( A dark tale from the Easter Rising )
The proud son of John George Adams and his wife Anne had been born blind, and named Robert. Being blind in the Dublin of 1874 was a serious disadvantage for anyone, so it was somewhat surprising that the adult Robert ended up listed as a Music Hall Artiste in the 1911 census. Music Hall Artiste was stretching the description a little, as he usually performed a juggling act in the pubs of the north inner city, earning pennies from the Victorian’s fascination with anything odd. Still, Robert made a life for himself, marrying in 1905 and settling into a one room residence in the hotel at number 12, Eden Quay close to his working area.
It was ironically, located next to the Seaman’s Institute on the North Docks, from where his killer would emerge. Each Sunday, the Adams couple would take the tram for a day out at his parent’s house, across the river in Lennox Street. Luckily, his parents who came from County Fermanagh and never worried for his safety. They were unaware of his death until after that horrible week of unrest in Dublin, at Easter 1916.
The murderer did not know him, being raised in the English city of Peterborough, an hour north of London. He had only visited Dublin for the first time, just months before he killed Robert Adams. He was on convalescent leave in Dublin, after being evacuated from Gallipoli the previous August, where he had fought as an acting corporal in the Hertfordshire regiment of the British army. He was at a loose end in Dublin, being freed of military duties and may even have seen Adam’s juggling act in the weeks before his death. He had lodgings at the Seaman’s Institute. To fill the cast of this dastardly tale, it is necessary to introduce this man’s killer too. Unlike the others, he was actually born and raised in Dublin’s city centre. His killing took a lot of organising and help, and was fueled by outrageous hatred.
Thankfully, this tale has a hero too; a Mister Henry Olds from Islandbridge in west Dublin. His parents, William and Eliza Olds had raised him in the Methodist community and had obtained an apprentice painter position for him in 1914. Henry was also aware of the Seaman’s Institute, as his father was a naval pensioner in 1916 and used the Institute as his club. Henry was also a member of the St John’s Ambulance, who ran the Dublin public ambulance service. Their lives and deaths would all intermix around O’Connell Bridge, on Wednesday the 26th of April, 1916.
The building at the west corner was Kelly’s Arms & Fishing Tackle Shop, and the opposite shop was Hopkins & Hopkins jewellery shop. Now, this Wednesday being the third day of the Dublin Rising, the opposing forces had dug in so to speak. They were barricaded and operated their positions with a certain amount of confidence. While James Connolly’s Citizen Army that took over Kelly’s shop, evacuating looters from Lower Sackville Street as they went, Padraig Pearse’s Volunteers had occupied Hopkins & Hopkins.
To move soldiers across the Liffey, the British had to use either Butt Bridge by the Custom House or the King’s bridge at Kingsbridge Railway Station, a mile to the west of O’Connell Bridge. The British knew of the concentrated Irish forces around Sackville Street and initially used the roof of Trinity College to fire down it. Quite a deadly zone evolved down Westmoreland Street, as both sides tried to kill each other. By Wednesday, the British forces had got control of the south quays, and occupied McBirney’s. This gave them a height advantage over the buildings on the north quays and the British snipers scored many hits over their time there.
While all this is going on, one has to worry for the state of Robert Adams. Dublin’s blind in 1916, lived before any formal help or society was available. Most of Robert’s friends were fellow blind men. They tended to frequent the local public houses, and often used an interest in music as a way of expressing themselves. On an unofficial basis, the local lodging houses used to visit Robert, bring food and treats on special events. Obviously, during the Rising, Robert could hear the shooting going on outside his building, if unable to see anything. He had sent his wife to safety with his parents, as moving around the streets became too risky and many non-combatants were shot, when caught out in the open. Likewise, people could not visit him, to check on him and to deliver food. Staying in his room was not an option either. His food had run out. This room had no curtains, so bullets and ricochets were a constant hassle. There was no one to contact for help or information. Whatever the reason, on that Wednesday midday, Robert Adams put on his stylish Homburg hat and overcoat, picked up his white cane and descended to the ground floor. Despite knowing the risk, he stepped out of number 12, onto Eden Quay.
Now all this time the British soldiers were fighting with the rebels in Sackville Street and were also preparing for a large assault on Liberty Hall, also located on Eden Quay. So, the appearance of Robert Adams was instantly known to them. However, a battle was waging, and without the advantage of hindsight, inexperienced soldiers acted badly. So, our first murderer took aim at Robert Adams, as he tap-tapped his way towards O’Connell Bridge. As in real life, often fact is stranger than fiction and Robert’s killer also had a story to tell; one learnt in the Great War. No rules existed, he thought, above costing maximum damage to the enemy. Acting Corporal Alfred Tyler had moved through the south quays the day before, eventually becoming part of the party that took over McBirney’s on Aston Quay. Being a 22-year-old wounded veteran of Gallipoli, he had been rounded up by the Trinity College students, who had been combing the locality for any stray khaki soldiers they could find. He had spent Monday night on the college roof, taking pot-shots at anything moving on Sackville Street. Tuesday was spent controlling the Temple Bar area, and eventually the south quays, and McBirney’s. The top floor of this store gave him a commanding view over the full length of the north quays and the rebel headquarters at the G.P.O. One of his primary targets was the shop directly opposite, called Kelly’s, which was known to contain a number of rebel soldiers. He had managed to hit at least three since moving to his current position. He wanted more. In the process of reloading his rifle, he glanced to his right, spotting the midday sunshine reflecting off Robert Adam’s white cane. He had to adjust his position to get a shot off. Robert Adams kept walking, moving closer to the front of the building facades, using the cane to judge the distance safely. He guessed that the trams would not be running and he would have to walk to his parent’s home. As he reach the northern end of O’Connell Bridge, he paused. He had heard a few rifle shots as he walked along the quays and guessed that it was centred on Sackville Street and the bridge. He thought that it might be safer to cross the river by the pedestrian ‘Halfpenny’ bridge farther west. The rebels also watched his progress along the quays and held their fire. There was genuine amazement to see a blind man walking through the middle of a war zone. The British troopers lining the south quay also held their fire. Liberty Hall was their goal for the coming assault and one civilian held no interest for them. Still, it was such an odd sight that the word spread among them, about a blind man on Eden Quay. Alfred Tyler rolled to the far left of the room he was in and raised his eyes above the windowboard. Robert Adams had stopped at the junction with Sackville Street, trying to hear any gunfire that may put him in danger. Tyler knelt slightly back from the window, so that his shadow fell inside the room. He lifted his Lee-Enfield rifle to his right shoulder. He took aim at Robert Adams. Robert stepped off the footpath and started to cross Sackville Street, to Bachelors Walks on the other side. He reached the centre island, where O’Connell monument stands and paused again. He could not have heard Tyler’s shot and only registered a sudden horrendous pain in his shattered left thigh. He crumbled to the cobblestones like a bag of potatoes, letting out a scream as he fell. Alfred Tyler paused, then seeing movement from the body, re-cocked his rifle to fire again.
Strange as anything in this bazaar Rising, a crowd had been gathering at the junction of the bridge and the southside quays. This was because of the impending Battle for Liberty Hall. A royal navy gunboat, the HMY Helga, had docked at the quay opposite the Custom House. Two 9lb artillery pieces had been positioned in Tara Street, to support the boat in shelling the trade union building. Machine gun crews were already in the tower of the Tara Street Fire Station and on the roof of Trinity College. Soldiers had been assembled at Custom House and along Burgh Quay, ready for the final assault to take the building. There was plenty of time for curious civilians to stroll into town for the great showdown. The Evening Herald newspaper even got a reporter set up to record the battle for posterity. Among the crowd of people at the bridge end of Westmoreland Street was our hero, St John’s ambulance man Harry Olds. He was expecting to be needed to help with the casualties from the battle and, because of the troop movement on Townsend Street, had diverted up towards O’Connell Bridge. He heard the sound of the shot that downed Robert Adams. He did not hesitate, running clearly onto the bridge, waving his hands over his head. All the combatants held their fire. Olds reached the wounded man and, removing Robert’s coat, got to strapping his thigh from his shoulder bag of bandages. He had the full attention of the crowd, although not a single person ran to help them. After the quickest of first aid, Olds helped Adams to his feet. He retrieved his cane and handing it over, they proceeded to slowly and painfully walk back towards the Westmoreland Street crowd and safety.
We can only guess at the mindset of Corporal Tyler in the seconds that followed. Can he really have thought that the two civilian-clad men entering the bridge were dangerous rebels? Why were they coming south, instead of heading north towards the rebels in Sackville Street? Were they armed? The wounded man had left his coat on the ground where he had fallen? Did he think at all? In automatic mode, he aimed and fired twice in quick succession. The only mercy for the murdered victims was that they were so near to the centre of the bridge that they neither heard nor realised what had happened before dying. Robert Adams was killed instantly by a bullet entering, ironically, his right eye. As he fell, he half pulled the already dead Henry Olds down on him. In an instance, silence fell over the scene. The dead lay in the middle of the Bridge, the pool of red expanding around them; the crowd were shocked, stuck to their vantage point; Tyler gave a grunt of success, “Two for two!”
To be continued in Part Two, The Revenge Murder