[Estelle Nathan’s letter to her husband George Nathan, younger brother of Dublin Castle Under Secretary Matthew Nathan, recounting her experience on an Easter visit to Dublin from April 26 to April 30 1916]
I sent a letter off yesterday, written on Monday, but I do not think it will have started. I don’t know if I shall even post this, as it might be censored, but I think I will put on record all the things that have happened – since Monday, Bank Holiday at one o’clock. At that hour we, that is Miss Dorothy Stopford the two children and myself were returning from a glorious morning in Furry Glen, a secluded portion of the Park about a mile from here, where we had spent the morning painting etc. Matthew had gone to the Castle to work, – as usual, although it was a holiday. I had walked with him as far as the Viceregal & we had had rather a grave talk about Ireland, & he had said things were worse than ever before. The previous night he had been out meeting military persons, but I gathered that all this had nothing to do with what was about to happen in Dublin, in fact from rumours I understood these secret conferences had to do with disturbances in the West. There seemed in fact, no cause for definite alarm as to the state of Dublin. At one o’clock therefore, we were walking homewards, when we heard 3 guns fired. Knowing the Vice Regal party were moving to Belfast, I calmed the children’s immediate excitement by saying there must be salutes on his departure. We had nearly finished lunch when Capt Maitland rang up from the Vice Regal. – “I am sorry to say the Shin Feiners are out; Sir Matthew is besieged in the Castle. He is all right at present as we have spoken to him. They tried to rush the Castle, but luckily police managed to close the gates in time. Troops have been sent for.” Capt Maitland further threw one a suggestion that we might take our departure – go somewhere some way out, but I declined. We remained very anxious for some hours, hearing desultory firing that seemed quite near. There were bigger guns & the crack of rifles, regular volleys:- a big battle seemed to be in progress & appeared to us to [gage] round the Vice Regal Lodge; we saw the yellow brown smoke rise above the trees, & slowly form a heavy cloud. This was about five o’clock & we were beginning to be seriously alarmed. We heard afterward that this was an attack on the Royal Barracks, & that the Lodge was all right. It seemed so near that we thought it was time to take precautions: the only ones possible for us were to put up the shutters & draw down the blinds, so that the house should appear deserted. This we accordingly did & moved upstairs into my bedroom, whence we could watch proceedings with opera glasses. But we could see nothing, though we had sundry false alarms: gradually the shooting near by died down & then we heard more distant firing intermittently. And this was continued ever since. All yesterday, Tuesday, & we have again heard heavy artillery this morning. That first evening Matthew rang up to ask if we were all right & to tell us he was of course unable to leave, & would stay there with the Kellys’. He did not go to bed that night, but lay on the sofa for a short time. At the Vice-Regal, the A.D.C. did not go to bed either. About ten that evening they sent a soldier over from there to inquire how we were. I believe he belonged to a Dublin regiment, & he told us there had been 43 casualties in his regiment alone. He also told us the big policeman at the Castle gate had fallen, riddled with bullets, & that at least 5 others had been killed; that the magazine was safe but that the Royal Irish had also suffered seriously. He could not tell us about civilians. There was no post that night as the Post Office had been taken by the Shin Feiners – or so we heard: In any case there have been no letters or newspapers for 2 days – the telephone exchange is open, but only for military messages. We can speak to Matthew in the Castle & he gives us his news in French, but says very little except that now things are quieting down a little. He is still in the Castle, but it is now strongly garrisoned, troops & artillery having poured in from the Curragh & we hope that the loud reports we hear are from our own heavy guns. Yesterday a Mr Dickenson & party drove over from the country to see us & inquire what was happening. They had only just heard of the trouble. It was quite pleasant to have our isolation interrupted. – We hear the Shin-Feiners are intrenched in St Stephen’s Green, that they are occupying the Shelbourne, the Bishop’s Palace & the Universities Club – that they have a machine gun on the Rotunda – that they have looted all the shops in Sackville St, that they have broken the large pillars that support the Portico of the Post Office, & that they are attempting to take the Munitions Factory – Rumours are wild & we disbelieve a good many of them. We are not able to use the car or the chauffeur, as they are too well – known in Dublin. The Vice Regal party are subsisting on 2 cars borrowed from the Maitlands. Their cars & all their luggage had already gone to Belfast, where a three week’s stay had been contemplated. – We have not been able to send any clothes or sundries to Matthew at the Castle, as he thought wiser not, tho’ the gardiner thought he could perhaps have been able to penetrate. One of the servants bicycles down to a little shop at the Park Gates – of course we got no fish & I rather wonder how we are provisioned at all, – but she seems to come back with plenty of food. She was warned by an officer not to go further: there is a machine gun trained across the road, & the quays lined with troops. It is now midday Wednesday & we still hear frequent firing. The revolution has lasted 2 days & 2 nights.
From various rumours & indications we had hoped yesterday noon that matters were better. About two o’clock however, a violent bombardment & much rifle firing was again heard & this lasted till tea time. At that hour [Clemence] came in badly scared. He had been down past the Phoenix & near the polo ground & bullets were whistling across the road, & the soldiers had called out that everyone was to be down flat. It all seemed rather near the Vice Regal Lodge; he also told us a company of Lancers was guarding our fence. I cross examined him, before telephoning to the Castle, as we began to feel it might be better to de-camp, and he did not waver from his story, but the parlour maids both seemed to think him something of a coward, & that in any case the bullets were our own & not Shin Feine. I had just settled that the matter was not as bad as he seemed to think when two terrific explosions occurred quite near, followed by musketry firing. The explosions appeared to be between us & the Vice Regal & we saw blue smoke rising between us, just beyond their boundary wall. I felt things were getting warm & telephoned to the Castle to inquire what we should do. We were advised to remain quiescent, & Matthew promised to telephone to General Friend & let us have details of what was happening. Nerves were rather overstrained, so I had to read Sherlock Holmes very steadily to the children for an hour. He is our great resource. Pamela feels it all very much, & always tries to shut herself into a room & become absorbed in a book or game & try & forget. Maud is thrilled at living through such an exciting crisis & thinks more of the interest than the horror. Pam says it is most “unpleasant”. She was quite upset the first evening & when I said it was like a Zeppelin raid, she said, half sobbing: “But it is much worse. Because it’s in the Empire.” & that seemed very thoughtful. She was also anxious about Matthew’s food etc but has been re-assured on that point – after the two big explosions, firing became distant & intermittent. About 7.30pm we were rang up from the Vice-Regal by Lord Basil Blackwood, to reassure us with regard to the bullets that were [spinning] about, & the extremely near explosion. Nothing had been damaged by it, but it was an ill-aimed shrapnel shell of our own which fell & burst where it was not meant to do, & the bullets were also from our own somewhat exuberant young soldiers. We had heard that Mrs Bell Irving – mother-in-law of Captain Maitland – had felt them “devilish near” – when walking outside the G.S.’s lodge & had returned … was confirmed. Later in the evening Matthew again rang us up & I inquired if we were protected in any way as there were moments when we felt rather defenceless. He said we were now well taken care of & there are more police about than one imagines, as they are not wearing uniforms. They would have been shot at in the town if they had appeared. Matthew was going to bed that night but was expecting Mr Birrell, who had started in a torpedo boat. Everything is known in England, while owing to the absence of papers & letters we we are in ignorance. Matthew said the business was now a series of “Sydney St” – incidents: houses had to be bombarded to get the Sinn Feiners to surrender. We had heard that St. Stephen’s Green, Liberty Hall, the Four Courts, the Post Office & the Bank were wrecked but again in the hands of the military. Rumours are so frequent & various that we don’t believe one quarter of what is repeated. When the old men who come to feed their ponys & cows in the Park were asked what the news was in Dublin, they said “it was as usual” – “but don’t ye be shtirring yourseves – ye be safe here” & then they said “no such thing had happened since the Park murders”. The little boys that bring milk or provisions from Park Gate St all say “shure its quiet enough” – “but there are soldiers all down the strate” – everyone seems almost to have become used to the shooting & takes it as a matter of course. – This morning Matthew rang up & said he had slept well, when he once got to bed, after he had seen Mr Birrell – who it appears, – has seen you – George – & who perhaps may ring me up to tell me about you first hand. – Matthew seemed more confident, though we all think now it will be a long business. We are to expect to heavy guns again today. Soldiers are coming & have come from England.
Friday 28th. Another day & Matthew is unable to leave his post. Yesterday was comparatively & the sound of guns & crack of rifles was less frequent. But it still continued. About 2 o’clock we saw a cloud of smoke ascend behind the trees & we knew that houses near the barracks or the Quays were on fire. The smoke cloud increased & the fire has been burning for 24 hours. The day seemed long, though the whole morning was taken up over an examination paper we set ourselves, “The Phoenix Park College”, & the children were extremely amused at their own & our great wit. Rumours about heavy casualties to officers were rife. The weather was beautiful & we spent all day in the garden. Today it is equally fine though colder, we have again heard desultory firing. Matthew has had a bad cold & has suffered from only having lady’s small handkerchiefs & a want of warm clothing on his bed. We have today been able to send him a bag & two [mgs] the Vice Regal Lodge to the Castle. He inquired about food, as they is now a military cordon around Dublin & the food question is giving cause for thought. A committee is sitting on it. I had inquiries made in the kitchen & found our supplies were running low. No meat had come since last Saturday, nor any bread & this morning the milk had not been sent. We had noticed we were being less lavishly treated. There was also a shortage of groceries & butter. I send the Chauffeur to Chapelizod on a bicycle with orders to proceed to Lucan (8 miles on) if necessary. He came back without meat, poultry, or butter, but with sufficient groceries & flour until Tuesday. In between we had managed to make some arrangements for eggs & milk from other parts outside Dublin & the baker had spared 3 loaves. We are getting flour so can make our own bread. This afternoon the gardiner has managed to get a forequarter of mutton & brought it back. We are thus well provisioned and can last with care into the middle of next week. [Chase], who is so useful was here. Matthew wanted to know about our position, but as it is now good, I will only tell him when he rings up tonight. The trouble now is – sniping from the houses & we hear that even the women help in this, & it is in this way that casualties occur.
I must continue the diary from Friday afternoon. News was not good, in the way of rumours via servants, but we have taken to ignoring these. About four the bombardment & guns began again with great violence & we were feeling horrified that it should not yet cease, while the great fires in Dublin continued to throw out volumes of heavy smoke, in fact another column appeared in another direction & we heard the Shin Feiners are at the North Circular Gate of the Park therefore nearer (though not much) to the Lodges. About six I had a long talk with Matthew. We had been able to send him clothes which were brought to him..
25, Old Court Mansions,
Kensington, W. Telephone Telegrams – 3867 Park.
..via the Vice Regal. He was grave & we discussed the food question wh. is trouble for Dublin. The military cordon prevents anything from coming in & the city cannot hold out more than 24 hours. Later that night we heard from Murray Graham that there were grave doubts as to the wisdom of the policy, as of course the suffering inhabitants would side against the military. Lord Basil Blackwood offered us his house if we were nervous & would like to be nearer to the line of sentries. (He is the Ex. Private Sec. & most kind & charming.) We refused for the moment, as we seemed to be to be considered quite safe by Matthew but said we would immediately come to him if necessary. We were quite cheered up by his friendly visit & his promise of sending an orderly twice a day to look after us & take our letters too with the Vice Regal ones for England. – Just as we were finishing dinner Kearney announced Lady Frederick Conyngham & her mother, who wished to speak to me a moment. I found the two women quite exhausted & terrified, having fled from their place, [Slayne], 12 miles out, owing to the Shin Fein rising there. They had seen one poor dead policeman & four wounded ones, & when they left there was indiscriminate firing & a battle raging within 2 miles of their house. A great friend, [Maxse] Arnott had luckily appeared with a car & fetched them & a [maid] away – only just on time. They had had a terrible day – Lady Freddy is a great friend of Their Ex’s & wanted to telephone before going to the Lodge. She gave her message about the rising near her house both to the Vice Regal & to Matthew, & it fell like a bomb upon them, as the country was supposed to be safe, & their Ex’s had even contemplated sending their children to her. But the Vice Regal was very full & of course I had.. offered to put them up, so they remained with us that night & we have all travelled to London together this night. Capt. Murray Graham who is a good friend came in to see them in the evening to get a full account of this new piece of bad news. He was very depressed himself & told us of the fall of [Kul], & of many horrible casualties in Dublin. But he said that he could easily get Lady F & her mother over to England next day, starting about five & making a detour of 30 miles to get to Kingstown. The terrific bombardment, rifle fire & conflagrations endured all night with excessive violence & I could not sleep owing to thoughts & anxieties about Dublin & the country & the noise too was great. It struck me however that as these our guests were able to get away to England it should be possible for us to do so too, & when Matthew rang up on Saturday morning I made the suggestion which was eventually acted upon. He had of course thought about it himself, but had considered the risk rather great. We had constant visitors too Lady Freddy that morning & many arrangements to make with Captain Murray Graham about departure, passes, cars, etc & we had to abandon our two big trunks to do what we could with a tiny ones & a hat box. Just before we started at four o’clock Matthew telephoned the news that the Rebels in in Dublin had surrendered. Several of the ring-leaders had been shot or taken & there had been a general surrender. They say the [armourer] with mobile guns had hastened this. We had to say goodbye very sadly over the telephone, [I wept] not having seen him since Monday, the morning of the Rising. Even our motor drive was not without excitement – our car punctured twice badly, & we had no stepway – & had eventually to crawl on our … At every cross-road & village we were stopped by sentries or police & had to show our passes. The detour was immense. The other party with Captain Murray Graham with them dashed on in front so as to come back & fetch us. However when nearing the end of our journey a R.. man in an open touring car offered to take us to the boat & we gratefully accepted & were thankful then for the absence of luggage. There were very few cars to be seen at all & in the villages every one was out in the street & looked about them suspiciously. At Kingstown pier there were more [mules] than I have ever seen in my life, soldiers, gun carriages, officers. Murray Graham was looking for us & passed us past on challenging officer every 2 or 3 yards as part of his Vice-Regal party.
The journey home was then uneventful; we were regally well treated. You George met us at Euston, undisguised relief.