A Barrister’s Account of the Easter Rising, 1916

Sackville Street, Dublin, following the Rising, via Warwick Digital Collections

From the Northern Whig, 10 May 1916:

Mr Fred H Mullan, solicitor, Trevor Hill, Newry, has just received a very interesting account from Mr John Cusack, BL, of the Easter Rising in Dublin. Mr Cusack states:-

About 12.30 p.m. on Monday I received a telephone message at my house that the Sinn Feiners had seized Stephen’s Green. I walked there, and found the rebels in possession. They had barricaded the gates with garden seats and pieces of wood, and armed sentries were walking up and down inside, while the rest were digging trenches.

On Tuesday morning early I called to see the Attorney-General, whose election was being held that day, and found at his home the Solicitor-General, who had passed the night at the Castle. As he was returning there in his motor I went with him to the Castle. The Upper Castle Yard was most unhealthy, as the rebels were still sniping.

The entrance to the Upper Castle Yard, Dublin Castle, via Warwick Digital Collections

I soon left , and made my way to Sackville Street, where I found Judge Orr coolly watching the performance. I then went to the Club in Stephen’s Green North on the invitation of a member. We stayed there some time watching a military machine gun operating on the rebels in the Green from the top of the Shelbourne Hotel, and noting the effect of the returned fire on the rebels. In the coachhouse at the back of my house the father of the anatomy porter of the Royal College of Surgeons resides, and from this porter I learned that in the College they had captured a quantity of rifles and ammunition, and they even barricaded the windows with the dead bodies which were in the College for anatomy purposes, which they removed from the tanks.

The Royal College of Surgeons, St Stephen’s Green, Dublin, via Warwick Digital Collections

On Wednesday the Sherwood Foresters came marching in the broiling sun in close order from Kingstown. Nothing occurred till they reached immediately opposite my house, when they were suddenly taken unawares by a fierce fire. The officers, now recognising what they had to meet, caused the neighbourhood to be searched. With rebels sniping all round us, the military entered my home during the search. Luckily some official papers were lying on my desk with a couple of large envelopes, endorsed OHMS and Chief Crown Solicitors’ Department, Dublin Castle, and thus my respectability was vouched for, and the search proceeded no further.”

Mr Cusack, originally from Newry, lived at 9 Waterloo Road, Ballsbridge. He was a barrister with a large practice on the North-East Circuit who had been appointed counsel to the Attorney-General James Campbell earlier that year. He had also acted as counsel to the previous Attorney-General, now Mr Justice Gordon. Shortly after the Rising, he became a KC, and was later appointed County Court Judge for Kerry. He resigned in 1924 and went to live in England, where he was elected Lord Mayor of Twickenham in 1929.

Judge Cusack, as depicted in the Larne Times, 17 April 1920, via British Newspaper Archives

Judge Cusack passed away at his home in Middlesex in 1940 while reading a newspaper. His own newspaper account of 1916, however, omits two interesting matters.

Firstly, while all the above events were happening, he and his wife Dora had a newborn son in the house. This son, born in mid-April 1916, later went on to become Sir Ralph Vincent Cusack, Judge of the High Court of England and Wales. Another son, Jake, was Minister of the Interior of Kenya during the Mau-Mau period.

Secondly, Judge Cusack appears to have neglected his duty as counsel to the Attorney-General in one vitally important respect – namely, that of ensuring that the Chief Law Officer for Ireland had enough ready cash to keep going until normal financial business resumed. By the following week, the Dublin Correspondent of the Daily Telegraph was gleefully reporting that

[t]he deepest tragedy in Ireland in Ireland is always touched with tragedy, and everybody has a rebellion joke to tell. The joke of Dublin Castle is that the Attorney General and Solicitor General Mr JH Campbell [later Lord Chief Justice and Lord Chancellor of Ireland] and Mr James O’Connor [later Sir James O’Connor, Judge of the Supreme Court of Judicature in Ireland] were besieged for nearly a week, and as no banks were open during the Rebellion they had to raise a loan in cash from a journalistic friend. The idea of an Irish journalist being in a position to finance an Attorney General has vastly entertained Dublin in the midst of its woes.

The Attorney-General’s pocket was not the only element of the Irish legal system to be turned inside out by the 1916 Rebellion! Lots more small (and large) change to come!

Author: Ruth Cannon BL

Irish barrister sharing the history of the Four Courts, Dublin, Ireland, and other Irish courts.

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