A Londoner in the Rising

Inside the GPO 1916: a first-hand account

by Joe Good

(O’Brien Press, €11.95)

Felix M. Larkin

Recent research in the Military Service Pensions Collection has established that some 508 rebel combatants were in the GPO during Easter Week 1916. One of them was Joe Good, the author of this volume.

Good was a 21-year-old Londoner with distant Irish roots. He had joined the Irish Volunteers in London and found himself in the same company as Michael Collins, and he arrived in Ireland for the very first time in February 1916. Less than three months later, he was fighting for what he called his “land of dreams”.

After the Rising he was interned in Knutsford Prison and Frongoch, and he was active in the Volunteer movement in various parts of the country and in England during the War of Independence. He then supported the 1921 Treaty – his loyalty to Collins ensured that – and joined the Free State Army. Subsequently, he worked as an electrician in the College of Science in Dublin (now part of Government Buildings).

This volume was written in 1946. It is his memoir of the period 1916-1921, and significantly it stops at the Truce of July 1921: it was too painful for him to write about the Civil War. Though intended for his family’s eyes only, it has been edited by his son and published with an introduction by the artist Robert Ballagh.

It is a remarkably vivid account of one man’s experiences during this turbulent period of Irish history, but it glories in the violence which Good and his comrades ruthlessly employed in pursuit of their aims.  He tells us that “no one should have anything to do with revolution unless he possesses a strong stomach”.

Joe Good certainly had a strong stomach. There is in his memoir little sense of regret for the lives lost in 1916 and afterwards – unless, of course, they were rebel lives. I find it hard to empathise with anybody who could write, as Good does, of his brothers-in-arms as “this happy few, this band of killers”.

It intrigues me how someone like Good, born and raised in London, could so viciously turn against the society that had nurtured him. This book gives no insight into the reasons for this. His bizarre disaffection is, however, similar to that of the jihadists of European origin who are today guilty of appalling atrocities at home and in the Middle East.