The forgotten massacre of North King Street in 1916

The forgotten massacre of North King Street in 1916

The forgotten massacre of North King Street in 1916

This Saturday 23rd May at 4.00pm in the Elbow Room, North Brunswick Street, we are screening the 1916 film ‘A Terrible Beauty’. Part of the film focuses on the massacre of civilians in the North King Street area, close to Smithfield. During fierce fighting around the Church Street/North King Street and North Brunswick Street areas towards the end of Easter Week 1916, the British Army suffered some heavy casualties in close combat fighting with a small, but determined, number of Irish Volunteers.

On Friday and Saturday morning British troops, from the South Staffordshire Regiment, broke into houses along North King Street and exacted revenge on the local civilian population. By the following day fifteen civilians lay dead, the youngest aged just 16 years, in one the worst massacres carried out by the British Army in Ireland in the twentieth century.

There was no public inquiry into the massacre; the British Army conducted its own internal military inquiry and no action was taken. In fact, the General Officer Commanding of the British Army in Ireland, General Maxwell justified his troops’ actions, stating that such incidents, “are absolutely unavoidable in such a business as this” and “responsibility for their deaths rests with those resisting His Majesty’s troops in the execution of their duty.”

Mrs Lawless, a dairy-keeper visiting at 27 North King Street, whose son Peter was one of the victims, provided an eye-witness account to the massacre, which we carry here:

“On Monday 24th April about 8pm an M McCartney with her newly born baby and accompanied by her husband arrived at our house. They had been frightened at the firing between the Castle and the Express Office which is quite close to their house, 14 Lower Exchange Street”.

“We made them at home. In addition to Mrs McCartney, her maid, baby and husband, I had staying in the house my son aged 21, my daughter, and two lodgers (a shopman named Finnegan and a bread van man named Patrick Hoey). They remained with us during the week of the firing and we all stayed in the house. On Saturday 29th April at eight o’clock in the morning about six soldiers with a sergeant knocked at the door and without waiting to have it opened broke the door in. They made us hold up our hands and made us go before them to the top back room. There we were all searched.”

“When the soldiers broke in one of [the] men said “friends” & they said “no foes!” In the top room Mr McCartney said that Captain Irwin knew him and knew that he had nothing to do with Sinn Féin. One woman was put out of the house and taken to No. 1 Linenhall Street and we were told then the men were made prisoners and would be brought to the guardroom.”

“It was only at seven o’clock in the evening that we were let out at 1 Linenhall Street and we had nothing to eat or drink all day. At seven o’clock when we were sent out of the cottage we went to my house but the sergeant came out of a public house, and said we could not go in. We went back to the officer at 1 Linenhall Street and he came out and tried to convince the sergeant that we should be allowed in. The sergeant said: “I have made out my billet for that house”. I said we would not mind the soldiers that we were starving and wanted to prepare some food.”

“The sergeant then said “There are four men dead in that house”. I asked who were they – were they soldiers. He answered “No; civilians”. I then said that I should see who they were and went past him into the house. When I got to the top back room I found there the dead bodies of my son, Mr McCartney and Finnegan and Hoey.”

“I came down crying and we all went to the priest’s house where we got tea. We had to stay there all night as no one was allowed out. Next morning at my request one of the priests went to pray over the bodies but he was not allowed into No. 27. A message came later that one of us would be allowed in to arrange about the bodies but when I got to the house there were neither soldiers nor bodies there. Mrs McCartney then sent for her husband’s brother and Mr McCormack who was next door told us that the soldiers were digging in the back yard during the night. We found the four bodies burned in the back garden. Mrs McCartney’s brother-in-law got here to disinter them and they were buried in Glasnevin on the following Tuesday, the 2nd May.”

“The four murdered men had watches and the soldiers took them away, and also money in addition to the watch that my son Peter had. My son Peter was born in America on the 27th November 1894 at 54 Genock Street, New York. We returned from America in 1899.”

The following is the list of those killed:

Thomas Hickey (38), 170 North King Street

2 Christopher Hickey (16), 170 North King Street (Father and son)

3 Peter Connolly (39) 170 North King Street

4 Patrick Bealen (30), 177 North King Street

5 James Healy (44), 177 North King Street

6 Michael Nunan (34), 174 North King Street

7 George Ennis (51), 174 North King Street

8 Edward Dunne (39), 91 North King Street

9 Walsh, John (34), 172 North King Street

10 Michael Hughes (50), 172 North King Street

11 Peter J Lawless (21), 27 North King Street

12 James McCarthy (36), 27 North King Street

13 James Finnegan (40), 27 North King St

14 Patrick Hoey (25), 27 North King Street

15 Jon Biernes (50) was shot dead by Crown forces on nearby Coleraine Street