20th May 1916, exactly 100 years ago today, my great grandparents Edward Mulligan and Bridget Merrins were married in Dublin. It was a typical Irish wedding for the time. There was one aspect of the wedding that was not typical however. Edward and Bridget were married just weeks after the 1916 Easter Rising. Dublin was in ruins and the mood in the city was extremely tense. Here is my grandfather Mick’s description of the wedding day as passed to him from his mother.
“My father arranged to go down to where my mother worked in Sandymount with a pony and trap. When they arrived at Donnybrook the British Army were on duty. So he and the pony trap had to wait up the road where the bus station is now. When my mother came up to the cross roads at Donnybrook she was stopped by the army. They questioned her as to where she was going so she told she was going to Sandyford to get married. She had a square box in her hand, so the army soldier stuck his bayonet into the box and destroyed her wedding cake.”
The destruction of great granny’s wedding cake has become one of those stories that has passed down our family. As a child the story fascinated me. As a grown up genealogist I wanted to know more. Like many family stories, the full picture is more complicated than the story. The army checkpoint was at Donnybrook Church, just over a mile away from Mount Street Bridge which saw the single biggest British loss during the Easter Rising – 30 dead and over 200 wounded. The soldiers on patrol were now facing an increasing hostile population where sympathy for the rebellion had increased in the face of the Court Martials and subsequent executions. These soldiers were part of the Sherwood Foresters Regiment, raw recruits with minimum of training. On this particular Saturday morning, 20th May 1916, a young woman comes up to the checkpoint in her wedding dress ready to meet her future husband waiting on the other side of the road. Were the actions of that soldier some aimless act of revenge for fallen comrades? Or was it simply a scared young ‘tommy’ reacting to anything that might possibly be a threat? Perhaps he thought the box concealed a weapon instead of a wedding cake?
For my great granny Bridget, the situation was also more complex than it might seem. She was born and grew up in Kildare. Her father, Michael, worked for the British Army in the Curragh Camp drawing coal from Kildare train station to the army barracks. Bridget also had family who fought in WWI and died in Belgium at the battle of Ypres. Hers was an experience growing up where the army was part of everyday life. And now suddenly here was a soldier from that same army who viewed her with such suspicion and contempt. It left such an impact that when she would speak of her wedding day to her son that is the moment she would recall.
Much has been written about those who took part in the Easter Rising. But while a rebellion was going on, thousands of Dubliners were still getting on with their lives as best they could. The events of that historic week would affect them just as profoundly as it did those directly involved. In fact the greatest casualties of the rising were not the Irish Volunteers or the British Army but civilians caught up in the crossfire. Of the 485 deaths, 262 were civilians, 40 of those were children. As is most often the case throughout history those who suffer most in times of conflict are the civilian population caught up in events not of their own making. It seems fitting that we conclude our blog series on the events of 1916 marking the experience of those who simply lived through it.
My great grandparents married and went on to have five children. Great granddad Edward passed away in 1949 and Bridget some years later. In one of those curious coincidences in life Bridget died and was buried during Easter week of 1957. Of their five children, only their daughter Roisin is still alive (she is in Bridget’s arms in the photo above). Aunt Roisin is in her eighties now, but still has an amazing love of life and always takes the time to tell me the stories of Edward and Bridget’s life. Thank you Aunt Roisin.
The other blog posts in our 1916 series are: