Nassau County, NY, remembers Easter Rising

On Easter Monday 2012, more than 100 people attended the annual Easter Uprising memorial service in Mineola, NY. At a location behind the courthouse stands the now completed Irish Easter Rising Memorial, a testament to those who gave their lives for Ireland’s freedom. Sponsored by the Irish Monument Committee each Easter Monday, the one-hour ceremony allows all those present to remember the martyrs of 1916.

The committee is comprised of various Irish organizations including the Nassau County Board of the Ancient order of Hibernians, the Nassau Police Emerald Society, the Irish American Society of Nassau, Suffolk and Queens, Irish Northern Aid, The Friendly Sons of St. Patrick, the Irish Americans in Government, the Brehon Law Society of Nassau County, and the Irish Studies Program of Hofstra University.

The ceremony, which was headed this year by the Police Emerald Society, included remarks from Deputy Consul General of Ireland Peter Ryan and Sinn Fein politician and Seanad Erirann Senator Kathryn Reilly about the peace process in Ireland.

Also in the ceremony the Proclamation of 1916 was read along with readings of Sean O’Casey’s eulogy and “The Rose Tree” by William Butler Yeats. The memorial concluded with a laying of a wreath at the monument.

“First dedicated in 1979, the monument has been a continuing work in  progress requiring renovation,” said master of ceremonies Donal Mahoney. “I have been pleased and proud to be part of the process of the monument as it has gone through various stages of renovation and refurbishment.”

Mahoney notes the Monument Committee has brought together a host Irish organizations on Long Island and has drawn together the Irish American community “with the government of Ireland which has been absolute.”

The monument has been located behind the Nassau County Court House since 1979, albeit unfinished. In 1993 it was rededicated and renovated.  Recently, Irish groups throughout Long Island decided to complete and renovate the project. Three years ago the top was put on the monument, a harp with 32 strings representing the 32 counties and the names of 15 who died on the base. Flowers, lights and a walkway were added two years ago and this year, to finish it off, benches were installed and the plaques were placed back onto the memorial.

The Monument Committee also started a customized brick program to be placed in the paving stones around the monument for all the sponsors of the project.

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The Countess of Irish Freedom

She was called the Countess of Irish Freedom by playwright Sean O’Casey and though born with a silver spoon in her mouth, she spat it out and risked her life for the common people of Ireland that she loved so much.

Constance Gore-Booth was born into a well-to-do Anglo-Irish family on Feb. 4, 1868 in London. Her father had a large estate in Co. Sligo where she moved in the circles of the Ascendancy growing up as a noted horsewoman and a crack shot as well as a beautiful young woman. She couldn’t help comparing her life to the lives of the poor dispossessed Irish families. Even when she later married into wealth and privilege, she never forgot the plight of the common Irish. She studied art and in 1898, attend the Julian School in Paris. It was there she met Count Casimir Markievicz, from a wealthy Polish family. Though he was Catholic, they were married on Sept. 29, 1901. Constance Gore-Booth was now the Countess Markievicz.

In 1903 they moved to Dublin where she began to make an impression as a landscape artist. She and Casimir founded the United Arts Club in 1905 but she soon tired of this life. Nature should provide me with something to live for, something to die for, she said. Then in 1906 she found that ‘something. She rented a cottage in the Dublin hills from formerly rented by poet, Pádraic Colum. He left old copies of the revolutionary publications The Peasant and Sinn Féin there. Reading these, Constance found the cause to inspire her life.

In 1908 she became active in nationalist politics, joining Sinn Féin and Maud Gonne’s women’s group, Inghinidhe na hÉereann. She went to England in 1908 and stood for election against a young man named Winston Churchill. She lost and returned to Ireland where she founded Fianna Éireann in 1909, an organization similar to the boy scouts, but focusing on military drill and the use of firearms. Pádraic Pearse would later say that without Fianna Éireann, the Volunteers of 1913 would not have arisen.

By 1911 she was an executive member of both Inghinidhe and Sinn Féin. She was jailed for the first time for demonstrating against the visit of King George V. She also involved herself in the labor unrest of the time, running a soup kitchen during the lockout of union workers in 1913 and supporting labor leaders James Larkin and James Connolly. Her activity took a toll on her marriage and Casimir left for the Balkans, where he served as a war correspondent and then joined the Imperial Russian cavalry during World War I.

As the war began, Constance was in the center of the nationalist activity in Dublin which exploded on the 24th of April, 1916 in the Easter Rising. Most women in the movement participated as nurses or by running messages through the streets. Not the Countess. As part of Connolly’s Citizen Army, she was second in command to Michael Mallin at St. Stephen’s Green. She supervised the erection of barricades and was in the middle of the fighting. Moved by the faith of the men around her and its connection to the long struggle for Irish independence, she promised herself she would become a Catholic.

Mallin, Markievicz and their men held Stephen’s Green for six days, finally giving up only when the Brits showed them a copy of Pearse’s surrender order. The English officer who took their surrender was a distant relative of Markievicz and he offered to drive her to jail. No offence, old feller, she said, but I much prefer to tag along with my own. She was taken to Kilmainham jail where she was the only one of 70 women prisoners who was put into solitary confinement. Expecting to be executed, she sat in her cell listening to the volleys of the firing squads as her comrades were murdered. As prepared as she was to die, alone in her cell the sounds must have been frightening. At her court martial she had told the court, I did what was right and I stand by it. She was sentenced to death, but General Maxwell commuted this to life in prison on ‘account of the prisoner’s sex.’ She told the officer who brought her the news, I do wish your lot had the decency to shoot me.

Released in the General Amnesty of 1917, she kept her promise and became a Catholic. The fire within her had not been extinguished by the tragic events of 1916, and she continued the struggle. In 1918 she was jailed by the Brits during a phony ‘German Plot,’ aimed at breaking anti-conscription forces in Ireland. While in prison, she became the first woman elected to the British Parliament, running as a Sinn Féin candidate. She refused to take the oath of allegiance to the King and was denied her seat, but when the first Dáil Éireann was formed two months later, she was appointed the first Minister of Labor and went on the run. She was jailed twice during the War of Independence and was released to attend the Treaty debates.

When the Irish Civil War broke out Constance was once more involved in the fighting, helping to defend Moran’s Hotel in Dublin. Later she toured the US raising funds for the Republican cause. After the Civil War she regained her seat in the Dáil, but her politics ran her afoul of the Free State government and she was jailed again. Along with 92 other women prisoners, she went on hunger strike and was released after a month. She joined Eamon de Valera’s Fianna Fáil party in 1926 and was elected as one of it’s candidates in 1927. However, a month later she became sick and died in a public ward at Sir Patrick Dunn’s Hospital. It may have been appendicitis or cancer, many said it was simply overwork.

She could have lived a life of leisure, insulated from the trials and tribulations of the common man, but the Countess gave it all up and intentionally risked her life for them. When her body was taken to the Republican plot at Glasnevin Cemetery, Dublin, for burial, as many as 300,000 people turned out on the streets to bid her farewell. At her graveside, Eamon de Valera gave the eulogy. When young people are searching for history’s heroes, they should be told the story of Constance Gore-Booth, she was truly the Countess of Irish freedom.

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.

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.