Letter from Margaret Ruth Leslie to her cousin, Cecil George Leslie, 4 May 1916

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The letter seen here is the second sent by Margaret Ruth Leslie, during the Easter Rising, to her cousin Cecil George Leslie. In her first letter (MRL to CGL 29 April 1916) Leslie described the events of the week up through 29 April 1916. Her letters are insightful as she describes the events of the Rising from a civilian, Unionist perspective. She continues the account of her experience during Easter week in this letter from 4 May 1916. Leslie describes being surrounded by the fighting that continued in the south side of the city on 30 April, 1916. She also writes of friends experiences during the week. She concludes with much criticism of the British Army’s handling of the uprising, along with criticism of John Redmond’s National Volunteers for their lack of aid. The full text of the letter is below. This is followed by a brief analysis of the contents that will help place the letter in proper context with the events of Easter week.

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1 Wilton Place

4-V-16

Dear Choppy

I think I wrote you an account of our

adventures up to last Sat. I don’t know if

you’ll ever get it but anyhow we’ve had lots

more since then. The family say I am to

tell you first that all is well with Cor-

-nelia Prettie’s “Portrait of a Boy” your future

wedding present, but little else in the

house is spared! However we are all alive

which is the main thing. On Sunday morning

at about 8a.m. the soldiers (no less)

started to bombard this house. In a very

brief period the top story (containing my

bedroom, the bathroom, where Nell was washing,

& the maid’s room) was being riddled from

side to side. We just got down stairs in

time as a second later the bullets were coming

in at the front windows through two walls &

into my room & the bathroom. At the

foot of our stairs I had by force to prevent

Margery from returning to the rescue of

the parrot! We then proceeded, with what I

really think was admirable calmness, to the

wing to report matters to Fane & Ina re-

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-ceived us well but flatly declined to leave her

room & dress in the passage. She is pain-

-fully intrepid & has nearly turned all our hairs

grey. No-one could control her except me

occasionally when I told her that if she

persisted in something particularly

foolhardy I should accompany her. She had a

sort of feeling that Ma would be vexed

with her if I got killed which was very

salutary. She just got out of her room

before they fired a volley into it! But that

was later. Fane received us very snappily

& obviously didn’t believe us. He said

perhaps a few spent bullets had hit the house

from somewhere else & that he couldn’t have

unclothed women about the house & that we

were to go back & dress – he was going to

take Jock out! We implored him not to

but he persisted & stalked majestically

downstairs until brought up short by a shot in

at the hall window straight across his face

& just missing him. He then decided not

We chuckled & as there was a slight

lull fled upstairs where I cleared some raiment

out of the mist of glass & plastic in my

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room & Margery rescued the parrot, a very

idiotic proceeding on both our parts as I

now perceive, for we only got down in the

nick of time, several bullets burying themselves

in the wall of the staircase as we

reached the bottom. After that things got very

lively while we finished dressing on the

landing outside Margery’s room, & pretending

we were enjoying ourselves, proceeded down to

breakfast. By this time we were all

badly scared, except perhaps Ina who is

abnormal & Fane, who is, his family tell

me, slow to absorb a new idea! Things got

hotter & hotter & Fane, who to our great alarm

had vanished, strolled into the dining room

looking as if he’d lost his galoshes or some such

valuable, & remarked that he thought he had

been hit! He had, slightly, on the leg & the arm.

The servants were now far from happy, all

except the redoubtable Cane, who remained

jocose throughout – so we all took to the

basement without our breakfast, after carefully

collecting the menagerie. There we

remained for two solid hours while the fire got

hotter & hotter & we pondered pleasantly on

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the subject of bombs (we knew several houses

had been bombed out!) Nelly, at considerable

risk to herself, got to the telephone & with

great difficulty as it is now reserved for

military use, got them to put her onto the

hospital across Baggot St. Bridge, which we

knew the soldiers on the bridge had been using

as H.Q. However at first she only got an

orderly who said he would send word to the

officer on the bridge. Nothing happened for

about an hour except more firing into the house & then, with even more

difficulty she got on again & luckily got hold

of an officer who informed her that shots

had been fired at the soldiers from our

top windows. Nell replied with some hauteur

that this rumour was quite untrue though of course

there might have been a sniper on the roof

without our knowledge. She further added that as the

house contained 11 harmless women & her

elderly male parent she’d be greatly obliged

if they’d take a rest & make a few enquiries

before proceeding further. Shortly after this

the firing stopped & we crept out & began to look

at the damage, though still not daring to

show ourselves at the windows. About lunch-

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time we beheld an officer & about 6 men

advancing on the house – the officer clutching

a revolver & the men with their bayonets

ready. We flung the door open & greeted them

with enthusiasm. Fane & Ina were more

than genial so thankful were they that we

were all alive. The men were mostly dispatched

to the kitchen to feed while Fane conducted

the officer over the house, He was a little startled

when he saw the damage but seem chiefly

concerned because he had not got a chance to

use bombs – a pursuit at which he fancies

himself it seems. He informed us that he got

the message just in time as he had sent for

rifle grenades!!! He seemed to be feeling the

disappointment a good deal. His name is

Howard & he is a 2nd Lieutenant in the Lincolns

(terriers) – quite a decent man but very

English. He told us he was a barrister by

trade & not a soldier. We had not suspected

him of being the latter but did not mention

this to him. He will never see 30 again I’m

certain so is old enough to have more common

sense than he displayed. Margery & I at one

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juncture during the bombardment had wanted

to try & escape down the back-lane & reason

with the soldiers, but were not allowed as

it was considered a certainty that we should

be shot at sight by sentries as bolting Sinn

Feiners. From Mr Howard we learnt that

there were no sentries on the lane – he had

never thought of their being such a thing

as a back exit apparently! Isn’t it pathetic?

I should have thought any fool would assume

that there was some kind of a bolt hole at

the back of a block of houses like this.

There was a sergeant with them – a very

decent man apparently, who told us he fired

the first shot as he was certain he saw

a shot fired from the maid’s window.

This is an absolute impossibility as she

was just going down to call the girls when

the first shot came into her room & we

promptly locked the door on the outside

to prevent her going in again & getting

shot & the door was still locked when the

soldiers came to search it so they must have

had the jumps very badly. I think they

should have made some enquiries at the

hospital about a house so near. They said

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they had been watching the house for some days

but they must have done it very badly as

Fane & Ina were at the hospital every day

enquiring after various wounded people.

Also they said they had been told the house

was empty, with only a caretaker in it,

so could not understand all the lights

being turned on & off at night & thought

we were signalling!!! As we were all going

in & out all day I don’t think they

could have watched very carefully or they

might have perceived that the house was

not empty. Personally I don’t wonder at

their being a bit jumpy. They had had an

awful time of it, being shot into Dublin

with no maps, very short rations, unable

to trust anyone & sniped at all day

without seeing anyone to shoot at

themselves. Also they were mostly extremely raw

troops. Mr Howard told us some of them had

never fired a shot before. All the same

I don’t think he will ever make a brilliant

strategist though doubtless a young man of

immense intellect. I think he thought we

were all cracked, as by the time he arrived

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we had recovered from our alarm & begun

to see the humour of the situation. We were

very nice to him & he has been back since

for meals & baths (I’d never have faced

the family again personally) but I took care to

point out to him that though as a means of

wrecking furniture etc. his methods were

excellent, as a means of exterminating

Sinn Feiners they were a distinct failure,

because after 3 hours of them, 12 people,

2 dogs, 1 cat & 1 parrot had sustained no

casualties whatever. He didn’t like me at

all. You can’t imagine what the house

looked like. The drawing-room has got

off quite lightly, a few prints smashed

etc. & the dining-room isn’t touched

but the top floor was a wreck the schoolroom

also & Ina’s room, which is full

of beautiful furniture are in a fearful

state. All of Ina’s clothes & most of the

girls’ are are in ribbons. Undoubtedly

the British Army is given beautiful

ammunition. Nothing seems to stop it!

The furniture in Ina’s room was really

very valuable I believe & there is an awful

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lot of damage done one way & another. All

the windows are smashed & they are plate glass

which is a distinct item nowadays.

The idea is that Fane will get no compensation

at all. One highly humourous

touch is that a certain Mrs Falkiner a

most wearing lady who had been ageing

us all a good deal was refugeeing here

as she was frightful about her own

house, & she came in for the bombardment.

She has now left us!

I hear Tommy Burrowes is wounded. I

gather he has been playing the ass as

usual but we don’t know for certain.

It appears he was coming back from playing

golf & got tired of being challenged by sentries

so refused to show his pass & was shot

in the leg. I gather he is quite bad. It happened

somewhere near Baggott St. Bridge so he

walked into the hospital there & report says

started off by giving a wrong name

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He is now at some nursing home where

Fane called to see him & was told he

was “to be kept quiet”. The general

impression seems to be that he is off

his head. He started off in the beginning

of the week by trying to borrow Fane’s

motor to try & get to Stradone. When next Fane

saw him he was on a bicycle

going off to play golf. It seems odd

he didn’t try & take a more active

part in suppressing the rebellion. Every

other soldier on leave that we have heard

of has been making himself useful.

We had a Captain Kirk here last

night, sniper-hunting & he with

his leg in irons. Fane says the impression

at the Club is that Tommy B. really

is queer in the head. Bergy Tombe has

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been most undefeated. He has been up

from Wicklow 3 or 4 times with his car

loaded with food for the hospitals etc.

He really is a decent soul. No difficulties

with passports seem to stop him

& he carries messages for everyone.

We heard to-day that Jack had got

your job all right. He seems much

pleased. We had letters to-day for the

first time for 10 days except for a line

from home which was sent up the

line. Ma had received none of my

P.C.’s till the day before yesterday &

was in a fearful state I’m afraid. Every

thing is being very carefully censored

but I hope you will get this all right.

Most of the shops are open again today.

I go home on Monday & Nellie comes

with me I think. Mariel & Rose being both

away Margery will have a lovely time

coping with the growing peevishness of

her papa, who is getting each day more

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fretful as he ponders on the injury done

him by the British Army. Erne Hill

is heavily insured against civil commotion

but this house is not! Fane is really a very

odd man. When it was discovered that Jock was

not in the basement Nellie went to look

for him & I don’t think it ever occurred

to her papa that he was hardly worth being

killed for. There were numerous other highly

humourous incidents but I can’t write

them all.

6th

Uncle Cecil turned up unexpectedly this

morning & has now gone to Glenburne.

He had been stuck at Holyhead for a week.

He went to see Tommy B. this morning

says he found him quite sensible & coherent.

He said it was all his own fault. I expect

it will be some time before he tries to

be funny with a sentry again. Uncle C. only

saw him for a couple of minutes but says he

was looking somewhat shook & had a fine

growth of beard. I expect he’s not any madder

than usual really!

It is really rather sickening the way the English

papers are patting dear Mr Redmond’s National

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Volunteers on the back & commenting favourably

on their loyal behaviour. The

fact being that all over the country they

were just waiting to see which way

the cat jumped in Dublin. If things

had gone wrong here there would

surely have been battle, murder, &

sudden death all over Ireland. We have

heard that they were sitting ready.

In Drogheda there are 230 N.V.’s & as

things were looking bad there the local

authorities suggested that they might

turn out & help the police. It was found

that 200 had joined the Sinn Feiners &

the other 30 were indisposed! We were told

this, as a fact, by Mr Cairns, the Dep.

Chairman of the G.N.R. who lives at

Drogheda. The Government is very busy

trying to make out that this affair

is a purely German scheme into which

the loyal Irish have been led blindly!

I don’t think.

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I’ve never seen the like of Sackville St, but

I expect you have so I won’t describe it!

I wonder what you are doing. Are you

in supreme command of the 3rd Army

or is there a nominal leader, guided

by you???

Best love & I hope you will have time &

ability to read all this. The Vernon family

are rather rude about my writing. I think

it is rather good myself, but I admit I

can’t always read it!

Yrs ever

M.R.L.

**Additional Note on side of document**

Letters from & about C.G.L. & F.K.L.

Also copies of letters re C.G.L.

& cutting

& old letters of mine kept by

C.G.L.

The first four pages of Margaret Ruth Leslie’s letter describe how the house she was in was fired upon by British soldiers carrying out the last of the fighting in the south side of Dublin. She starts off her letter by informing her cousin that his wedding present is safe, however much of the rest of the house is destroyed. Leslie will again speak about the damage to the house later in her letter on pages eight and nine. This is important to note, as it shows how civilians were affected by the fighting. Soldiers began targeting her house on 30 April 1916, as they continued to fight against Irish Volunteers on the south side of the city who had not yet surrendered. The soldiers believed that bullets were being fired from the upper windows of the home, and therefore, began returning fire and targeting anyone seen in the house.

Fane and Ina, two other guests in the house apparently did not feel threatened by the bullets and continued to carry on with their day until they were both almost killed. Fane was eventually grazed on the arm and the leg. Leslie stated that the firing became hotter as the day went on, which was likely due to the continued movement of people in the home, and the jumpiness of the British soldiers by this point in the week. One woman in the home named Nelly was finally able to telephone the nearby hospital which had been commandeered by the military. After two phone calls she convinced the officers there that there were no Irish Volunteers in the home, but instead “11 harmless women & her elderly male parent.” Nelly requested that the soldiers ceased firing and instead investigated the area. Nelly’s struggle to get the soldiers to understand that there were no Irish Volunteers in the house can be seen as an example of their untrustworthiness of the local population and Irish Volunteers. They likely felt that the occupants of the home were trying to trick them into thinking there was no danger so that they could attack them by surprise at a later time.

On page five of Leslie’s letter, she recounts that the firing did cease and that an officer in command of six soldiers came to their home to investigate. The officer, named Howard, was concerned about the damage of the home, but also stated that he had been preparing to utilize rifle grenades to clear out the perceived threat when he was notified that civilians occupied the home. Leslie is quite critical of his ability to lead and comments that he “is old enough to have more common sense than he displayed.” She is also perplexed at how Howard had chosen not to place sentries at the back lane of the homes, as he did not believe that they had rear exits. Leslie concludes page 6 of her letter by stating that she believed that the soldiers “had the jumps very badly.” By this point in the week, many soldiers were likely suffering from PTSD due to the house to house fighting. Many of the men sent to Dublin were also new recruits who had not experienced combat before. Leslie sympathizes with their jumpiness on page seven of her letter as she describes that many were young recruits sent into Dublin with no knowledge of the city or it’s people, and forced to fight while being sniped and ambushed.

On page nine of her letter, Leslie describes how Tommy Burrowes was shot in the leg after he became irritated with the numerous sentry stations and refused to show his pass. She then criticizes him for going to play golf during the uprising instead of helping the soldiers work to clear the city. Burrowes os proof that for many, daily life carried on the midst of the Rising. On page 11 Leslie mentions Bergy Tombe again, who she wrote about in her first letter, stating that he had traveled to Wicklow numerous times throughout the week to bring food back to the hospitals in Dublin. This again is proof that people were able to carry on with their lives despite the conflict. Tombe was able to maneuver out of the city and obtain supplies and get back into Dublin again, despite the fighting. Too often historians discuss the Rising as an event that brought all life in Dublin to a halt throughout the week, however that was not the case for everyone in the city.

Leslie concludes her letter by discussing the aftermath of the Rising. By 4 May, the shops were beginning to reopen, and while Dublin was under martial law many people began to return back to their normal daily lives. She is also highly critical of John Redmond’s Nation Volunteers at the end of page twelve. This shows that while the National Volunteers had sided with Britain and pledged to serve for home rule, many people on both sides of the conflict did not view them favorably in the wake of the Rising. The Unionists were angry at their inaction and the Irish Volunteers felt that they had betrayed the cause of Irish Independence by not joining them in the Rising. Leslie states on page thirteen that she cannot believe that the government is trying to make the Rising seem like a “scheme” carried out by the Germans, in which the Irish were led blindly. Leslie does not seem to believe this is true, and history shows that Germany was only slightly involved by agreeing to supply arms, which never reached the Volunteers.

Leslie’s letter provides historians with a glimpse into the civilian experience of the Easter Rising. Her discussion of the home being destroyed and a friend wounded illustrate the toll that the conflict took on the civilian population. Other stories such as a friend traveling to golf and another about the shops re-opening, show historians that despite the fighting and widespread destruction in Dublin, many people did try to maintain some sense of normalcy in their daily routines. Historians must continue to examine accounts like Leslie’s if they wish to fully understand the civilian experience during the Irish Revolution. The accounts are perhaps the most important of all, as the vast majority of Ireland was not involved in active combat, or active political campaigning during the Irish Revolution. Most Irish citizens carried on with their normal daily activities throughout the period. While history has often depicted the Revolution as being violent and having a great affect on the entire population, civilian accounts like Margaret Leslie’s may perhaps show us that some individuals were gravely affected by the Revolution, while others were essentially untouched by it.

 

 

 

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