Wednesday 23 March 2016

Friendships split by the Easter Rising: PRONI's Document of the Month

The Document of the Month for March from the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland (PRONI) is a set of personal reminiscences of the Easter Rising by a former Dublin civil servant and Red Cross volunteer, Ronnie Whelan.

During the Uprising, Whelan temporarily served in the Royal Army Medical Corps. His papers, written in 1963, reveal vivid details of the events as they unfolded in Dublin.

Stephen Scarth, Head of Public Services at PRONI, said: “What I like about Ronnie Whelan’s account is that this is a very human story. Whelan is a civil servant who gets caught up in one of the most seismic events of Irish history. While serving temporarily in the Royal Army Medical Corps, he vividly describes the disruption and chaos of the events, whilst at the same time recounting how he found childhood friends involved in the rising.”

In the account, Whelan writes: “Some-one told me that Jimmie and Paddy Dunne – two earlier playmates of mine – were with the rebels behind a barricade in the centre of Annesley Bridge, Fairview. I decided during my release period to go along and try to contact them. I got to the end of Clonliffe Road, and worked my way in the shelter of a warehouse wall until I came in sight of the bridge, and waited my chance got across the road, and over some furniture into the rebel stockade. There were my old pals, sure enough. We carried on an argument as quietly as possible under the circumstances."

He continues to describe how he failed to convince his friends to desist and that a ‘Commandant’ approached him and asked him to leave before the barrier was blown up.

Ronnie Whelan was born in Dublin in 1894 and died in October 1974. He joined the Irish Civil Service at the age of 14, and moved to the North in 1922, continuing his career in the Civil Service. Amongst his papers are typescript memoirs, which recall some boyhood experiences in Dublin at the beginning of the 20th century, and his observations on the Easter Rebellion 1916.

Of particular interest is his account of the capture by members of the Republican Army of the Custom House in which Whelan worked, and of the subsequent 'firing' of the building.

See PRONI's Document of the Month.