Belfast Telegraph

Easter Rising: How doctors and nurses rose above the carnage of Ireland's moment in history

By Alf McCreary

One of the lesser-publicised aspects of the Easter Rising was the crucial role played by doctors and nurses who attended to the wounded and the dying. During the six days of hostilities between the rebels and the security forces in Dublin, more than 130 soldiers and policemen were killed and 397 were wounded.

There were much greater casualties among civilians, including 318 dead and 2,217 wounded. Only 64 rebels died, as well as the 15 executed ringleaders.

One graphic account of the part played by the medical services was written by Professor TG Moorhead, a distinguished consultant who was born in Benburb, and later made his career in Physicians Dublin. He was president of the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland from 1930-33.

In his history of St Patrick Dun's Hospital in Dublin, close to one of the main areas of the fighting, Professor Moorhead relates how, on the Monday and Tuesday of Easter Week, several dead and wounded were taken in. After that, the situation grew worse.

He wrote that: "It was on Wednesday, April 25, that the real time of strain and anxiety began, during the Battle of Mount Street Bridge. Sisters, nurses, and resident students went to the bridge to carry in the wounded and were for four-and-a-half hours under heavy and continuous fire."

The immense strain continued throughout the week. On Sunday, April 29: "One of the Irish leaders came to the hospital and said that he wished to be taken to British headquarters, as he wished to surrender. From that time onwards the conditions slowly and gradually returned to normal."

The late Professor JB Lyons, an eminent medical historian, also related how other leading doctors were caught up in the Rising: "Dr Kathleen Lynn, later a co-founder of St Ultan's Hospital for Infants, organised a casualty station in the City Hall ... Dr AD Courtney, a house surgeon in St Vincent's, recalled how, soon after noon on Easter Monday, a number of casualties were brought into the emergency room. Two were already dead, killed by stray bullets; another was shot in the shoulder."

Meanwhile, major developments had been taking place elsewhere in Dublin, at the headquarters of the Royal College of Surgeons in St Stephen's Green. It had been taken over by the republican insurgents under the command of Michael Mallin and Countess Markievicz.

More than 100 people were holed up in the college, including nurses. A makeshift mortuary was created in a space beneath the chemistry lecture theatre. After nearly a week, the insurgents gave themselves up, following Pearse's unconditional surrender.

From April 30 to May 27, the college was occupied by 400 soldiers of the 5th Lincolnshire Regiment and each officer was presented with a silver cigarette case by the grateful college.

One important footnote was the destruction of a valuable college portrait of Queen Victoria. This was blamed, initially, on Countess Markievicz, but in fact the portrait had been stolen by a teenage rebel, who cut it up to make leggings.

This incurred the wrath of his commanding officer, who "reprimanded him severely and boxed his ears".

Such is the stuff of history.

  • Alf McCreary is the author of Healing Touch, the official illustrated history of the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland

Two sides to the medical drama

The career of Professor Thomas Gillman ('TG') Moorhead, an Ulsterman who was born in Benburb, illustrates the huge contrasts in the Dublin of 1916.

He wrote a history of a Dublin hospital, in which he outlined the role played by some of the doctors and nurses in the Rising.

However, he was also a distinguished Army officer, who had served in the First World War and had worked in a field hospital in Alexandria, where thousands of wounded Irish servicemen were treated during the ill-fated Gallipoli campaign.

On November 3, 1916, he gave a lecture on his Gallipoli experience to a college audience, which included the-then Lord-Lieutenant and the Church of Ireland Archbishop of Dublin.

At the end of his lecture, God Save The King was played - an interesting comment on the contrasts within Dublin society, only a few months after the Rising.

Dr Kathleen Lynn, the daughter of a Church of Ireland minister, was a well-known suffragette and also one of the women who played an important role in the Easter Rising.

She was the chief medical officer with the Irish Citizen Army, during the Rising, and she looked after the wounded from her base in Dublin City Hall. She allowed her car to be used for republican gun-running and the vehicle was also utilised as a sleeping shelter for Countess Markievicz.

When the Rising failed, Dr Lynn was incarcerated in Kilmainham Gaol, but she was later released on the intervention of Dublin's Lord Mayor, because her medical help was needed to tend to the general population during the disastrous Spanish flu pandemic (1918-20).

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