During the final days of the 1916 Easter Rising, in one of the worst atrocities committed by British forces in Ireland in the twentieth century, 16 civilian men and boys were brutally murdered by British soldiers in the working class district of North King Street.
The small warren of streets around North King Street and Church Street witnessed some of the fiercest fighting of the 1916 Easter Rising in Dublin. Irish Volunteers under the command of Edward Daly barricaded streets and commandeered houses, shops, and public houses creating fortress like conditions for the advancing British army.
Despite pouring troops from the South Staffordshire Regiment into the area in the latter days of Easter week, the British army suffered substantial casualties and made little advance. Forty British soldiers were killed and dozens were injured in almost hand to hand fighting with the Irish Volunteers.
On Friday night and into the early hours of Saturday morning 28 and 29 April 1916, following orders delivered by British army General Lowe, commander of British forces in Dublin, to clear the area, British soldiers exacted brutal revenge for their losses on the civilian population in North King Street.
Breaking into houses along the street British soldiers went on a murderous rampage. Over the course of the Friday night and early Saturday morning of Easter week they shot or bayoneted 16 civilian men to death, buried bodies in gardens and basements, and stole personal possessions from the corpses of their victims.
Locals described how soldiers knocked down their doors and ransacked their homes demanding to know if there were any men in the house. They were “like wild animals, or things possessed” according to one resident, Ellen Walsh, whose husband John and another man Michael Hughes were taken from her home and shot dead.
At 27 North King Street four men who worked in the local dairy were brutally murdered and their bodies buried in the back garden of the house. Locals later dug up the bodies and discovered that personal possessions such as watches, chains and the small amount of cash they had in their pockets before being killed had been stolen by British soldiers.
Meanwhile at 170 North King Street, the bodies of three victims were found to have bayonet wounds. They included father and son, Thomas and Christopher Hickey. The Hickey family ran a butcher’s shop on the street and Christopher, who was just 16 years of age was the youngest victim of the massacre.
The men were taken from the shop at 168 North King Street, at the corner of Beresford Street, led through the tenement house next door and into a disused house at 170. Christopher Hickey was put up against a wall in a back room of the house while a British soldier stood at the door and shot him dead. His mother Teresa provided a harrowing testimony of discovering the bodies of her husband and only child:
‘’When I rushed into the room, there I saw my poor angel, my darling. He was lying on the ground, his face darkened, and his two hands raised above his head as if in silent supplication. I kissed him and put his little cap under his head and settled his hands for death. Then I turned and in another place close by I saw poor Tom lying on the ground. ‘O Jesus’ I cried, not my husband too and not far off lay the corpse of poor Connolly’’.
Sadly, just four years after the brutal murder of both her husband and only child, Teresa Hickey died in November 1920. Nine of the murders were committed in a block on North King Street between Ann Street and Beresford Street – ten houses in a row together that covered just a few yards. Number 27 North King Street, where four men were murdered, lay directly opposite this block. Two others were shot dead on streets adjoining North King Street, John Beirnes on Coleraine Street and 16 year old William O’Neill on Constitution Hill.
In another horrifying incident, the bodies of two men Patrick Bealen, a pub foreman and James Healy, who worked at Jameson Distillery, were discovered on 10th May, two weeks after the massacre, when a ‘heavy smell’ coming from the cellar of the bar where Patrick Bealen worked was investigated. It was the discovery of these bodies that prompted a British military inquiry.
However, not surprisingly, the inquiry was a whitewash. The soldiers of the South Staffordshire regiment were described as ‘a quiet and very respectable set of men’ and no individual soldier or officer was held responsible for any of the murders. British Officer Commanding in Ireland, General Maxwell, declared 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….Under the circumstance the troops as a whole behaved with the greatest restraint’.
By the end of their rampage through North King Street British forces of occupation had murdered 16 civilian men and boys. Despite the horrifying nature of the incident, it is not widely remembered and remains one of the forgotten stories of the 1916 Easter Rising. Shamefully the Irish government saw fit to include the names of members of the South Staffordshire regiment on the ‘Wall of Remembrance’ in Glasnevin Cemetery alongise the names of those they so brutally murdered.
On 30 April next to mark the 100th anniversary of the North King Street massacre the Stoneybatter and Smithfield People’s History Project, will unveil a plaque to remember these 16 local victims of British Imperialism. Plaque will be located at the junction of North King Street and Church Street.
Thomas Hickey (38), 170 North King Street
Christopher Hickey (16), 170 North King Street
Peter Connolly (39) 170 North King Street
Patrick Bealen (30), 177 North King Street
James Healy (44), 177 North King Street
Michael Nunan (34), 174 North King Street
George Ennis (51), 174 North King Street
Edward Dunne (39), 91 North King Street
Walsh, John (34), 172 North King Street
Michael Hughes (50), 172 North King Street
Peter J Lawless (21), 27 North King Street
James McCarthy (36), 27 North King Street
James Finnegan (40), 27 North King Street
Patrick Hoey (25), 27 North King Street
John Biernes (50) shot dead by Crown forces on nearby Coleraine Street
William O’Neill (16) shot dead by Crown forces on nearby Constitution Hill