1916 Rising Elsie McDermid Letter

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Elsie McDermidOn Wednesday, 27th May 2015, Dublin City Council's Public Library Service took possession of a copy of a rare eye-witness account of the outbreak of the 1916 Easter Rising. The account was in the form of a letter written by Elsie McDermid (seen on the right), a popular opera singer of the era, to her mother in England on the occasion of Elsie's visit to Dublin. She was in Dublin to perform in Gilbert and Sullivan shows at Dublin’s Gaiety Theatre with the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company. However, the performances were cancelled as a result of the dramatic outbreak of the Easter Rising on Monday 24th April 1916. Elsie wrote a 26-page letter and in it she related, among other things, the digging of trenches in St Stephen’s Green and eye-witness accounts of the first casualties on the streets of Dublin.

Elsie letter

Visit the 'Elsie McDermid Letter' Image Gallery or view PDF version below.

The letter, which includes Elsie’s hand-drawn maps of Dublin during the Rising, now forms part of a personal 1916 archive owned by Elsie’s nephew Colin McDermid.

McDermid letterColin visited Dublin in May 2015 and donated a digital copy of the letter to Dublin City Public Libraries. The copy formed an important part of the 'Citizens in Conflict: Dublin 1916' exhibition at Dublin City Public Library and Archive, Pearse Street (January to mid-June 2016). We are delighted to say also that the letter and related material is now available online (follow Image Gallery link above). Read more about the donation of the letter at the Mansion House on the 27th May 2015.

The letter begins “We are living in stirring times. I am writing this to be posted if there is any post office left and will keep it till I know it will go.” Elsie McDermid kept the letter and other souvenirs of 1916, including shell casings and postcards, which her family preserved. The letter has never been published in historical accounts of the Rising but it and the other items in Elsie’s 1916 archive featured on the BBC's 'Antiques Roadshow' in the Spring of 2015.

Dublin City Public Libraries and Archive would like to extend a sincere thanks and its appreciation to Colin for the donation.

Elsie McDermid made her stage debut in Covent Garden in 1914 and had a London stage career well into the 1920s. She performed leading roles in many Gilbert and Sullivan classics including ‘The Pirates of Penzance’, ‘The Mikado’ and ‘The Gondoliers’. She also performed roles in Mozart’s ‘The Magic Flute’ and Verdi’s ‘Rigoletto’. Born in Middlesbrough in 1889, she died in Eston, North Yorkshire, in 1933.

Visit the 'Elsie McDermid Letter' Image Gallery or view PDF version below.


The Elsie McDermid 1916 Letter - Usage Statement

Ownership of the Elsie McDermid Letter resides with Colin McDermid. Colin has very kindly granted Dublin City Council rights to reproduce the letter here.

Personal Use:
Printing or downloading of the letter (text, images) is permitted on a temporary, non-commercial basis for personal use only.

Commercial Use and Reproduction:
Those wishing to  use the content of the Elsie McDermid Letter (text, images) for commercial purposes or to publish* the content should contact Dublin City Public Libraries (dublinstudies@dublincity.ie) for permission. When applying please state which content is being used and give the precise details of the type of use planned – exhibition, book, magazine, newspaper, performance or other. Conditions to apply.

*Includes website or other electronic means.

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