceeded to Trinity College, where my father had been a student many years before and where he proposed to show me the rooms he had occupied. Arriving there, he dismissed the car and chauffeur, saying we would walk home.
On entering the College gates, we found an air of military preparedness, numerous people bearing rifles who were members of the College O.T.C. and they told us there was some sort of rebellion and an attack on the College was feared. My father then abandoned his plans to visit the College and we decided to walk home by way of Grafton Street. We crossed the road and had only gone a few yards when a man came hurrying down Grafton Street, his overcoat flapping around him in his haste and passed us, giving us a hard look as he did so. He went only a couple of steps when he stopped and called back to my father, “Excuse me, Sir, do you know where you are going?” My father replied that he knew Dublin well and was quite aware of where he was going. The man then went on to say that a rebellion had broken out. That the Volunteers had taken over many strong posts in Dublin, among them St. Stephens Green, where we were heading, and that they were shooting anyone they saw in British uniform at sight. He advised us to make our way home by the side streets as best we could and then left us. I have often wondered who he was for quite possibly he saved our lives. (Why the Volunteers occupied St. Stephens Green is a mystery, for one can hardly imagine a place less militarily defensible, an open space completely dominated on all sides by tall buildings). How we got back to Ranelagh Road I do not remember but we did so safely.
It must have been difficult for my father and uncle to know what to do, they did not know the disposition of the insurgent’s forces and had they turned west along Dame Street, they would have run into trouble, as the Castle had been attacked and the City Hall occupied. I think that we must have gone east and round by Merrion Square. One can only imagine my father’s feelings, walking through the empty streets conspicuous in his khaki officer’s uniform, not knowing when a bullet might come from any direction. However, all was well in the end. On arrival at Ranelagh Rd my father changed into a civilian suit loaned by his brother, and during the week that followed he accompanied his brother, my Uncle Dick, to one of the big hospitals to help in dealing with the wounded as they were brought in. I think it was Vincent’s. All that week we were unable to get out to the shops, except in the evenings, when surreptitious visits were made to the shops to get what food was to be had, I have a picture of my father taken on his return from one of those visits, with a string shopping bag in his hand and a cauliflower under one arm and a loaf of bread under the other.
The noise of gunfire increased as the British guns began to shell the G.P.O. and the surrounding areas, and there was savage fighting at the Portobello Bridge over the Grand Canal, very close to us. At night I would go up to the landing on the stairs and look out towards the city, where the sky was lit up by the brilliant glare from the burning buildings in Sackville Street, where the gallant defenders of the G.P.O. were still fighting heroically against hopeless odds. At the end of the week, further resistance was useless and Patrick Pearse and the other leaders were forced to surrender and shot to death a few days later.
After it was all over, we went down to look at the scene of the fighting and a mournful sight it was to see. Practically the whole of Sackville Street had been destroyed, only that section on the West side from Henry Street to Parnell Street still stood, as it still stands today, the rest was utter ruins, the G.P.O. a shattered burned out shell. But the sacrifice had not been in vain; it had lit a flame that within a few years was to sweep the British out of most of Ireland. By that time, my father’s leave was up and he had to return to England without going down into the country and my Aunt Ellen and Cousin May came up to Dublin to take me down to Rath Lodge, where I spent a glorious summer and met many of the family for the first time. My mother and sister came over for the month of August and at the end of that month we returned home. I have put these memories down on paper, as I think they are worth recording, and I have always felt privileged to have been able to be present, albeit by chance and for a brief moment, at one of the greatest moments in Ireland’s history.
Robert William Hill Shaw 27 August 1975.
PS. I think I have made a mistake in saying that Vincent’s Hospital is just by Boland’s Mills, that one, I think, is Sir Patrick Duns. I don’t think I made it quite clear that when we were passing the G.P.O. and saw the crowds and the broken windows was the exact moment when the Volunteers were taking over the building, in fact the exact moment when the Easter Rising really started. In writing these notes, I also realise that my Father died exactly ten years after the events of that day in 1916. RWHS
Names referred to in the Memoir
Dr Robert Hill Shaw
Born at Ballymahon, Co. Longord, on 7 April 1861, died in Brighton on 24 April 1926. Served in the Royal Army Medical Corps 1914-1920.
Dr Richard Riggs Shaw
Born at Ballymahon, Co. Longford, on 29 December 1865. Died on 9 December 1929.
William Thomas Shaw
Born at Ballymahon, Co. Longford, 25 July 1867.
Born at Ballymahon, Co. Longford, 19 November 1859, Married Albert Shaw of Rath Lodge, Ballymahon, Co. Longford.
Robert William Hill Shaw
Born at 48 Park Crescent, Brighton, on 18 May 1907. Died at Surbiton in 1991.