Hemp And The 1916 Rising

By Brian Houlihan

Dublin Hemp Museum

Ireland is currently celebrating the centenary of the 1916 Rising, which was an insurrection that occurred between April 24th and 29th in 1916. Irish republicans staged the armed rebellion in order to end British rule in Ireland. Because it occurred during Easter Week the rebellion is often referred to as the Easter Rising.

Events across the country during the centenary lead to a rediscovering of historical characters and stories. It seems everywhere you turn there is a 1916 reference. So with that in mind its only fitting to bring you some hemp stories related to the 1916 Rising.

During my ongoing research into hemp in Ireland I came across references to hemp and the rising. The events are not central to the rising but are still an interesting find for us hemp enthusiasts. One story relates to the fighting, the other to the looting that occurred.

Nenagh News — May 6th 1916

An article printed in the Nenagh News a week after the rising recounts some of the scenes. During one description of the street fighting there is a reference to hemp bales being used as cover from bullets.

The article states that “Various boxes, barrels, and bales of hemp and cotton were used, as well as sandbags, along contested sections of the city”

Reference to hemp bales

The hemp bales were likely taken from some of the merchants on the streets where the fighting occurred. At the the time many retailers in Dublin sold hemp in a variety of forms, and for an array of purposes.

Sackville street, which the article states as where most of the fighting took place, is known to us as O’Connell Street. It was given its more familar name in 1924.

This isn’t the first time hemp bales were used for protection during a conflict. In fact one famous battle which occurred 55 years previously takes its name from the use of hemp bales.

Book about ‘The Battle of the Hemp Bales’

In September 1861, during the American Civil War, an encounter known as ‘The First Battle of Lexington’ occurred. It is also known as the ‘Battle of the Hemp Bales’.

The name comes from the tactics used by Confederate forces during the fighting. The Confederates used hemp bales to encircle the Union position at Lexington.

After being soaked in water the hemp bales were used as a moving fortification. The bales were heavy and difficult to move but provided great cover. The hemp bales protected Confederate troops from cannon and small arms fire, and they were also fireproof.

Eventually the Confederate force of 12,500 overwhelmed the smaller Union force of 3,500 and the Union troops surrendered. An Irish regiment lead by James A. Mulligan was among the Union forces defeated by Confederates during ‘The Battle of the Hemp Bales’.

1861 drawing of an Irish regiment (Union Army) involved in the ‘Battle of the Hemp Bales’

What took place in Ireland during the 1916 Rising featuring hemp bales was much smaller in scale. The street battles, or the rising itself, are not associated with hemp. Only a few people know that hemp bales featured during the 1916 Rising, and now you are one of them.

The other story I uncovered relates to an insurance claim for hemp seed looted during the rebellion. The claim was submitted by Robert Henry Crawford (who traded as William Crawford & Son) following the 1916 Rising. The claim, which was partially awarded, was for 1.5 cwt (75kg) of hemp seed which was looted from a store on Sir John Rogerson’s Quay on April 26th 1916.

Brian Houlihan is the curator of the Dublin Hemp Museum and regularly writes about hemp. Follow him on Twitter at @dubhempmuseum and @houlihanbrian. You can also find us on Facebook.

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