In Swords County Dublin at about 7am on the Wednesday about fifty Rebels assembled near the village, all were fully armed and in military formation. The Rebels surrounded the post office and police barracks, both building were seized at about 8.30am. The police barracks was occupied by Sergeant O’Reilly and two constables. Two Rebel leaders, Dr Hayes and Mr Ashe, a school teacher from Corduff, approached the barracks in a motorcar, they produced a revolver and pointing it at the Sergeant who was standing at the barrack door said “we want no trouble but the arms and ammunition you have in the barracks.” A number of Rebels approached the barracks and being hopelessly outnumbered the police surrendered. The Rebels entered the barracks and removed all the arms and ammunition they could lay their hands on, the Rebels also smashed the metal shutters on the windows in the front of the barracks.
While the police barracks were being seized another group of Rebels charged the post office. Thinking the inside door leading to the post office portion of the building was locked the Rebels rushed it with considerable force, the door only being ajar the Rebels tumbled over each other, the postmaster Mr M Keane stated that it was a miracle none of the loaded rifles went off. The Rebels smashed the telegraph instrument and threw it into the road. No money or other valuables were taken. One Rebel went outside and climbed the telegraph pole with the agility of an experienced telegraph wire operator. Within ten minutes he had succeeded in cutting all the wires, completely cutting off communication with the outside world. While the Rebel operations were in progress a delivery of bread for the local shops arrived in a Kennedy’s van, this was quickly seized and the contents loaded onto a farm cart.
The Rebels then left the village and proceeded in the direction of Donabate bringing with them the bread delivery van and the cart load of bread. As the Rebels travelled towards Donabate their number grew considerably, all the rebels were mounted on bicycles. When the Rebels reached the railway station they blew up the bridge at Rodgerstown damaging the railway line, they also attacked the signal box damaging leavers and instruments. On leaving the railway station the Rebel force divided, the first group marched along the railway line to attack the police barracks from the rear. The other section of Rebels marched along the main road to attack the front of the barracks.
Sergeant Mulligan and two constables waited for the attack. The Rebels advancing along the main road fired on the barracks, the police returned fire. Constable Thorpe was injured by a bullet wound in the hand and was out of action. One on the Rebels rushed the front door hacking it with a pickaxe and then proceeded to lay a charge of gelignite. Seeing how hopeless the situation was the police surrendered and the Rebels seized all arms and ammunition in the barracks. The Rebels then regrouped and the post office was then taken, the telegraph instruments were smashed and the wires cut, it was also reported that a sum of money was taken. After the Rebels had departed Swords the Sergeant and two constables who were not taken prisoner cycled to Malahide and warned the police of the Rebel activities. The Malahide police, fearing an attack, secured the railway bridge and entrenched themselves nearby and awaited the Rebels to attack. After their victory at Donabate the Rebels marched in the direction of Garristown. The Rebels later joined up with a force of Rebels Ashbourne in County Meath.
By the end of the week a large force of Rebels had encamped between Fieldstown and Kilsallaghan. On the Sunday morning Head constable Hunter and Sergeant O’Reilly of Swords went to the encampment with a copy of the surrender issued by Pearse advising the Rebels to surrender unconditionally. The two policemen were detained by the Rebel guard as they approached the encampment, when the police showed the guard the surrender document they refused to believe it was genuine. After some time the Rebels agreed to send one of their number with the head constable to the military barracks in Dublin where they were told Pearse was being held, Sergeant O’Reilly was held hostage for the safe return of the Rebel. When the Rebels learned the surrender was genuine they agreed to surrender, the only condition being that they would not be marched through Swords where many of them lived.
At about 6pm a large force of Lancers and Hussars arrived from Dublin and took about 100 prisoners from the encampment. They were taken to Dublin by lorry under heavy escort. A large quantity of rifles, 80 or 90 revolvers and 30,000 rounds of ammunition were seized along with a large number of bicycles, bandoliers, haversacks, blankets and field equipment. The next morning a general search was made by the military of all the houses in Swords, a quantity of gelignite was found. Three tailors named Tom Duff, Peter Kelly and Christopher Moran were arrested and taken to Dublin. Over the next few days several Rebels in Santry, Donabate and Swords surrendered to the police.
The following article appeared in An Cosantoir, the Irish Army’s Magazine, during the Emergency Period (1939 – 1946). The article was published to show Volunteers with the Local Defence Forces the type of tactics used by The Volunteers during the 1916 Rising.
This stirring episode of the 1916 Rising may not be as familiar to readers as the fighting in the city, with its more spectacular destruction of buildings. The fight at Ashbourne may also be found useful as illustrating the value in minor operations of such vital factors as morale, discipline, tactical training, leadership, surprise and protection.
THE FINGAL VOLUNTEERS
It is interesting to remember that the Fingal Volunteers in 1916 were in fact the prototype of the present day cyclist squadrons, and although the significance of their existences as a cavalry unit was not understood or recognised even by themselves, they did in fact, to a great extent, adopt correct cavalry tactics in the series of raids and reconnaissance movements carried out throughout North County Dublin from Easter Monday till the Friday of that week, when the first really serious engagement took place at Ashbourne, County Meath, just over the county border.
Previous to Ashbourne, the Column, about 45 strong, all mounted on bicycles, had been engaged during the week in a series of lighting raids upon Royal Irish Constabulary (R.I.C.) Barracks and communications in the area, with the threefold purpose of collecting arms, hampering enemy movements, and drawing some enemy attention away from the hard pressed Volunteers fighting in the city. Originally we had 20 more men, but this number had, on orders from James Connolly, been sent in to the city from our camp in Finglas. These twenty gave a good account of themselves in the fighting in O’Connell Street, and at the Mendicity Institute, where one of their number was killed.
It may be well, before proceeding to the description of the actual fight, to give some kind of picture of the organisation and equipment of the Volunteer unit, so that the reader may more readily grasp the significance of later details.
The Volunteers of North County Dublin or Fingal, as the territory is know, constituted, up to 1916, the 5th Battalion of the Dublin Brigade, but like most Volunteer units of the time was never near Battalion strength. In fact, if memory serves me right, I think the area at that period was, at best, able to muster a strength of about only one Infantry Company. Due, however, among other causes, to the confusion of the cancelled orders on Easter Sunday, little more than half the number answered the mobilization call.
The following summary of the equipment of the Fingal Volunteers on Easter Monday is taken from some old notes of mine.
- Modern Service Rifles including long and short Lee-Enfield and 9m/m Mauser – 12 to 15.
- Old type Mauser (Howth Rifle) – 10 to 12.
- Martini Enfield Single Shot Carbine – 12 to 15.
- Single barrel 12 bore Shot-guns – 20 to 30.
- Revolvers and pistols, various types and calibres (.455 .38 .32 .25) – 12 to 14.
AMMUNITION: Total available to all units:
- .303 and 9mm – About 100 rounds per weapon.
- Old Mouser about 60 rounds per weapon.
- Shot-gun loaded with buck-shot, about 300 rounds per weapon.
- Pistol ammunition, various – about 30 rounds per weapon.
UNIFORM AND EQUPMENT
About 15 to 20, including most of the officers had uniforms. The remainder wore their equipment, bandolier, haversack and belt over their civilian clothes.
Most of the men who reported on Easter Monday did so on bicycles.
One horse and a farm draw belonging to my father was the only heavy transport until the commandeering on Wednesday of a Ford motor bread-van. In addition to this there was a Morris Oxford two-seated belonging to Doctor Hayes, and a motor cycle belonging to Thomas Ashe.
EXPLOSIVES Sixty pounds gelignite which was used to destroy the G.N.R. (Great Northern Railway) line on Easter Monday. There remained two home-made canister grenades. On arrival in camp of five or six stragglers from city units and the detachment on Tuesday from our camp at Finglas of 20 men to the city, the urgent need for reorganisation of our forces arose. We had received orders from James Connolly at the G.P.O. that our activities were to take the form of diverting enemy attention and troops, if possible, from the city, and a rapid survey of the situation resulted in throwing overboard the old British Infantry organisation, upon which we had trained, and the adoption of a scheme made to fit the numbers available and the tactical requirements of our mission.
The arrangement adopted, which incidentally was quite sound from a cavalry viewpoint, was to divide the entire force into four more or less equal sections of ten to twelve men, each section under the command of an officer, the remaining four senior officers constituting the headquarters and command staff.
The operation procedure adopted was that each day one section was detailed for foraging duty with the job of protecting the camp day and night, and also locating and procuring food supplies for the column. The remaining three sections, proceeding on a daily raid or other mission, moved always with the sections so spaced and detailed that the leading section constituted the advance guard; the rearmost section the rearguard, while the commander with his staff moved normally with the main body, in between. The sections changed over duties daily.
ASHE AND MULCAHY
The commander and staff of the column were largely, if not entirely, responsible for the success of the unit. Thomas Ashe, the commander, was a fine physical specimen of manhood, courageous, and high-principled; something of a poet, painter and dreamer. In military matters he was, perhaps, somewhat unpractical. Early in the week, however, we had been joined by a few stragglers from a city Battalion, amongst whom was Dick Mulcahy. Mulcahy was known already to the other members of the staff, and it was soon apparent that he was the mind necessary to plan and direct operations. Cool, clear-headed and practical, and with a personality and tact that enabled him to take virtual control of the situation, without in any way undermining Ashe’s prestige as commander. My Father, Frank Lawless, was quartermaster, and because of his wide local knowledge of the country and the people was of great help in planning operations and movements as well as in the essential matter of supplies. Dr. Dick Hayes, the other member of the staff, in addition to his medical duties was a valuable voice in the staff councils, and was also available for intelligence duties.
The following is a list of Volunteers who were involved in the fighting as Ashbourne County Meath. It was alleged that the Rebels had a plan to kidnap Sir Edward Carson from the home of Mr R McNeill at Cushendall County Antrim. The plan could not be put into action as Mr Carson did not visit Mr McNeill for Easter as had been planned because the Easter recess of Parliament was too short.