Dublin University OTC and the 1916 Easter Uprising

#1
The imminent centenary of the 1916 Dublin Easter Rising seems an appropriate moment to look at a little-known episode of the Rising: the defence against the rebels of Trinity College, Dublin (TCD) by its Officers’ Training Corps (OTC). University OTCs are not included in any Order of Battle (ORBAT) and were not in 1914-18, but the young men of Trinity got in on the act in 1916. They helped to save Trinity College and other buildings in central Dublin. The writer, Alistair Kerr, is the author of “Betrayal: The Murder of Robert Nairac GC”, published in November 2015 by Cambridge Academic and recently reviewed by ARRSE.

The Officers’ Training Corps or OTC was first conceived in 1906, when Secretary of State for War Lord Haldane appointed a War Office committee to address the shortage of officers for the Militia, the Volunteer Force, the Yeomanry and the Reserve of Officers. These historic volunteer reserve forces would be reorganised in 1907, also by Haldane, as the Territorial Force, later renamed the Territorial Army (TA). One of the measures proposed to confront this challenge was to stimulate an interest in service in the reserve forces among middle- and upper-class boys and young men. So the committee recommended that a volunteer Officers' Training Corps should be established. The Corps was to comprise two divisions: a junior division in the Public Schools (later succeeded by the Army Sections of the Combined Cadet Force or CCF) and a senior division in universities and adult education colleges, which is still called the OTC.

Some universities possessed their own volunteer regiments well before 1908. Examples include Edinburgh, Glasgow and Aberdeen Universities. Another is Oxford, whose OTC likes to trace its ancestry back to a volunteer unit formed to guard King Charles I during his sojourns in Oxford in 1644-46. After 1908 these units were rebranded as university OTCs.

In October 1908, as authorised by Army Order 160 of July 1908, contingents began to be formally established as Officers' Training Corps and incorporated into the new Territorial Force, which had been created by the Territorial and Reserve Forces Act of 1907. Most British universities, including those in Ireland, now established OTCs on their campuses. The Dublin University OTC dated from 1910. OTCs located in what from 1921 became the Irish Free State were disbanded in 1935. There were historic and political reasons for this. It is clear that the continued existence of the OTCs – especially that of Dublin University - after 1921 was intensely provocative to Irish Nationalists. Under the circumstances it is surprising that the OTCs should have survived as late as 1935. OTCs still survive in Northern Ireland and elsewhere in the UK.

Despite Irish independence in 1921, Trinity College (TCD) remained for many years, at least in its own eyes, a British university, rather than an Irish one. It never became part of the National University of Ireland and remained completely independent until the early 1980s, when, following a financial crisis, it was rescued by the Irish Government and finally “nationalised”. Well after 1921 TCD barely acknowledged the existence of the Irish Free State, Eire or the Republic, blatantly flaunted its British allegiance in various ways and continued to admit many British students. Odd references might seem to imply that TCD’s OTC could have continued in existence for a few years after 1935, but I cannot confirm this. If so, this would have been wholly in keeping with TCD’s general attitude.

Occasionally Dublin OTC badges and other memorabilia turn up at militaria auctions, where they tend to command high prices because of their interesting history. The OTC silver cup of 1916 is especially sought-after. Appreciation of the OTC’s efforts during the Easter Rising resulted in the creation of a fund exceeding £700 – an enormous sum in today’s currency – contributed mainly by Dublin businessmen whose shops and offices were in the same area as TCD and administered by a Commemoration Committee. Each member of the OTC received a beautiful small Sterling silver cup to commemorate his participation in combating the rebellion, with the engraved inscription: ‘DEFENCE OF T.C.D – SINN FÉIN REBELLION – EASTER 1916’.

The Dublin University OTC won a place in history as a result of its involvement in the Easter Rising. This seems to be the only known occasion on which serving members of an OTC ever engaged in a real battle. Since they are legally civilians, members of an OTC (or a CCF) should never normally be involved in live combat. However, the situation in Dublin on the morning of Easter Monday, 24 April 1916, was far from normal.

Fighting broke out at several locations across Dublin. At the first sign of trouble the gates of Trinity College were closed and locked; all available members of the OTC were deployed around the perimeter and on the rooftops. For the week of the Easter Rising the OTC, assisted by some regular British Army troops and a few soldiers from the Dominions defended Trinity College. Their courage and energy might or might not have saved the College from destruction by the Irish Volunteers, but they certainly saved businesses in the surrounding streets from damage, destruction and looting. It was these businesses that funded the purchase of two large silver cups (later melted down) and 138 miniature replica cups from West & Sons of Grafton Street to present to the OTC and its members.


Church of Ireland churches often prove to contain interesting relics: for example, they often contain important but overlooked First World War memorials. St. Ann’s Church on Dawson Street, Dublin contains the above plaque, to a man who took part in the defence of Trinity College, Dublin during the Easter Rising,


The silver cup illustrated here was presented to Cadet George Jackson Mathews of the OTC. It was auctioned in October 2015 at Whyte’s Auction Rooms in Dublin. Cadet Mathews’ Army Form B. which survived, was sold with the cup. Mathews’ general efficiency was graded “good” and his musketry (marksmanship) was “Table A”. His Commanding Officer remarked that he “took an active part in the suppression of the Sinn Fein outbreak” and that he “should make a good officer”.

On Saturday 5 August 1916 a presentation took place in the Provost’s garden of Trinity College to members of the OTC who had defended the university and had used its vantage points to fire on the rebels. The Sinn Féin Rebellion Handbook noted that:

“To the prompt measures, defensive and offensive, organised by the Corps was due the preservation of valuable life and property in Grafton Street, Nassau Street, College Green, College Street, Dame Street and Westmoreland Street, including not only the historic buildings of the College itself, but the Bank of Ireland and many others of our finest buildings.”

Although the full facts are now difficult to establish – the Easter Rising is the stuff of legend - this encomium might not have been as exaggerated as it sounds. When it became clear that the Irish were not about to rise en masse in support of them, certain of the 1916 rebels wanted to destroy as much of historic Dublin as they could before their inevitable surrender. They may have been inspired in this by the example of the French Communards of 1870-71, who had destroyed, or tried to destroy, as many historic Parisian buildings and landmarks as possible before they were crushed. The main Dublin Post Office (GPO) was destroyed; so were the eighteenth century Four Courts Building and a number of private houses. The damage could however have been far worse and no doubt would have been, if the Rising had enjoyed greater support and lasted for longer. Trinity College was an obvious target for the rebels because it was perceived as a Protestant, Unionist and Anglo-Irish ascendancy stronghold. Blowing up or burning down TCD would have been a spectacular political gesture, as well as an appalling act of vandalism. Fortunately, the College has survived and is still regarded as a jewel in Dublin’s architectural and intellectual crown.

Regular British Army soldiers and several soldiers from the Dominions who happened to be in Dublin at the time joined the OTC in defending TCD. One of the rebels, W.J Brennan-Whitmore (author of Dublin Burning: The Easter Rising from behind the Barricades), wrote in his memoir of the Easter Rising that he had exchanged fire with a sniper at TCD. Later he met a former Anzac Sergeant socially, compared notes with him and asked him: “Are you the so-and-so that was sniping at us out of the corner of Trinity College?” He was. This Anzac Sergeant was New Zealander Frederick Nevin NZMC, of Christchurch. Interestingly, Nevin’s parents, Thomas and Catherine Nevin, were Irish; from Co. Tipperary and Co. Cork respectively. In total 6 South Africans, 5 New Zealanders, two Canadians and one Australian assisted the OTC in its defence of TCD.

That TCD took the British Government’s side in the Easter Rising comes as no surprise. The College had been founded by a Royal Charter of Queen Elizabeth I, as “The College of the Holy and Undivided Trinity of Queen Elizabeth near Dublin” in 1592, and it continued through the following centuries to make frequent affirmations of its loyalty to the Crown. Elizabeth I’s purpose in establishing TCD was to provide higher education for the sons of the ruling Anglican Anglo-Irish ascendancy, not all of whose fathers could afford to send them to Oxford or Cambridge. It was envisaged that TCD should become the nucleus of a group of associated colleges, like the universities of Oxford or Cambridge, but in the event no sister colleges were established. TCD simply went on expanding and became a complete university. Until the completely separate University College, Dublin was established in 1854 (re-founded in 1880 and granted a Royal Charter in 1908, TCD would remain Dublin’s only university.

For many years Nonconformist Protestants were excluded; Roman Catholics were not admitted until 1873, when all religious tests were abolished (except for the Faculty of Divinity). Even after they had become eligible to do so, many Catholics were reluctant to send their sons to TCD, which they perceived as a Protestant institution. Who knew what unsuitable ideas they might pick up there? In theory they were supposed to seek a dispensation from their Church before doing so. Nevertheless, some prominent Irish Catholics; including John Redmond MP, the future leader of the Irish Parliamentary Party and an advocate of Home Rule, did graduate from TCD.

Numerous entries – including those concerned with setting up the Dublin University Officers Training Corps – in the Minutes of the meetings of the College Board in the years before April 1916 demonstrate where the loyalties of the university authorities lay. The steps taken following the outbreak of the First World War in August 1914 reinforced Trinity’s reputation as a Unionist institution. These included the College’s encouragement of students and staff to support the Allied war effort by volunteering for the British Army, the suppression of the nationalistic Gaelic Society in November 1914 and later the accommodation of British Army units on the campus in response to the outbreak of Easter Rising.

TCD’s political allegiance was made clear in a resolution proposed by the Provost at the Board’s first meeting after the Easter Rising:

“The Board desires to thank the O.T.C. and the Graduates and other friends who associated themselves with them for the vigour and ability with which they secured the safety of the College and indeed of the neighbouring streets at the outbreak of the Sinn Fein Rebellion, and for their hearty co-operation with His Majesty’s troops”.

Over the following months further entries in the TCD Board’s Minutes recorded declarations of gratitude to staff members who had played a role in the defence of the College, including the porters of both the Front Gate and Lincoln Place Gate, who had helped to secure the campus against rebel invasion, as well as discussions by the Board regarding claims for compensation by students and societies for losses and damage incurred during the military occupation.

Although the Dublin University OTC was to continue in existence until at least 1935, its future was bound to become ever more uncertain as the Free State gradually morphed into Eire, moved ineluctably towards a republic and the severance of all formal ties with the UK. This process was completed in 1949, when Eire formally became a republic and left the Commonwealth. Like the office of Governor-General, the Anglo-Irish nobility and the Anglican Church of Ireland, the OTC, which was explicitly British and used imported British regular officers and NCOs as instructors, came to be seen as an anachronistic and disliked relic of a “colonial period”. Its last hurrah was the Victory Parade through Dublin on 19 July 1919. Then, the OTC had marched in the parade with the GOC Ireland, General Pagan, and his staff; the Pipes and Drums of the Irish Guards; the soon-to-be- disbanded Royal Dublin Fusiliers and some 20,000 servicemen and former servicemen and women.

Although the Anglo-Irish War of 1919-21 had broken out seven months earlier, thousands of Irish people waving Union Flags flooded the streets of Dublin to cheer the troops. There were large cheering crowds around Trinity College and College Green. Similar scenes were being enacted in many British towns and cities. This suggests that there were still at that stage reserves of goodwill towards Great Britain; in Dublin, at any rate. The parade did not however pass along Sackville (now O'Connell) Street, the scene of the last stand of the Easter Rising. This might have been a political statement or simply a reflection of the fact that Sackville Street and its surroundings looked like a bomb-site as a result of the Rising. The GPO was still a charred ruin. The area was not restored until the late nineteen-twenties.

In the same auction at Whyte’s in which George Mathews’ cup was sold, a rare medal went under the hammer. It too was associated with the Easter Rising. It had been presented “For services rendered at Beggar's Bush Barracks during the rebellion - 1916" This was a unique award to Frederick Stephens of 1st (Dublin) Battalion, Associated Volunteer Training Corps. Open to alumni and friends of the eponymous Dublin school, St. Andrews Volunteer Training Corps was one of four companies of professional men, over military age, who made up this militia, known as the Georgius Rex (or "Gorgeous Wrecks"). They were the Great War equivalent of the Home Guard or “Dad’s Army”.

The Georgius Rex became entangled in the Easter Rising unsuspectingly and by accident on Monday, 24 April, while returning home from weekend training, wearing uniforms and carrying rifles but no ammunition. Marching to Beggar's Bush Barracks they came under fire from Irish Volunteers stationed on the railway bridge and across Mount Street Bridge. By the time that they managed to get into the barracks their casualties were four dead and six wounded. Once inside they assisted the defence of the barracks as best they could with obsolete weapons and almost no ammunition. The silver medal with St. Andrew on the obverse is inscribed "St. Andrew's - Volunteer Training Corps", with a blue and white ribbon. This is the only recorded example of a medal to a member of this unit involved in the Rising. Frederick Stephens was a bookseller from Terenure. At the time of the Rising he was 42 years old. This tragi-comic incident has been written-up as a great blow for Irish freedom.

Note: A separate commemorative silver cup was offered to the OTC by the Rt. Hon. Sir Edward Carson Q.C. M.P, in July 1916. Carson was the leader of the Ulster Unionists, although he was a Dubliner by birth and a TCD graduate. TCD Board minutes of 11 July refer to potential difficulties surrounding such a public presentation. It was finally decided that the cup should be given to the College in trust for the OTC. It now forms part of TCD’s Silver Collection, along with nine silver dinner plates made from the two large silver cups presented to the OTC by the Commemoration Committee.
 
#2
My favourite bit of this whole article:

"This seems to be the only known occasion on which serving members of an OTC ever engaged in a real battle"
 

skid2

LE
Book Reviewer
#3
An old friend is organising a 1916 commem in the south. I applied for access with ms Skid2. Her family provenance is known. He asked about mine. He was the only one who laughed when I said 'Royal Artillery.
 
#4
If anyone is interested there is material in JP Donleavys Ireland (which is an entertaining read in itself) describing the TCD students opening their windows to allow "God Save The King" (being played at the BBC radio closedown) to carry out to passers by.

J.P. Donleavy's Ireland

EDIT. This would have been post WW2 as Donleavy was a GI Bill Student.
 
Last edited:

OldSnowy

LE
Moderator
Book Reviewer
#6
Many (possibly most) Dubs were not at all supportive of the rising - it brought nothing to Dublin but destruction and terror (and presumably a major disruption to the Postal Services). My Granny, God rest her soul, told me of the crowds lining the streets and weeping as the Army withdrew in '21 (I think it was '21), and of course a huge number of Irish men and women joined the British Army in the Second World War, as was the case in the First - in my family alone three sisters and one brother.

Granny supported my joining up as a boy many years ago - the British Army was worth joining, she said, as it did real stuff, whereas the Irish Army was in her words 'a shower of shoite'. This was the early '70s, and despite (or because of) the troubles she had no time for the IRA then either. This was again probably a common enough feeling - the North was full of nutjobs, of whatever religion/affiliation, and were best left to their own devices. I think a lot of Irish still think that way!
 
#9
Many (possibly most) Dubs were not at all supportive of the rising - it brought nothing to Dublin but destruction and terror (and presumably a major disruption to the Postal Services). My Granny, God rest her soul, told me of the crowds lining the streets and weeping as the Army withdrew in '21 (I think it was '21), and of course a huge number of Irish men and women joined the British Army in the Second World War, as was the case in the First - in my family alone three sisters and one brother.

Granny supported my joining up as a boy many years ago - the British Army was worth joining, she said, as it did real stuff, whereas the Irish Army was in her words 'a shower of shoite'. This was the early '70s, and despite (or because of) the troubles she had no time for the IRA then either. This was again probably a common enough feeling - the North was full of nutjobs, of whatever religion/affiliation, and were best left to their own devices. I think a lot of Irish still think that way!
Funny Brendan Behan bon mot on that subject. In the mid 60s a television production on the rising was being filmed in Dublin. A platoon of extras dressed as British Soldiers were marching down a street. A Dublin old dear looking out Her upstairs window at them passing shouts out..'Thank God yez are back boys, this lot have made a hames of it since You left'....;)
 
#17
Coventry falls under Birmingham's area along with the many other universities in the West Midlands. EMUOTC is principally Nottingham, Loughborough, Derby and Leicester.
I stand corrected; when I had dealings with EMUOTC about 15 years ago, they had Coventry students there, possibly as a result of them having vacancies and Birmingham not.
 
Last edited:
#19
Interesting article I also read brief lines and articles regarding the Curragh camp mutiny where ex IRA men serving in the free state army mutinied at what they perceived as a bias towards ex British Army Officers.
anyone aware of further reading on this?
 
#20
Interesting article I also read brief lines and articles regarding the Curragh camp mutiny where ex IRA men serving in the free state army mutinied at what they perceived as a bias towards ex British Army Officers.
anyone aware of further reading on this?
Gizmo, are you sure you are not mixing this up with the 1924 Irish Army mutiny, when two Government Ministers and up to 100 Irish Army officers resigned in protest at the Irish Government.

The only other Curragh "incident" involved the resignation of all but two officers of the 5th Lancers from Marlborough Barracks in Dublin and the Brigade Commander of the 3rd Cavalry Brigade and 57 officers of the 16th Lancers from the Curragh in 1914 rather than be ordered North to split the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) of 100 000 men. It was not classed as a mutiny as the men had already resigned their commissions.

As you may be aware, the 16th and 5th Lancers amalgamated to form the 16th/5th Lancers after 1922.
 

Similar threads


Top