Did an armoured train help stop the local Rising in its tracks?
Published 02/04/2016 | 00:00
AN armoured train with a big gun called 'Enniscorthy Emily' is said to have played a little-reported role in quelling the Easter Rising in the town.
But whether it fired at Volunteers on Vinegar Hill or not, is 100 years on still a matter of some conjecture.
If the reports are true it would be the only use of such a large calibre weapon during the revolt in Enniscorthy.
According to one contemporary report, a blank shell was fired at the hill from a 15-pound gun dubbed 'Enniscorthy Emily' by its crew, but that would have just made a loud bang without any shell emerging from the gun barrel.
So if a round was fired and landed in rebel lines, it would probably have been a practice shell, which is a projectile without a warhead.
But its velocity alone would have caused quite a stir if it had landed near groups of people.
In her newly-published book 'The Last Surrender' author Helen Ashdown quotes rebel leader Robert Brennan as dismissing the 'Enniscorthy Emily' story entirely, as did Jack Whelan - 'But was a good story to tell'.
She quotes an Irish Times article from its April 29, 1916 edition, which she says started a mythology about events before the surrender:
'Some of the rebels had taken up positions on Vinegar Hill which overlooks the town of Enniscorthy, with the intention of probably emulating the deeds of their ancestors, but the rebels of today are different stuff. A hurried council of war was held but the deliberations were brought to an abrupt conclusion by a well-planted shell which the gunner of "Enniscorthy Emily" discharged at the hill.
'The shell, which it is stated, was a blank one, landed plump among the rebels and exploded with a prodigious and terror-inspiring noise. When the rebels recovered somewhat from the terror-inspiring sound, they hoisted white flags all over the hill, as many as 40 flags being counted and about 200 of the brave insurgents bolted for the hills. Many of the escaping rebels were captured. The others laid down their arms unconditionally and the military have ever since been busily engaged in rounding up the stragglers. So began and ended the "war" in the Enniscorthy district.'
There is no doubt that an armoured train - the first in Ireland - was deployed to Enniscorthy during the Rising, but did its gunners fire at Vinegar Hill?
The author quotes a Mr Harold Ashton as saying the train was hastily flung together in the charge of 'a richly humorous Hibernian. 'There were two or three shell trucks shackled to the engine. Armoured with hastily-pierced sheets of iron.. the whole contraption was painted slate colour.
'The arrival of the armoured train and the sudden and most shocking appearance of "Enniscorthy Emily" settled the hash of the enemy once and for all.'
While Robert Breenan is quoted as saying the 'Enniscorthy Emily' story was a myth, a government enquiry which took place in the aftermath of the Rising does give it some credibility. It said: 'Some of the rebels had taken up positions on Vinegar Hill, which overlooks the town of Enniscorthy. A council of war was held, but the deliberations were brought to an abrupt conclusion by a well-planted shell which the gunner of "Enniscorthy Emily" discharged at the hill.
'The shell, which, it is stated, was a blank one, landed plump amongst the rebels, who hoisted white flags on the hill, while two hundred of the insurgents bolted for the hills. Many of the escaping rebels were captured. The others laid down their arms unconditionally.'
Whether or not the incident as reported happened, there were no casualties.
In this newspaper, see 'Wexford Rising' Part Two: our second souvenir supplement on events in the county during Easter 1916, Wexford Rising.