Michael O’Hanrahan

March 17 is known the world over as St. Patrick’s Day, but there are many other things that March 17th should be remembered for beside being the day that our patron saint died. For example, it is the date in 1776 that the Brits evacuated Boston during the American Revolution. Also, on that date in 1858, James Stephens and Thomas Luby founded the Irish Republican Brotherhood; in 1897, Bob Fitzsimmons defeated Jim Corbett to become Heavyweight Champion; in 1899, the first issue of An Claidheamh Soluis (Sword of Light), the nationalist newspaper edited by Padraic Pearse, was published; in 1900, the Montreal Shamrocks won the Stanley Cup; and in 1963, Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton was beatified. Most people are familiar with those events, but as much as any of them, there is one that also deserves to be remembered: March 17, 1877 was the birth date of Michael O’Hanrahan – probably the least known of all the 1916 Martyrs.

He was born in New Ross, Co. Wexford, to Mary and Richard O’Hanrahan, a veteran of the 1867 Fenian Rising. The family moved to Carlow where Michael was educated at Carlow Christian Brothers’ School and Carlow College Academy. On leaving school he worked alongside his father in a cork-cutting business where he received a nationalist slant to his education. Immensely proud of his heritage, he joined the Gaelic League in 1898 and within a year founded the League’s first branch in Carlow and became its secretary. He also taught Irish at the Catholic Institute and began to use the Irish form of his name – Micheál Ó hAnnracháin. By 1903 he was working in Dublin as a proof-reader for a Gaelic League publisher. He wrote articles in several nationalist newspapers, including Sinn Féin and the Irish Volunteer. Politically aware from his early youth, O’Hanrahan became involved in some of the more radical nationalist campaigns of the day.

His writings brought him to the attention of Maude Gonne and Arthur Griffith and in 1903 he became involved with them in their campaign against the visit of King Edward VII to Ireland. His friendship with Griffith led him to join the newly-formed Sinn Féin political party founded by Griffith in 1905 to provide a focus for Irish nationalism. He also became a member of the Irish Republican Brotherhood. In November 1913 he was among the first to join the new Irish Volunteers, a military organization established by Irish nationalists. It included members of the Gaelic League, Ancient Order of Hibernians and Sinn Féin, and, secretly, the IRB who had organized the formation meeting. The Volunteers would be the main force to fight for Irish independence in the 1916 Easter Rising and, with the Irish Citizen Army, Cumann na mBan and Fianna Éireann, they formed the Irish Republican Army. The Volunteers were formed on 25 November, with their first public meeting and enrollment rally at the Rotunda in Dublin and O’Hanrahan was there. The stewards, who handed out application blanks, wore in their lapel a small silken bow the center of which was white, while on one side was green and on the other side orange and had long been recognized as the colors which the Irish Republican Brotherhood had adopted as the Irish national banner. Speaking at the rally was IRB member Patrick Pearse.

While expanding his nationalist activities and writings, O’Hanrahan authored two novels A Swordsman of the Brigade (1914) and When the Normans Came (published posthumously in 1918). He became an administrator on the Volunteers headquarters staff, was made quartermaster general of the Volunteers’ 2nd Battalion where he and the 2nd Battalion Commandant, Thomas MacDonagh became close friends. It was as second in command of Dublin’s 2nd battalion under Commandant MacDonagh and later third in command under Major John MacBride, that he fought at Jacob’s Biscuit Factory throughout Easter week. Unfortunately, O’Hanrahan had a nasty accident in Jacobs when he tumbled down a flight of stone steps and received a concussion. Fearing that MacDonagh might send him to hospital, he played the incident down. His brother Henry O’Hanrahan also fought in Jacobs.

Over the following week the Rising continued until a general surrender was issued on April 30th. As a result many of the rebels were taken into custody by the Brits. In a memorandum sent by General Sir John Maxwell to British Prime Minister, Herbet Asquith, the following description was provided for Michael O’Hanrahan: This man was employed at the office of the Headquarters of the Irish Volunteers. He was one of the most active members of that body, took part in all their parades and was a constant associate with the leaders of the rebellion. He was arrested in uniform and armed, and there had been heavy fighting and casualties amongst the British troops in the neighborhood of the place where this man with others surrendered. He was an officer in the rebel army.

Michael O’Hanrahan was tried by General Courts Martial on 3 May 1916. To the charge that he ‘did take part in an armed rebellion and in the waging of war against His Majesty the King,’ the witness, Major J.A. Armstrong, stated: ‘I was present at St. Patrick’s Park on 30 April. The British troops were fired upon and there were several casualties. The fire came from the neighborhood of Jacob’s Factory. The same day a surrender was arranged. I saw the surrender being arranged by Mr. MacDonagh. Over 100 men arrived from Jacob’s Factory as a result of the surrender and another large body arrived from the same direction as a result of the surrender. The accused belonged to one of the parties. He was in uniform and armed. After his removal to Richmond Barracks, he said that he was an officer.’ O’Hanrahan did not call any witnesses in his defense but stated: As a soldier of the Republican army acting under the orders of the Provisional Goverment of that Republic duly constituted, I acted under the orders of my superiors. O’Hanrahan was found guilty and sentenced to death.

The leaders of the Rising were all sentenced to death. Between 4:00 and 4:30 am on 4 May 1916, 39-year old Michael O’Hanrahan was murdered by firing squad in the stonebreaker’s yard at Kilmainham Prison on the same day as Joseph Plunkett, who had married Grace Gifford just hours before; Willy Pearse, brother of Padraic Pearse and Ned Daly, brother-in-law of Tom Clarke. Their remains were buried in Arbour Hill Cemetery. A public outcry against the severity of the sentences for men whose only crime was love of country, turned to revulsion as sixteen of the sentences were hastily and brutally carried out. World opinion weighed in against the executions as well with the result that they were halted and converted to penal servitude for life. Many were sent to concentration camps in both England and Wales. Michael’s brother, Henry, was sentenced to penal servitude for life, but became seriously ill requiring medical care and was let out of prison to die. His sisters Aine (Ciss), Maire and Eily remained involved in Cuman na mBan, the Ladies Auxiliary to the IRA.

The Co. Carlow museum has a section dedicated to their adopted son and in 1919 a Carlow Town based GAA club was founded taking Michael’s name in honour of his role in 1916, while at his birthplace, the Wexford railway station is named in commemoration of O’Hanrahan, as is the road bridge over the River Barrow at New Ross.

Thomas MacCurtain

January 30, 1920 was a happy day for Tomas MacCurtain. He had been elected Lord Mayor of Cork. Born as Thomas Curtin in Ballinknockin, Co. Cork, on 20th March 1884, he began using the Gaelic version of his name, Tomas MacCurtain, when he joined the Gaelic League in Blackpool, Cork City in 1901. By 1902 he was the group’s Secretary. He was also a member of the Ancient Order of Hibernians (American Alliance) in Cork City and rose to be the Division President. Tomas was interested in Irish history and was a bagpiper as well as an accomplished violinist and often played in an orchestra. This brown-haired, blue-eyed Irishman had great determination.

After he left school he worked at Marks Mills in Crosses Green and in his spare time he taught the Irish language to those wishing to learn. He met Eilish Walsh, also active in the Gaelic League, and they married on 28th June 1908. They had 5 children and lived at 40 Thomas Davis St in the northern part of Cork City.

By 1911, he was involved in the running of Fianna Eireann, and he became a Volunteer in 1914. He fought for Irish freedom and for that cause served prison terms in 1916 and 1917 in Wakefield, Frongoch and Reading Jail in England. He became Commandant of the Cork Brigade of the IRA which grew so large that on Jan 5, 1919, it was divided into 3 Brigades with Michael Collins presiding over the meeting. Commandant MacCurtain was left to command Cork Brigade No 1 and Tom Hales became Commandant of Cork Brigade No 3. The following day, MacCurtain presided over a meeting in Mallow to form (North) Cork Brigade No. 2.

Under a policy of ignoring institutions established by the British, the Irish used the legal elections held by the Brits to elect their own representatives, and establish their own Parliament instead of sitting in Westminster or accepting Crown appointed officials. On January 31, 1920, elections were held in Cork City, and Sinn Fein dominated local councils. Tomas was elected by his Ward and was chosen to be Lord Mayor of Cork City. The Brits were furious. Tomas began implementing changes with a mind toward the dream of a free Ireland.

On March 19, 1920, at 11 PM, a member of the Royal Irish Constabulary was shot and killed on Pope’s Quay, Cork. Some hours later (just after 1 AM, March 20) men disguised with blackened faces burst into the MacCurtain home and shot the Lord Mayor in his bed. In the house at the time were Mrs. MacCurtain, her children, her brother, 3 sisters, 2 nieces and a nephew, and her invalid mother Mrs. Walsh. Tomas’ sister-in-law Annie came down the stairs with a Crucifix and holy water. They knelt down and prayed by the lifeless body, Annie holding her arm under Tomas’ head. He was bleeding from around the region of the heart. Annie described how they remained praying until the priest came in response to Mrs. MacCurtain’s telephone call. I called on the Sacred Heart to spare him, at least until the priest would come, Annie said. When the priest came I went away for a few minutes, but came back then to see him die. His last words were: “Into Thy hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit”.

Tomas died just after receiving the Last Rites. Such was public reaction, that the funeral on Monday 22nd March, from the North Cathedral was the largest ever seen in Cork city. Tomas MacCurtin, musician, pioneer of the Gaelic revival movement, Commandant of the Cork Brigade, Sinn Fein member, AOH President, founding member of the Irish Volunteers, was laid to rest in St Finbarr’s Church graveyard, in a plot facing the main gate. His personal pistol was given to his friend, Michael Collins. The Cork City Council held an inquiry and indicted the British government for MacCurtain’s murder. Among those involved in the murder was RIC District-Inspector Oswald Swanzy, who was secretly transferred to Lisburn in Northern Ireland to safeguard him from retaliation.

However, retaliation was the order of the day as far as Collins was concerned. It took a few months to locate him, but In August, Collins handed Tomas MacCurtain’s pistol to a hand-picked team who went north and on August 22, 1920 dealt justice to Inspector Oswald Swanzy from MacCurtain’s own gun. Swanzy’s death so infuriated the Brits that the entire Catholic section of Lisburn was burned to the ground.

MacCurtin was succeeded in office by Terence MacSwiney – and that’s another story.

Michael Collins

One of the most controversial figures in Irish history is Michael Collins. To those who loved him, he was The Big Fellow, Ireland’s greatest hero. Yet some believe that in settling for the Irish Free State, he betrayed the Republican cause. You be the judge.

Born at Sam’s Cross, Co Cork, on Oct 16, 1890 – (120 years ago this month), he was the youngest of 8 children. His father, 75 at the time, was a farmer with an enviable command of Greek, Latin, and French, who also excelled in math. He gave his youngest son his name, and a love of reading. As Michael grew to manhood, he read the prose and poetry of Nationalism, listened to patriotic discussions about O’Connell, Davis, and Emmet, and heard first hand accounts from his grandmother Johanna O’Brien of people starving on the roads during the Great Hunger. He started school at the age of 4-1/2, and was taught by an old Fenian named Denis Lyons. By the time his father died in 1897, the 6-year old well understood his father’s last words: I shall not see Ireland free, but in my children’s time it will come, please God. Michael finished school and left for London in 1906 as an apprentice clerk in the Post Office Savings Bank. In London, he joined the Gaelic League, the GAA, and the Geraldine Football and Hurling Club. He was sworn into the IRB in 1909, and later, the Volunteers. In 1915, he got a job as a clerk in the London office of the Guarantee Trust Company of New York. Then, on a trip to Dublin he met Tom Clarke and Sean MacDermott who convinced him that something big was about to happen. He returned to London, quit his job, and sailed for Ireland the next day. The something big was the Easter Rising, and Collins was a part of that historic event as a soldier in the GPO.

When the Rising failed, Irish prisoners were rounded up and marched to a grassy knoll opposite the Rotunda Hospital where they were surrounded by British Officers. The officer in Charge, Capt Lee Wilson, recognized 58-year old Tom Clarke as one of the leaders, and pulled him from the ranks; he publicly stripped him nude to the taunts and jeers of soldiers and passers-by. Collins was unable to stop the brutality, but years later he found Capt Wilson serving as an RIC inspector in Wexford, and had him shot. Collins and his comrades were bundled off to a prison camp at Frongoch in Wales where his natural ability as a leader emerged. When all were released in a general amnesty at Christmas, 1916, Tom Clarke’s widow, Kattie, gave Collins the funds and information entrusted to her by the IRB Supreme Council before the Rising. Collins reorganized the Irish Volunteer and gave financial aid to the returning men. He made valuable contacts with Republicans all over Ireland, and they in turn knew that if they or their families ever needed anything, all they had to do was to see Mick. The reorganized IRB and its political party Sinn Fein renewed the struggle for independence. Sinn Fein members were elected to Parliamentary seats and, instead of going to Westminster, they met in Dublin calling themselves Dail Eireann – the Assembly of Ireland. England tried to disband them and Ireland’s war of independence was on, with Collins leading the resistance. Hunted day and night, he led a guerrilla war with many close encounters and daring escapes. In July, 1919, he formed a squad of trusted men for special assignments who were known as the Twelve Apostles. They were an intelligence unit built to infiltrate British agencies and execute special assignments. Collins was Minister of Finance in the new Dail as well as Director of Intelligence, Director of Organization, and Adjutant General of the Army. He was the most hunted man in Ireland.

His intelligence network was extremely effective, and his masterful stroke of identifying 14 top British secret service men operating undercover in Dublin, and eliminating them all at the same time on Sunday morning, Nov 21 1920, displayed a daring and organizational ability that shook the Empire to its very foundation. It also boosted sagging Irish morale for the war had been particularly brutal and demoralizing. Then in mid 1921, Dail President Eamon deValera was invited to London to confer with Lloyd George. On July 9, a truce was announced to explore the possibility of a peace. However, the British had made it absolutely clear that no treaty would entertain an Irish Republic. Dev knew that when he returned to Ireland to select a delegation to negotiate terms. He startled his comrades by refusing to lead the delegation himself; instead he chose Arthur Griffith. Griffith, a journalist and economist, was not a militant republican, and would have been happy with any reasonable offer as long as the fighting was over. The delegation included Erskine Childers, a former member of British Intelligence who had converted to the cause; Childers cousin, Robert Barton; George Gavan Duffy and Eamon Duggan – two lawyers; John Chartres, another former member of British Intelligence; Emmet Dalton, another ex-British Officer; and Michael Collins. The selection of so many men of English background to negotiate Irish freedom leaves many questions to this day, but one thing is certain: Michael Collins as the lone militant would have little voice in establishing terms. The Irish delegation was no match for the English delegation which included such trained statesmen as Lloyd George, Lord Birkenhead, Sir Austin Chamberlain, and Winston Churchill. The British offered an Irish Free State – a 26-county self-governing dominion within the British Commonwealth of Nations. The question of the other 6 counties would be resolved by a border commission after the Brits were able to pull their interests out. The Irish refused, but the English, with a seasoned army just returned from World War I, offered no alternative but total war. Collins know that the Republican movement was almost broke and out of ammunition. They had bluffed their way to the negotiating table and now would have to bluff their way to any concessions. After months of negotiation the treaty was accepted. Collins considered it a stepping stone to full freedom, but realized many would not accept the fact that Ireland, though a self-governing dominion, was still under the Crown.

In Ireland, deValera, as President, repudiated the treaty after learning that a new election was one of the conditions. He claimed it was not the Republic that they fought for, but Dail Eireann put it to the people for a vote. In a general election, a war-weary people accepted it and elected Arthur Griffith President. DeValera and the anti-treaty Republican forces took up arms in protest, and in June 1922 a civil war began. Anti-treaty forces steadily lost ground, and by August, most cities and towns were in Free State hands. On August 12, President Griffith died, leaving Collins responsible for bringing the war to an end. On August 20, Collins headed for Cork to meet and negotiate a peace with his dissident former comrades – not as a conqueror, but as a fellow Irishman. He would offer positions in the Free State Army to those who wished them and give their leaders positions of importance in Free State service. Those who chose to continue fighting could go up north and fight the Orangemen who, at that time, were killing Irish Nationalists and burning them out of their homes. In a few years, when the new army was trained and equipped, Collins would dismantle the treaty bit by bit. It was a compromise none but the British could oppose – but they would not know. Unfortunately they did. According to a 1982 book THE SHOOTING OF MICHAEL COLLINS by John Feehan, when the Irish took over Dublin Castle, documents were found naming a British spy – code name Thorpe – who had been placed among the Irish. Just before going south, Collins learned Thorpe’s identity, and said he would deal with him when he returned. Sadly, he never did for in his own native county, he was the victim of an ambush by Republican forces. The invincible man was dead. In Kilmainham Jail hundreds of Republicans prisoners dropped to their knees in prayer for the man who had led them for so long, though now on the opposing side. The saddest part of the entire story is that one of the finest leaders Ireland ever produced was killed by an Irish hand – a hand that he would rather have held in friendship.

Padraig Pearse

Patrick H. Pearse was a poet, lawyer, playwright, linguist, educator, author, and military leader. Born on Nov 10, 1879 in Dublin, his father’s firm belief in liberty (as evidenced by the name he gave his son) left a deep impression on young Patrick Henry. During his formal education at the Christian Brothers School he attained honors in Gaelic each year, and at ages 16 and 17, wrote prizewinning books in the language. He was amply encouraged in his pursuit for he had come to manhood during a period of intense Irishness known as the Gaelic Revival. Pearse joined the Gaelic League whose prime purpose was the revival of the national language, but its impact on the rise of nationalism was far more significant. Years later, Pearse wrote, The Irish revolution really began when the 7 original Gaelic Leaguers met in O’Connell Street. The germ of all future Irish history was in that room. In 1896, the Gaelic League was 3 years old, Pearse was 16, and the end of his life was still 20 years away. Despite a heavy schedule of studies, he was a member of the Gaelic League’s governing body and President of the New Ireland Literary Society as well. He began to write the ancient language in modern form, discarding the traditional format of the sagas and using the form of short stories, plays, and novels. His pioneering contributions were so significant that the Encyclopedia of Ireland notes that, He brought Irish literature into the 20th Century. In 1901 he was accepted to the Bar. In one of his few cases, he defended a client who had been fined for putting his name on his cart in Gaelic – a crime in British-controlled Ireland. Though commended for an ingenious, interesting, and instructive defense, he lost the case. He never practiced law again, and described the profession of an Irish lawyer in an English court system as the most ignoble of professions.

More and more Pearse’s writings came to reflect the nationalist influence of the Gaelic Revival. In 1908 he founded St Enda’s College as a bilingual secondary school. He became an outstanding orator, and spoke at many nationalist functions. Tom Clarke, the veteran Fenian who was attempting to rejuvenate the IRB, heard Pearse and invited him to deliver the 1913 oration at the graveside of Wolfe Tone in Bodenstown – an annual event of considerable Republican significance. Pearse publicly identified himself with the nationalist cause when he began his speech, We have come to the holiest place in Ireland. In that same month he began contributing articles to the IRB newspaper Irish Freedom. By the end of 1913, Pearse was not only a member of the IRB, but of the newly formed Irish Volunteers as well, and he rose to prominence in both organizations. He became the principle speaker for the Volunteers and its Director of Organization, and, as such, had authority to issue orders on behalf of Chief of Staff, Eoin MacNeill.

He was part of a 3-man IRB committee set up by Clarke, with Joseph Plunkett and Eamonn Ceannt, to draft a plan for a military insurrection. This committee later became the Military Council with the addition of Sean MacDiarmada, James Connolly, and Thomas MacDonagh.

It was as a member of this group and the Supreme Council of the IRB that Pearse ordered the Volunteers to assemble for training maneuvers on Easter Sunday, 1916. He was the indispensable link between the two groups. Tom Clarke’s IRB was the agent of the rising, but with no more than 2,000 members it needed the umbrella of the Volunteers. Hence the deception of MacNeill and the key role of Pearse. It was Pearse’s conviction that a blood sacrifice was essential to stir his generation of Irish to action. He maintained that the Gaelic Revival had bred a new generation of revolutionaries and forged the weapon that could topple the crown. All that was needed was one significant, bold action to arouse the people to a sense of their rights and put that force into motion. He was willing to initiate that action at the risk of his own life. On Easter Monday, he led his men into a rising to test that theory, even though he was acutely aware that he would not survive.

In 1915 he wrote, We must be ready to die, even as Emmet died, so that others may live. He told his mother just before the rising, The day is coming when I shall be shot, swept away, and my colleagues with me. After his surrender, he wrote from his jail cell, This is the death I should have asked for if God had given me choice – a soldiers death for Ireland and freedom. True to Pearse’s estimation, his execution and the execution of the other leaders set the Irish population into a seething rage that lit the fuse for the War of Independence. The groundwork of Pearse was the foundation of Irish freedom.

Some 6 months before his execution Pearse wrote to those who did not share his vision, in a poem he called The Fool:

The Lawyers have sat in Council, the men with the keen long faces,
and said This man is a fool, and others have said he blasphemeth;
and the wise have pitied the fool who strove to give a life to a dream
that was dreamed in the heart and that only the heart can hold.
O Wise Men, riddle me this: What if the dream come true,
What if the dream come true and millions unborn shall dwell
in the house that I shaped in my heart?

The Easter Rising

The Easter Rising took place on Easter Monday, April 24, 1916. It was yet the latest in more than a dozen attempts by the Irish to break the chains of bondage imposed on them by the Crown since the Normans first invaded in 1171. At least a dozen times in the previous seven centuries the Irish had organized military opposition and several times they had even tried parliamentary reform – all to no avail. With the dawn of the twentieth century, a new generation inherited the nationalist tradition of the past and was determined to keep faith with that tradition and try again.

To understand the significance of the Rising, one must start with the Gaelic revival early in the century. A literary movement, it sparked a renaissance in Ireland’s cultural heritage – language, history and arts. It planted the seeds of nationalism which led to a demand for Home Rule – a separate parliament for Ireland to govern herself. The government in Westminster depended on the Irish members of Parliament to ensure their power, so they acquiesced and promised Home Rule. However, loyalists in northern Ireland, who felt they would be a minority in an all-Irish Parliament, vowed to fight Home Rule if it were imposed. They formed a loyalist paramilitary militia called the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) in 1912 and became the first to import arms on a large scale as a force of 100,000 were armed and trained. In 1913, the Irish Volunteers were formed by members of the Gaelic League, the Ancient Order of Hibernians, Sinn Féin and the Irish Republican Brotherhood to counter UVF opposition to Home Rule. However, they were only a poorly armed force of about 10,000.

The key to what happened next was an American citizen from Long Island, New York. His name was Thomas J. Clarke. An unrepentant veteran of the Fenian Irish Republican Brotherhood, a secret revolutionary society in Ireland, he was imprisoned for anti-Crown activities. Released after charges of torture were upheld he was exiled from Ireland. He fled to America in 1898. He settled in New York and became active in Clann na Gael, the American branch of the Fenian movement. He was employed by an Irish-American newspaper edited by John Devoy – the most powerful figure in the Clann at the time. Highly respected for the suffering he endured for Irish freedom, Clarke became one of the Clan’s most trusted members. He became an American citizen and in Sept, 1906, retired to Manorville, Long Island. Though prematurely aged at 48, Clarke was not put out to pasture.

In December, 1907, he was sent to Ireland to rejuvenate the Irish Republican Brotherhood which had become inactive due to age and apathy. As the trusted link between the Irish exiles of Clann na Gael and the IRB in Ireland, he was appointed to the Supreme Council of the IRB and was one of its most powerful advocates of revolutionary action. He infiltrated the Volunteers, brought a young schoolteacher named Padraic Pearse into the brotherhood and recruited a young cadre to become a military council to further the goal of Irish freedom.

Home Rule was passed by Parliament, but with the outbreak of WWI, implementation was postponed; then, Northern politicians moved an amendment to exclude six counties of Ulster from the provisions of Home Rule and establish a separate state. John Redmond, head of the Irish Parliamentary Party believed that loyalty shown to the Crown at this crucial hour would result in the Crown acting favorably on behalf of Home Rule at the wars end, so he committed the Volunteers to serve in the British Army. This split the Volunteers and those who opposed service in the British Army reorganized under Eoin MacNeill.

IRB members within the Volunteer movement felt betrayed, and began to plot a rising. They were Padraig Pearse, Thomas MacDonagh, Joseph Plunkett, Eamon Kent, Sean MacDermott, led by the old Fenian, Tom Clarke. James Connolly and the Irish Citizen Army, a force organized to protect workers from police during labor disputes, was brought in on the plans. They set a date for a rising on Easter Sunday because of the symbolism of Christ’s rising from the dead and because all the military would be off on holiday. Orders were issued for training maneuvers throughout the country. When Volunteer Roger Casement was captured trying to land arms in Kerry on Good Friday, MacNeill learned that the maneuvers were to be an actual rising and countermanded the orders in the public press, determined to keep the Volunteers as only a balancing force to the UVF. Clarke rescheduled the rising for Monday, but was unable to get the word to the Volunteers outside Dublin. The military council decided to rise anyway, believing that the rest of the country would rally when they heard of the fighting in Dublin.

The patriots marched into Dublin on Monday and the British immediately cut all communication lines out of the city. The word never got out. The rising was confined to Dublin, and for five heroic days, the insurgents held out against the might of the British Empire. In the end, battered by shot and shell, they surrendered. By the time the rest of the country found out what had happened, it was over. Then the British did a very stupid thing.

They separated the leaders from the mass of prisoners who had surrendered, lined them up against a wall, and murdered the noblest leaders Ireland had produced in that generation. Connolly, who had been wounded in the fray, was taken out on a stretcher, and propped up against a wall to receive the bullets. That foolish act of revenge brought the Irish nation to their feet as one angry mass against the Crown. The seeds planted by the Gaelic Revival burst forth in a nationalist fury that led to the War of Independence, and the ultimate treaty with the British that led to the modern Republic of Ireland. Although six counties in the north were left to the Crown, most of Ireland was free. As we know the struggle for the Erin’s remaining green field continues yet, but whether or not the current peace leads to the promised unification of Ireland, the men of Easter Week who gave their lives that Irishmen might control their own destiny must never be forgotten. Remember them in your prayers on April 24.

Throughout the hardship of seven centuries
brave Irishmen struggled and fought
remember the price already paid
and don’t let it be for naught!

Sean MacDairmada

One of the lesser known, but major figures, in the 1916 uprising is Sean McDermott. If you don’t know his story, don’t feel alone. He is so little known that you can’t even find him on the internet. You’ll find Sean McDermott the actor, Sean McDermott the singer, Sean McDermott the NFL star, Sean McDermott the missionary, and even Sean McDermott the U.S. Navy C2/E2 pilot of the year 2005. The only way to find our Sean McDermott is to look up his name the way he signed it on the proclamation of the Irish Republic – in the Irish language: Sean MacDiarmada – a name that was on British secret police files for years until his death.

Seán MacDiarmada was born on February 28, 1883 in small Co. Leitrim town near the Donegal border, where there now stands a monument to his memory. Sean was born there, but ran away at age 15 and went to Glasgow where his uncle was a gardener. He worked for a time with his uncle, but soon took a job as a conductor on the Glasgow trams. After 2 years, he went to Belfast and worked as a tram conductor, and later as a barman.

In Belfast, he joined the Ancient Order of Hibernians which was closely associated with the Irish Parliamentary Party. While the AOH were then considered to be the custodians of Irish nationalism, MacDiarmada looked for and joined other Irish nationalist organizations as well, including Sinn Fein and the Gaelic League. He gave a speech at a Sinn Féin convention in Dublin that made a deep impression on all who heard him. Described as “strikingly handsome and earnest, speaking with natural eloquence and a sincerity which held his audience”, he was also called lighthearted with a gift of telling a humorous story and a tongue that was witty without being malicious. Then, in 1906, MacDiarmada took the oath of the Irish Republican Brotherhood, and it changed his life forever.

He moved to Dublin in 1908, and met the veteran Fenian Tom Clarke who had been sent back to Ireland from America to reorganize the IRB. MacDiarmada was tireless in his efforts to spread the IRB across the country. As a result Tom Clarke took the young dynamo under his wing, and made him a national organizer for the Brotherhood. A strong friendship developed and, over the years, MacDiarmada and Clarke became nearly inseparable. Then tragedy struck. MacDermott was afflicted with polio. After a long recuperation, however, he threw himself back into the nationalist movement. Though now forced use a cane just to walk about, his infirmity never slowed him down nor dampened his nationalist spirit.

In 1910 he became manager of the newspaper “Irish Freedom”, which he founded with Bulmer Hobson and Denis McCullough. In November 1913 he was one of the original members of the Irish Volunteers formed at the Rotunda by Padraic Pearse, and worked tirelessly to bring that organization under IRB control. Sean became Secretary of the IRB and in May 1915 he was arrested in Tuam, County Galway, under the Defense of the Realm Act for giving a speech against enlisting in the British Army for WWI. Released in September, he was invited to join the IRB’s secret Military Committee, to plan a rising against the Crown. Indeed, it was he and Tom Clarke who were most responsible for planning the Easter Rising of 1916. And, in spite of his handicap, Sean MacDiarmada limped into that milestone of Irish history, carrying his cane not as a crutch of dependence, but as a scepter of authority, as part of the HQ staff of James Connolly. It was MacDiarmada who read Pearse’s letter of surrender to those in the G.P.O.

After the Rising was put down by the British, and the rebels taken captive, a sneering British officer remarked as MacDiarmada limped by, “No wonder the Sinn Feiners lost, with such cripples in their army.” MacDiarmada made no reply. In fact, he almost escaped execution by blending in with the crowd of prisoners until a British officer named Lee-Wilson, pointed him out saying “take the man with the stick, he’s the most dangerous man here after Tom Clarke.” Lee-Wilson was later killed during the Irish War of Independence on the orders of one of MacDiarmada’s closest friends – a big fella by the name of Michael Collins.

On May 12, 1916, Sean MacDiarmada was murdered by the Crown in the Stonebreaker’s Yard of Kilmainham Jail; the same day as his comrade James Connolly. They were the last two to face the firing squad. In 1922, poet Seamus O’Sullivan wrote:

They have slain you, Sean MacDermott; never more these eyes will greet
The eyes beloved by women and the smile that true men loved;
Never more I’ll hear the stick-tap, and the gay and limping feet,
They have slain you, Sean the Gentle, Sean the valiant, Sean the proved.