The North King Street Massacre — A Forgotten Story of the 1916 Easter Rising

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, sixteen civilian men and boys were brutally murdered by British soldiers in a working class district on the north side of Dublin. It remains one of the forgotten stories of that momentous week in the city. This article describes the events of 28th and 29th April 1916 when British soldiers went on a murderous rampage through North King Street.

Poster commemorating the 100th anniversary of the North King Street Massacre. Designed by Nekane Orkaizagirre and published by the Stoneybatter and Smithfield People’s History Project.

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. On Easter Monday members of the First Battalion of the Irish Volunteers under the command of Edward Daly and attached to the Four Courts garrison 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 in almost hand to hand fighting with the Irish Volunteers.

Church Street junction in 1916

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 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 those two days they shot or bayoneted sixteen civilian men and boys to death, secretly buried bodies in yards and basements, and stole personal possessions from 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.

British army Lancers at the Four Courts

At 27 North King Street four men who worked in the local dairy, Louth Dairy, located at this premises were brutally murdered and their bodies buried in the back yard 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. Ellen Walsh, the wife of John Walsh who was killed alongside Michael Hughes at the Hughes home at 172 North King Street, where a number of families had sought refuge during the Rising, testified that two watches, and a gold bracelet were taken from Mr Hughes by British soldiers . His wife Sally, who was left a widow with a new born child, had seven gold rings stolen from a drawer in the house.

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 Hickeys along with their neighbour Peter Connolly, a 39 year old father of eight children, were taken from the shop at 168 North King Street, located 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’’.
Memorial card for father and son Thomas and Christopher Hickey

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 Saturday morning on streets adjoining North King Street; John Beirnes, aged 50 who worked as a drayman at Monks Bakery and was a father of five children was shot dead on Coleraine Street and 16 year old William O’Neill was killed on Constitution Hill.

A map of North King Street detailing where the murders took place. It was included in a pamphlet published by Sinn Féin in 1916

In another horrifying incident, the bodies of two men, Patrick Bealen, a pub foreman and originally from Castlecomer in Co Kilkenny and James Healy who worked at the nearby Jameson Distillery, were discovered on 10th May two weeks after the massacre. A ‘heavy smell’ coming from the cellar of the bar where Patrick Bealen worked at 177 North King Street, on the corner of Ann Street, was investigated and the grim discovery made. The men had been buried under the cellar floor. At the inquest into the death of the two men, it was stated in the case of James Healy there were bullet wounds in his body and that his skull was smashed in ‘with some heavy instrument’, the doctor stating that these latter injuries were inflicted while he was still alive. Patrick Bealen had been shot six times.

It was the discovery of the bodies of these two men that prompted a British military inquiry, which opened in late May.

Newspaper report on the inquest into the murders of Patrick Bealen and James Healy whose bodies were discovered on 10 May in the cellar of a public house two weeks after the massacre
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’.
General John Maxwell, Officer Commanding of British forces in Ireland

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’ unveiled last week in Glasnevin Cemetery alongside the names of those brutally murdered by that regiment.

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.

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

John Walsh (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 Beirnes (50) shot dead by Crown forces on nearby Coleraine Street

William O’Neill (16) shot dead by Crown forces on nearby Constitution Hill

For further information on the plaque unveiling on 30 April next check the Facebook page of the Stoneybatter and Smithfield People’s History Project of which I am a member.

References:

Dorney, John, ‘The North King Street Massacre, Dublin 1916’ from The Irish Story.

Sinn Féin Publication, ‘A Fragment of 1916 History’. Published in 1916.