Prelude to the Easter Rising of 1916

Prelude to the Easter Rising of 1916
The Signatories of the Proclamation

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Monday, May 31, 2010

Brian Ború

Brian Boru, King of Munster

Brian Bóruma mac Cennétig, (c. 941–23 April 1014), (English: Brian Boru, Middle Irish: Brian Bóruma, Irish: Brian Bóroimhe, or more usually Brian Ború), was an Irish king who ended the domination of the so-called High Kingship of Ireland by the Uí Néill. Building on the achievements of his father, Cennétig mac Lorcain, and brother, Mathgamain, Brian first made himself King of Munster, then subjugated Leinster, making himself ruler of the south of Ireland. The O'Brien clan regard him as their founder, and the Kennedy clan who claim descent from his father hold him in high esteem as well.

The Uí Néill king Máel Sechnaill mac Domnaill, abandoned by his northern kinsmen of the Cenél nEógain and Cenél Conaill, acknowledged Brian as High King at Athlone in 1002. In the decade that followed, Brian campaigned against the northern Uí Néill, who refused to accept his claims, against Leinster, where resistance was frequent, and against the Norse Gaelic kingdom of Dublin. Brian's hard-won authority was seriously challenged in 1013 when his ally Máel Sechnaill was attacked by the Cenél nEógain king Flaithbertach Ua Néill, with the Ulstermen as his allies. This was followed by further attacks on Máel Sechnaill by the Dubliners under their king Sihtric Silkbeard and the Leinstermen led by Máel Mórda mac Murchada. Brian campaigned against these enemies in 1013. In 1014, Brian's armies confronted the armies of Leinster and Dublin at Clontarf near Dublin on Good Friday. The resulting Battle of Clontarf was a bloody affair, with Brian, his son Murchad, and Máel Mórda among those killed. The list of the noble dead in the Annals of Ulster includes Irish kings, Norse Gaels, Scotsmen, and Scandinavians. The immediate beneficiary of the slaughter was Máel Sechnaill who resumed his interrupted reign as the last Uí Néill High King.

In death, Brian proved to be a greater figure than in life. The court of his great-grandson Muirchertach Ua Briain produced the Cogadh Gaedhel re Gallaibh, a work of near hagiography. The Norse Gaels and Scandinavians too produced works magnifying Brian, among these Njal's Saga, the Orkneyinga Saga, and the now-lost Brian's Saga. Brian's war against Máel Mórda and Sihtric was to be inextricably connected with his complicated marital relations, in particular his marriage to Gormlaith, Máel Mórda's sister and Sihtric's mother, who had been in turn the wife of Amlaíb Cuará‎n, king of Dublin and York, then of Máel Sechnaill, and finally of Brian.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Columcille (Columba)

Columba at Breidi's Fort

Saint Columba (7 December 521 – 9 June 597 AD), also known as Colum Cille (meaning "Dove of the church") (Norse name: Kolbjørn, meaning black bear (cave dweller), or Kolban) was a Gaelic Irish missionary monk who, some of his advocates claim, introduced Christianity to the Picts during the Early Medieval Period. He was one of the Twelve Apostles of Ireland.

Columba was born to Fedlimid and Eithne of the Cenel Conaill in Gartan, near Lough Gartan, County Donegal, in Ireland. On his father's side he was great-great-grandson of Niall of the Nine Hostages, an Irish high king of the 5th century.

In early Christian Ireland the druidic tradition collapsed due to the spread of the new Christian faith. The study of Latin learning and Christian theology in monasteries flourished. Columba became a pupil at the monastic school at Clonard Abbey, situated on the River Boyne in modern County Meath. During the sixth century, some of the most significant names in the history of Irish Christianity studied at the Clonard monastery. It is said that the average number of scholars under instruction at Clonard was 3,000. Twelve students who studied under St. Finian became known as the Twelve Apostles of Ireland. Columba was one of these. He became a monk and was ordained as a priest.


St. Brigid of Kildare

St. Brigid's Cross

Saint Brigid of Kildare or Brigid of Ireland (Brigit, Bridget, Bridgit, Bríd or Bride) or Mary of the Gael (Irish: Naomh Bríd) (c. 451–525) is one of Ireland's patron saints along with Saints Patrick and Columba. Her feast day is 1 February, the traditional first day of spring in Ireland. She is believed to have been an Irish Christian nun, abbess, and founder of several monasteries.

According to tradition, Brigid was born at Faughart near Dundalk, County Louth, Ireland. Because of the legendary quality of the earliest accounts of her life, there is much debate among many scholars and even faithful Christians as to the authenticity of her biographies. According to her biographers her parents were Dubhthach, a pagan chieftain of Leinster, and Brocca, a Christian Pict and slave who had been baptised by Saint Patrick. Some accounts of her life suggest that Brigid's mother was in fact from Lusitania, kidnapped by Irish pirates and brought to Ireland to work as a slave, in much the same way as Saint Patrick. Many stories also detail Brigid's and her mother's statuses as pieces of property belonging to Dubhthach, and the resulting impact on important parts of Brigid's life story.

Brigid was given the same name as one of the most powerful goddesses of the pagan religion which her father Dubhthach practiced. In that religion, Brigid was the goddess of healing, inspiration, craftsmanship, corn, beef, flowers, and poetry, which the Irish considered the flame of knowledge.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

St. Patrick - Naomh Pádraig

St. Patrick

Yes, we covered St. Patrick on March 17th. However, he is credited with driving the snakes out of Ireland, which appears to be a metaphor driving the Druid from Ireland. Patrick converted the sons and daughters of many of the kings of Ireland, which did not set well with the kings.

Ireland had a different form of Christianity. You see it did not have the influence of the European mainland and the ruling church at the time. In fact, it was not until many years after Patrick's death that many of the mainland church's beliefs were introduced into Ireland.

Two Latin letters survive which are generally accepted to have been written by Patrick. These are the Declaration (Latin: Confessio) and the Letter to the soldiers of Coroticus (Latin: Epistola). The Declaration is the more important of the two. In it Patrick gives a short account of his life and his mission.

Patrick was born in Roman Britain at Banna Venta Berniae, a location otherwise unknown. Calpornius, his father, was a deacon, his grandfather Potitus a priest. When he was about sixteen, he was captured and carried off as a slave to Ireland. Patrick worked as a herdsman, remaining a captive for six years. He writes that his faith grew in captivity, and that he prayed daily. After six years he heard a voice telling him that he would soon go home, and then that his ship was ready. Fleeing his master, he travelled to a port, two hundred miles away he says, where he found a ship and, after various adventures, returned home to his family, now in his early twenties.

Patrick recounts that he had a vision a few years after returning home:

I saw a man coming, as it were from Ireland. His name was Victoricus, and he carried many letters, and he gave me one of them. I read the heading: "The Voice of the Irish". As I began the letter, I imagined in that moment that I heard the voice of those very people who were near the wood of Foclut, which is beside the western sea—and they cried out, as with one voice: "We appeal to you, holy servant boy, to come and walk among us.

According to the latest reconstruction of the old Irish annals, Patrick died in AD 460 on March 17, a date accepted by some modern historians. Prior to the 1940s it was believed without doubt that he died in 420 and thus had lived in the first half of the 5th century. A lecture entitled "The Two Patricks", published in 1942 by T. F. O'Rahilly, caused enormous controversy by proposing that there had been two "Patricks", Palladius and Patrick, and that what we now know of St. Patrick was in fact in part a conscious effort to blend the two into one hagiographic personality. Decades of contention eventually ended with most historians now asserting that Patrick was indeed most likely to have been active in the mid-to-late 5th century.

While Patrick's own writings contain no dates, they do contain information which can be used to date them. Patrick's quotations from the Acts of the Apostles follow the Vulgate, strongly suggesting that his ecclesiastical conversion did not take place before the early fifth century. Patrick also refers to the Franks as being pagans. Their conversion is dated to the period 496–508.

There is plentiful evidence for a medieval tradition that Patrick had died in 493.

Saturday, May 22, 2010


"Deirdre's Lament", drawing by J.H. Bacon, c.1905

Deirdre or Derdriu is the foremost tragic heroine in Irish mythology. Her story is part of the Ulster Cycle. Deirdre was the daughter of the royal storyteller Fedlimid mac Daill. When she was born, Cathbad the druid prophesied that she would be very beautiful, with curly golden-brown hair and mesmerizing grey-green eyes, but that kings and lords would go to war over her, and Ulster's three greatest warriors would be forced into exile for her sake. Conchobar mac Nessa, king of Ulster, decided to have her brought up in seclusion by Leabharcham, an old woman, and marry her when she was old enough. However, she met, fell in love with, and eloped with Naoise, a handsome young Black Irish warrior, hunter and singer, accompanied by his two brothers—the sons of Uisnech. They fled to Scotland, but wherever they went the local king would try to kill Naoise and his brothers so he could have Deirdre. Eventually they ended up on a remote island, where Conchobar tracked them down.
He sent Fergus mac Róich to them with a message of safe conduct home, but on the way back to Emain Macha Fergus was waylaid, forced by his personal geis to accept any offer of hospitality. He sent them on to Emain Macha with his son to protect them. After they had arrived, Conchobar sent Leabharcham to spy on Deirdre, to see whether or not she had lost her beauty in her long years of travel. Leabharcham, trying still to protect Deirdre from a marriage to Conchobar, told him she had lost all her beauty. However, Conchobar had sent another spy, Trendhorn, who told him that Deirdre was as beautiful as ever, although not before having his eye put out by a silver chess piece, thrown by Naoise. The next day, Naoise and his brothers, Ardan and Ainle, faced Conchobar outside Emain Macha, aided by a few Red Branch Knights, before Conchobar evoked their oath of loyalty to him and had Deirdre dragged to his side. At this point, Éogan mac Durthacht threw a spear, killing Naoise, and his brothers were killed shortly after. Fergus and his men arrived immediately after this. He was outraged by this betrayal of his word, and went into exile in Connacht, and fought against Ulster for Ailill and Medb in Táin Bó Cúailnge (the Cattle Raid of Cooley).

Frustrated by Deirdre's lack of love for him, Conchobar offered her to Éogan mac Durthacht, the man who'd murdered Naoise. She committed suicide by leaning out of her chariot and dashing her head against a rock. In some versions of the story, she died of grief.

Fionn mac Cumaill

Fionn mac Cumaill Comes to the Aid of the Fianna

Fionn mac Cumaill anglicised to Finn McCool in the Romantic Period of the 1800s) was a mythical hunter-warrior of Irish mythology, occurring also in the mythologies of Scotland and the Isle of Man.
The stories of Fionn and his followers, the Fianna, form the Fenian cycle or Fiannaidheacht, much of it purported to be narrated by Fionn's son, the poet Oisín.

Fionn or Finn is actually a nickname meaning "fair" (in reference to hair and/or skin colour), "white", or "bright". His childhood name was Deimne "Sureness, Certainty", and several legends tell how he gained the nickname when his hair turned prematurely white. The name "Fionn" is related to the Welsh name Gwyn, as in the mythological figure Gwyn ap Nudd, and to the continental/Roman British Celtic Vindos, also a 'nickname' for a god such as Belenos.

The 19th century Irish revolutionary organisation known as the Fenian Brotherhood took its name from these legends. The Scottish name Fingal comes from a retelling of these legends in epic form by the eighteenth century poet James Macpherson.

Contemporary Scottish poet Marie Marshall has written a semi-serious ballad in parody of 19c neo-medievalism "How Finn McCool became Lord of Tara". It deals with how Finn saved the noble house of Tara from the evil spell of Allan-of-the-Harp, an elf-king with a hatred of human prosperity. A sample passage runs thus:

For three and twenty years the hall
Of Tara’s King was razed and burned
On Harvest Eve. But none recall
Who from that eldritch sleep returned
The harping of the evil elf –
In mystery was Tara cloaked –
Until young Finn McCool himself
The right of rest and board invoked
One summer’s end, and joined their feast.
A modest boy of humble mien,
He sat the lowest, ate the least,
Observed the merrymaking scene.
At midnight sharp came Allan in
And shrouded all with slumber foul
Except the youthful paladin,
Who hid a spear beneath his cowl
And pressed the blade against his cheek.
Then Allan stalked around the room
And wrathfully began to speak.
“This is brave Goll McMorna’s doom,
That once a year shall Tara fall
And fire her rising towers destroy.
And thus I curse you, one and all!”
At which, up sprang the noble boy…

Saturday, May 15, 2010


Drawing of Cúchulainn by John Duncan, Scottish 19th C. artist

I am taking a turn here to start from the beginning of Irish History and its heroes. There are many heroes of Irish History, not just the ones from 1916. Ireland was not always in the possession of foriegn invaders. Some of the wars were internal.

Cúchulainn (pronounced koo hool n) is an Irish mythological hero who appears in the stories of the Ulster Cycle, as well as in Scottish and Manx folklore. The son of the god Lug and Deichtine (sister of Conchobar mac Nessa), he was originally named Sétanta.

He gained his better-known name as a child after he killed Culann's fierce guard-dog in self-defense, and offered to take its place until a replacement could be reared. At the age of seventeen he defended Ulster single-handedly against the armies of queen Medb of Connacht in the epic Táin Bó Cúailnge ("Cattle Raid of Cooley"). It was prophesied that his great deeds would give him everlasting fame, but that his life would be short–one reason he is compared to the Greek hero Achilles.

He is known for his terrifying battle frenzy or ríastrad (similar to a berzerker's frenzy, though sometimes called a "warp spasm" because of the physical changes that take place in the warrior), in which he becomes an unrecognisable monster who knows neither friend nor foe. He fights from his chariot, driven by his loyal charioteer Láeg, and drawn by his horses, Liath Macha and Dub Sainglend. In more modern times, Cú Chulainn is often referred to as the "Hound of Ulster".

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

12 May 1916

James Connolly

Sean McDermott

Sean McDermott and James Connolly were the last to be executed by Maxwell on 12 May 1916. Both were signatories of the proclamation.

It was Sean MacDiarmada that read Padraig Pearse's letter of surrender to those in the G.P.O. Sean "limped his way to the Stonebreakers Yard. The time was 3:45 a.m." (Rebels: The Irish Rising of 1916 by Peter De Rosa pg. 502)

Connolly was severely wounded and had to be transported to the execution on a stretcher. They also had to prop him up in a chair in order to execute him. "Connolly was the only one of the ring leaders not to be jailed at Kilmainham." (Rebels: The Irish Rising of 1916 by Peter De Rosa pg. 502)

11 May 1916

J Dillon Irish Nationalist MP

"The great bulk of the population were not favourable to the rebels, they got no popular support whatsoever. What is happening is that thousands of people in Dublin, who ten days ago were bitterly opposed to the whole of the Sinn Fein movement, and to the rebellion, are now becoming infuriated with the Government on account of the executions, and, as I am informed… that feeling is spreading throughout the country in an almost dangerous degree." J Dillon Irish Nationalist MP, 11 May 1916 speaking in the House of Commons.

10 May 1916

Prime Minister Herbert Asquith

John Edward Redmond M.P.

In the House of Commons on Monday Mr Redmond asked the Prime Minister to put an immediate stop to the execution of rebels in Dublin. His demand reflects the attitude of the official National Press and of some of the leading Liberal newspapers in England. They will not be satisfied with the Prime Minister’s reply. He refused in effect to interfere with the full discretion which has been left in the hands of the General Officer Commanding the Forces in Ireland. Sir John Maxwell is not in Dublin for the purpose of conducting a "Bloody Assize". He would reject so hateful a task with anger and scorn. The Government sent him to Ireland in order that he might suppress a dangerous insurrection, exact the necessary penalties and lay a solid foundation for the re-establishment of order and law. He has done, and is doing, this responsible work to the satisfaction of the Government, which nobody will accuse of indifference to Irish Nationalist opinion. Mr Asquith told Mr Redmond that Sir John Maxwell has been in direct and personal communication with the Cabinet. It has great confidence in the exercise of his discretion in particular cases. His general instructions are "to sanction the infliction of the extreme penalty as sparingly as possible, and only in cases of responsible persons who were guilty in the first degree." The government and Sir John Maxwell are equally anxious that these cases should be confined within the narrowest limits, and should cease at the earliest possible moment. In reply to Mr Ginnell, who asked that no more rebels should be executed before the House of Commons had received an opportunity of discussing the matter, Mr Asquith said: – "I cannot give any such undertaking." We suppose that Irishmen who support the Government’s attitude will be accused of promiscuous ferocity, even though, like ourselves, they have expressed an earnest desire that a generous measure of mercy should be attended to the ignorant and misguided rank and file of the rebel army. Nevertheless, we hasten to express our strong conviction that Mr Asquith is taking the right – indeed, the only possible – course. It is not a question of fair play to Sir John Maxwell or to any other individual. The safety of the whole Kingdom and the peace of Ireland are at stake.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

9 May 1916

Born in 1865, Kent was arrested at his home in Castlelyons, Co. Cork following a raid by the Royal Irish Constabulary on 22 April 1916, during which his brother Richard was fatally wounded. It had been his intention to travel to Dublin to participate in the Rising, but when the mobilisation order for the Irish Volunteers was cancelled on Easter Sunday he assumed that the Rising had been postponed, leading him to stay at home. He was executed at Cork Detention Barracks on 9 May 1916 following a court martial. In 1966, the railway station in Cork was renamed Kent Station in his honour.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

8 May 1916

Éamonn Ceannt

Sean Heuston

Michael Mallin

Ceannt's position was one of only two that was not taken in the rising, along with Éamon de Valera's at Boland's Mill. Ceannt was held in Kilmainham Jail until his execution by firing squad on 8 May 1916, aged 34.

At twenty-five years and two months, he was the youngest of those executed. Between 3.45 and 4.05 a.m. on 8 May 1916, Sean Heuston was shot in the former stonebreakers yard at Kilmainham Prison.

Michael Mallin refused to abandon the Royal College of Surgeons. It took a direct order from James Connelly to persuade Michael Mallin to surrender on Sunday 30 April, two days after Pádraig Pearse and James Connolly. Michael Mallin was executed on 8 May 1916 in Kilmainham Gaol.

7 May 1916

No executions took place on 7 May 1916.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

6 May 1916

A picture with the caption "Maxwell the Murderer"

General Maxwell gives an ultimatum that after 6 May 1916 anyone found with explosive materials will be dealt with severely. As if, executing them was not severe enough.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

5 May 1916

Sean MacBride

John (Sean) MacBride (1865-1916): born in County Mayo; settled in Paris, where he married Maude Gonne, 1903; member of the Supreme Council of the IRB, but was not involved in the planning of the Easter Rising; served in it under MacDonagh; executed 5 May 1916.

4 May 1916

Joseph Mary Plunkett

Edward Ned Daly

Michael O'Hanrahan

"Joseph Mary Plunkett (1887-1916): born in Dublin; son of George Noble Count Plunkett; member of the IRB Supreme Council and its Military Committee, and signatory to the Proclamation, 1916; married Grace Gifford, the artist, in Kilmainham on the eve of his execution, 4 May 1916."

"Edward Daly was born Frederick Street, Limerick, 25 Feb 1891. His sister married Thomas Clarke. He joined the Irish Volunteers in 1913 and commanded the Four Courts garrison in 1916. He was court-martialled, sentenced to death and shot in Kilmainham Jail 4 May 1916."

"Michael O’Hanrahan was born in New Ross, Co. Wexford, 17 March 1877. He joined the Irish Volunteers on their formation in 1913 and was also active in the Gaelic League. In the 1916 Easter Rising he fought in Jacob’s factory, Bishop Street for which he was court-martialled, sentenced to death, and executed 4 May 1916."

Monday, May 3, 2010

3 May 1916

Thomas MacDonagh

Sir John Maxwell, the British Commander-in-Chief caused sixteen of the Irish to be court-martialed and shot. The execution of these men was an attempt to murder of the Provisional Government of Ireland. Patrick Pearse was the first to be singled out for execution, he was not allowed to see his mother or brother before he was executed on May 3, 1916. In his jail cell he wrote his famous poem 'Mother'.

When MacDonagh laid down his arms at the time of surrender, he said he "would give anything to see Muriel once more". When somebody offered to go for Muriel, he declined, not wanting his wife to see and remember what the area looked like during defeat.

He was executed at 3:30 am May 3. His wife had not been able to reach him, but his sister, a nun was able to see him shortly before his death. When his sister entered the cell and saw that was no water, she asked the guard for some water, the guard, acting under orders refused the request. His sister gave him a rosary that had belonged to their mother, she said she wished that after his death that they would return the rosary to her. As MacDonagh put the rosary around his neck he said no, "they will shoot it to bits" . Only four beads were shot away, and his sister did eventually receive the rosary.

In his final letter to his wife written a few hours before his death he said" I am ready to die, and I thank God that I am to die in so a holy a cause. My country will reward my deed richly. I counted the cost of this, and I am ready to pay it."

Sunday, May 2, 2010

2 May 1916

Eamonn Ceannt

Thomas Kent

General Maxwell quickly signalled his intention “to arrest all dangerous Sinn Feiners,” including “those who have taken an active part in the movement although not in the present rebellion,” reflecting the popular belief that Sinn Féin, a separatist organisation that was neither militant nor republican, was behind the Rising.

A total of 3,430 men and 79 women were arrested, although most were subsequently released. In attempting to arrest members of the Kent family in County Cork on 2 May, a Head Constable was shot dead in a gun battle. Richard Kent was also killed, and Thomas and William Kent were arrested.

In a series of courts martial beginning on 2 May, ninety people were sentenced to death.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

1 May 1916

Padraig Pearse

This letter was written in Arbour Hill Barracks, Dublin. 1 May, 1916. (Padraig Pearse's Letter to his mother after his arrest)

My dear Mother, You will I know have been longing to hear from me. I do not know how much you have heard since the last note I sent you from the G.P.O.

On Friday evening, the Post Office was set on fire and we had to abandon it. We dashed into Moore Street and remained in the houses in Moore St. on Saturday evening? We then found that we were surrounded by troops and that we had practically no food.

We decided in order to prevent further slaughter of the civilian population and in the hope of saving the lives of our followers, to ask the General Commanding the British Forces to discuss terms. He replied that he would receive me only if I surrendered unconditionally and this I did. I was taken to the Headquarters of the British Command in Ireland and there I wrote and signed an order to our men to lay down their arms. All this I did in accordance with the decision of our Provisional Government who were with us in Moore St. My own opinion was in favour of one more desperate sally before opening negotiations, but I yielded to the majority, and I think now the majority was right, as the sally would have resulted only in losing the lives of perhaps 50 or 100 of our men, and we should have had to surrender in the long run as we were without food.

I was brought in here on Saturday evening and later all the men with us in Moore St. were brought here. Those in the other parts of the City have, I understand, been taken to other barracks and prisons. All here are safe and well. Willie and all the St. Enda’s boys are here. I have not seen them since Saturday, but I believe they are all well and that they are not now in any danger. Our hope and belief is that the Government will spare the lives of all our followers, but we do not expect that they will spare the lives of the leaders. We are ready to die and we shall die cheerfully and proudly. Personally I do not hope or even desire to live, but I do hope and desire and believe that the lives of all our followers will be saved including the lives dear to you and me (my own excepted) and this will be a great consolation to me when dying.

You must not grieve for all this. We have preserved Ireland’s honour and our own. Our deeds of last week are the most splendid in Ireland’s history. People will say hard things of us now, but we shall be remembered by posterity and blessed by unborn generations. You too will be blessed because you were my mother.

If you feel you would like to see me, I think you will be allowed to visit me by applying to the Headquarters, Irish Command, near the Park. I shall I hope have another opportunity of writing to you.

Love to W.W., MB., Miss Byrne, . . . and your own dear self.

P.P.S. I understand that the German expedition which I was counting on actually set sail but was defeated by the British.