The British government declared martial law in Dublin on 25 April 1916, after the outbreak of the Rising. By the end of the week, the British extended the martial law order to include all of Ireland. The declaration of martial law severely effected the civilian population as curfew was enforced and travel was restricted. Citizens were only permitted to travel if they had an approved travel pass from the British authorities. The travel pass seen here is one example, with passes often being typed out on various letterheads, and signed by various members of the military or police.
This travel pass was issued to Edward O’Meara, on 3 May 1916. There are three men named Edward O’Meara listed as living in Dublin on the 1911 Census, so it is tough to know exactly which man the pass belonged to. The pass seen here permitted Edward O’Meara to travel in Dublin City and County, as well as in Bray for the duration of the martial law period. One of the Edward O’Mearas worked for the railroad, so it is possible that he worked the line that ran from Dublin to Bray and thus needed permission to travel through the area.
Major W.W. Rhodes, Assistant Provost Marshall, issued the pass at the Headquarters of the 69th Division. Major Rhodes played a very interesting role in the aftermath of the Easter Rising, as he oversaw the first round of executions that the British carried out on 3 May 1916. This meant that he oversaw the execution of Patrick Pearse, Thomas MacDonagh, and Tom Clarke. Historians have debated as to whether the first three executions were carried out properly by the firing squads. There are two pieces of evidence that lend credibility to the theory that the executions were not carried out properly. Major W.W. Rhodes was relieved of his execution duties following the first round of executions. The newly appointed officer in charge of the executions also issued new orders to provide additional structure to the next rounds of executions. The fact that Major Rhodes was relieved of his duties in regards to execution, and that it was necessary to draw up new orders on how to conduct executions, implies that something did not go correctly with the first round.
Further investigation into Major Rhodes reveals that he relinquished his commission in November 1916 due to poor health. His condition was officially listed as partial blindness in his medical file. Another entry in his medical file may reveal the actual reason for his poor health. He was listed as “not fit for a post necessitating much nervous strain.” This line implies that Rhodes was suffering from some form of mental health issue, likely Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, related to his military service. Rhodes’ last posting had been in Ireland under martial law, and he had overseen an execution which was likely botched. Because of these facts, one must consider that the mental trauma that he suffered from was a result of his experiences in Ireland during and after the Rising.
After being relieved of his execution duties, Rhodes was given a new assignment to carry out tasks that were considered more tedious. He helped to round up and arrest suspected Republicans, including Desmond Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald had fought in the GPO, managed to escape arrest and return home, before eventually being tracked down and arrested by a party of soldiers under Major Rhodes’ command. Another task assigned to Rhodes was the job of approving and issuing travel passes, like the example seen here, to citizens who needed them to carry on with their daily lives.
This travel pass is a great example of how documents can connect together many people and events. By examining the travel pass and the men that it is connected to, we can begin to tell the larger story of individuals who played an active role in the Rising, as well the story of the citizens of Ireland that were affected by it.
1.Fearghal McGarry, TheRising, Ireland: Easter 1916 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010), 167-168.
4.Seán Enright, Easter Rising 1916: The Trials (Kildare: Merrion Press, 2014), 77-78.
5.PRO WO 339/8377
6.Seán Enright, Easter Rising 1916: The Trials (Kildare: Merrion Press, 2014), 120-121.