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History of the stone underneath DIT Aungier Street

Thousands of people flood the streets of Dublin each and every day, walking past buildings that echo tales of monumental moments in Irish history, totally oblivious. The Liberties is home to some of the most historical sites in all of Dublin, but unfortunately these sites frequently go unrecognised.

One of the branches of the Dublin Institute of Technology, DIT College of Arts and Tourism, is widely known for offering a variety of academic courses. On the Bishops Street side of the building lies the National Archives of Ireland, first located there in 1988. Many forget that this entire building itself is one of the most significant sites in Irish history. The structure stands as one of the locations occupied in the 1916 rising.

A Liberties local would be familiar with DIT on Aungier Street, noticing students scurry in and out of college every morning, noon and night, attending lectures and meeting friends. Now, imagine that same building surrounded by British soldiers, barricades all around the perimeter, snipe shooters stalking from the rooftops, and bullets and shells flying in every direction. This here describes what a Liberties local would have witnessed 97 years ago on April 24th.

The DIT College on Aungier Street is built on the same site as the former Jacob’s factory which was taken over by Commander Thomas MacDonagh along with a small army of men on April 24th 1916. This movement is forever engraved in our memory as the catalyst that inspired the people of our nation to rebel and fight for an independent state. However, despite people’s vast knowledge of this monumental event in Irish history, passers-by continue to stroll past the old Jacob’s factory oblivious to its historic importance in carving the way to a Republic.

Stepping back in time to noon on Easter Monday April 24th 1916, an army of 150 men broke into the Jacob’s factory and took over the building. According to Seamus O’ Maitiu’s book, W&R Jacobs, Celebrating a 150 of Irish biscuit making, the rising leaders chose that specific date because it fell on a bank holiday, leaving very few workers in the factory.

The Jacob’s Factory is triangular in shape, stretching from Peters Row around to Bishops Street. This made it an extremely difficult site for the British army to infiltrate and attack. “They had a high water tower making it a great vantage point for shooters and it was difficult to attack due to the narrow roads, which also made it difficult to set up their guns,” said Douglas Appleyard, an historian and Jacob’s archivist.

Thomas MacDonagh, Commander of the rising’s second battalion, positioned gun-men in and on top of buildings in Camden Street, Aungier Street, Wexford Street and other various places , making it more difficult for the British to target the factory.“The extra height from the factory became of great advantage and MacDonagh positioned his men on top of the buildings making it harder for the British to infiltrate,” said the Jacob’s archivist.

Records from the National Library of Ireland have shown that Thomas MacDonagh believed Irish Freedom would be achieved by what he called ‘zealous martyrs’, meaning hopefully through peace but if necessary by war. In a statement he wrote on April 23rd 1916 he said, “I have had only one motive in all my actions, namely, the good of my country.” According to Brian Donnelly, archivist for the National Archives of Dublin, the factory site was not as forcefully attacked in comparison to the other locations during the rising.“There would not have been as much of fighting around here, whether it was because the other locations were strategically more important, in terms of the British overpowering them or because of its location being surrounded by tenement buildings and the narrow streets,” said Donnelly.

Throughout the beginning of the Rising, spirits were high within Jacob’s factory as the Irish volunteers held out well and had ‘ample ammunition’. The factory caretaker Thomas Orr said, “The watchman and myself were sick of listening to their boasts of victory”, in an account he wrote about the events of that week. According to records from the National Library of Ireland, the Jacob’s site was by-passed by a lot of the British military’s attacks as they focused more on infiltrating the GPO and The Four Courts.

On Saturday morning five leaders of the Rising negotiated surrendering to avoid further casualties however, word of the surrender didn’t reach MacDonagh until Sunday. At first, Thomas MacDonagh refused to believe that the talks were in place and agreed to give up his arms until he conferred with General Lowe and the Provisional Government. After meeting with the British Arms General, MacDonagh finally gave a speech to his officers and men in Jacob’s Factory. According to father Augustine’s statement of the speech, the leader of the Rising “was evidently suffering a great strain but still held up and spoke bravely for a few minutes telling the men, among other things, that the volunteers had fought a good fight and achieved what they wanted.” The priest’s account also mentions that the leader burst into tears whilst uttering the words ‘surrender’ to his men. MacDonagh instantly knew the tragic faith he would have to face, once he cited those words on Sunday April 30th. This marked the end of the rebellion around Peters Row, with the Jacob’s battalion being one of the last to surrender.

The former Jacob’s factory has a long history of events, however, nothing as monumental as its occupation during the rising. There were two serious fire incidents in the building in the past, which caused widespread damage to the structure of the property. “The two fires occurred in 1888 and 1890 as far as I remember, on the DIT end,” said Douglas Appleyard.

The Jacob’s Company relocated to Tallaght in the seventies. However, this old site should never be forgotten as one of the most crucial and significant battle grounds in Irish history.

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