Archive of the Month
Reporting the Rising: A Church of Ireland Perspective Through the Lens of a Special Edition of the Church of Ireland Gazette
Archive of the Month – April/May 2016
This year the Church of Ireland Gazette is marking its 160th anniversary, having been published continuously since March 1856. Initially named the Irish Ecclesiastical Gazette (up to 1900) it was published for the first three years of its existence on a monthly basis as ‘monthly repertory of miscellaneous church news’. However, from October 1859 it began to appear weekly, and has appeared virtually every week since then, publication falling on a Friday.
One exception to the weekly pattern occurred 100 years ago this month in 1916 for the edition scheduled for Friday 28 April. Although ‘all editorial arrangements were made for publication in Easter Week’, an editorial note explained how ‘… we were compelled … to suspend publication for that week’, the paper being ‘unavoidably postponed pending the restoration of the electrical current’ supplying its printed machinery.
Indeed, the paper’s premises located (until the 1960s) at number 61 Middle Abbey Street) actually had a remarkable escape from the fire which devastated the Sackville Street area, and was in fact the last building on that side of the street to be saved – the fire ‘stopping immediately short of this office’. A week later a special combined edition covering the ‘28 April and 05 May 1916’ appeared.
Almost half of the 20–page content of this special edition was devoted to several aspects of the Rebellion and its consequences: for the Church of Ireland community; for the city of Dublin and indeed for national politics. The detail was made possible by the fact that the newspaper’s editor and wartime correspondent, Ware Bradley Wells (1892–1958), remained holed up in Middle Abbey Street for the duration of events was ‘probably at closer quarters with much of the fighting in the capital than any other civilian in Dublin’, giving him ‘access to special sources of information’ which enabled him ‘to supply a lengthy and exhaustive analysis of the circumstances of the insurrection’. The fact that Wells chose to remain underlines his awareness of the significance of the situation as events unfolded and his journalistic prowess.
Elsewhere Wells described himself as ‘imparted of Nationalist sympathies’, and was noted for a pluralist and fair outlook (see a previous online exhibition here: www.ireland.anglican.org/news/6375/the–papers–of–the–right). As well as serving as the Gazette editor from c. 1907, Wells (or W.B.W. as he appears in print) was also assistant editor and leader writer for The Irish Times. Later, when his role at the Gazette ended, c. 1918, he went on to become editor of the Irish Statesman (a weekly journal promoting the views of the Irish Dominion League) before leaving Ireland in 1921 to join the staff of the New York Herald Tribune, where he served during the 1920s and early 30s.
Wells authored one of the first histories of the 1916 Rebellion (with N. Marlowe): A History of the Irish Rebellion of 1916 (published in Dublin in 1916 and later New York in 1917). Much of the graphic detail was based on his first–hand experiences of Easter Week from inside the Gazette premises on Middle Abbey Street. Before the book was published his detailed and descriptive reports were available only in the columns and editorials he produced for the Church of Ireland Gazette and The Irish Times. As a result of the detail in the former, it was printed for a wider audience and became an important contemporary source.
Whilst the editorial this special edition took a predictable condemnatory position in the immediate aftermath of the Rising, summing up events as: ‘the most tragic week in the modern history of Ireland’, it was also tempered by reality and that Ireland had been utterly changed by the events of Easter Week. Writing on the day that ‘ought to have seen the opening of the General Synod’ postponed for the first time since its inception in 1870 on account of the martial law and the fact that ‘Sackville Street’ and its environs were a ‘heap of ruins’, it bemoaned: ‘The pity of the citizens murdered, the young English soldiers shot down on Irish soil, the callow lads led into treason: the shame of this stab in the back of our brave soldiers in Flanders and Salonika; and the horror of Dublin, fired by the hands of her own sons, and of Irish blood shed by Irish hands’.
Due to postage restrictions in a column sub–titled ‘The “Gazette” and the Rebellion’, it was noted that ‘no Letters to the Editor or Diocesan News have reached us’, but it did chose to reproduce a letter written by the Archbishop of Dublin, the Most Revd John Henry Bernard, dated 03 May and published by The Irish Times in which he appealed for martial law to continue: ‘Many armed rebels are at large in Dublin still, and can only be averted by the adoption of the sternest measures … no one who lives in Ireland believes that the present Irish Government has the courage to punish anybody’.
Yet elsewhere the paper went on to try to make sense of what had occurred, firmly blaming government inaction for allowing it to happen in the first place. A lead article showed no sympathy whatever for the Chief Secretary Mr Birrell: regarding it as ‘an abuse of chivalry to extend’ to him ‘any instinct of pity and generosity’.
It also made reference to the paper’s editorial of the previous week (published 20 April) when it specifically criticised the government’s shameful budget’ for Ireland which had made security more difficult. The paper even predicted an impending disaster unless the authorities would ‘take strong measure with Sinn Feiners’.
Writing two weeks later, however, the paper was more curious than condemnatory about those who had led the Rising. It noted that at least the volunteers ‘made no wanton interference with civilians…There is little enough to be said in favour of any of the rebels but let us at least do the bulk of them the justice of admitting that they endeavoured to respect … those accepted conventions which are designed to lift warfare, even civil warfare, above the level of stark savagery’.
The special edition of the Gazette includes two human stories which vividly illustrate how individual members of the Church experienced events on Easter Monday. The Bishop of Tuam, the Rt Revd Dr Benjamin Plunkett, was held up in St Stephen’s Green ‘by a couple of Sinn Feiners’ and his car seized. On explaining who he was, the bishop was treated civilly but the car was nevertheless wheeled into the barricade near the Shelbourne Hotel. Plunkett then gave his calling card to the man who held him up, pleading for it to be taken to a ‘superior officer’. Within an hour, having waited in the hotel, his request was granted ‘provided he placed another car in the barricade’ and he continued his journey.
The Curate of St Peter’s, and chaplain to the forces, the Revd HJ Clarke, had the misfortune to be walking down the Quays from the Phoenix Park in uniform, when he was ‘promptly seized by the rebels, taken prisoner and lodged with several others in the Four Courts’ for the six–day duration, where on the whole ‘prisoners were not badly treated being ‘fed on bread and cold Bovril, with an occasional cup of tea brewed from a small stove discovered in one of the judge’s rooms … At night they found themselves comfortable cushions from the Courts and improvised blankets from the hangings of the room. One prisoner actually wrapped himself in a judge’s robes’. The article noted with some surprise that the ‘Sinn Fein officers’ as they described the jailers included ‘a solicitor, a schoolmaster and the son of the Mayor of a provincial town’.
As well as multiple Rebellion–related columns, the 20–page edition also carried the usual advertising, some of them revealing new realities for different businesses in the city of Dublin. Due to the total destruction of Cleary’s department store, patrons were advised that ‘business will be held up for a short period’. By contrast, Brown Thomas had pleasure in advising customers they had ‘resumed business’.
Such colourful insights to events as they unfolded sit side by side with the Gazette’s articulation of a middle–ground opinion seriously concerned about the long–term consequences for Ireland as a whole. At pains to point out ‘the religious element did not enter in any way into this unfortunate rebellion’ with ‘no whisper of old sectarian feuds’, it remarked moderate unionist and nationalist Ireland ‘ … have learned in an awful personal experience what war means … Easter week has taught us the terror of the sniper’.
With the support of the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, the special edition 28 April–05 May 1916 will be reprinted and in circulation with the 28 April 2016 edition of the Gazette.
All Gazettes for the commemorative period 1911–1923 are digitized and may be viewed and searched via a search engine here: https://esearch.informa.ie/rcb
Librarian and Archivist
Dr Susan Hood
Librarian and Archivist