An enduring controversy has raged over the role of Constance Markiewicz in the death of DMP Constable Michael Lahiff at St Stephen’s Green on the first day of the Easter Rising in 1916. The controversy is mostly fuelled by a mixture of uncertain eye-witness testimony and confused timelines. Regardless of whether she did fire the shots that killed Lahiff, a new eye-witness account shows (in the writers own words) that ‘undoubtedly she was ready to kill’.
Interestingly, the exact role of other imdividual combatants hasn’t attracted the same fascination as Markiewicz. In some ways, she has become of one focus of a particular anti-republican critique that deems the declaration of an Irish Republic in 1916 an illegitimate, indeed treacherous, act against the benevolent British Empire in the midst of a war in which that Empire was wasting the lives of hundreds of thousands of its subjects.
I was recently given a copy of a (seemingly previously unpublished) letter which includes the eye-witness account of Markiewicz in Stephen’s Green on the first day of the Rising. The author, Captain Charles Calthrop de Burgh Daly was a doctor attached to the Royal Army Medical Corps who happened to be in the University Club on Stephen’s Green to observe republican forces taking over Stephen’s Green on the first day of the Easter Rising.
The letter, dated 13th June 1916, is written on embossed University Club notepaper. Interestingly the opening tone of the letter suggests de Burgh Daly was responding to a query as to whether he saw Markiewicz kill anyone during the Rising, implying Markiewicz’s conduct during the Rising was already the focus of gossip in Dublin. In his letter, de Burgh Daly wrote “I do not, of my own personal knowledge, know that she killed others but undoubtedly she was ready to kill policemen and combatant officers or men.”
The full text of the letter is below:
71 Park Avenue, Sandymount, 13-6-16
My dear Rebba,
To my certain knowledge the following occurred. About noon on Easter Monday 24th April – Countess Markiewicz drove up to Stephens Green in a motor and got out opposite the University Club. She was dressed in a man’s uniform green and brown belt and feathers in her hat. She apparently was in command or second in command of SF in the Green.
About 1 o’clock she leant up against the Eglinton monument and took a deliberate potshot at me in one of the open windows of the University Club. I was sitting in the window, in uniform, the distance was about 50-60 yards. She could not tell I was a doctor but I suspect considered I was a combatant officer as I had ribbons on. She used a Mauser pistol which fits onto its case as a stock and fired from the shoulder.
The waiter of this Club gave evidence at her trial and acknowledged that she had shot at an officer as described above. I do not of my own personal knowledge know that she killed others but undoubtedly she was ready to kill policemen and combatant officers or men.
She released doctors of the RAMC and wounded officers when captured on the Monday night and mixed up kindness and killing in accordance with her convictions on the rebellion and how to conduct it. I bear her no ill-will and hope one of these day she may use her talents for the real benefit of our country. When driven out of Stephen’s Green on Tuesday morning, she with the rebels, seized the College of Surgeons, and it was from there that she and others surrendered at the end of the week.
I did not give evidence against her as I did not actually see her pull the trigger but when the bullet crashed through the window just above my head I saw at once that a woman dressed in mans clothes had fired it and later on with a pair of glasses, I and several others identified her as Countess Markiewicz.
Ulick has just been operated on for appendicitis and is recovering rapidly and feels quite well. Charlie is still in Mullingar. Emily has been in Monaghan and Armagh for the last 3 weeks. She comes home on Friday. With kindest regards to you and yours, yours very sincerely,
C.C. de Burgh Daly
A few details in de Burgh Daly’s letter are significant in light of the apparent gaps in the details of Markiewicz’s actions on the first day of the Rising. First of all, he places Markiewicz on the north side of Stephen’s Green at noon. Coincidentally, this is around the time Constable Lahiff was reportedly shot. It also places Markiewicz just to the east of the Fusilier’s Arch. At least one shot aimed at Lahiff passed through his left arm and into his lungs as he approached the Arch (implying he was shot from the east). As de Burgh Daly himself states, though, he didn’t see her kill anyone.
[Presumably the bullet fired from Markiewicz’s Mauser is still embedded in a wall inside the University Club – if it was recovered and Lahiff’s remains exhumed, a simple ballistic analysis of the two bullets might put this particular controversy to rest.]
So does her attempting to kill an army officer (a doctor indeed) just add further fuel to the fire of the Markiewicz controversy? Do we need any context to this? Who was de Burgh Daly?
Charles de Burgh Daly had been prominent from August 1914 in calling for co-ordinated medical training and support for the war. He also organised and spoke at public recruiting rallies as a member of the Dublin City and County Recruitment Committee since the start of the war, including the main recruitment campaigns of 1915. As part of his recruiting work he took a commission in the Royal Army Medical Corps, eventually rising to the rank of Colonel, although only ever based in Ireland. Arguably, de Burgh Daly, as an enthusiastic cheerleader for the war, had played his own part in many violent deaths long before the Rising began.
He was married to Emily French, sister of Percy French, who published popular books on their time living in Manchuria (where de Burgh Daly hd been medical officer to the British embassy) and on her brother’s musical work. She was also involved in the likes of the NSPCC. Before the de Burgh name even crops up at some suffragette events. At the time, in 1916, the de Burgh’s two sons were officers in the British Army. And there is a further tragic dimension to the letter.
Their elder son, Ulick, was an army captain and served with the British forces in Dublin that suppressed the nascent Irish Republic in 1916. Their younger son, Arthur Charles (presumably the Charlie in the letter), left Ireland for France in the summer of 1916 and fought during the Somme. He was killed at Ginchy on the 9th September 1916. Agonisingly, his parents received a telegram from the War Office saying that he had been killed in action on the 4th September 1916. The same day they received a letter from him dated 8th September. They then had a tortorous wait while the War Office tried to establish the truth. He is buried in Delville Wood cemetery. Ulick emigrated to the United States in the 1920s.
After his son’s death, Charles de Burgh Daly is noticeably absent from the names of those promoting British Army recruitment. After the war, a memorial to his son was erected by him in St John’s Church in Sandymount. The organist in St John’s, Cecil MacDowell, served in the Boland’s Mills garrison during the Rising. MacDowell also wrote the melody to the Soldier’s Song. After the war and partition, de Burgh Daly was again prominent in management of hospitals in the Dublin region and was one of the founders of the Hospital Sweepstakes. He was also a lead figure and spokesman for the Royal Irish Automobile Club.
Anyone who wants to retrace Markiewicz’s footsteps today will struggle to locate the Eglinton monument mentioned by de Burgh Daly as the statue to the Earl of Eglington was blown up in August 1958. It was located almost directly opposite the University Club (to west of the gate almost directly opposite 17 Stephen’s Green where the University Club was based).
Big go raibh maith agat to Stan Ó Caírbre for the copy of the letter.