Tuesday, 5 April 2016

‘Surgeons and Insurgents’ – a 1916
exhibition at the College of Surgeons

Joe Doyle and Christina Doyle at their 50th wedding anniversary in 1956 … they were both part of the RCSI garrison in Saint Stephen’s Green in Easter Week in 1916

Patrick Comerford

I was in the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland (RCSI) last night for a special exhibition exploring the human stories of surgeons and insurgents associated with RCSI and the 1916 Easter Rising.

The exhibition at the RCSI on Saint Stephen’s Green tells the occupation of the RCSI building on Saint Stephen’s Green during the Easter Rising in 1916, with a focus on the stories of nine surgeons and nine insurgents involved in those events 100 years ago.

The college was occupied by rebels under the command of Michael Mallin and Countess Markievicz during the Easter Rising. But many surgeons from the RCSI also played roles in surrounding hospitals that week, working tirelessly with the wounded, the injured and the dying.

Sergeant Joe Doyle’s name is on the RCSI ‘Roll of Honour’ in the exhibition (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016)

I was at the exhibition because of my interest in one insurgent and one surgeon.
Barbara’s grandfather, Joseph Doyle (1878-1958), a printer from 117 Capel Street, Dublin, is named in the ‘roll of honour’ among the insurgents, and was a sergeant in the Irish Citizen Army.

He was born in Kilmainham on 18 October 1878 and was baptised on 24 October 1878 in Saint James’s Church, Dublin. He worked as a printer in the machine department in Dollards.

He was a sergeant in the Irish Citizen Army in 1916, and was with James Connolly in Liberty Hall on the Tuesday before Easter. He was a member of the garrison at the RCSI in Saint Stephen’s Green, which included the largest number of women members to take part in the Rising.

Joe Doyle was sent to command a unit of 16 men at Davey’s pub in Portobello, deployed to delay troops sent from Portobello Barracks. He also fought at Harcourt Street Railway Station and at the RCSI in Saint Stephen’s Green under Countess Markievicz and Michael Mallin.

After the Rising, he was first interned in Stafford Gaol and Wandsworth, and then at Frongoch in north Wales, but he was released for Christmas 1916. After his release he took part in a raid for arms at Portobello Barracks in September 1917 and raids for arms on US army supply ships as well as on Wellington Barracks, Islandbridge Barracks and in the defence of Liberty Hall during the night of 11 November 1918.

The two medals he received for his part in the War of Independence later passed to his eldest son, Paddy Doyle, along with a handkerchief he had in Frongoch and which had inscribed on it: “Joseph Doyle Irish Prisoner Stafford Cresant F. 57 New Hall B.4.15 Wansworth A.1.14 Frongoch Camp Hut.23 no. 1631 Home Office No. 316548 War Office No. 9 July 22 1916.”

Joe Doyle and Christina ‘Tiny’ Bird were married on 8 January 1906 in Saint Michael’s and Saint John’s Church, Dublin. She was the daughter of Matthew Bird of 10 Henrietta Place and Elizabeth (Byrne). She was born on 21 December 1884 and was baptised on 24 December 1884 in Saint Michan’s Church, Dublin. She had worked in the post office, and she joined Cumann na mBan at the inaugural meeting in 1913.

She was a member of the Ard Craobh Branch (Central Branch) of Cumann na mBan in 1916. On Easter Day 1916, she took first aid equipment and got to Saint Stephen’s Green where she remained until the evening, distributing food and doing other work.

After Easter Week, she continued to attend meetings of Cumann na mBan, visited prisoners and helped collect funds for distressed families. She was a member of the Ranelagh Branch of Cumann na mBan until February 1922.

The Doyle family, which was living in Capel Street in 1916, had moved to Anner Road, Inchicore, by 1929. Joe died on 26 July 1958, ‘Tiny’ died in 1963, and they are buried in Mount Jerome Cemetery. They were the parents of seven sons and four daughters.

The other women at the RCSI during Easter Week in 1916 included Madeleine ffrench-Mullen, the daughter of a Royal Naval surgeon who attended injured comrades in the College Hall during Easter Week, and her friend, Dr Kathleen Lynn, the daughter of a Church of Ireland rector from Co Mayo. Together they later founded Saint Ultan’s Hospital, the first hospital for infants in Ireland.

A photograph of Sir Thomas Myles in the exhibition

I was also interested in one of the surgeons, Sir Thomas Myles: I have written and lectured about his extraordinary life-story in recent years. He was a Fellow and elected President of the RCSI in 1900. Myles was a believer in Home Rule but also fair play.

He ran guns for the Irish Citizen Army on his yacht after Sir Edward Carson and the Ulster Unionists had successfully carried out a similar gunrunning expedition in 1914.

The decorations and medals received by Sir Thomas Myles (Photograph: Patrick Comerford (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016)

He became an honorary surgeon to King George V during the war and his medals from World War I and the insignia from his knighthood are on display.

Another prominent surgeon featured in the exhibition is Lieutenant-Colonel Francis Richard Tobin, a veteran soldier for 20 years. He attended the wounded James Connolly in Dublin Castle Hospital and a strong friendship developed between these opposites, military man and revolutionary.

A brass plate on a door still shows the marks of a bullet from the 1916 Rising (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016)

Despite being a focal point for the Rising, the RCSI building and rooms occupied during Easter week remain intact as they did in 1916 and they provide a fitting setting for this exhibition. In the room where last night’s reception was hosted, one of the doors still shows the marks of a bullet that struck the brass plate during the Rising.

The features in the exhibition include a scale model of Saint Stephen’s Green in 1916 with visual and sound-effects, showing the firing-lines across the Green and reconstructions of furniture barricades, the first aid station and a “live bombs” table, re-creating some of the scenes found in the college during the Rising.

The artefacts in the exhibition include the will of Countess Markievicz, reportedly taken from the college by the wounded Margaret Skinnider. A sword disguised as a walking stick, belonging to Captain Christopher Poole, is on loan from the Poole family is also be on display.

The tricolour reportedly flown over RCSI during the Rising is on public display for the first time (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016)

Another item on display is the tricolour that is believed to have flown over RCSI during the Easter Rising and that was taken from the college by the wounded Margaret Skinnider. This tricolour, which is on loan to the college from Margaret Skinnider’s family, is on public display for the first time.

The nine surgeons featured in the exhibition are: Sir Thomas Myles, John Stephen McArdle, Michael Francis Cox, Sir Robert Henry Woods, Charles Hachette Hyland, Euphan Montgomerie Maxwell, William Ireland de Courcy Wheeler, Francis Tobin and Sir Charles Alexander Cameron.

The nine insurgents featured in the exhibition are: Countess Markievicz (Constance Gore-Booth), Thomas Clifford, Michael O’Doherty, Frank Robbins, Madeleine ffrench-Mullen, Helen ‘Nellie’ Gifford, Michael Mallin, Christopher Poole and Margaret Skinnider.

A special commemorative book accompanies the exhibition. Surgeons and Insurgents was written by Dr Mary McAuliffe of University College Dublin and was researched by the RCSI Archivist, Dr Meadhbh Murphy, who was present last night. It was an added pleasure to see that one of my own papers on Sir Thomas Myles is referenced in this book.

Further details of opening times of the exhibition and bookings are available here.