After six days that reduced much of central Dublin to ruin, British forces numbering close to 20,000 troops (many of them Irish) finally force a rebel force of 1,500 men and women to surrender.
At 12.45pm, Elizabeth O’Farrell (one of the last three women left in the GPO before it was evacuated), left 15 Moore St and walked towards British troops with a white flag. The British insisted on unconditional surrender. At 3.30 Pádraig Pearse surrendered his troops. Over the following hours, the garrisons at Boland’s Mills, Jacobs Factory and other locations laid down their arms.
The men began to gather in the street. Filing up and forming ranks, with sloped arms, the first group marched off under Captain O’Reilly picking up stragglers on the way. Next, Willie Pearse headed the main body waving his white flag. Close behind him walked Tom Clarke and towards the rear walked Seán Mac Diarmada and Joseph Plunkett, supported by his brave comrades Julia Grenan and Winifred Carney.
Leaving 16 Moore Street, the temporary headquarters of the Provisional Government, those weary warriors marched to a prison cell or grave. They were the spark which lit the fuse that would continue to burn until Ireland was united and free.
O’Farrell later recalled “I waved a small white flag which I carried and the military ceased firing and called me up to the barrier. I saw, at the corner of Sackville Lane, The O’Rahilly’s hat and a revolver lying on the ground. (The fatally wounded Michael ‘The O’Rahilly’, managed to write a note to his wife: ‘Written after I was shot. Darling Nancy I was shot leading a rush up Moore Street and took refuge in a doorway. While I was there I heard the men pointing out where I was and made a bolt for the laneway I am in now. I got more [than] one bullet I think. Tons and tons of love dearie to you and the boys and to Nell and Anna. It was a good fight anyhow. Please deliver this to Nannie O’ Rahilly, 40 Herbert Park, Dublin. Goodbye Darling.’
O’Farrell spoke to a senior British officer: “The commandant of the Irish Republican Army wishes to treat with the commandant of the British forces in Ireland.”
“The Irish Republican Army? – the Sinn Féiners, you mean,” he replied.
“No, the Irish Republican Army they call themselves and I think that is a very good name too.”
The Rising had not been popular among Dubliners who believed it to have little chance of success (as did the Rebel leaders), the destruction it brought to Dublin and the deaths of many of their neighbours, shot by both sides. As rebel prisoners were being marched off, they were subject to abuse and jeering by many Dubliners; emotions that would change dramatically within a few weeks.
The prisoners were rounded up into one encampment and not exactly treated kindly. Proclamation signatory Tom Clarke was stripped naked and “all sorts of disparaging remarks made about him.”
British soldiers shot dead unarmed prisoners after they had surrendered, along with innocent bystanders, during the 1916 Easter Rising, the spark that was to lead to Ireland’s war of independence.
Image | Pádraig Pearse (Elizabeth O’Farrell at his side) surrenders to British Troops | Credit: Declan Kerr – Irish Art