Boland’s Mill is one of the few key strategic sites in Dublin that emerged mostly unscathed during the Easter Rising of 1916. This is all the more surprising when it is considered that it was the scene of some of the most intense and most effective fighting by the rebel side during the whole of the conflict.
There is something about these old buildings that makes them a little tragic and yet beautiful at the same time, depending on how you see things.
It was here that Captain Eamon de Valera led his men in what is widely considered as being the most effective fighting of the Easter Rising, inflicting severe damages upon the enemy and holding their ground well.
Boland’s Mill was some distance from both the river and Dublin Castle, but it was an important strategic site for preventing reinforcements from the southeast in the direction of Kingstown. The most important and effective group was positioned a short distance away from the Mill at Northumberland Road (not to be confused with the famous London road of the same name).
This team was small but decently supplied and extremely well positioned. The various points between the Mill and the bridge gave good protective cover, and masked the small size of the force deployed there. A good strong battle rush against the position may have overturned it with only minimal losses to the British, but they had no way of knowing that.
The efforts of this small but determined force made a massive difference in terms of buying extra time for the other rebel groups to reach objectives, including Dublin Castle, but unfortunately the potential was never fully taken advantage of due to a series of errors and miscalculations.
With few exceptions, most of the reinforcements arriving during the early stages were the rawest recruits that could be found in Britain. Reportedly some of them even had to be shown how to load and fire their weapons just moments before they were thrust into battle. Here the most tragic waste of young lives was inflicted upon the British forces, as they used the same tactics that had proved so devastatingly poor in places like Gallipoli and the Western Front.
The position could in theory have been captured easily if proper strategy had been employed. Yet the British merely sent wave after wave of young men to be cut down by the rebel rifles. In those early stages hundreds of the British were killed or wounded by just a handful of rebels.
Yet of course such a small force was woefully inadequate for the size of the job they faced, and the amount of ammunition on hand could not last forever without replenishment. Their ability to hold out was gradually worn down as the British could advance more men with fewer casualties once the fatigued and bullet-starved rebels could no longer fight as effectively.
Thus emboldened, the British advanced machine guns and light artillery, and the rebel fire team were driven back toward the Mill. The battle had proved far more costly for the British than for the rebels, however once the big weapons were brought into play and the city was shelled without mercy, it was clear the rebellion would have to wait for a new opportunity.