After the surrender of the Rebel Army in Dublin on 29 April 1916 its guns, rifles, ammunition and pikes were gathered and taken to the British Army Ordnance Stores, which was located on Infirmary Road/Montpellier Hill, the Red House was the administrative office of the Ordnance Stores.
Then within days of the surrender the British Army in a sweep of homes throughout the city confiscated hundreds of legally held guns, and these too were taken to the Red House, some of this hardware was memorabilia of the Boer War and other nineteenth century British Military campaigns.
Immediately the souvenir hunters emerged. On 5 May, a letter was received from the Lieutenant Colonel E.E. Markwick, Assistant Director of Ordnance Stores, Irish Command wrote:
If there is no objection, Captain H.H Prince Alexander of Battenberg would like to have one of the Mauser Rifles and a specimen of an Old Irish pike’, which have been surrendered and handed in to the Ordnance Stores. The Commandant I.C., Depot would also like to have some specimens of these arms etc., for his officers’ Mess Instructions are requested please. [i]
In reply, Lieutenant Colonel Decies of General Staff replied, that he had no objection to ‘the H.H. Prince Alexander of Battenberg selecting and he added that the prince ‘could select some for his majesty the King.’[ii]
The Commandant of the Royal Irish Constabulary Depot in Dublin, Edward H. Pearson also asked for some souvenirs and was informed by Lieutenant Colonel Decies, of the headquarters General Staff that he ‘must wait before he can be allowed to select arms.’ Effectively, he would have to wait until the royals had the pick of the spoils. [iii]
On 10 May, Alfred Miller the Registrar of the College of Surgeons wrote to Major General Friend, at the Royal Hospital in Kilmainham, and asked for some souvenirs.
As you are aware this college was held as a Headquarters by the rebel army, and I am most anxious to obtain for the College some of the rifles, bayonets etc., that they used during that time…I should be extremely grateful if you could see your way to permit the College to have some of them. [iv]
He concluded his letter by assuring the Major General that he was ‘happy to inform’ him that ‘comparatively little malicious damage has been done in the college’. [v] In a postscript he said that he ‘could go out anytime with some of the cadets of the Colleges Officer Training Corps (OTC). The reply was delegated to Lieutenant Colonel E.E. Markwick who replied.
I have the honour to inform you that a small quantity of rifles and bayonets has been set aside, and some of these may be selected by your representative from the Ordnance Depot., at any time during the working day. [vi]
It appears that all the souvenir hunters were accommodated, then within weeks the owners of the hundreds of legally held guns that had been confiscated sought the return their property. In total there were 320 application for the return of guns and pikes, and 250 were returned to ‘loyal subjects’ the remaining seventy applicants were refused the return of the property on the basis that their loyalty was doubtful.
As the ‘loyal subjects’ arrived to collect their property a problem became apparent,
General W. Fry Major-General i/c Administration, Irish Command, reported that:
The weapons removed from Rebels taken in arms were unavoidably mixed with those from private houses with the result that where the latter were not labelled, it was subsequently impossible to distinguish between them and the former. [vii]
In total, sixty pieces of weaponry owned by loyal citizens were missing because they were distributed as rebel guns to souvenir hunters, Major General W. Fry wrote:
It has been found impossible after the most careful search to return the Arms, as they are not in the possession of the Military, although the Arms claimed were undoubtedly removed by the Military in the first instance. I therefore consider it desirable to forward to you this report with a view to the early sanction of compensation to these claimants. [viii]
This was agreed.
Furthermore, in view of this evidence, it can be said that not all the guns or pikes on display in various museums, and sold in the trade of 1916 memorabilia, cannot with absolute certainty, be described as having been used by the Rebel Army.
[I] Report, General W. Fry Major-General i/c Administration, Irish Command. (WO) (National Archives London, WO 35/69)