Prelude to the Easter Rising of 1916

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

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Saturday, August 18, 2012

Witness Statement of Captain Seán Prendergast

Statement of Captain Seán Prendergast.

Former Officer Commanding 'C' Company1st Battalion

Dublin Brigade Irish Volunteers and Irish Republican Army

Now of Upton Lodge. 30. Grace Park Terrace.

Drumcondra. Dublin.

Seán Heuston, the "Catholic Bulletin" wrote, was born in Dublin on 21st February, 1871; was educated at the Christian Brothers Schools, Great Strand Street and O'Connell Schools, North Richmond Street. In 1907 he secured an appointment as clerk in the Great Southern and Western Railway Company (now Córas Iompair Éireann) and was sent to Limerick. In 1910 he organised a sluagh of Na Fianna Éireann there. In 1913 he returned to Dublin and early in 1914 became Captain of the North City of the Fianna and in the same year became Captain of "D" Company, 1st Battalion, Dublin Brigade, Irish Volunteers.

On Easter Monday, 1916, at the head of his Company, he seized the Mendicity Institute building on Usher's Island. After the surrender he was tried by courtmartial and executed on May 8th, 1916.

In his last letter, written to his sister, an Irish nun, he wrote:

Kilmainham Prison,


My dearest M,

Before this note reaches you I shall have fallen as a soldier in the cause of Irish freedom. I write to bid you a last farewell in this world and rely on you to pray fervently and get the prayers of the whole community for the repose of my soul. I am quite prepared for the journey; the priest was with me and I received Holy Communion this morning. It was only this evening that the finding of the courtmartial was conveyed to me.

Poor mother will miss me, but I feel, with God's help, she will manage. You know the Irish proverb: "God's help is nearer than the door". The agony of the last few days has been intense, but I now feel reconciled to God's Holy Will. I might have fallen in action, as many have done, and been less prepared for the journey before me. Do not blame me for the part I have taken as a soldier: I merely carried out the duties of my superiors, who have been in position to know what was best in Ireland's interests.

Let there be no talk of foolish enterprise. I have no vain regrets. Think of the thousands of Irishmen who fell fighting under another flag at the Dardanelles attempting to do what England's experts admit was an absolute impossibility. If you really love me, teach the children the History of their own land and teach them the cause of Caitlín Ní hUallacháin never dies. Ireland shall be free from the centre to the sea as soon as the people of Ireland believe in the necessity of Ireland's freedom and are prepared to make the necessary sacrifices to obtain it.

M, pray for me, and get everybody to pray for me.

Your loving brother,


Liam Staines, a member of F. Sluagh of the Fianna, serving under Captain Seán Heuston in the Mendicity, was severely wounded.

Cornelius Colbert, note the "Catholic Bulletin" was born at Monalena, Co. Limerick, in 1893, and educated at the Christian Brothers Schools, North Richmond Street, Dublin. He became one of the founder members of Na Fianna Éireann at its inception in 1909 in Dublin, being quickly promoted Captain of a Sluagh in which capacity he worked with incredible energy in imparting instruction to the boys under his charge, in signalling, scouting, etc. Later he became Captain of the Inchicore Company, Irish Volunteers. Pédraig Pearse always spoke of him as "Gallant Captain Colbert".

During the Rising of 1916 he commanded the garrison of Irish Volunteers at Marrowbone Lane area, taken prisoner at the surrender, he was executed on the 8th May, 1916.

On the Christmas previously he had written to a fair friend:

"May sharp swords fall on Ireland
May all her hills be rifle foe lined
May I be there to deal a blow
For Erin, Faith and womankind.
And may the song of battle soon
Be heard from every hill and vale
May I be with the marching men
Who fight to free our Gráinne Mhaol.
Ar son Éireann agus ar son Dé
Dílís bíomar bailighthe."

He concluded a letter written from Kilmainham to his sister on t he eve of his execution:

"Perhaps I'd never again get the chance of knowing when I was to die, and so I'll try and die well. I received this morning and hope to do so again before I die. Pray for me and ask Father Devine, Father Healy and Father O'Brien to say Mass for me, also any priests you know. May God help us - me to die well - you to bear your sorrow. I send you a prayer book as token."

"Con Colbert" said Éamon Ceannt, "abstained from meat all through Lent". Of his last moments, Father Augustine, O.F.M.Cap., wrote:

"While my left arm linked his right and while I was whispering something in his ear, at soldier approached to fix a piece of paper on his breast. While this was being done he looked down and then addressing the soldier in a cool and normal way said, "Wouldn't it be better to put it up higher, nearer the heart?" The soldier said something in reply and then added, "Give me your hand now". The prisoner secured, confused, and extended his left hand. "Not that" said the soldier, "but the right". The right was accordingly extended and having grasped and shaken it warmly, the kindly human-hearted soldier proceeded to gently bind the prisoner's hands and afterwards blind-folded him. Some minutes later my arm still linked to his, and. accompanied by another priest we entered the dark corridor leading to a yard and, his lips moving in prayer, the brave lad went forth to die".

He was second in command of the Marrowbone Lane garrison, taking charge of the surrender. I also include "New York American": In the Leading Article of May 13th, 1916, it wrote: "Thank God for Freedom Martyrs in every age and clime". 

Among Irishmen there were up to a few days ago, many who, if not loyal to England, were at least loyal to the cause of the Empire, and wished it to be victorious in its war. To-day we think that the Irishmen in America who are not burning with resentment against the British Empire and praying for its defeat and humiliation are very, very few indeed.

It was evident to any man of sense, the moment the British Government began the bloods work of reprisal upon the Irish prisoners of war, that it was making a blunder as stupid as it was. We hoped then that the outburst of horror in America as well as among humane Englishmen would open the eyes of the British Government and cause the shooting of British prisoners to cease. But the hope was disappointed.

The British Government has its military murderers steadily at work, and each day's cable has brought word of fresh executions, of killings, that would shame savages, of wounded and shot, shattered prisoners being propped up on their broken limbs long enough for their executioners to riddle again with bullets their poor mangled bodies.

No wonder that every Irish heart thirsts for vengeance - no wonder that the British propagandists who have prostituted American journalism and free speech to the unpatriotic abject of dragging their own country into the war to do England's fighting, have been shamed into temporary silence. We should think that even if these bootlickers, to say nothing of decent Englishmen, would blush to pronounce the name of Belgium again, would never open his mouth to talk of 'antracities' or 'humanities' again. With the blackened walls and tumbled ruins of Dublin echoing the volleys of firing squads, shooting down surrendered prisoners whose crime was to love their native land and yearn for its independence and liberty, we hope, for decency's sake, we shall hear no more snivelling in America over broken stained-glass or shattered statues in Rheims or Louvain.

With the blood of Irish prisoners and patriots reddening poor Ireland's soil in streams, we hope, also for decency's sake, that we shall hear no more of England's passionate and heroic sympathy for the rights and liberties of small peoples. With the spectacle of sorely wounded men propped up on their broken and shattered limbs to be shot to death, we hope, again for decency's sake, that there will be a final end of the cant about Britain waging war for humanity's sake. 

We trust that from Mr. Wilson down to the "Providence Journal" there will be an end to the snivel and cant and humbug which has been so effectively belied by the governmental and military reprisals and cruelties and murders in unhappy Ireland. We hope that the American people will never again be deluded to the point of willingness to waste American wealth and American blood in the contemptible role of cats-paws to pull England's chestnuts out of the fire and ashes of a selfish and unsuccessful war, fought under the pretence of the independence of little peoples and of the rights of neutrals and of the humanities.

Those Irish scholars, poets, patriots and martyrs for freedom's sake, whose mangled bodies lie in bloody graves in shot, riddled and flame-swept Dublin, are the witnesses who give the lie to all the cant and humbug that England's American tools and propagandists have dinned into American ears to win America to plunge into England's war In that sense these have done a noble service to America, as well as Ireland, by the sacrifice of their lives. 

In the very instant of their deaths America drew back from the insidious and unpatriotic propaganda of armed alliance with England. We are confident that from this on, that wicked and morally treasonable propaganda has no further power of mischief. The American people will never permit themselves to be dragged into Europe's war as the ally and saviour of the murders of Ireland's patriots and martyrs. The very stones in the streets would cry out against such an alliance with a government that has shot down men for doing exactly what our own forefathers did when they pledged. Their lives, their fortunes and their honour to the support of the Declaration of American Independence.

The signers of that Declaration would have met the same fate at the hands of the British Government that the signers of Ireland's Declaration of Independence have just met, had the British armies been able to overpower our forefathers in America. One could almost believe that those fathers of ours would rise from their graves to rebuke their degenerate sons who would ally themselves to the slayers of men who were brave enough and devoted enough to risk their lives and stake fortunes and their sacred honour in the great cause of human liberty.

The American who applauds the butcheries, the American who has no sympathy for these victims, the American whose heart does not go out in compassion for Ireland, and whose heart does not burn with indignation against those who have again trampled her liberties under foot, and poured out the blood of her children as a sacrifice to subjection and oppression is not fit to enjoy the liberties and to wear the bright badge of free citizenship which our forefathers gained for us with arms in their manly arms.

Thank God that such men are not many amongst us, that the degenerate crew is far more confident of its noise than its numbers.

Thank God, that the real heart of America beats true to the cause of human liberty everywhere, that it sympathises and applauds above the graves of Irish martyrs for freedom's dear and holy sake as warmly and as gratefully as it remembers and applauds above the graves of all those who on many fields of battle and through many years of agony and endurance bought with their blood their children's heritage of American freedom.

Thank God for freedom's soldiers and freedom's martyrs in every age and clime for Washington, for Tone, for Emmet, for Bolivar, for Lincoln, for Pearse and those who died with him.

And shame befall the false American who cannot repeat the Invocation to Freedom and to freedoms soldiers and martyrs with all his heart and with all his soul."

We compared notes with our confréres on the several aspects of the fight during Easter Week, and interesting ourselves in the individual narratives of the several participants of various commands and posts, kept ourselves from brooding too much over our then fate. That was easy with men of common interest and among those of identical points of view and outlook in life.

Of the many units of the Dublin Brigade our own First Battalion and "C" Company were very well represented in the two camps:

Our Company Adjutant John E. Lyons, his son, Charlie;
Sergeant M. Wilson;
Sergeant P. Byrne;
Frank McNally;
Seán Kennedy;
Seán Hynes;
Patrick O'Neill;
John Ellis;
Andy and John Birmingham;
Tom Cassidy;
Patrick Hughes;
Tommy Munroe;
Jack Richmond;
John Lynch;
Charlie Purcell;
Paddy Swan;
Seán Flood;
Joe Musgrave;
Joseph Bevan;
Seán Farrelly;
Mick and Frank O'Flanagan;
Mick Howlett;
Seumas Byrne;
Joe Kelly;
Jimmy McArdle
Patrick Byrne;
Frank Pollard;
Stephen Pollard;
P. Nevin;
Seán Quinn;
George Whelan;
Bob Lagget;
Joe Sweeney;
John Madden;
Joe McDonough.

All those had participated in the fight, most of them in the Four Courts, excepting Andy and John Birmingham, Patrick Hughes,J. Lynch, H. Manning, Charlie Purcell, John Madden.

Charlie Molphy, who served in the G.P.O. area. Very likely there were others of our Company who were prisoners, there, but the foregoing were men whom I was well acquainted with.

"C" Company, 1st Battalion, Dublin Brigade. Irish Volunteers.
List of Men who served in Easter Week. 1916: 
Four Courts Area.
1. Allen, Thomas, Sergeant; promoted Lieutenant.Killed in action.
2. Byrne, Patrick J.
3. Byrne, Patrick, Sergeant.
4. Byrne, Séamus
5. Bevan, Joseph, and his two sons
6. Bevan, Thomas
7. Bevan, Charles
8. Brabazon, Joseph wounded in action.
9. Bridgeman, Edward
10. Cassidy, Thomas
11. Clancy, Peadar, Lieutenant.
12. Cooling, Joseph
13. Cusack, John
14. Coyle, William
15. Dowling, Thomas
16. Derham, Michael
17. Ellis, John
18. Fahy, Frank, Captain.
19. Farrell, Michael
20. Farrelly, John
21. Fisher, John
22. Flood, Seán
23. Grimley, Michael
24. Hynes, John
25. Howlett, Michael
26. Holmes, Denis part of week.
27. Hendrick, Edward
28. Kennedy, Seán
29. Kavanagh, James
30. Kelly, Joseph
31. Kenny, John
32. Ledwith, Peter
33. Leggett, Robert
34 Lyons, John E., and his son, Adjutant.
35. Lyons, Charles
36. Macken, Patrick
37. Musgrave Joseph
38. Munroe, Thomas
39. McGuinness, Joseph, 1st Lieutenant.
40. McNally, Francis
41. McDonough, Joseph
42. McArdle, James, add his brother
43. McArdle, Patrick
44. McKeown, William
45. McDonnell, Thomas
46. Nevin, Patrick
47. O'Neill, Patrick
48. 0'Flanagan, Patrick killed in action
and his two brothers,
49. O'Flanagan, Michael
50. O'Flanagan, Frank
51. O'Brien, Patrick
52. 0'Brien, Jack
53. Pollard, Francis, and his brother
54. Pollard, Stephen
55. Plunkett, James wounded in action.
56. Prendergast, Seán
57. Quinn, Seán
58. Richmond, John
59. Reid, John, Sergeant.
60. Swan, Patrick
61. Scully, Micheál
62. Smart, Thomas
63. Sweeney, Joseph
64. Tobin, Liam
65. Walsh, Thomas
66. Wilson, Mark, Sergeant.
69. Whelan , George
70. Yourell, Thomas
Men of "C" Company in Other Posts.
71. Brooks, Fred Mendicity.
72. Birmingham, Andy, G.P.O.
and his brother
73. Birmingham, John G.P.O.
74. Hughes, Patrick G.P.O.
75. Keating, Con G.P.O.
76. Lynch, John G.P.O.
77. Molphy, Charles, G.P.O.
78. Manning, Henry (wounded) G.P.O.
79. Madden, John G.P.O.
80. McCrane, Thomas Jacobs.
81. Moore, Edward G.P.O.
82. Purcell, Charles G.P.O.
83. White, Michael G.P.O.

Men from Other Units included the following:
Operated in the Four Courts.
George O'Flanagan, 2nd Battalion (brother of Patrick, Michael and Frank).
Seán O'Carroll, of "D" Company, 1st Battalion.
Redmon4 Cox, of "A" Company, 1st Battalion.
Seán Farrell, Na Fianna Éireann.
Patrick Daly, Na Fianna Éireann.
Barney Mellows, Na Fianna Éireann,
Jack Murphy, of the 2nd Battalion.
Con O'Donovan sentenced to death, commuted to 8 years.
Edward Reyner, Fianna.
Patrick Mooney, 4th Battalion.
Arthur Merlan, 4th Battalion.
Ambrose Byrne, 4th Battalion.
Doyle 4th Battalion.
Larry Murtagh, Andy Dowling, 4th Battalion,

also civilians:
Mr. O'Neill, Shoemaker of Merchant's Quay.
John O'Brien, sentenced to death, commuted to 7 years.

Members of Cumann na mBan in the Four Courts.
(This list is incomplete)
Miss Molly Ennis.
Miss May Carron
Mrs. F. Faby (wife of Captain Frank Fahy)
(The foregoing list was compiled in later
years from, say 1934).

A lot of other information was gleaned concerning a number of our Company officers and men who had been court-martialled and sentenced to various terms of imprisonment.

Captain Frank Fahy, sentenced to death, commuted to penal servitude for 10 years.
Lieutenant Joseph McGuinness, sentenced to death, commuted to 10 years.
Sergeant-Major Jack Reid, sentenced to death, commuted to 10 years.
Lt. Peadar Clancy, 10 years, sentenced to death.
Liam Tobin, 10 years, sentenced to death.
Tommy Bevan, 10 years, sentenced to death.
Charlie Bevan (brother of Tommy), sentenced to death, commuted to years.
Tom Walsh, sentenced to death, 10 years.
Michael Scully, sentenced to 10 years.
Fred Brooks (who had fought in the Mendicity under Seán Heuston), sentenced to death, commuted to years.
Dr. Paddy McArdle.

Mention must be made here of some of our company casualties - two killed in action: Sergeant Tom Allen and Volunteer Patrick O'Flanagan; and wounded - Joe Brabazon, Jim Plunkett and Henry Manning. 

There were a number of men of whose participation in the Rising it was impossible at the time to ascertain, but according to the list then available, our Company had furnished a very large percentage of the effective strength of the Battalion.

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