Introduction. Arnold Wright, an English writer in Dublin, put the blame for riots entirely on the protestors, not the police. Here, he describes the events of 30 August, one of the first and most serious days of widespread rioting, when, police baton charged the crowds and injured many protestors. Two men caught in the riots, Nolan and Byrne, died from injuries from police. This caused great controversy in Ireland and England. Wright defended police actions as necessary and courageous, denounced strike leaders for inciting people to violence, and condemned the protestors as a lawless mob that attacked police indiscriminately and without provocation. He deplored the women, in particular, for their vulgar language and vicious actions.
He claimed that Larkin encouraged striking workers to attack ‘scab’ members of a football team who had taken the jobs of striking workers. He described how the crowd, following Larkin’s advice, threatened players, and when police intervened to protect the footballers and their supporters, protestors and people in nearby houses combined in an assault on police. Elsewhere in the city, strikers stopped trams and beat drivers and passengers. This provoked clashes with police. After various serious incidents throughout the city, police used baton charges to clear the streets. That night, according to Wright, a small group of policemen was attacked by a large crowd assembled for a meeting in ITGWU headquarters in Beresford Place, and was, hit by objects thrown from the upper stories in Liberty Hall. Wright claims that another serious riot took place in nearby Abbey Street when a ‘howling mob’ of men, women and children from surrounding slum tenements joined strikers and seized the chance to attack the ‘hated representatives of the law’. In Wright’s opinion, the clashes between police and people during this and later weeks were due to the anger of the mob. He denied that the protestors were innocent victims of police brutality, and argued, rather that the police were the victims of mob aggression, even though they were only doing their job, and attempting to protect life and property.
Source. Arnold Wright, Disturbed Dublin: the story of the great strike of 1913–14 with a description of the industries of the Irish capital (London 1914) 133–38.
The opening scene, in what was to prove a prolonged and sanguinary drama, was enacted in the Ringsend district. In his speech on Friday night Mr. Larkin had referred to a football match which was to be played on Saturday on the Shelbourne Ground at Ringsend between two local clubs. ‘There are “scabs” in one of the teams, and you will not be there except as pickets’, he said, in language whose menacing character was understood by those who heard him.
In obedience to the implied command, a large body of members of the Transport Workers Union gathered at the time announced for the match near the entrance to the grounds. The Larkinites vigorously hooted the teams as they passed in; but, apart from this and an occasional scuffle between the pickets and those who entered the enclosure, there was no actual disturbance of the peace. A little later the temper of the demonstrators underwent a change. They gathered in considerable numbers on a bridge in the locality and indicated a clear intention to resort to violence against those who had excited their animosity.
The small force of police present attempted to disperse them, but without success. Shortly afterwards, when reinforcements arrived, including a body of mounted officers, the attempt was renewed and the bridge was cleared. Now ensued some lively moments. A flower-pot thrown at the police from an adjacent house was a signal for a regular outbreak of violence. Tramway cars, crowded with passengers, were attacked by a howling mob, who broke the windows and assaulted the drivers and conductors. One occupant of a car, who had been struck by a stone, jumped off into the roadway and threatened the rioters with a revolver—a course which, in that instance, produced a cessation of hostilities. But soon the fight was raging as fiercely as ever.
The police, finding that the crowd was rapidly getting out of hand, drew their batons and charged. They were, however, too few in number to make any great impression on the mob, which had been augmented by new arrivals.
At one point there seemed a danger of the rioters getting the upper hand. A ruffian seized an inspector’s sword, drew it from its scabbard, and was about to use it upon the police when the weapon was recaptured and the daring individual was arrested for his pains. Scenes of wild disorder followed. The police were savagely attacked and a number of them were injured by the missiles thrown by the crowd.
A substantial reinforcement of police, sent to the scene of the disturbances about six o’clock, had to fight their way through masses of rioters at strategic points; and when, later, prisoners arrested in the various encounters were sent to the College Street police station, the escort were stoned from the side streets.
About an hour later Brunswick Street became the scene of a hot encounter between the police and the rioters, owing to attacks made on the tramway cars. It was only after a series of baton charges that the street was cleared. Nightfall brought an addition to the anxieties of the harassed guardians of order. Excitement increased every moment, and it was manifest that a spirit of lawlessness was abroad which would not be easily quelled.
Beresford Place now became the centre about which the conflict raged. Here, about eight o’clock, a crowd gathered in anticipation of a meeting announced for that hour. Liberty Hall, with its doors heavily barricaded and its windows mostly in darkness, presented an ominous appearance of calm. About twenty policemen were on duty in the vicinity of the square at the time, and, as the outlook was apparently peaceful, the officer in charge considered that he might safely dispense with half his force.
The detachment thus relieved had not long quitted the square before a fierce attack was made upon the squad left on duty. Stones and bottles were thrown at them, some from the crowd, but the larger number from the windows of the Transport Workers’ Union building, which offered a safe vantage-ground for an attack of this kind. The police were ordered into the open by their superior officer, Inspector Campbell, and the word was given to charge the mob. One constable in the mêlée received a bad wound from a stone thrown from the window of Liberty Hall, and a bottle projected from the same quarter, doubtless intended for a constable, felled a rioter with whom he was engaged in conflict. Inspector Campbell himself was wounded in the face by a bottle and had to go off duty.
Repeated charges were necessary before the rioters were dispersed; and, so desperate was the fighting while it lasted, that the ambulances were kept busy for some time in removing the injured to the hospital.
The outbreak in Beresford Square was quickly followed by a still more dangerous disturbance near the Abbey Theatre. A riotous crowd which had assembled here was driven off by police charges, but the mob again collected in more formidable dimensions in Abbey Street. Sir John Ross, the head of the executive, who arrived on the scene at this juncture, impressed with the seriousness of the position, gave orders for the street to be cleared.
The police in great force charged down the thoroughfare against the dense mass of rioters. At first the ground was stubbornly contested, viragos from the slum districts actively assisting the men in assaults on the hated representatives of the law. A number of constables dropped out of the attacking line with nasty wounds inflicted by the flying missiles. Disciplined force, however, eventually carried the day to the extent of dislodging the mob from the position it had taken up.
For some time the contest raged in adjacent localities. One particularly violent ebullition occurred as three injured constables, whose wounds had been dressed in hospital, were being escorted by their comrades back to the Store Street station. They were set upon in a most cowardly fashion by a howling mob of both sexes, who assailed them with volleys of stones and broken bottles.
A small body of policemen emerged from the Store Street station and attempted to clear the street. Their appearance was the signal for a renewal of the attack with increased violence. Under the concentrated fire of glass and stone the little band quailed and eventually retired. A shriek of triumph went up from the frenzied mob. Another charge and another repulse, and another wild howl from the rabble. ‘So furious was the rain of bottles—broken and whole—and bricks’, says a newspaper representative who was a spectator of the scene, ‘that the place seemed more like the haunt of howling demons than a Dublin street within a few hundred yards from the cathedral. The shameful, filthy expressions, shouted at the top of women’s voices, formed a very painful feature of the melancholy exhibition’.
A baton charge down Talbot Street by Inspector Campbell with twelve or fourteen constables sent the mob down Mabbott Street towards Tyrone Street. ‘To the accompaniment of hoarse, ribald execrations and shrieks from the rioters’, says the writer, to whose exceedingly graphic account I am indebted for these details, ‘the combined police force charged up towards Tyrone Street, but had to withdraw owing to the hail of bottles and stones.
Each time the police drew back, the howling rabble followed them and made havoc in their ranks with the hail of missiles that poured on them from all directions. The little barefoot urchins—girls and boys—more daring than their elders, rushed out every now and then and gathered up fresh stores of “ammunition” for the mob. Darting out into the street, they had little trouble in finding plenty of broken bottles and bricks which had been used on the police a moment before.
Women, with dishevelled hair and looking like maniacs, were even more persistent than the men and youths in belabouring the police. One of them would rush out of the mob with a shriek and fling a bottle high in the air to drop on the head of a policeman or one of the foolish crowd of onlookers, or to fall with a crash on the street’. So great was the fury and determination of the mob, and so slender, comparatively speaking, were the resources of the police, that it looked at one time as if authority would be deposed.
It was only towards midnight that the situation was got well in hand and that a proportion of the exhausted constables could be sent home to secure a much-needed rest.
When the tale of casualties came to be made out, it was found that hundreds of people had received injuries. The wounds in some instances were serious; and one man, named James Nolan, died in the early hours of Sunday morning from the effects of a fractured skull received in the street fighting. A second individual, named Byrne, subsequently succumbed. Eloquent evidence of the fierceness of the fray is supplied by the fact that over thirty constables received injuries which necessitated medical treatment. The circumstance deserves to be borne in mind in view of the allegations afterwards made by the Larkinites as to the inoffensiveness of the crowds with whom the police dealt.
No need exists to emphasise the highly dangerous situation which by this time had been developed in Dublin. Lawlessness was everywhere rampant. The mob had tasted blood, and they were ready for a display of violence at the smallest provocation and in any direction that a favourable opportunity might offer. For the moment the police had triumphed, but it had been by so slender a margin of force that the dangerous lesson had been given of the tremendous power of a determined mob operating from several points. Not without many forebodings must the authorities have awaited the events of that fateful Sunday, August 30.