Elsie's Letter - Extracts

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Elsie McDermidOn Wednesday, 27th May last, 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, 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 the 26-page letter and in it she relates, 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.

Here are some extracts from Elsie's letter:

letter extract 1

"We are living in stirring times. I am writing this to be posted if there is any post office left & will keep it till I know it will go."

Easter Tuesday...

letter extract 2

"There they were with fixed bayonets & digging trenches in the Green!"

letter extract 3

"One of the maids came home & told us 2 girls were shot near her in Sackville Street & they were digging trenches there. We went to bed & then just as we were dozing off about 12.30 it began & oh what a night!! You would have thought you were at the war. Shot after shot – volleys after volleys..."

Wednesday morning...

letter extract 4

"People seem to be going about as usual but you cant get up that part of the town at all. Daisy & I are going to try to get to the theatre as our laundry is there & we have no blouses clean!"

Wednesday afternoon...

letter extract 5

"Shots are being fired all the time but we are quite accustomed to them now.!"

Thursday midnight...

letter extract 6

"They say the north side of the city is starving there are no bakeries there & the bread & milk vans run the risks of being shot"

Saturday morning...

letter extract 7

"The street at our side (Holles St) is all barricaded with big boxes full of clay & the seats out of the gardens. I am sitting on the floor behind the bed writing this. Daisy is doing her hair- I’ve just had a lovely bath but had to get out in a hurry as they started at the back & the bathroom has a big window & I could hear their bullets hitting the side of the house. Even the lavatories are full of soldiers."


While we know the above extracts will only serve to whet the appetite, rest assured we intend in due course to make the letter available in its entirety.

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.

Read Rare and Dramatic First-Hand Account of 1916 Rising.


Regarding the north side starving. I recall grand aunts telling the same story. In the case of my grand aunts they brought food to relations in phibsborough from there house in Pimlico via a very circuitous route, only to find there relations tucking into a big lunch.

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