Guardian angels and guns: Granddad fought in the Rising

Willie McNeive escorts his daughter, Vivian, into church on her wedding day in 1948, 32 years after he fought in Ireland's Easter Rising. (CNS photo/courtesy Susan Gately)

Willie McNeive escorts his daughter, Vivian, into church on her wedding day in 1948, 32 years after he fought in Ireland’s Easter Rising. (CNS photo/courtesy Susan Gately)

By Susan Gately

DUBLIN (CNS) — I am a child of Ireland’s Easter Rising, the disordered six-day insurrection against British rule in 1916.

My grandfather, Willie McNeive, was imprisoned in Wales following the Rising. His best friend was Joe Stanley, press agent to the Rising leader, Patrick Pearse. When Joe’s sister Jenny, visited him, she met Willie and they fell in love and married.

As a child, I questioned Granddad about the Rising but he was reluctant to talk. Seeing the Northern Troubles develop, he became disgusted that what was so nobly begun had ended in terrorist atrocities in the name of an Irish Republic. Fortunately, in 1978 he committed his 1916 memories to tape.

Initially during the uprising, Granddad was assigned a first-floor window overlooking a quayside. Rifle in hand, he watched a group of British lancers march by.

“We turned our face to the wall, said an act of contrition and waited for the order to shoot.” To their relief, the order did not come.

Next, commandeering “all forms of transport,” they moved material to the General Post Office.

“One of the greatest thrills of my life was when I looked up and saw the tricolour of the Irish Republic flying over the GPO. It brought tears to my eyes,” he recounted.

For six days my grandfather fought at the post office. Toward the end, he was ordered to break open a door, which he did. When he returned to pick up his rifle, it was gone, replaced by a German Mauser.

Outside, the squad was ordered to fix bayonets. With no bayonet or ammunition, Granddad fell out. The others charged around a corner only to be mowed down by British artillery.

“I often wondered who swiped my rifle. In view of the fate of the others, I concluded it was my guardian angel,” he recounted.

My relatives were ready to give their lives for Irish independence in an uprising that had no hope of success, and I am moved by that fact. Others think the Rising was a waste of lives. Ireland would have gotten home rule without the bloodshed, some say. Who knows?

Yet for better or worse, we are where we are today, in some measure, due to the 1,600 men and women who took to the streets to fight for an Irish Republic a hundred years ago.
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Gately is a multimedia correspondent for Catholic News Service.

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