By Eamon O Buadhacháin
Like most rebellious outbreaks, the Dublin streets emptied of its citizens and normal day to day life was suspended in April 1916. Apart from the real and present danger of getting shot by either side, transport throughout the city was severely affected. Transport consisted mainly of the extensive tram system of William Murphy’s Dublin Tram Company or jarvey’s – taxis as they would be known today. Transport in and out of the capital was by train into the three main stations – Amiens Street, Kingsbridge and Westland Row. All were severely hampered by the rebellion.
Trams aided the rebels as a number of them were seized either at gunpoint or in Andrew McDonnell’s case on Pearse Street at the point of a six foot pike. He stood his ground in front of the oncoming tram, levelled his pike and hoped that the driver would stop. He shook nervously as the forty ton tram bore down on him. Once the tram halted he ordered all the passengers off and his volunteer comrades stepped on board and headed for the action of the city centre.
Captain George Plunkett and the Volunteers from the Kimmage Garrison seized two trams and demanded that the driver not stop until he reached O’Connell Bridge. Wishing to be seen to do the right thing as he alighted from the tram, Plunkett handed an IOU to the conductor for the tickets they had used. Frank DeBurca’s number 17 tram, that had been commandeered in Rathfarnham, made it as far as Dame Street before the intensifying sound of gunfire saw the driver flee and abandoned the tram on the tracks. A line of abandoned trams snaked around College Green.
By 2pm on the first day of the Rising all trams had either been abandoned on the streets of the city or had returned with haste to their garages. The electrified transport system would not operate again until May 3rd offering a limited service with a full schedule resuming on Sunday, May 13th.
The limited service was due to a number of factors, the damage to tracks and overhead wires was extensive on certain routes, especially through the Rathmines/Portobello area, the lack of staff, as many had been arrested in the aftermath, the lack of electrical supply and military martial law.
The headquarters of the company on O’Connell Street (Sackville Street) was lucky to survive. Fire almost reached the building and only for the insistence of the office manager that there were no Sinn Fein snipers in the building the British military held their cannon fire from the building.
The company lost three trams completely, destroyed during the Rising. One was burnt out at the foot of Lower Bridge Street and Usher’s Quay and used as a barricade to supplement the defences of the Volunteers at the Mendicity.
The second, Tram 308, was overturned on St Stephen’s Green by Michael Mallin’s ICA forces and a third was eventually overturned on North Earl Street. This tram had been seized by the rebels and attempts to speed it off the rails at the Talbot Street turn failed.
Homemade explosives under the tram also failed to fell the vehicle and when a hand grenade also failed to explode, Joseph Plunkett arrived from the GPO and using his Mauser weapon fired a number of shots at the grenade which exploded turning the tram on its side.
Later in the week children were seen playing in the tram, ringing the bell and dancing on the leather seats.
The rebels were not the only one to seize trams: the British army also seized a tram to take troops to secure the port at Howth and the area around Portmarnock.
William Murphy, in his 1917 report on events a year earlier, stated that the losses to the company were three cars and £15,000 lost revenue.
After the surrender of the rebels on May 1st, the authorities commandeered some of the trams to travel the safer parts of the city to collect some of the corpses and take them to the city morgue.