Historic times!

"We got into the Post Office. Every place was quiet at that period. Numbers of people were on the street looking around. We had tea, eggs and cigars. I thought we should have got a rest. Connolly paraded us and said it didn’t matter a damn if we were wiped out now as we had justified ourselves. I thought this was a bit rugged.”

That is how Thomas Harris from Caragh, Naas, recalled in later years for the Bureau of Military History, his experience of Easter 1916 in the GPO.

He continued: “It was like one long day, I have no recollection of sleeping. I remember being in the Instrument Room where it was first noticed that the Post Office was on fire. We could hear the guns going and I saw a little hole, just a circle which came in the plaster, about the circumference of a teacup and I could see this growing larger.

“It was evidently caused by an incendiary bomb. We reported that the roof was on fire. I remember the O’Rahilly and a few of the heads coming along. They fixed up ladders to the roof and tried to put on the hose but there was no force of water.

“Then they started to make preparations for the evacuation, and what amazed me was the order that was maintained all the time. At no time was there panic. All was carried out in a routine way.

“They were lined up and given their orders and instructions and those who were not engaged in anything also lined up. They commenced singing The Soldiers Song but they were ordered to stop singing by the leaders as it was interfering with the orders, which could not be heard. We were marched out then.

“I remember seeing a sketch of Connolly lying in a stretcher with Pearse on one side. My impression of that sketch was that it got Pearse’s position pretty correctly, Connolly, however, was not on a stretcher; he was on a bed.”

Harris was captain of the Prosperous Company in 1917 and later Vice-Commandant North Kildare Battalion.

In August 1920, as Comdt. No.2 Kildare Bn., he led the Kill Company in an attack on the RIC at Greenhills when arms were captured and Const. John Haverty was killed. Haverty was single and aged 40. From Ballinasloe, he had 19 years service and before joining the RIC he had been a herdsman. Sgt. Patrick O’Reilly, aged 48 and married with 26 years service and who had previously been a farmer was injured. He died later in St Steven’s hospital, Dublin.

As a young man Thomas Harris had joined the Gaelic League in Prosperous, where he found that the organisation was weak but their Irish teacher, Sean O’Connor living in Celbridge, brought national papers to the classes and “we became more absorbed in political discussion than in our pursuit of the language.”

Inspired by O’Connor’s enthusiasm Harris joined the Irish Republican Brotherhood and in 1915 when Ted O’Kelly was trying to reorganise the Volunteers, Harris decided to establish a company in Prosperous. A meeting was called and about a dozen men attended and companies were also established in Maynooth and Rathangan.

In Rathangan Harris met Tom Byrne, who had fought with the Boers in South Africa. It was now known that it was intended that the Rising would take place within a week and that arms were to be landed in Kerry. Byrne was given the task of blowing up the railway lines, to cut off communications with the Curragh, and the bridge at Sallins was also to be blown up. Harris was ordered to be at Bodenstown at 6pm on Easter Sunday with his men, for mobilisation. But soon a message came that something had gone wrong and MacNeill issued a countermanding order published in a Sunday Newspaper.

However, O’Kelly said “to disregard MacNeill’s order and that Moran from Ballysax, who had gone around on his motor-cycle countermanding the order, should not have done so, and that MacNeill was not trusted as he changed his mind so often!”

Harris and a couple of others travelled to Naas, but the problem was “where to get a phone to ring Dublin, or a car to get up there.”

He learned that Pearse had said that the Rising would take place at noon on the next day.

With two companions, Harris went to the Dominican College in Newbridge, where there was a sympathetic priest to collect the gelignite which they had got from Dublin and was kept in the college laboratory. Then they were informed that a dispatch had come from Pearse informing them that at 12 o’clock the next day the Rising was to take place.

Courtesy of the Leinster Leader
April 2004