Defending Trinity College Dublin, Easter 1916

Anzacs and the Rising

Rory Sweetman

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ISBN: 978-1-84682-784-6
May 2019. 176pp; ills.

Little has been written on Trinity College’s role in Easter Week 1916 as a ‘loyal nucleus’ dividing the insurgents and providing an effective counterweight to rebel headquarters in the GPO. The College is usually mentioned in the context of the rebels’ alleged failure to attempt its capture, and its co-option as a barracks in the later stages of the rebellion. Most commentators march past Trinity as determinedly as did the Irish Citizen Army on its way to St Stephen’s Green, with at most a sideways glance at what one rebel referred to as the intellectual centre of West Britonism. Still more neglected are the men who helped to save Trinity from potential disaster at a time when it was virtually defenceless. This book reveals how five New Zealanders, acting as the core of a small squad of colonial troops, provided a vital shield to protect Trinity from capture. Had the College fallen to the surprise attack launched on it by the rebels at midnight on Easter Monday, its 324th year may well have been its last; nothing less than heavy and prolonged artillery fire would have sufficed to defeat the occupiers. Letters written home by the New Zealanders give fresh insight into important aspects of the insurrection and allow us to test some controversial claims against both Trinity’s own record and the various rebel accounts. More importantly, they help to answer questions left unasked in previous studies: how close did Trinity come to being a central battleground in the Rising? How and why did it escape this grisly fate? And – not least – what might have happened but for the timely intervention of the colonial troops? Defending Trinity College Dublin, Easter 1916 puts this neglected episode into an imperial context, with Dublin as a theatre of battle in a global war.

Dr Rory Sweetman is a Kildare-born New Zealander who holds history degrees from Trinity College Dublin and Cambridge University. He has published extensively on aspects of the Irish abroad and is the author of Bishop in the Dock: the Sedition Trial of James Liston in New Zealand (Dublin, 2007), which won the Sir Keith Sinclair Prize for History.