Sean MacDermott and the 1916 Easter Rising in Dublin
He was one of the leaders of the 1916 Easter Rising. This was a week long battle that took place in Dublin Ireland in order to free the Irish people from hundreds of years of British rule. The Irish soldiers surrendered and the leaders were executed. Sean MacDermott was shot by firing squad in Kilmainham Jail. He lies in the mass grave in Arbour Hill Memorial Park in Stoneybatter Dublin 7 Ireland.
The Start of The Easter Rising at the GPO
Sean McDermott had left Liberty Hall a few minutes before noon on Easter Monday 24 April 1916 and walked up to the General Post Office with Tom Clarke. Neither man was able to march with the rest of the Irish soldiers because of their bad health. They waited outside the GPO and watched, when as arranged James Connolly, Patrick Pearse and Joseph Plunkett marched towards them from Liberty Hall.
They were leading the men of the Irish Volunteers and the men and women of the Irish Citizen Army up O’Connell Street. Sean McDermott was to take on the duties of Liaison Officer in the GPO between Patrick Pearse and James Connolly.
Patrick Pearse read out the Proclamation of the Irish Republic on the steps. The GPO became the headquarters and the military action was to be coordinated from there. There were many garrisons all over Dublin that had also been captured that same time on by the Irish soldiers. The 1916 Easter Rising had begun.
Easter Rising Leaders
Sean MacDermott was born in Co Leitrim on February 1884. In 1911 he suffered an attack of polio and one of his legs was left badly damaged, he could only walk with the aid of a stick from then on. He was the National organiser for the Irish Republican Brotherhood. Because of this job he travelled all over Ireland for a number of years.
Meeting people and building an arsenal of supplies and training the men. He was also the Editor of the newspaper the Irish Freedom. He was one of the founders of the Irish Volunteers. He gave a speech in protest against conscription of Irishmen into the British Army to fight in World War One. He was arrested and imprisoned for four months.
Cumann na mBan
The women of the Cumann na Ban and the boys and girls of the Fianna were carrying out this dangerous task of delivering these dispatches from these other outposts to the headquarters at the GPO. Since Monday fifteen year old John McLoughlin was one of these lads that were in and out of the GPO getting reports from the other garrisons.
John had brought a dispatch back from the Mendicity Institution to say that they were holding out. Connolly was surprised and delighted. He had given them orders to hold out for a few hours. He knew they had an almost impossible task to complete because they were outnumbered by the British army. He sent John McLoughlin back with another dispatch, but by the time he arrived they had surrendered.
On his return to the GPO, John McLoughlin met his mother. She told him she heard that his sister was also in the GPO acting as a messenger. She was worried because she was so young so he was to tell her to come home. When John gave his report to James Connolly he went over to his sister.
He said, ' Mary McLoughlin, your mother will murder you! She says you are to go home.’ Sean MacDermott heard this and smiled at John saying, ‘Her mother will not murder her, indeed she won't. Her mother will be proud of her later on.'
As the GPO caught fire on Friday, the men were busy trying to get the ammunition away from the flames. But the roof was on fire and the hoses and water pressure were not sufficient. The GPO was burning down and the men had to get out
A plan was worked out for Michael O'Rahilly to take thirty men and try to capture the building of Williams and Wood on Parnell Street. As they prepared to go one of the men started to sing The Soldiers Song, and they all joined in. It was to become the Irish National Anthem.
Twenty one of Michael O'Rahilly's men had been shot in the first attempt. Michael Collins had been with that group but he managed to fall back and escape the bullets unharmed. Michael O'Rahilly had been wounded and had taken cover in Sampson Lane. But he regrouped his men and made a second attempt to get up Moore Street to storm the Barricades.
He was hit again, this time in the chest and crawled into Sackville Lane, now O'Rahilly's Parade. By now Michael Collins, Joseph Plunkett, Tom Clarke and Sean MacDermott were out on the street with their men. They took cover as darkness fell, the only light coming from the fires at the G.P.O. John McLoughlin although only fifteen years old also led a group of men out of the GPO.
Joseph Plunkett ordered a van put across the road at the junction of Henry Place and Moore Street. This gave them some shelter from the machine guns of the British troops from Parnell Street, the roof of the Rotunda and the top of Henry Street.
So the Leaders were faced with two choices, take a chance and be shot by the British machine guns or burn to death in the GPO. They knew they had to leave the GPO so once again the short journey across the road was attempted by all the Irish soldiers in the GPO.
Joseph Plunkett, Patrick Pearse and Sean MacDermott stood out in the Street. Small groups of men ran out into Henry Street and ran for cover from the machine guns, supervised by the three leaders. James Connolly had to be brought across on a stretcher, but he managed to get there without being shot again.
The ammunition and explosives blow up in the cellar of the GPO. For those that did manage to get across to Moore Street alive they were now held up in a row of terraced houses which had shops at the bottom of them.
The men broke holes in the walls in each house so that they could safely go from one house to another without fear of being shot. The fires in the GPO finally reached the gunpowder in the cellar. It was 3.00 am on Saturday morning when the huge explosion was heard by the men in Moore Street and by the Irish people all over Dublin.
Also during the night the men had tried unsuccessfully to reach Michael O'Rahilly who had been shot many times earlier. He still lay on the ground at Sackville Lane. At around midnight he called out for water. A woman in the house nearest to him tried several times to bring him some, but each time she was fired at. Finally with the cup of water in her hand she decided to make a run towards Michael O'Rahilly. She was immediately shot at and she fell to the ground cursing the soldiers for preventing her from giving a dying man a drink.
Another woman who tried desperately to get to him was Linda Kearns. She was a member of Cumann na mBan and a qualified nurse. At the beginning of the week she had set up a field hospital near North Great George’s Street with six women and two Fianna boys. As the fighting continued and the injured came in they helped all sides of the conflict.
But a British Officer insisted they only tend to their side so Linda closed down the hospital and transferred all the injured to the Mater and Temple Street hospitals. She then became one of the many stretcher bearers on the streets of Dublin. As he lay dying in Sampson Lane she tried several times to reach him but was also stopped by the deliberate machine gun fire aimed at his direction.
Michael O'Rahilly was dead by morning. There was a note found on the body of Michael O'Rahilly which was addressed to his wife Hannah. It said ‘It was a good fight anyhow;' They had three sons.
Later that morning Sean McDermott, James Connolly, Patrick Pearse, Tom Clarke, Joseph Plunkett and Willie Pearse held a meeting to decide what to do next. Sean MacDermott and John McLoughlin went out into Sackville Lane, now called O'Rahilly Parade, to see if they could work out the plan of escape and to find water. There were over two hundred and fifty men held up in the houses. The first thing they came across was the body of Michael O'Rahilly. His body was riddled with bullets. They stopped for a minute;
They Had Tears in Their Eyes
Neither man spoke as they continued on their mission. When they got back to the headquarters at 16 Moore Street a plan was then decided upon. They would create a diversion so that that the main body of soldiers could leave the houses in Moore Street and regroup.
The row of terraced houses in Moore Street was occupied by the families that lived in them when the Easter Rising began. And when on the following Friday the GPO was evacuated by the soldiers the families were still in their own houses in Moore Street.
One of these families was a mother and father and their daughter, the Dillons. As the meeting was going on with the leaders this family ran out their house in Moore Street waving a white flag and up into Henry Street.
The British soldiers were taken by surprise and not realising they were civilians they opened fire with the machine guns killing the Dillon family immediately. Another meeting was held with the leaders. They decided to abort the plan and also came to the very hard decision to surrender.
They were soldiers and had not planned to put civilian lives at risk. They were willing to fight to the death themselves but felt it was unfair to continue to put the lives of ordinary Irish people on the line.
Sean MacDermott went in search of a white flag and Captain O'Reilly gave him his handkerchief. He tied it to a stick and O'Reilly opened the door of 15 Moore Street and stuck it out. It was shot to pieces. He tried it again, this time with more success. Patrick Pearse had given Elizabeth O'Farrell verbal instructions and she stepped into the street at 12.45 pm on Saturday 29 April, and walked towards the British barricade.
She was taken to a house in Parnell Street where she was searched and her Red Cross badges torn off her apron and arm. Eventually at 2.45 pm she saw Brigadier General Lowe. It was agreed that she return to the Irish Headquarters in Moore Street and tell the leaders that only an unconditional surrender would be accepted.
The leaders accepted this and Patrick Pearse went out with Elizabeth O’Farrell and surrendered to General Lowe. It was agreed by Patrick Pearse and General Lowe that Elizabeth O'Farrell would bring the surrender note around the City which by now was also signed by Connolly.
Patrick Pearse was taken away by the British soldiers so he could give write the order to surrender to the remaining Irish troops all around Dublin. Elizabeth O’Farrell was then escorted by British soldiers to the other Irish held garrisons where she was to deliver the surrender orders from Patrick Pearse and James Connolly to the Irish soldiers of the Irish Volunteers and the Irish Citizen Army.
Moore Street Surrender
As the news of the surrender circulated to the men in the houses in Moore Street some of them wanted to fight to the death. Tom Clarke tried to convince them that the surrender was best, even though he himself wanted to fight on. Joseph Plunkett and Michael Collins had a few words too but the men would listen to none of them, they still insisted on continuing the fight to the death.
Sean MacDermott was sent for. He addressed the men and said to them that they would probably only get a few years in prison as the British would only shoot the Leaders. He told them, ' The thing you must do, all of you, is survive, come back, carry on the work so nobly began this week. Those of us who are shot can die happy if we know you will be living on to finish what we started.' They were silent and finally agreed to surrender. A short time later, he gathered all the men together in the yard behind 16 Moore Street.
The Surrender Order
‘In order to prevent the further slaughter of Dublin citizens, and in the hope of saving the lives of our followers now surrounded and hopelessly outnumbered, the members of the Provisional Government present at Headquarters have agreed to an unconditional surrender, and the Commandants of the various districts in the City and country will order their commands to lay down arms. '
P H Pearse
29th April 1916
I agree to these conditions for the men only under my own command in Moore Street District and for the men in the Stephens Green Command.
The men were subdued but Sean MacDermott told them, ' I know also that this week of Easter will never be forgotten, Ireland will one day be free because of what you've done here. ' Later that day Sean MacDermott, Joseph Plunkett and Sean McLoughlin got the men into columns of four. They marched to the green in front of the Rotunda Hospital.
There they spent a cold and uncomfortable night under the glaze of machine guns. They were ordered by the British, not to stand up or move all night. They were marched to Richmond Barracks the next day.
Sean MacDermott was tried by Court Martial at Richmond Barracks. He was then transferred to Kilmainham Jail where he received his sentence of death. He was shot dead by firing squad in Kilmainham Jail at dawn on 12 May 1916. His body was dumped in the pit in Arbour Hill and covered in quick lime.
The Rising lasted seven days until 30 April. The men and women who fought in the Easter Rising were imprisoned in England and Wales. Sixteen men were executed. Fourteen of these men were buried in a Mass grave at Arbour Hill in Stoneybatter Dublin 7 Ireland.
The Irish soldiers who fought during the 1916 Easter Rising failed to free Ireland from British Rule that week. But they reignited the desire for Irish freedom once again in the heart and soul of the Irish people. Sean MacDermott had been correct and most of those who fought in the Easter Rising and were jailed were released within a year and were able to continue to fight for Irish freedom.
The Irish War of Independence began in 1919 and ended in January 1922 when Ireland at last gained freedom from British Rule and became a Free State. Sean MacDermott and the other thirteen men who lay buried at Arbour Hill Memorial Park are now an important part of Irish history.
They are: Tom Clarke, Joseph Plunkett, Con Colbert, Sean Heuston, James Connolly, Thomas MacDonagh, Michael O'Hanrahan, John McBride, Eamonn Ceannt, Michael Mallin, William Pearse, Patrick Pearse and Edward Daly.