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The 1916 Easter Rising

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Continued . .

" Kilmainham Prison
May 11th 1916 .

My Dear Daly ,
Just a wee note to bid you Goodbye. I expect in a few hours to join Tom and the other heroes in a better world . I have been sentenced to a soldiers death - to be shot tomorrow morning .
I have nothing to say about this only that I look on it as a part of the day's work . We die that the Irish nation may live . Our blood will rebaptise and reinvigorate the old land . Knowing this it is superfluous to say how happy I feel .
I know now what I have always felt , that the Irish nation can never die . Let present day place hunters condemn our action as they will , posterity will judge us aright from the effects of our action .
I know I will meet you soon , until then GoodBye . God guard and protect you and all in No. 15 . You have had a done trial , but I know quite well that Mrs. Daly and all the girls feel proud in spite of a little temporary and natural grief , that her son and the girls , their brothers as well as Tom are included in the list of honours .
Kindly remember me especially to Mrs. Clarke and tell her I am the same Seán that she always knew .

God Bless you all
As ever
Sincerely Yours Seán MacDiarmada. "

Kilmainham Gaol


May 11th 1916

My dear Brothers and Sisters

I sincerely hope that this letter will not come as a surprise to any of you, and above all that none of you will worry over what I have to say. This is just a wee note to say that I have been tried by court-martial and sentenced to be shot- to die the death of a soldier. By the time this reaches you I will with God’s mercy have joined in heaven my poor Father and Mother as well as my dear friends who have been shot during the week. They died like heroes and with God’s help I will also throughout be as heroic as they did. I only wish you could see me now. I am just as calm and collected as if I were talking to you all or taking a walk to see Mick-Wrynn or some of the old friends and neighbours around home.

I have priests with me almost constantly for the past twenty-four hours. One dear old friend of mine Fr.Brown (Maynooth) stayed with me up to a very late hour last night. I feel happiness the like of which I never experienced in my life before, and a feeling that I could not describe. Surely when you know my state of mind none of you will worry or lament my fate. No, you ought to envy me. The cause for which I die has been rebaptised during the week by the blood of good men as ever trod God’s earth and should I not feel justly proud to be numbered amongst them? Before God let me again assure you how proud and happy I feel. It is not for myself so much that I feel happy but for the fact that Ireland alone has produced such men.

Enough of the personal note. I had hoped Pat to be able to help you in placing the children in positions to earn their livelihood, but God will help you to provide for them. Tell them how I struck out for myself and counsel them to always practice truth, honesty and straightforwardness in all things, and sobriety, if they do this and remember their country they will be all right. Insist on their learning the language and history. I have a lot of books and I am making arrangements with one of the priests to have them turned in to a library, but I can arrange that you get some of them for the children. You might like to get these clothes that I am wearing, to have them in memory of me, so I will arrange if possible to have them and any other little things belonging to me that you’d like to have- of course for Dan & Maggie also. There are a few copies of a recent photo which you can take and you might order more copies for friends who may like to have
one. Of course you got the letter I sent you a few days before Easter. By the way, when you are in Dublin find if I owe any money to my landlady and if so pay her, I don’t think I do but at the moment I’m not certain. One word more about the children. Put some of them to learn trades if you can at all. You will see if they show any promise of mechanical or technical skill, they were too small when I saw them to advise. Tell Maggie she ought to try and get Mary Anne to go for teaching. I don’t know what Caty ought to do. As for Dan I suppose he will decide for himself. God direct him. He need not regret for staying at home so long.

Make a copy of this and send it to the others as soon as you can. A lot of my friends will want to hear about me from James, Rose & Kate. They can tell them all that in my last hours I am the same Seán they always knew and that even now I can enjoy a laugh and a joke as good as ever. I don’t know if you will require a pass to get to Dublin, but you better find out before you start. Perhaps martial law will have been withdrawn before you can come, it was passed for one month only and I don’t think it will be reneged. If I think of any other things to say I will write them to Miss Ryan, she who in all probability, had I lived would have been my wife. I will send on aforementioned to my landlady, but she knows you all right. Goodbye dear Brothers and Sisters. Make no lament for me. Pray for my soul and feel a lasting pride at my death. I die that the Irish Nation may live. God Bless and guard you all and may he have mercy on my soul.

Yours as ever, Seán.

James Connolly


James Connolly ( 5 June 1868 – 12 May 1916 ) was an Irish republican and socialist leader. He was born in the Cowgate area of Edinburgh, Scotland, to Irish immigrant parents. He left school for working life at the age of 11, but became one of the leading Marxist theorists of his day. He also took a role in Scottish and American politics. He was executed by a British firing squad because of his leadership role in the Easter Rising of 1916.

Connolly was born in an Irish slum in Edinburgh in 1868.His parents had emigrated to Scotland from Monaghan and settled in the Cowgate, an Irish ghetto where thousands of Irish settled. He spoke with a Scottish accent throughout his life. He was born in St Patrick's Roman Catholic parish, which was known as "Little Ireland". His father and grandfathers were labourers. He had an education up to the age of about ten in the local Catholic primary school.[8] He then left and worked in labouring jobs. Because of the economic difficulties he was having,[9] like his eldest brother John, he joined the British Army. He enlisted in the Army at age 14, falsifying his age and giving his name as Reid, as his brother John had done.He served in Ireland with the Army for nearly seven years. It was a very turbulent period in rural Ireland. He would later become involved in the land issue. When he heard the regiment was being transferred to India, he deserted the army. Connolly had another reason for not wanting to go to India: a young woman by the name of Lillie Reynolds. Lillie moved to Scotland with James after he left the Army and they married in April 1890. They settled in Edinburgh. There, Connolly began to get involved in the Socialist Movement, but with a young family to support, he needed a way to provide for them. He briefly established a cobbler's shop in 1895, but this failed after a few months as his shoe-mending skills were insufficient. He was also strongly active with the socialist movement at the time, and he prioritized this over his own work.

Socialist Involvement

He became secretary of the Scottish Socialist Federation. At the time his brother John was secretary; after John spoke at a rally in favour of the eight-hour day, however, he was fired from his job with the Edinburgh Corporation, so while he looked for work, James took over as secretary. During this time, Connolly became involved with the Independent Labour Party which Keir Hardie had formed in 1893.

Sometime during this period, he took up the study of, and advocated the use of, the neutral international language, Esperanto.

By 1892 he was involved in the Scottish Socialist Federation, acting as its secretary from 1895. Two months after the birth of his third daughter, word came to Connolly that the Dublin Socialist Club was looking for a full-time secretary, a job that offered a salary of a pound a week.[22] Connolly and his family moved to Dublin,[23] where he took up the position. At his instigation, the club quickly evolved into the Irish Socialist Republican Party (ISRP). The ISRP is regarded by many Irish historians as a party of pivotal importance in the early history of Irish socialism and republicanism. While active as a socialist in Great Britain, Connolly was the founding editor of The Socialist newspaper and was among the founders of the Socialist Labour Party which split from the Social Democratic Federation in 1903. While in America he was a member of the Socialist Labor Party of America (1906), the Socialist Party of America (1909) and the Industrial Workers of the World, and founded the Irish Socialist Federation in New York, 1907. He famously had a chapter of his 1910 book "Labour in Irish History" entitled "A chapter of horrors: Daniel O’Connell and the working class." critical of the achiever of Catholic Emancipation 60 years earlier. On his return to Ireland he was right hand man to James Larkin in the Irish Transport and General Workers Union. He stood twice for the Wood Quay ward of Dublin Corporation but was unsuccessful. His name, and those of his family, appears in the 1911 Census of Ireland - his occupation is listed as "National Organiser Socialist Party".[26] In 1913, in response to the Lockout, he, along with an ex-British officer, Jack White, founded the Irish Citizen Army (ICA), an armed and well-trained body of labour men whose aim was to defend workers and strikers, particularly from the frequent brutality of the Dublin Metropolitan Police. Though they only numbered about 250 at most, their goal soon became the establishment of an independent and socialist Irish nation. He founded the Irish Labour Party as the political wing of the Irish Trade Union Congress in 1912 and was a member of its National Executive. Around this time he met Winifred Carney in Belfast, who became his secretary and would later accompany him during the Easter Rising.

Irish Independence

Connolly stood aloof from the leadership of the Irish Volunteers. He considered them too bourgeois and unconcerned with Ireland's economic independence. In 1916, thinking they were merely posturing and unwilling to take decisive action against Britain, he attempted to goad them into action by threatening to send the ICA against the British Empire alone, if necessary. This alarmed the members of the Irish Republican Brotherhood, who had already infiltrated the Volunteers and had plans for an insurrection that very year. In order to talk Connolly out of any such rash action, the IRB leaders, including Tom Clarke and Patrick Pearse, met with Connolly to see if an agreement could be reached. During the meeting, the IRB and the ICA agreed to act together at Easter of that year.

When the Easter Rising occurred on 24 April 1916, Connolly was Commandant of the Dublin Brigade. As the Dublin Brigade had the most substantial role in the rising, he was de facto commander-in-chief. Following the surrender, he said to other prisoners: "Don't worry. Those of us that signed the proclamation will be shot. But the rest of you will be set free." Connolly was not actually held in gaol, but in a room (now called the "Connolly Room") at the State Apartments in Dublin Castle, which had been converted to a first-aid station for troops recovering from the war. He was taken to Royal Hospital Kilmainham, across the road from the gaol and then taken to the gaol to be executed. Visited by his wife, and asking about public opinion, he commented, "They will all forget that I am an Irishman." He confessed his sins, said to be his first religious act since marriage.

He was so badly injured from the fighting (a doctor had already said he had no more than a day or two to live, but the execution order was still given) that he was unable to stand before the firing squad. His absolution and last rites were administered by a Capuchin, Father Aloysius. Asked to pray for the soldiers about to shoot him, he said: "I will say a prayer for all men who do their duty according to their lights."

Instead of being marched to the same spot where the others had been executed, at the far end of the execution yard, he was tied to a chair and then shot. The executions were not well received, even throughout Britain, and drew unwanted attention from the United States, which the British Government was trying to lure into the war in Europe. Herbert Asquith, the Prime Minister, ordered that no more executions were to take place; an exception being that of Roger Casement as he had not yet been tried.


Connolly was sentenced to death by firing squad for his part in the rising. On 12 May 1916 he was transported by military ambulance to Kilmainham Gaol, carried to a prison courtyard on a stretcher, tied to a chair and shot. His body (along with those of the other rebels) was put in a mass grave without a coffin. The executions of the rebels deeply angered the majority of the Irish population, most of whom had shown no support during the rebellion. It was Connolly's execution, however, that caused the most controversy. Historians have pointed to the manner of execution of Connolly and similar rebels, along with their actions, as being factors that caused public awareness of their desires and goals and gathered support for the movements that they had died fighting for.

Court Martial Proceedings

Along with other Irish Volunteers, Connolly seized the General Post Office in Dublin on 24 April 1916. During the action at the Post Office, Connolly was shot in the thigh. Following the end of the rebellion on 29 April 1916, James Connolly was detained by the British Forces. Connolly’s Field General Court-Martial (FCGM) was convened by General Sir John Maxwell, commanding British Forces in Ireland, on 8 May 1916. The trial itself took place on 9 May 1916.

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

This man has been a prominent leader in the Larkinite or Citizen Army for years. He was also a prominent supporter of the Sinn Fein movement. He held the rank of Commandant General of the Dublin Division in the rebel army, and had his headquarters at the GPO from which place he issued orders. On the 24 April he issued and signed a general order to "The Officers and soldiers in Dublin of the Irish Republic" stating that " ... the armed forces of the Irish Republic had everywhere met the enemy and defeated them." This man was also a signatory to the Proclamation of Irish Independence.

Court Members
The court consisted of three members: Colonel D. Lapte (President), Lieutenant-Colonel A.M. Bent, 2nd Royal Munster Fusiliers, and Major F.W. Woodward, DSO, Loyal North Lancs. Regiment.

The Charges
James Connolly was charged with two offences:

Did an act to wit 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 intention and for the purpose of assisting then enemy.
Did attempt to cause disaffection among the civilian population of His Majesty.
1st Witness
2nd Lieutenant S.L. King, 12 Res. Battalion, Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers states:

In Sackville Street Dublin about 11am on 25th April 1916 I was taken prisoner by the rebels and taken upstairs in the General Post Office. There were 2 other Officers confined in the same room. There were many armed rebels in the building. I saw firing from the Hotel Metropole.

I saw the accused, in uniform and equipped with a revolver etc., going across to the Hotel Metropole. I saw him pointing out as if to order a window to be broken in the Hotel which was

done, and fire opened from the window. I saw the accused on 3 or 4 occasions near the General Post Office.

Cross-examined by the accused.
I was in the Post Office from 25th to 28th April when I was marched out of it by some of the rebels. We were very well treated generally by the rebels. The window broken gave a good field of fire across Sackville Street. The uniform the accused wore was the green Volunteers uniform with strips on his arm, and a wide hat. I can’t remember any feathers in it.

Re-examined by the prosecutor.
When we were put out of the Post Office we were told to run for our lives and we were fired on by the rebels, and 2 of us hit. I can’t state whether the British troops were firing at the time.

2nd Witness
Captain H.E. de C. Wheeler, Res. of Officers states:

I saw the accused, James Connolly, in bed at the Dublin Castle Hospital on the 29th April 1916 between 3 & 4pm. I had previously seen the rebel leader P.H. Pearse surrender at the top of Moore Street off Great Britain Street. I produce a document which I brought to the accused from Pearse, which he signed in my presence.

3rd Witness
2nd Lieutenant S.H. Jackson, 3rd Royal Irish Regiment states:

On the 1st May 1916, I searched the rebel John McBride and found the document I produce to the court. It purports to be signed by James Connolly and I consider the signature the same as that shown to me by this court (signature on Exhibit X).

4th Witness
2nd Lieutenant A.D. Chailman, 14th Royal Fusiliers states:

About 12pm on 24 April 1916 I was in the General Post Office Dublin when about 300 armed rebels entered and seized the Post Office and made me prisoner. I saw the accused present among them. The accused ordered me to be tied up in the Telephone Box. This was done. I was kept there about 3 hours. One of the rebels came in and asked me how I was getting on. I replied that I was about suffocated. Apparently the man went to the accused. I then heard the accused say "I don’t care a damm what you do with him." The words were obviously concerned with me. I was kept in the General Post Office until 28th April 1916. On the 25th and 26th April from the window of the room I was in, I saw the accused giving orders about firing from the Hotel Metropole. I heard him give orders for firing on more than one occasion.