Enniscorthy was the only town or city outside of Dublin to be seized by the Irish Volunteers in the course of the Easter Rising. The Volunteers were established in the town in 1913, and since then, there was a small but vigorous constituency for separatist politics in the town under the leadership of figures such as Peter Paul Galligan. The Irish Volunteers trained in the town, and attempted to make and obtain weapons in the months prior to the Rising.
On Thursday, 27 April 1916, Enniscorthy town was taken over by about 600 armed patriots, almost without opposition in a surprise attack. They were led by Robert Brennan. The rebels consisted primarily of Irish Volunteers, supplemented by members of Fianna Éireann and Cumann na mBan. Seamus Doyle and Seán Etchingham were next in command.
The patriots made the Athenaeum Theatre, their headquarters, taking over the town and blocking the roads and the railway line. They surrounded the RIC barracks and though shots were fired, no real attempt was made to take the barracks.
A young girl and a member of the RIC were wounded by gunfire, but there were no fatalities. Pubs were closed, pickets and guards were established, food and cars were commandeered, and the railway line was tampered with.
Meanwhile, a force under Paul Galligan occupied the town of Ferns and some northern parts of the county. The British responded by sending a force of more than 1,000 men to retake Enniscorthy, under the command of G.A. French.
On Saturday, 29 April 1916, news of the general surrender in Dublin reached Enniscorthy. The rebels refused to believe it. They refused the demand to surrender and would only do so if ordered by Patrick Pearse.
The next day, 30 April 1916, the British escorted two patriots, Seamus Doyle and Seán R. Etchingham, to Dublin to consult Pearse in Arbor Hill Prison. The order to surrender was obtained.
On Monday, 1 May 1916, the Enniscorthy patriots surrendered unconditionally. There had been no fatalities and relatively little damage to property. Some of the leaders, including Robert Brennan, were sentenced to death, but all had their sentences commuted.
Given that the Volunteers held a sizeable town for four days, their seizure of Enniscorthy was, arguably, the most significant event of the Rising outside Dublin.
Meanwhile, at John A. Sinnott & Co. Solicitors, 34 year old John N. Scallan was at the helm. He took over the business from his uncle John A. Sinnott, some years previous, at the age of just 23. Whilst the Rising in the town resulted in no fatalities, for Enniscorthy residents, it surely was a terrifying experience to live through, particularly as news of the horror of Dublin events filtered through.
Actual files from John A. Sinnott Solicitors from that period show how Scallan continued to act with courage, poise and relentlessness on behalf of his clients despite of occurrences. Many of his letters merely refer to what was happening as ‘disturbances in the town.’ These letters provide fascinating insight into how the Rising affected local people and businesses and their mind-set at that time.
Read a selection of some of the actual correspondence from during the period of the Rising from John A. Sinnott & Co. Solicitors in our Blog.