Christopher Poole: Raiding the Defiance
This is an extract from R.M. Fox's book in the aftermath of 1916.After being released from Frongoch (and other internment prisons) the citizen army men regrouped, and had a new mission. This was a task to rearm themselves after the rising. This is the amazing story of what they did;
Dublin dockers at work loading up the boat wondered at the extraordinary precautions taken. By each gangway was an armed guard of United States Marines. Other guards were placed in position by the deck and the hold. No man could get off the ship without a permit, and he had to run the gauntlet of the guards. The dockers looked round and discovered the hold contained piled up cases of revolvers, rifles and ammunition that were being shipped from England back to America. The Citizen Army was instantly on the alert. Seamus McGowan, the arms expert, was smuggled in as a docker, to arrange about getting some of this stuff ashore.
The cases had to be broken open in the hold by dockers without being observed by the guards. Then all the stuff had to be concealed to get it across the gangway. No parcels were allowed. In spite of all the difficulties the booty was too valuable to lose, and relays of Citizen Army men were down on the quays for eight hours a day, taking the revolvers and ammunition from those who succeeded in getting the necessary shore permits. The little tin lavatories on the quays made excellent transfer stations. Soon the bag consisted of 56 .45 revolvers, 2,000 rounds of revolver ammunition, 5,000 rounds of Springfield ammunition in canvas bandoliers and an assortment of Verey lights and pistols. Arrangements were also made with a member of the crew to deliver 34 .45 automatics, which had been served out to the crew. He lowered these over the side in a canvas bucket to a boat which crept out in the darkness. Captain Poole was in charge of the boat operation.
Unfortunately the Springfield rifles proved too cumbersome to get ashore. It was easy enough to break the cases in the hold. But no one could hope to get along the gangway holding a rifle. They were left very reluctantly. Attempts were made to unscrew the butts and so reduce the length, but this proved impossible. If it hadn’t been for the length of the rifles, America would have played a still bigger part in arming Ireland in her fight for freedom!
For several days ammunition and revolvers were landed without difficulty. Then one morning the captain and his mate descended to the hold in a state of great agitation. The captain walked straight across to a dark corner which had been screened by a number of big cases. Here he saw rows of boxes, broken open and empty. The arms and ammunition had vanished.
All the dockers were immediately ordered ashore under armed guard. They were taken into a shed – the same shed which had been used to receive the stores from the foodships in 1913. There they were told they were going to be searched. Indignant objections were raised, but all knew they had taken their last load. They were paid off on the spot, and the Defiance raising anchor departed without waiting for any more cargo. Suspicions had been aroused by an imprudent Irish Volunteer asking the mate if they had any guns for sale. He went back and told the captain, and they started investigations at once. Much of the stores and the equipment that they left behind was auctioned on the quays. Liberty Hall secured furniture at this auction to make up for the devastation of 1916.