Willie Bennet

T. L.: Now, as well, you said you had been to the Museum before with an uncle that died in 1916. Could you tell me about his past?

W. B.: Well he was killed in… that house there on the corner of Haddington Road, with… with… Malone. He was with Malone.

T. L.:Was he?

W. B.: Yes. His name is on that monument there in… Mount Street.

T. L.: Mount Street. Was he involved in that big battle against the Sherwood Foresters?

W. B. He was… he was, yes. He was in the battle there… he was killed there. And he had a brother then, and a sister. And the sister was in the Cumann na mBan, and another brother was with him in ’16. He escaped, and when the split came he… threw in his lot with Dev and he was killed out at Crooksling afterwards. But… his sister, she… washed her hands out of politics altogether, same as myself, when the split came. And… I buried her here some years ago. She… she died in… out in Dartry, and… she never applied for a 1916 medal, or a pension or anything else. ’Course, as she said – which, of course, she was right – at that time there was no talks of awards of any description. So… she died anyway. But before she died she gave me a lot of his stuff and I brought it into the museum.

T. L.: Well, what can you remember about.. was there anything in the family about family memories of that battle, the Mount Street battle?

W. B.: Well no there wasn’t much of course all, on my mother’s side was all connected with it. I’ve a card up there, my grandfather’s card, he was in the Fenian or United Irishmen or something like that. His card is up there. But...

T. L.: The man himself then, what about him? The man that actually took part in… how did he get into the…?

W. B.: The two of them. Well he was in the Volunteers. He was in the Volunteers all along. And… Joe Clarke that died here about two years ago – I knew Joe very well – he was… a great friend of his, and… Joe was the oldest surviving member of the 1916 garrison. Actually he was older than Dev, about two years older. Joe died here about two years ago. And he was with… he was in Mount Street for the Rebellion, but he knew him well.

T. L.: And that was a… that Mount Street incident itself… was a kind of… was a very stupid one on the British part.

W. B.: Oh it was. It was actually because I was in the St John ambulance for years and there was an old friend of mine, Stewart was his name, and he was in the GR, Garrison Reserves I think they called them, and he said when the military arrived here at Kingstown, as it was in those days, he went to the officer in charge and he told them to go in by Donnybrook. And they said no, their instructions were to follow the tramlines, and they followed the tramlines and of course that’s where they were caught, between… Mount Street… Ballsbridge actually is where they started along there and…the big battle of Mount Street.

T. L.: What, what was the… were the soldiers themselves fresh?

W. B.: They were raw recruits, I saw them passing by. And they were only young fellas, they didn’t know in the heck where they were. They were going along looking gazing up at the houses when they were caught in the crossfire. Well it wasn’t so much crossfire it was all from the one side of the street along there… Clarke was in the… what used to be the Protestant school there at Mount  Street – I think it’s now a cancer research place or something. He was there and my uncle was in the house there with Malone, on the corner of Haddington Road. Then there was Clanwilliam House. But they were caught along there you see, and that was the biggest battle of the whole lot.

T. L.: How many of the Sherwood Foresters were shot there… have you any idea?

W. B.: God I… There was over two hundred of them I think. There was. There was over two hundred I know was killed there. Yeah.

T. L.: What’s it the man said when he… when one of the officers said? He said not to worry did he say?

W. B.: He said no, their instructions were in Whitehall, to go by the tramline, follow the tramlines in and Stewart wanted him to go up around Donnybrook and in the back way to Baggot Street…

T. L.: Oh it’s Baggot Street they were going to?

W. B.: They were going to Beggar’s Bush.

T. L.: Beggar’s Bush.

W. B.: In the Beggar’s Bush.

T. L.: Did some of them, did some of them think they had arrived in France or something?

W. B.: They didn’t know where they were I think. They really didn’t know, they were only… I saw them, they were young fellas going along and… they were… completely taken by surprise you see because they let them right into the middle before they opened fire on them.

T. L.: Do you remember… do you remember the First World War itself, and the Irish men going to the…?

W. B.: Oh I do, I remember the First World War and… I was in Cork at that time but I remember them buying the horses. I was looking at them… I was only a young lad looking at them buying the horses and running them up and down you know, testing them for wind and that. But… course it was a different type of war to the last war. It was trench warfare and that… yes.

T. L.: Well what about 1916 as far as you remember it here in in Dublin?

W. B.: I was in Dublin for that and I remember it only too well. I remember that morning I was coming out to what was then Kingstown with a cousin of mine who… the train was stopped at Merrion Halt and eh, everyone was taken out of the train. So the train couldn’t go back because the Sinn Féiners had… It was on the line and they had lifted the lines at… Havelock Square, along there. And there was this, I think he was an Indian, I can picture him yet, he got out of the train and he kept saying ‘Shun Funners, Shun Funners’, you know when they were told Sinn Féin had blocked the line. But we walked back in, the cousin and I, into town with everybody else and there was shooting all over the bloomin’ place at that time.

And… I remember there was a British soldier, behind a chimney. There was very few –  Stewart told me there was only four or five men in Bagg… in Beggar’s Bush. ’Course the Sinn Féiners didn’t know it at the time, or the Volunteers, but there was only four or five men left in the Barracks. But this fella was up behind the chimney pot, and they were firing from the railway line at Havelock Square – I think it’s Havelock Square they call it.  And, the lad would peep out now and again and let go a shot at the railway bridge you see. But now and again a shot would come and take a brick out of the side of the chimney. So eventually anyway they got him in the head. He… he went into the Barrack yard and his rifle came out into the…the green patch that’s there in front of Baggot… Baggot Street there.

T. L.: He was a brave man to…

W. B.: He was.

T. L.: Or a foolish man.

W. B.: A foolish man I’d say, foolish man.

T. L.: But the city itself then was quite…

W. B.: Oh the city itself, my God, you wouldn’t know it! O’Connell Street was gone up in flames, there was a big hole in the middle of O’Connell Street. And the whole city up along was… the whole of O’Connell Street was gone out of it. Yeah.

T. L.: Well what was it… it lasted just the week?

W. B.: Just the week. And the most glorious weather you ever come across, oh it was a scorching week. Punchestown was on that day. There was a lad, he was in the British army, he was home on leave, and… again he was in… coming up – what they call it, Bath Avenue I think they used to call it – and… he was jarred. But I remember them shouting from the bridge for him to go home and he held up his hat and he started shouting the fellas on the bridge ‘You couldn’t hit that for…’ They hit him in the end but he… he was certainly looking for it and he got it. Yeah. Calling them all the names he could think of.

T. L.: What were the thoughts of the people, how did they feel about it? Or did they…?

W. B.: People themselves. Well it was hard to say. There was a lot for it and quite a lot against it, you know. And there was of course the… there was a lot of the fellas in the British Army and out abroad fighting…

  • Informant
    Willie Bennet (W. B.)
  • Age
  • Address
    Dún Laoghaire, Co. Dublin
  • Collector
    Tony Lynch (T. L.)
  • Date of recording
  • Recording context
    Informant’s home
  • Reference
    (audio) UFP0340
  • Faisnéiseoir
    Willie Bennet (W. B.)
  • Aois
    Ní fios
  • Seoladh
    Dún Laoghaire, Co. Bhaile Átha Cliath
  • Bailitheoir
    Tony Lynch (T. L.)
  • Dáta Taifeadta
  • Comhthéacs Taifeadta
    Teach an fhaisnéiseora
  • Tagairt
    (fuaim) UFP0340
Móna Ní hAilbheartaigh, and John Newman collecting from Patrick Dunne (centre) [Éilís Ní Dhuibhne, February 1980]