CAPTAIN BATTERSBY’S SKERRIES DEFENCE

There were a few attempts by rebels to rise up outside Dublin in 1916. The events in Galway, Enniscorthy, Ashbourne and even in county Cork are well recorded. However, although well-known locally, the battle for Skerries is not known enough nationally. There are some reasons why it deserves better recognition, and this is their story.

The town of Skerries is a popular seaside resort in north county Dublin. What made their little world of interest to the rebels was because of the railway running from Belfast to Dublin passed their town, and that was not the best goal. A priority for the rebels was to get the news out that the Insurrection had started and that the Irish Republic had been proclaimed. Skerries contained the Admiralty’s Marconi station. That was a prize with global implications. By Tuesday evening, the news from Dublin had arrived in the town and they immediately realised that the radio transmitter must be the rebels’ target. The town was ill prepared, having a single Royal Irish Constabulary station, containing seven policemen. They went on a scout of the area on Tuesday evening and discovered that the rebels had blown up the railway bridge at Donabate. The policemen, under the command of Captain Battersby moved to defend the Marconi transmitter, while he toured the town. He ordered Sergeant Burke to use whatever he could muster to defend the town. He was to fight a delaying tactic, falling back through the town to the redoubt at the Marconi station.

Most of the residents did not support the rebels, and feared for both themselves and their property. Rumours fanned the flames of imminent death and many moved down to live on the beach, thinking that they would be safer as onlookers than standing with either side. Tuesday night did not improve their mood. The unnaturally hot days resulted in a very cold nights. On Wednesday morning they got news that the towns of Swords, Donabate and Lusk had fallen to the rebels and it was obvious that Skerries was next. They stayed on the beach! The rebels attacked the town from the railing side in the midmorning. Captain Battersby was one of the first hit and, despite being wounded, got to the transmitter to control their defence. The Carnegie Library, a main landmark in the town was turned into a field hospital, as the local Red Cross never knew that the civilian population had moved to the beach. As the rebel force moved into the town from the west, the remaining civilians fled to a hill overlooking the Marconi station. Well, why miss witnessing the rebel’s victory!

It was the Royal Navy that saved Skerries from falling to the rebels. From the hill crowd, they could see out to the Irish Sea and southwards to Dublin Bay. The biggest object in the sea was Lambay Island, a bird sanctuary. As the rebels considered their route to the transmitter, the onlookers spotted the steam of a Royal Navy destroyer rounding Lambay Island, and coming north from Saltpan Bay. The British had realised the danger of the rebel getting control of the transmitter just in time, and despatched the ship with assault troops from the North Staffordshire Regiment, who had arrived from England that Wednesday morning. It was escorted by two gunboats that hugged the coast, firing on the coast road to prevent any rebel reinforcements. As the populace ran down to the harbour, the destroyer anchored and started to disembark two hundred troopers, under the command of Captain Clay. They quickly moved to secure the wireless station and by that evening, the town. The rebels were forced back to Dublin, breaking the railway tracks as they went. Unfortunately for them, Ulster’s Brigadier Hackett-Paine had already successfully moved his 15th Reserve Infantry Brigade into Dublin on the Tuesday.

The scare for the people of Skerries ended, but not their suspicion and hunger for settling local disputes. Despite their overt support for the military authority, twenty Skerries men were eventually rounded up and sent to internment for a year at Frongoch, in Wales.

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