1916: The Four Survivors of Clanwilliam House

The ruined shell of the now demolished Clanwilliam House, after Easter week 1916.

The Battle of Mount Street bridge is renowned as being one of the most brutal and bloody battles which took place during the whole of the 1916 Rising. The Volunteers positioned around the area inflicted huge casualties on the British forces with official army figures showing 220 men killed or wounded during the engagement. The most important of the positions held by the Volunteers was that of the now demolished Clanwilliam House which stood on the corner of Mount Street and Clanwilliam Place.

It was from this strong strategic position that just seven men of C Company, 3rd Battalion of the Irish Volunteers barricaded themselves inside the house and waited for the large numbers of British reinforcements that would eventually come marching down Northumberland Road towards the city centre. On Wednesday afternoon the men of the Notts and Derbyshire Regiment came within range of the small group of Volunteers in the area and were forced into a fierce battle that none of them were prepared for.  There was little or no cover for the British soldiers as they tried to cross over Mount Street Bridge and wave after wave fell in their attempts. Although this position could easily have been by-passed and surrounded, General Lowe insisted that his men continued to advance on the whistle as they had been trained to do. However, this was not trench warfare but an urban battle against well entrenched rebels and due to Lowe's scant regard for the lives of his soldiers, many more men died or were injured than was necessary.

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The four survivors of Clanwilliam House.

L-R; Jim Walsh & James Doyle (standing), Willie Ronan & Tom Walsh (seated).

For most of the day the seven men in Clanwilliam House, under the command of section leader George Reynolds, managed to hold off over 2,000 British soldiers from advancing over the bridge. At times the fighting was so intense that the Volunteers had to cool their rifles in buckets of water due to the constant firing. The only cessation would occur when the nearby doctors and nurses, in official white coats, would enter the battlefield to attend to the wounded. To their credit, on such occasions, both sides would cease their firing. During the battle three of the Irish Volunteers would eventually be killed (Patrick Doyle, Dick Murphy & George Reynolds) and for the four remaining men in Clanwilliam House things were beginning to look desperate.

The monument on Mount Street Bridge commemorating those who fought for Ireland's freedom during the battle.

The monument on Mount Street Bridge commemorating those who fought for Ireland's freedom during the battle.

Much of the house was now in flames and the staircases were beginning to collapse. The four Volunteers left in the house, James Doyle, Willie Ronan and brothers James & Thomas Walsh, decided it was time to try and escape the burning building. They began looking for a line of retreat but were hampered by the fact that all the windows and doors had been barricaded before the fight began. Luckily, they found a small window, about one foot squared, above a barricaded door in the basement and managed to wriggle out of it into the back garden. The four men each found a change of clothing to replace their uniforms and dispersed making their escape. For the four survivors of Clanwilliam House it would be December 1916 before they would eventually be able to return to their homes and families.

- Written by Colin Farrell