I knew my uncle Austin Ryan, who was a rebel volunteer and survived the Dublin Insurrection, at Easter 1916. However, it was only while researching my family tree a few years ago, that I discovered another relative from that Easter Week Rebellion. Surprisingly, this cousin wore khaki, being an English soldier! He was killed on the first day of fighting in the second, less publicised lancer charge to happen that morning. This is the story of the death of James Arthur Mulvey!
Private James Mulvey grumbled at his misfortune, being assigned for duty over the Easter holiday. Almost 90% of the military had been given leave for Easter Monday. James was attached to the 615th Motor Transport Company of the Army Service Corp, based at the Marlborough Barracks in the Phoenix Park, Dublin. He had still hoped for light duties at least, but learnt on Monday morning that a supply shipment would be off-loaded at the North Wall Depot and needed to be moved to the Magazine Fort arsenal in the Phoenix Park. They would also be using horse rather than motor transport, with a lancer escort which meant slow travel and so, a longer assignment in atypical spring sunshine. He had been selected because of his ability to handle a team of horses and the lancers were required because the consignment included live munitions.
After breakfast on Easter Monday, James Mulvey went to the stables and harnessed his team of shire horses. By 9.30am the parade square was busy with the assembly of the mounted company. The lancers were wearing khaki uniforms as the Empire was at war, and they had holstered carbines as well as their lances. James and the cart drivers were unarmed. There were four low-hung open carts in the group and they were ordered to move out at 10am. Their Lieutenant led the convoy out the main gate of Marlborough Barracks, wheeling right onto Blackhorse Avenue. From here they would travel via North Brunswick Street and Great Britain Street to Portland Row and hence to the North Wall railway depot, travelling slightly north of the city centre. They had arrived uneventfully at the rail depot by 10.30am. The lancers were far too posh to do manual labour and went about refreshing themselves and their horses. The Service Corp personnel started the heavy work of loading boxes of rifles, rifle-grenades, bombs and ammunition. It took them over an hour of back-breaking work to finish loading the consignment and they did not leave for the Magazine Fort until after 11.30am. By this time, the rebels were falling in for their march on the G.P.O. and City Hall. Unknown to the military convoy, many rifle sights followed their progress along the quays once they had passed the Custom House and they must have seen the general activity surrounding James Connolly’s Liberty Hall. The rebels were ordered to hold their fire, not wishing to engage the military until after they had occupied the buildings that they wanted. The lancer escort were on alert for trouble and had repositioned themselves along both sides of the carts. The Lieutenant decided to stay on the quays all the way to Phoenix Park rather than travel through the centre, a reasonable decision which would, unfortunately, lead to the death of a number of his men, including James Mulvey and trapping the survivors in a three-day terrifying gunfight.
The supply convoy on the quays continued to make slow progress towards the Phoenix Park, with James Mulvey driving the second cart. The Lieutenant led the group across Lower Sackville Street (now O’Connell Street) at O’Connell Bridge, ordering his men to stiffen up, to look as intimidating to the pedestrians as possible, and it worked. The sun glistened on the lances and bridles and they rode with a parade ground strut. Civilians stopped to watch them pass and the noise of the horses and carts on the cobble-stoned quay stamped their authority on the surrounding strollers. They had to push through the crowd onto Bachelor’s Walk, where an onlooker shouted out, “Look out for yourselves! The Sinn Feiners are out – they’re up ahead!” His warning was dismissed indignantly, as if lancers would have any problem smashing any volunteer rebels they may encounter. They increased their speed on the emptier quay and were travelling at a fair trot by the time they reached Lower Ormond Quay. They had no outriders with the convoy and before they could react, a group of volunteers working on a barricade at Church Bridge loomed into view. In pure panic, the surprised rebels knelt in the roadway and loosed a fusillade of bullets.
The lancer’s innocence was lost in that moment, as six troopers fell dead immediately, while their mounts reared in terror. The Lieutenant wheeled his horse and yelled at his men to get into the side streets. There was little order in the convoy’s response. The front lancers rode into Chancery Place, hoping to find safety in the Four Courts. They were fired on by the rebel garrison stationed there. Two horsemen galloped in panic down Beresford Street and into North King Street. They spotted rebels ahead and, having armed themselves with their carbines, fired. One bullet killed a child instantly, as the soldiers, still swerving wildly, galloped on into North Brunswick Street. The commander of the local rebel garrison, Edward Daly, and his assistant Philip Walsh fired at them. Daly killed one lancer while Walsh dragged the other out of his saddle, bringing him sprawling into the gutter.
James Mulvey, the carts and the remaining lancers had turned into Charles Street, galloping towards Ormond Market, which they had thought would be defendable. However, the rebels had already occupied a number of buildings all over this area and the troopers came under sustained fire from the surrounding roofs. Unable to find shelter, they reeled again out of Ormond Market in total confusion and disorder. For seemly a lifetime they were exposed to fire from all levels of roofs and all sides of the surrounding streets, although it was probably over in as little as a minute. Three cart drivers, including James Mulvey died in the array of bullets flooding the area. I always see it as being like the final scene in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid! Still, the Lieutenant bravely rallied his men and restored enough control to get them into P.F. Collier‘s Memorial Dispensary for the Prevention of Consumption and the Medical Mission opposite. It was a very dangerous position to try to defend. They did manage to get most of the contents of the carts indoors, along with the bodies of James Mulvey and their other fallen comrades. However, they had lost their transport and were in a strange slum part of the city, surrounded by an unknown number of rebels with no food supplies nor any chance of being rescued. Any attempt to leave the buildings was met with overwhelming firepower. They would have to hold out for three days and two nights, until a company of Sherwood Foresters overran their area, on Thursday afternoon.
So, I never got to meet James Mulvey, although another member of his family was to become a fighter ace in the RAF, during the Second World War! This ace’s son (my age) wrote a book about his famous father and started by explaining how he came from my father’s family home in Dublin! I love these links that bind all humans together. Thankfully, I did get to know my national volunteer uncle, Austin Ryan, whose sister is still alive, thank God. I have had wonderful conversations with her and have seen her awesome photo collection. She even has a picture of my great-great-grandfather, Nicholas in 1876. A very early photograph for Ireland! Austin died in 1979 and was given a full military funeral which I got to attend. James’s body was returned to his family in England in May 1916. The stuff that binds us is greater than any differences we may feel exists, we just have to be open and to accept them. These two opponents both influenced who I am today and I thank them both for that. Isn’t life strange and grand!