1916’s Greatest Heroine?


Louisa Nolan from Ringsend.


She was the Easter Rising’s sensibly shod ‘Lady with the Lamp’.

Sibling of Daedalus writes:

Louisa was a policeman’s daughter turned Gaiety chorus girl and one of the first ever recipients of the Military Medal, presented to her (cough) at Buckingham Palace by (splutter) King George.

Louisa was commended For her valour during the 1916 Rising, when she walked calmly and gracefully through a hail of bullets to tend to wounded soldiers and civilians injured in the Battle of Mount Street Bridge.

Louisa, aged 19 at the time, was lucky; two young girls, and other non-combatant Dubliners, died in the crossfire at Northumberland Road.

This was probably because neither side knew how to shoot.

The British soldiers involved, the Sherwood Foresters, had only arrived at Kingstown [Dun Laoighaire] that morning and some of them even thought they were in France.

The rebels, also with limited military experience, weren’t much better at finding the right target though they did in fairness know what country they were in.

Little more is known of Louisa, who subsequently left the Gaiety for the London stage, but her medal (above) can be seen in the Belfast Museum.

(Pic: New York Times)

Update: a question mark has been added to the headline following a request by Sibling.

35 thoughts on “1916’s Greatest Heroine?

  1. Rob_G

    “This was probably because neither side knew how to shoot.”

    The article that you link to states that 17 rebels inflicted 240 British casualties; I wouldn’t have thought this an indication of their inability to shoot.

    (Not to diminish the tradegy of the non-combatant casualties – or the combatant ones, for that manner).

    1. ferg

      I was thinking the same myself. The story of this particular engagement was one which did not require exaggeration after the fact.
      Also, “1916’s Greatest Heroine”? Care to take bets on that? It’s a sad fact that the role of women in the Rising was largely written out in later accounts, but there were many and they showed incredible bravery in their actions. So perhaps a list of some of these heroines? Or were you making a political point?

      1. Sinbad

        A rather cheap political point at that.
        Only in Ireland would tending to the wounded of an occupying army be seen as heroism

        1. SDaedalus


          Let’s follow through on your point that 1916 was a war situation involving an occupying army. If so it’s worth noting the Geneva Convention – a well-established part of international law by 1916 – which provides for the protection not only of the sick and wounded of opposing armies, but also of civilians giving them aid.

          Also, a person injured and in pain is a person injured and in pain no matter what side they are on, and compassion and trying to comfort them in their pain should be a source of pride, not shame.

          1. cluster

            I think really it is the description as ‘greatest heroine’ as helping British soldiers and fecking off to London which elciited the reaction to be fair.

            Suggesting she was ‘greater’ than any of the women who participated in the Rising (and many did) or who tended to wounded Volunteers is clearly a political point.

        2. JoeO

          Ah now. She saw wounded people. Some were soldiers, some civilians. She tended to them. Maybe like the Red Cross would do nowadays on a battlefield? And she would probably have tended to wounded volunteers in a similar way – only the wounded British were more likely on the street whereas wounded volunteers were in the buildings they were occupying?
          I think that Ms Nolan was heroic – as heroic as Jean McConville was in Belfast in 1972.

          1. cross-eyed cow

            Do you believe Jean McConville gave aid to a wounded British soldier? If so, can you give some information about the soldier; for instance his name, or even his rank and unit ?

            What became of him? Did he die? If so where is he buried?

            If he survived, where is he now? Has he ever spoken about this incident?

        3. Nigel

          Tending wounded people while under fire is incontrovertibly heroism. The fact that you think tending wounded British soldiers makes a difference one way or the other says more about you than it does about her.

        4. sinabhfuil

          I would have thought that tending to the wounded of both sides was heroism by anyone’s measure.

          Didn’t both sides stop shooting each time she walked out on the bridge, by the way?

          The idiot of that particular action was General Lowe (the guy in the famous picture of PH Pearse’s surrender), who continually ordered his troops to cross the bridge, instead of saying “Er, lads, I think we’ll go around the back way”.

      2. SDaedalus

        I’d agree that the Volunteers were better shots than the Sherwood Foresters, but that’s not saying very much.

        The Foresters had no knowledge of the area, had received no proper training and barely knew one end of a gun from the other. And there were a lot of Foresters, all in uniform. It was hard to miss them even if you couldn’t shoot straight.

        The test of a good volunteer shot was not winging Foresters but avoiding civilians. The number of civilian casualties (some but not all of which were inflicted by the Foresters) does not reassure as to the Volunteers’ markmanship prowess.

      1. SDaedalus

        Second wife. The census says they were married two years with no children. The girl must be from the first marriage.

        It could be Louisa, not sure. The Belfast Museum account says that she was from Ringsend and her father was a retired constable – I see the Nolan on the census is described as ‘pensioner’ but I can’t make out what comes after that.

        1. Just sayin'

          I’m giving it an educated guess that it says R.I. Constabulary? I know Dublin had the DMP back then though.

          1. Aengus' Blushes

            It’s a shortened version of ‘Constabulary’, nothing to do with Tyrone.

            It’s the same on the 1901, both with the last two letters raised to indicate shortening of the word.

      2. Aengus' Blushes

        Not that unusual. Also, all ages in census returns need to be taken with a pinch of salt. Many often simply didn’t know what age they were, particularly older people, while others lied for various reasons (e.g. the high number listed as over 60 in 1911, convenient given that this had only recently become the qualifying age for the state pension)

      3. Just sayin'

        Could easily be his second wife. Who knows? It is in Ringsend and she is the right age, plus I think the father is a retired policeman. Rialto entry in 1901 looks good too, with first wife?

  2. sinabhfuil

    The Great War Forum has a nice discussion about L Nolan:


    Excerpt: “At the time of her award Miss Nolan was employed at the Gaiety Theatre and after the rebellion she travelled to London where she appeared as one of the ‘Ladies of the Chorus’ in ‘Three Cheers’, a review at the Shaftsbury Theatre [The Stage 28 December 1916] in which Harry Lauder also appeared (though the show was temporarily closed owing to the death in action of Lauder’s only son, Capt J. C. Lauder, of the Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders). The Sinn Fein Rebellion Handbook, compiled by the Weekly Irish Times, Dublin contains an entry in the ‘Who’s Who in this Handbook’ section:
    ‘Two of her sisters are nursing in England, one brother is in the army and another in the navy and a third was killed in August [1915] last on the Western Front. On Saturday 24th February 1917 Miss Nolan was decorated with the medal by His Majesty at Buckingham Palace.’ “

  3. sinabhfuil

    Oh, and “She is the daughter of ex-Head Constable Nolan of the Royal Irish Constabulary, who resides at Ringsend.'”

  4. Oisin

    What about nurse Elizabeth O’Farrell who tended the volunteers of the rising and delivered Pearse’s note of surrender?

  5. Louis Lefronde

    @sinbad. First things first, legally speaking the British army was not an occupying army, as Ireland was part of the United Kingdom at the time. I can say this because my Grandfather was aged fifteen and a member of Fianna Eireann and fought in the Mendicity Institute. The volunteers were participating in an armed rebellion against the state whether they recognised it or not. In the same way, as if 1500 men and women took up arms tomorrow, seized buildings throughout the city of Dublin and declared themselves ‘The Provisional Government’ without having ever been elected as such. Let’s stick to the facts and not to the romantic fiction

  6. SDaedalus

    Sorry if I seem narky about the Volunteers. There is no political agenda, I just regret the cost of the Rising to ordinary Dubliners.

    This is a list of the civilians who died in 1916. Many of them died in the Battle of Mount Street Bridge (I think this involved more civilian casualties than any other incident in the Rising, please correct me if I am wrong).


    A lot of these civilians were old people (old by those days’ standards at least), and there are two 11 and 12 year old girls. Mount Street Bridge may have been one of the high points of the Rising for the Volunteers from a military point of view but it came at a heavy cost to ordinary Dubliners.

    I know not all of the people killed, maybe not even half of them, were killed by Volunteers’ bullets but it is still heart-breaking to read about and it is good to read about someone who did something to help those injured. I agree it is not a competition and there were other heroines that day and that’s why we put in the question mark. Just wanted to remind people about those ordinary Dubs who died in the Rising but are often forgotten about and also those who, like Louisa, did something to help others, no matter who, in the face of what must have been incredible terror and danger.

  7. hundredsandthousands


    No hang on, wait

    What? Can’t hear…

    Stop, not yet.

    Bang Bang!

    Ah bollox.

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