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Chapters

The 1916 Easter Rising

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thank the Mother of God for her kindness in her intercession for us that we have had the time to prepare ourselves to meet our Redeemer. ' He then asked his fellow prisoners to say the rosary with him and to remember all those who had fought for Irish Freedom and for those who would fight for it in the future.

In a memorandum sent by General Sir John Maxwell to the British Prime Minister, the following description was provided for Cornelius Colbert: ' This man was one of the most active members of the Sinn Fein organisation. He was an associate with all the leaders and took a prominent part in the organisation of the rebel army in which he held the rank of Captian. He was armed at the time of his surrender and came from the neighbourhood of houses from which heavy fighting had taken place earlier in the day. ' Conn Colbert was tried by Field Court Martial on the 4th May 16. The members of the court present were Colonel D. Sapte (( presient Major W.R James and Major D.B Frew. The chage being ' Did take part in an armed rebellion and in the waging of war against his Majesty the King, such an act being of such a nature as t be calculated to be pjudicia t the Defence of the Realm and being done with the intensn and fr the purpse of assisting the enemy. ' The 1st witness was Major J.A Armstrong who stated. ' n the 3th April 11916 i was pesent at Bride Street and Patrick's rk where the British troop were fired upon. The accused was one of a party which surrrendered about 5pm. He was dressed in a Volunteer Captain's uniform and was armed. These officerswe armed with pistols or revolvers. These men who surrendered came from the direction in which the firing had taken place. ' Conn Colber did not call any witnesses to his defence but made the following statment
' I have nothing to say. ' Conn Colbert was found guilty and sentenced to death by shooting. ' In the last few remaining hours of his life Conn chose not to see his family and spent the time writing 10 leters to those he loved. he felt that if he saw any of his family it would cause too much sadness and

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grief for them all. In a letter to his sister Lila dated May 7th, 1916 he wrote the following.

' My Dear Lila. i did not like to call you to this Goal to see me before i left this world because i felt it would grieve us too much, so i am just dropping you a line to ask you to forgive me anything i do owe you and to say goodbye to you and all my friends and to get you and them to say a prayer for my soul. Perhaps i'd never get the chance of knowing when i was to die again and so i'll try and die well. I received this morning and hope do do so again before i die. Pray for me, ask Fr Devine and Fr Healy and Fr O'Brien to say Mass for me also any priest you know. May God help us - me to die well - you to bear your sorrow. I am your loving brother. Conn. I send you a prayer book. Write to nan, Jack and Willie and ask them to pray for me. '

Conn did request towards the end to see Mrs Seamus O' Murchadha, who was also a prsioner in Kilmainham Jail ( the wife of one of Conn's Captains on Marrowbone Lane ) She first met Conn Colbert during Easter Week when she joined the garrison to cook for them. The following are some of her recollections of that time in Kilmainham Jail. ' After the surrender about 80 girls, including myself were arrested, and detained in Kilmainham. I saw Conn Colbert at Mass on Sunday, 7th May with Eamonn Ceannt, Michael Mallin and Sean Heuston. I then went to see Conn. On entering his cell Conn was lying on the floor with a blanket over him. There was no plank or mattress of any kind in the cell and the night was bitterly cold. There was a little table and stool in the cell and a candle lit on the table as Conn was expecting the priest. He jumped up when he saw me and said ' How are you? I am one of the lucky ones. ' Of course i knew what was going to happen to him when he said that. ' I am proud ' he said, ' to die for such a cause. I will be passing away at the dawning of the day. What about Eamonn Ceannt? He was the only other one of the men i knew. Conn replied ' He has drawn the lucky lot as well. ' Conn had his prayer book with him and said he would leave it to his sister, Lila. ' Here ' he said ' is what i am leaving you. ' He took three buttons belonging to his Volunteer uniform, and said they had left him nothing else. I asked why he did not call for his sister Lila. he said he did not like to cause her trouble. he asked me when i heard the volleys fired the following morning to say a Hail mary for himself, Ceannt and Mallin ( he was not aware that Heuston also was to die with them ) A she left his cell she saw that Conn was smiling, saying that the priest would be there shortly so he would not lie down again.

Between 3.35 and 4.05am on the 8th May 1916 Conn Colbert was taken into the old Stonebreakers yard at Kilmainham where he was executed by firing squad. Mrs O' Murchadha recalled how: ' I heard the volleys fired the follwing morning at break of day and myself and the girl who was sleeping in the cell with me got up and we said the De Profundis three times for the men who were passing into eternity. Conn Colbert's remains were removed from the yard at Kilmainham Prison and conveyed to Arbour Lane Cemetery.

Wisdom and Statesmanship

On Thursday May 11th, the death sentence passed on de Valera as commuted to one of life imprisonment due to his American citizenship. Finally on Friday May 12th Sean MMacDermott ann James Connolly were shot - the last men to pay the supreme sacrifice. These last two executions shocked public opinion s none of the others had. The earlier executions had taken place while most Irish people were still stunned and still full of resentment agaisnt the Sinn Feiners. But as penalty followed penalty a feeling of resentment set in; the beblief took hold that the Government was indulging in an orgy of revengeful blood-letting. Strong voices were raised in protest; the United States Senate requested the President to transmit to the British Government an expression of ' their hope that Great Britain would exercise clemency in the treatment of Irish political prisoners generally. ' Redmond and the Orange leader carson, appealed for clemency in the House of Commons. ' No true Irishman calls for vengeance ' said carson magnanimously. ' It will be a matter requiring the greatest wisdom and the greatest calmness in dealing with these men. Whatever is done, let it be done not in a moment of temporary excitement but in a moment of deliberation.

When eventually irish Command announced that de Valera had been spared the death sentence ( Maxwell had taken into account de Valera's American birth ) there was general relief and feeling that wisdom and statesmanship were likely to

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heal the breach rapidly. Sinn fein after all had been crushed; its principal leaders were dead. True, Connolly lived, but the man had been severely wounded, and one thing was certain, he would never again lead another military rising. And who, anyway, could shoot a wounded man? The people of Ireland were stunned to learn that general Maxwell could - and from that moment on he and the nation he represented earned their hearty opprobrium; he would earn the name ' Bloody Maxwell ' The shock was the more severe because, on the day before Connolly's execution, an official announcement had stated: ' The trials by court-martial of those who took an actual part in the rising in Dublin are practically finished. '

Sean MacDermott

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Sean MacDermott was born on the 28th February 1883 in Corranmore, close to Kiltyclogher in County Leitrim, an area where the landscape was marked by reminders of poverty and oppression. Surrounding MacDermott in rural Corranmore north Leitrim, there were signs of Irish History throughout the area. There was an ancient sweathouse, Mass rocks from the penal times and the persecutions of the 17th and 18th centuries, and deserted abodes as an aftermath of the hunger of the 1840s. Sean was educated by the Christian Brothers. In 1908 he moved to Dublin, by which time he already had a long involvement in several irish separatist and cultural organisations, including Sinn Fein, the Irish Republican Brotherhood, the Ancient Orders of Hibernians and the Gaelic League. He was soon promoted to the Supreme Council of the IRB and eventually elected secretary.

In 1910 he became manager of the radical newspaper Irish Freedom, which he founded along with Bulmer Hobson and Denis McCullough. He also became a national organiser for the IRB and was taken under the wing of veteran Fenian Tom Clarke. Indeed over the years the two became nearly inseparable. Shortly thereafter Sean was stricken with Polio and forced to walk with a cane. In November 1913 Sean MacDermott was one of the original members of the Irish Volunteers, and continued to work to bring that organisation under IRB control. In May 1915, Sean was arrested in Taum, County Galway, under the Defense of the Realm Act for giving a speech against enlisting into the British Army. Following his release in September 1915, he joined the secret Military Committee of

the IRB, which was repsonsible for planning the Easter Rising. Indeed MacDermott and Clarke were the people most responsible for it. Due to his disability, Sean MacDermott took little part in the fighting of Easter Week, but was stationed at headquarters in the General Post Office. Following the surrender, he nearly escaped execution by blending in with the large body of prisoners. He was eventually recognised by Daniel Hoey of G Division, Dublin Metropolitan Police. Following a court-martial on May 9, Mac Diarmada was executed by firing squad on May 12 at the age of 33. In September 1919 Hoey was shot dead by Michael Collins's Squad.[3] Likewise, the British Officer Lee-Wilson, who ordered Mac Diarmada to be shot, rather than imprisoned, was also killed in Cork on Collins's order during the Irish War of Independence. Before his execution, Mac Diarmada wrote, "I feel happiness the like of which I have never experienced. I die that the Irish nation might live!”.

In a memorandum sent by General Sir John Maxwell to the then British Prime Minister, Herbet Asquith, the following description was provided for Sean MacDermott:

This man signed the Declaration of Irish Independence. He was one of the most prominent of the leaders of the Irish Volunteers and attended at the meetings of the Executive and Control Councils. He wrote and sent despatches and mobilisation orders for and to the rebels during the rebellion and he surrendered with a body of rebels in Sackville Street with whom he had been operating for the previous week.

Sean MacDermott was tried by Field General Courts Martial on 3 May 1916. The proceedings are contained in the PRO document WO 71/344.

Court Martial Proceedings
The members of the courts martial were Colonel D. Sapte (President), Lieutenant-Colonel Bent and Major F.W. Woodward.

At his trial, Sean MacDermott faced two charges to which he pleaded not guilty:

" ... did take part in an armed rebellion and in the waging of war against His Majesty the King, such act being of such a nature as to be calculated to be prejudicial to the Defence of the Realm and being done with the intension and for the purpose of assisting the enemy."
"Did attempt to cause disaffection among the civilian population of His Majesty."
The 1st Witness was Constable Daniel Hoey (Dublin Metropolitan Police) who stated

I have known the accused by the name of John McDermott, or in the Irish form Sean MacDiarmada, for 3.5 years. The accused associated with leaders of the Irish Volunteers, Thomas Clarke, P.H. Pearse, Joseph Plunkett, Frank Fahy, Joe McGuinness, E.J. Duggan and others. They held executive meetings once a week and General Council meetings once a month at HQ Irish Volunteers, 2 Dawson Street. The accused and those mentioned attended these meetings. The accused visits an office in 12 D'Olier Street Dublin frequently. It has the name Sean MacDiarmada on a plate. I have seen some of the others mentioned visiting there; Thomas J. Clarke had a tobacconist's shop at 75a Parnell Street. This shop was frequented by leading members. I have seen the accused there frequently. I did not see the accused at Liberty Hall, the headquarters of the General Transport and Workers Union.

After being questioned by the accused the witness made the following statement: I have only known the accused to associate with Irish Volunteer leaders during the last 12 months. I have known him for 3.5 years but at first he did not so associate as far as I know. I do not know all the objects of the Gaelic league but I understand the Irish Language is one of them. I do not know his connection with the Gaelic League, I have not enquired into it. I have not seen the accused at the Hd. Qrs. Gaelic league.

The report of the Central Executive meeting of the Irish Volunteers is published in the "Irish Volunteer". A paper known as Nationality is published at 12 D'Olier Street. This is the accused's principal means of livelihood. There are several offices in 12 D'Olier Street. Clarke's shop sells papers etc as well as tobacco. He did a good business there. I have seen the accused visit many public houses and remain a considerable time.

The 2nd witness wasLieutenant W.H. Ruxton (3rd Royal Irish Regiment) who stated

I was on duty in Parnell Street on the 29th April 1916 when 3 parties of rebels: two armed and one partially armed with knives and some ammunition, surrendered. The accused was one of the two armed parties who surrendered between 6 and 7 pm. The accused spoke to me and said he would not be able to march far on account of his leg. I asked him why he could not march. One of the others told me his leg was paralysed. I asked the accused "How did you get into this affair". The accused replied to the effect that he had his place in the organisation. The parties came from the direction of the General Post Office. They were sent on to the Rotunda. I am positive the accused is the man I spoke to.

When Lieutenant Ruxton was cross-examined by the accused he stated that there were about 200 men in the accused's party. They were not all armed. I did not see any arms in the accused's possession.

The 3rd witness 2nd Lieutenant S.A.L. Downing (3rd Royal Irish Regiment) who stated

I was on duty on 29th April 1916 in Sackville Street. I took the names of about 23 of the rebels after they had laid down their arms. The accused was in that party and is shown on the list, but I do not know if he actually gave the name.

When cross-examined by the accused, 2nd Lieutenant Downing admitted that hedid not pay particular attention to the surrender of arms and did not see the accused with any arms.

The 4th witness was Lieutenant-Colonel H.F. Eraser (21st Lancers) who stated

I was present in the Richmond Barracks Dublin on the 30th April 1916, and identify the accused as one of those confined there, but not necessarily on that date.All papers taken from the prisoners on this occasion were handed to me. I identify the paper produced as one of those handed in to me in the gymnasium on that day.

The 5th witness was Edward Gaunon (Warden Mountjoy Prison Dublin) who stated

I identify the accused as John McDermott who was confined in Mountjoy Prison Dublin in May/June 1915. I produce the cash and property book, in which the accused signed his name Sean McDiarmada on the 26th May 1915. The spelling is the same as on the document now shown to me. Except for the S, there is a strong resemblance between the signatures.

Whencross-examined by the accused Gaunon admitted that he wasnot a fluent Irish scholar.

The 6th witness was Captain Henry de Courcey Wheeler who stated

On 7 May 1916 at about 6.30pm I searched ...

[part of record is missing]

... the voice of a man named McDermott, not the accused, but a man I had not known before, I did not attend the weekly meetings of the Irish Volunteers, nor any of their meetings. I sent them their accounts by post.

Court Martial Verdict
Sean MacDermott was found guilty of the 1st charge and not guilty of the 2nd. He was sentenced to death by shooting. The sentence was confirmed by General Maxwell.

At 3.45am on 12 May 1916, Sean MacDermott was shot in the former stonebreakers yard at Kilmainham Prison. His remains were later buried in Arbour Lane Cemetery.

The last persons, outside his jailers and executioners, to see Sean alive were the two Ryan sisters, Mary and Phyllis, who later married men well known in modern Ireland. In here contemporary account of the last meeting, Mary Ryan wrote: ' The last time i saw him ( Sean ) was in his prison cell at Kilmainham Jail at three o'clock on the morning of May 12th. He was shot at 3.45 on the same morning. The cell was small with walls whitewashed. Their was a raised bord in the corner - a plank bed. There was a small rough table near a light on which was placed a tall, brass candle-stick. On the plank bed were a couple of soiled blankets. Sean had a smile on his face. He was cheerful. There were two soldiers there all the time. He sat on the plank bed discussing the revolution. He told of the insults hurled at them by the British after they'd laid down their arms - the inhuman treatment in Richmond Barracks. He did not complain - almosy as if he did not expect better treatment. He preferred to talk of casual matters, asking about different people we knew, enjoying little jokes almost as though we were in Bewleys ( a well-known Dublin coffeehouse ). The most pathetic scene was where he tried to produce keepsakes for different girl friends of his we mentioned. He sat down at the table and tried to sratch his name and the date on the few coins he had left and on the buttons which he had cut from his clothes with a penknife reluctantly provided by a young officer who stood by. His beautiful head bent assiduously over the work. At three 0'clock on the arrival of the prison chaplain, we bade farewell. He had a beautiful head, black hair with deep blue eyes, dark eyebrows and long lashes. Illness had left him lame and somewhat delicate - he often lokked tired and frail. he had wonderful charm. he had worked and planned for Irish indpendence since boyhood. His last words, aside from prayers were ' God save Ireland. ' At four o'clock, when the shooting was done, a gentle rain began to fall - the tears of Dark Rosaleen. '