I read this story during the week and I was amazed, so much so, I felt it would be nice to start a thread on the two men in question who took up arms against the British during the Easter Rising, 1916.
Travelling a far to take up arms is not uncommon in the history of war in Europe. The Irish were especially well traveled having officers in the Russian, Spanish, Austro-Hungarian and many others' armies through the centuries.
However, foreigners coming to these shores is a lesser told tale. Donegal takes its name from the fort of foreigners. In fact, our own national anthem makes a reference to buion dár slua, Thar toinn do ráinig chugainn (some have come from a land beyond the wave).
So it is not that unusual but equally amazing to learn that a Swedish and Finnish sailor took part in Easter week 1916.
Captain Liam Tannam had been an officer in command in the Ground Floor of the GPO on Easter Monday when his attention was directed to two strange looking men approaching the GPO.
Apparently, the Finns lack of experience with a weapon was quickly observant for all to see.‘…there were two strange looking men outside and I went to the window and I saw two obviously foreign men. Judging by the appearance of their faces I took them to be seamen. I asked what they wanted. The smaller of the two spoke. He said: “I am from Sweden, my friend from Finland. We want to fight. May we come in?”
I asked him why a Swede and Finn would want to fight against the British. I asked him how he had arrived. He said he had come in on a ship, they were part of a crew, that his friend, the Finn had no English and that he would explain. So I said: “Tell me why you want to come in here and fight against England.” He said: “Finland, a small country, Russia eat her up.” Then he said: “Sweden, another small country, Russia eat her up too.” “Russia with the British, therefore, we against.” I said: “Can you fight. Do you know how to use a weapon?” He said: “I can use a rifle. My friend- no. He can use what you shoot fowl with.” I said: “A shotgun.” I decided to admit them. I took them in and got the Swede a rifle, the Finn a shotgun. I put them at my own windows.
Everyone stood to, when an alarm was raised at the barricades. The crisis passed, but as the Finn stepped back from the window his shotgun banged off the floor and went off. The blast hit the ceiling and sent a shower of plaster down on the men manning the windows. One of the volunteers, Joe Plunkett, was unimpressed, and gave the Finn a piece of his mind. Tannam continues:
It was decided that the Finn should go back from the barricade to help with the filling of fruit tins with explosives and pieces of metal. The Swede insisted he accompany his friend. Both men stayed for the week, and were there until the surrender.The Finn looked at him [Plunkett], looked at me, at everyone. Joe said: “Can you not talk, man?” The Swede spoke up and said: “No. He has no English.” “Who are you?”, Joe said. I intervened then and I explained to Joe. Joe looked at me and said: “Amazing, but obviously that man there is a danger,” pointing to the Finn. “We will have to get him another place out at the back of the Main Hall.”
According to Tannam the Swedish Consul succeeded in getting the Swede home, but the Finn remained a prisoner for three weeks in Kilmainham Gaol. Apparently, despite the fact that the Finn was not a Catholic with no English, before he was released he was saying the rosary in Irish.
Volunteer Robert Holland remembered the Finn in prison (he thought he was Swedish): “We also had for some weeks an unfortunate seaman, a Swede, who was picked up in O’Connell Street during Easter Week. He had endless trouble convincing them he was not an Irishman as he could not speak a word of English.” According to Liam Tannam the Finn’s name was Tony Makapaltis, but that of the Swede was unrecorded.
Their little known tale remains one of the most remarkable of Easter Week, 1916, when a Swede and Finn took up arms for an Irish republic and, in a somewhat convoluted way, against Russia.
Acknowledgment for the Above from:
The Swede and Finn Who Fought For Ireland in the GPO, 1916 | Know Thy Place Blog