The 1916 Easter Rising in Ireland: James Connolly
He was the leader of the Irish Citizen Army. He led his men and women during the battle on Easter Monday in Dublin. When the Irish soldiers were defeated they surrendered to the British. James Connolly and other leaders were executed by firing squad. His body dumped in a mass grave at Arbour Hill Prison yard.
This is his Story
The Story of James Connolly
James Connolly was born in 1868 into poor family of Irish immigrants in Edinburgh, Scotland. In the town of Cowgate where he lived, many of the immigrants spoke Irish.
At fourteen years of age he worked fourteen hours a day at a bakery. He hated it that much that he often wished it would burn down. To escape the poverty he joined the First Battalion of the Kings Liverpool Regiment.
He was transferred to Dublin in October 1885. This is where he met Lillie, his future wife. In 1896 after leaving the army he got a job in Dublin organising the Socialist Club of Dublin.
Dublin Lockout 1913
In Dublin in 1913 a strike was organised for better working conditions. The employers decided to sack the workers on strike and locked them out of their jobs. A meeting was organised in Sackville Street, now O’Connell Street, but the police charged and men women and children were injured. This is known in Irish history as the 1913 Dublin Lockout.
Irish Citizens Army
James Connolly and James Larkin set up the Irish Citizens Army in response to this violence. They saw the need to protect the people from any other attacks. When James Larkin left for America it was Connolly who took charge. He was also Secretary of the I.T.G.W.U. By 1916 James Connolly had a well trained army of men and women to fight on that Easter Monday.
The 1916 Easter Rising
There were three Irish organisations that came together to fight in The Easter Rising.
- They were the men of The Irish Volunteers with Patrick Pearse as the leader.
- The men and women of The Irish Citizen Army with James Connolly as its leader.
- The women of the Cumann na mBan, the female wing of The Irish Volunteers.
The General Post Office on Sackville Street, now O’Connell Street became the Headquarters during the 1916 Easter Rising. There were other outposts around Dublin that had been captured by the Irish soldiers at the same time as the GPO that day.
At noon on Easter Monday, 24th April 1916, James Connolly led the Irish Citizen Army from Liberty Hall and marched into the General Post Office in Sackville Street, now O'Connell Street. The men set about barricading themselves into the building. They waited for the onslaught of the British troops. James Connolly did not expect to win the battle; they were hopelessly outnumbered by British troops and artillery. Once the GPO was secured James Connolly and Patrick Pearse went out onto the steps
Raising the Tri Colour
A few minutes earlier James Connolly had instructed one of his men to remove the British flag and raise the two Irish flags on the top of the GPO. He stepped back a little to look at them, on the left of the building flew the flag with a green background and the words 'Irish Republic' written across it.
On the right of the building flew the tricolour, the green of the south, the orange of Ulster and the white strip in the middle. He smiled at Winifred Carney and said, ' Isn't it grand.' James Connolly then went over to Patrick Pearse who was waiting to read out the Proclamation of the Irish Republic. It was 12.25 p.m. Winifred Carney had re-entered the building and was in her position at the counter ready for the orders he would soon want typed.
GPO in Dublin Ireland
Fighting during the week of the 1916 Easter Rising. As the days went on orders and dispatches were coming in and out and James Connolly organised the various outposts from the Headquarters at the GPO. The Irish soldiers were short of guns and ammunition.
Some of the Cumann na mBan women went out and collected the arms from around the City. They hid them under their clothes and delivered them back to the G.P.O. They also got medicine, bandages and food rations. By now it was becoming too dangerous for the dispatch riders to do their job.
Cumann na mBan
Women of the Cumann na mBan deliver dispatches to and from the GPO Headquarters. Christine Caffrey was delivering a dispatch from Michael Mallin and was stopped by the British troops. Up to then the women if they were stopped were only quickly searched, but the British soldiers had finally realised the part the women were playing in the Easter Rising as they innocently cycled around Dublin.
Christine was strip-searched but they found nothing. When she reported back to Stephens Green and the Countess asked her what she'd done with the dispatch she told her she'd eaten it.
James Connolly is Injured
On Thursday afternoon James Connolly was in the surrounding streets around the GPO organising his men when he was wounded slightly in the arm. On that same evening he went out again, this time to the Irish Independent offices in Abbey Street. He had brought thirty of his men to the building and told them to secure it.
As he stood on the footpath watching the last of them go in, he was shot by a sniper in the ankle, shattering the bone. The men who had just left did not see him, so James Connolly crawled back towards the GPO. He was losing a lot of blood and only managed to reach Princess Street before he collapsed.
The men in the GPO saw him and dragged him in. He spent the night in the makeshift hospital upstairs in the GPO. One of the men had to get some morphine and the captured British soldier, who was also a doctor stayed with him all night. James Connolly was in a lot of pain, but on the Friday morning he insisted on being brought back down to the main hall where he could still take part in the Easter Rising. The GPO had been hit by the artillery of the British and was on fire.
The Post Office was on Fire
The GPO is on fire and in danger of exploding. Fifteen year old John McLoughlin was one of the many boys that had spent the earlier part of the week carrying messages and orders to the men around the city from James Connolly and Patrick Pearse in the G.P.O.
John McLoughlin with John Reid and Brian O'Higgins went into the basement of the G.P.O. where the explosives and grenades had been stored. Other Volunteers held candles as they carefully carried them through the passageway under O'Connell Street to a courtyard at the back of the building on the Princess Street side.
Michael O'Rahilly was hosing the area with water to stop the intense heat getting to the explosives. He accidentally hit John McLoughlin, his arms full of explosives with the powerful spray and knocked him down, luckily they did not explode.
The water eventually ran out and Michael O'Rahilly ordered them to leave, as they could not control the fire. The fires in the GPO were getting out of control and it was decided that it was time to evacuate the G.P.O. Desmond Fitzgerald, James Connolly and Patrick Pearse knew that the end was near.
Patrick Pearse called the women into the main hall of the GPO. He gave a speech thanking them for their bravery and patriotism and shook each of them by the hand. He told them that they deserved a foremost place in the nation's history. Then he ordered them to leave. An argument developed with Sean MacDermott disagreeing with Patrick Pearse and Desmond Fitzgerald. He told them that the women should stay if they wanted to.
The women cheered, but Patrick Pearse gave them the order again. Thirty one members of Cumann na mBan, two members of the Irish Citizen Army and one member of Clann na nGaedheal left very reluctantly.
Injured Irish Soldiers
At Jervis Street Hospital a hole in the wall had been made so that the wounded soldiers from the GPO could be brought to the hospital through houses in Henry Street. The nurses at the hospital had hidden this hole with screens.
When the evacuation went ahead the wounded were brought to Jervis Street safely and quickly hidden. When the British troops raided the hospital looking for Irish soldiers none were captured. The badly wounded were hidden in the wards, some in the nuns ward and when the soldiers looked in no arrests were made as the Irish men had been disguised as nuns.
In a women's ward the wounded were heavily disguised, one nurse cut off her plaited hair and attached it to a young man. Others were in the maternity ward. The nurses had already destroyed the Irish soldiers’ uniforms and boots. Those who were able to walk around were also disguised as women workers and they went about cleaning the wards unnoticed by the soldiers.
Women of 1916
The Cumann na mBan women stayed in the waiting room all night and then left for home the following morning. Desmond Fitzgerald, Father Flanagan and Lieutenant Mahoney, a British doctor captured on Tuesday, accompanied the wounded with the remaining women. They held out a Red Cross Flag and the British Troops escorted the group to Jervis Street Hospital.
Once the injured were safely in the hospital Lieutenant Mahoney explained who he was, and was released. Much to everyone's surprise the British troops assumed that Desmond Fitzgerald and Louise Gavan Duffy along with the Cumann na mBan women, which included May Murray and Peggy Downey, were also prisoners so they too were let go.
The End of The Rising
Among the twelve women who stayed in the GPO were Mae Murray, Julie Grennan, Elizabeth O'Farrell and Winifred Carney. Also staying behind at the GPO were Peggy Downey and Louise Gavan Duffy who carried on their duties with the food rations.
By Friday afternoon the GPO was in flames and James Connolly wanted to give the Irish soldiers who were fighting in other garrisons around Dublin encouragement, so he wrote this dispatch.
To Soldiers: 'This is the fifth day of the establishment of the Irish Republic and the flag of our country still floats from the most important buildings in Dublin. …Never had a man or woman a grander cause, never a cause more grandly served.'
The Soldiers Song
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 over three hundred of them joined in. It was to become the Irish National Anthem. But Michael O'Rahilly was shot many times as he attempted to lead the men across the road.
After a few more attempts to leave the burning GPO they managed to get across to Moore Street. James Connolly had to be carried over on a make shift stretcher. They stopped at the first house on Moore Street but this became too dangerous because it was too close to the British machine guns at the top of Henry Street.
Michael O'Rahilly lay dying in the street where he fell and all attempts to get to him were met with a burst of British machine guns. Michael O'Rahilly was dead by the next morning
Holes were created in the walls of the other adjoining houses and the leaders were able to pass through them. James Connolly could not go any further than to 16 Moore Street and this became the Headquarters.
Plans were being made with the leaders and James Connolly to attack the position of the British soldiers when three civilians were shot dead by mistake by the British soldiers as they ran out of their burning house in Moore Street. After another meeting with James Connolly, Patrick Pearse and other leaders it was decided that it would be best for them to surrender.
The houses that the Irish Solders were held up in Moore Street were small two bedroom terraced houses. When the 1916 Easter Rising began the families living in them were trapped. The British Soldiers were attacking these houses in order to flush out the Irish soldiers.
Patrick Pearse Surrenders
After Patrick Pearse had surrendered James Connolly was carried up Moore Street by four of his men on a stretcher. Before he left he said goodbye to his son Rory. He told him not to reveal his real name. He also told John McLoughlin not to reveal his rank, that of Commander. He hoped that as both boys were only fifteen they would be let go.
Court-Martial at Dublin Castle
He was brought to Dublin Castle. He stayed there at the Red Cross Hospital. A few hours later Major Wheeler came to him and asked him to counter sign the surrender order. Connolly dictated his own order to Major Wheeler, who wrote it under the typed order of Patrick Pearse. James Connolly then signed it. It said:
'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.' James Connolly April 29/16
On May 9, James Connolly was tried by court-martial at Dublin Castle. He had to be propped up in the hospital bed. In part of his statement to the court James Connolly said,
' Believing that the British Government has no right to Ireland, never had any right to Ireland and never can have any right to Ireland.
I personally thank God that I have lived to see the day when thousands of Irish men and boys and hundreds of Irish women and girls were ready to affirm that truth, and attest it with their lives if need be. '
A few hours before he was due to be executed his wife, Lillie and one of his daughters Nora visited him in the hospital. There were approximately twelve soldiers standing outside the door and one soldier inside the room. James Connolly was so badly wounded that he could barely lift his head and shoulders from the bed. Nora gave an account of what happened.
Connolly said, ' Well Lillie, I suppose you know what this means? '
‘Oh James, it's not that, it's not that. '
He went on to tell her he was to be shot at dawn.
Lillie cried, ' But your beautiful life James, your beautiful life.'
‘Well Lillie, hasn't it been a full life and isn't this a good end.' Connolly consoled her.
The officer in the room then said, ' Five minutes more. Lillie Connolly was so overcome with grief that she nearly collapsed and had to be given a drink of water. Then the soldier said, ' Times up. ' Nora and a nurse had to pull Lillie away from James Connolly's bed. Then Nora ran back and kissed her father. They never saw him again.
He had to be helped on a stretcher into the yard, where he was strapped to a chair. James Connolly was shot dead at dawn on 12th May 1916. His body was dumped in the pit at Arbour Hill and covered in quick lime.
The Rising lasted seven days until 30 April until the decision was made to surrender. Thousands of men and women who fought in the Easter Rising were transported to England and Wales to prisons and detention camps.
Sixteen men were executed. Fourteen of these men were buried in a Mass grave at Arbour Hill in Dublin. The Irish soldiers who fought during the 1916 Easter Rising failed to free Ireland from British Rule that week. What they did do through their courage and sacrifice was ignite the desire for Irish freedom once again in the heart and soul of the Irish people.
Irish Free State
The Irish War of Independence began in 1919 and ended in January 1923 when Ireland became a Free State. James Connolly was one of the men executed for his part in the 1916 Easter Rising. He 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, Sean McDermott, Thomas MacDonagh, Michael O'Hanrahan, John McBride, Eamonn Ceannt, Michael Mallin, William Pearse, Patrick Pearse and Edward Daly.