The GPO and the Easter Rising

Peter Berresford Ellis reviews The GPO and the Easter Risingby Keith Jeffrey, Irish Academic Press, ISBN 0 7165 2828 2, €25.00/£18 pbk

GPO and the Easter Rising

WHEN I heard that an account of 1916 had been written by the `official historian of MI6', British military intelligence, I was more than intrigued. Of course, Dr Jeffery is also a Professor of British History at Queen's University, Belfast.

Any trepidation I might have felt about yet another pro-imperial piece of revisionism was soon dispelled as I started to read what must be one of the most original pieces of research on the history of Easter 1916 that has been made in recent years.

Earlier in the year, not realising that this book was on the way, I had taken Professor Townshend to task for not realising the significance of the General Post Office as an insurgent HQ. In my Anonn Is Anall column, I had quoted from some GPO accounts that had not been used by any 1916 historian. Professor Jeffery now quotes from such accounts and even extends them in an intriguing book.

The GPO archives include a record of a frantic 'phone call from Sam Guthrie of the Dublin GPO. He had been told to leave the building and went to Amiens Street where, with an emergency telephone line, he reported the news of the insurrection to London at 2.50 pm. As Jeffrey says of the record of his words: "Here is real history. Here we have Guthrie's voice speaking to us … locked up in an archive for nearly ninety years."

It's an exciting book, with a new perspective from the viewpoint of the GPO workers.

I found the appendix lists of the civil servants suspended in the aftermath of the rising particularly fascinating. Among the long list of Postal Officials suspected of complicity in the insurrection, names spring out like Richard J. Mulcahy, of the Engineering Dept, Dublin. Most were held in military custody while others weree deported or under suspension.

Of the civil servants who were examined, rather than arbitrarily dealt with, 23 were dismissed, one pensioned off and only 18 reinstated. Of 23 postal workers who worked in the GPO building itself, 12 were dismissed for complicity in the insurrection.

Professor Jeffrey has produced an essential account for extending our knowledge of the events of Easter 1916.

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