Mention ‘The Easter Rising‘ to anyone with a basic knowledge of Irish history and the words ‘glorious failure’ might be the response. It was the time when Irish republicans mounted the most serious insurrection against British rule since that of 1798.
Men and women from The Citizen Army, The Irish Volunteers and Cumann na Mban took control of buildings throughout the city in a fight that lasted a week and ended in the destruction of large sections of the city’s main street and in the execution of the rebel leaders shortly thereafter.
The GPO, Boland’s Mill, The South Dublin Union these are names that resonate when it comes to 1916 as the battlegrounds for what became that ‘glorious failure’ as Patrick Pearse described it.
In the sleepy rural suburb of Ashbourne, Co Meath, however, it was anything but. A new book, by Paul O’Brien, documents the only large-scale republican action of that week-long revolt that resulted in a comprehensive victory for the rebels.
It is well known that 17 Volunteers managed to kill or wound an incredible 240 soldiers of the Sherwood Foresters at Mount Street during the rebellion, but for some quirk of history the success at Ashbourne has been largely ignored by the general public
Sixty men of the Volunteers’ Dublin Brigade, 5th (Fingal) Battalion attacked several police stations before deciding to engage a force of some one hundred members of the Royal Irish Constabulary who were travelling in a 17-car convoy sent to intercept the rebels.
The narrow Dublin to Ashbourne road, with its high hedges on either side, provided perfect terrain to launch a devastating attack on the Crown forces.
The fighting was fierce and lasted over four hours, resulting in the deaths of eight policemen and of up to 40 of their number wounded. The Volunteers, led by Commandant Thomas Ashe and Lieutenant Richard Mulcahy, lost two men and had five wounded.
Paul O’Brien’s book Field of Fire – The Battle of Ashbourne, 1916 offers an intense look at those four hours of combat and shows how the tactics used by the rebels became the template for those used by republicans throughout the country during the War of Independence that was to follow.
I showed the book to an old friend of mine, Charlie Weston, who lives in the area where the fighting occurred. It turns out that his grandfather, also named Charlie Weston, was one of the section leaders during the attack.
My friend spoke with real pride for what his grandfather had achieved on that day. I’m glad to say that with Paul O’Brien’s book we can all now share in that pride and give these unsung heroes of 1916 the true credit they deserve.