The net closes in on 1916’s leaders

This blog IS dedicated to the small players in history but I have to break my own rule a little here because the online exhibition at the National Library of Ireland is well worth a look for all history lovers.

There is a section on civilian casualties of the conflict which I thought very intersting. It is well known that journalist Francis Sheehy Skeffington was killed during Easter Week, but the online resource highlights another death, the details of which I replicate here…

More representative perhaps of the generality of the civilian fatalities was James Crawford Neil, a young man relatively unknown outside his family, his place of work and his circle of friends and acquaintances. James Crawford Neil (1887-1916) was a Presbyterian by religion and a typical enough young Dubliner living in Drumcondra. He worked as a library assistant in the National Library of Ireland.

On Tuesday 26 April the National Library was closed due to the Rising. Neil availed of the day off to travel to Glasthule, a village out beyond Kingstown (Dun Laoghaire), to visit his fiancée. The fiancée was an actress named Patricia (‘Gypsy’) Walker, a sister of Máire Ní Shiubhlaigh, also an actress and one of the Cumann na mBan women then ensconced in Jacob’s biscuit factory. On his way home that evening he avoided Sackville Street because it was dangerous, and crossed the Liffey further to the west, where his fate awaited him.

 It appears that he was remonstrating with a looter when he was shot in the back, possibly by a stray bullet, or by a bullet fired by a soldier or Volunteer who mistook him for a looter. He died in Jervis Street Hospital on 10 May.

Among other things, James Crawford Neil was a promising poet just about to have his first collection published.

Published it was, but by then he was dead: Happy Island: Child Poems by Crawford Neil was edited by F.R. Higgins and published in Dublin in July 1916.

James Crawford Neil might well have written more poems. He might also very well have had a family: his grandchildren or great-grandchildren might well be now walking among us in Dublin—one might even be a poet. It was the fate of James Crawford Neil that his intriguing potential was never to be realised, no more than that of any of the other civilian casualties, nor indeed any more than that of any of the combatant casualties—but they at least had a say in the choosing of their destiny.

The section on the 1916 Rising is beautifully laid out and very accessible with biogs on all the key players as well as well-documented descriptions of the events leading up to and following the Rising. It really is a credit to the NLI, and a great resource for writers of historical fiction intereseted in the period. Check out

About historywithatwist

I am a journalist, author and book editor. I have published five novels - four (Tan, The Golden Grave, A Time of Traitors and Patriots' Blood) set during the Irish War of Independence and Civil War, and the fifth (High Crimes), a modern thriller. I'm a history enthusiast who loves a good yarn.
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