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“IRISHMEN AND IRISHWOMEN: In the name of God and the dead generations from which she receives her old tradition of nationhood, Ireland, through us, summons her children to her flag and strikes for her freedom.” Quote taken from the first paragraph of The Proclamation of The Provisional Government of the Irish Republic to the People of Ireland. The Proclamation was read by Padraig Pearse April 24,1916, in front of the Dublin General Post Office(GPO).
Hello, this is John Conlan, host of the Rocky Road to Dublin here on KBMF, and welcome to this episode of the Harp Without the Crown, where I will be sharing excerpts taken from letters written by the seven Irish signatories to the Proclamation hours before their execution by British armed forces. Some of what follows is taken from the book “Last Words” published by Piaras F. Mac Lochlainn.
The Easter Rising took place primarily in Dublin from April 24 to April 30, 1916. It was planned in secret mainly by seven men as an attempt to gain complete independence from England. Irish Volunteers confronted British forces and occupied key positions in Dublin at the GPO, Four Courts, Bolands, Jacobs Biscuit Factory, Stephens Mill and South Dublin Union. On Easter Monday April 24, 1916, the Proclamation was read from the GPO declaring a new Irish Republic. Over the next few days British troops flooded Dublin forcing the Irish forces to surrender. Sadly, 450 deaths and 2,000 injuries were reported which included military forces and civilians. Following the Easter Rising, scores of Irish fighting forces were imprisoned and sixteen were immediately executed, including the seven signatories of the Proclamation for Irish Independence.
What follows are some of the thoughts and words of the seven signatories to the Irish Proclamation prior to their execution by British forces in Dublin.
Padraig Pearse, was executed May 3,1916 by firing squad.
He was considered to be the main author of the Proclamation and fought the British army at the GPO. After several days of fighting, he eventually authorized an unconditional surrender to the British army. Awaiting his execution, Pearse wrote to his mother. “I have just received Holy Communion…. I die so that the nation may live….this is the death I should have asked for if God had given me the choice of all deaths, to die a soldier’s death for Ireland and for freedom”.
James Connolly, Commandant-General at the GPO, was severely wounded during the battle and could barely walk. He was tied to a chair in the Kilmainham Jail courtyard and died by firing squad on May 3,1916. In a statement to the Court during his trial, he notes, “We went out to break the connection between this country and the British Empire…believing that the British Government has no right in Ireland, never had any right in Ireland.”
Joseph Plunkett, an Irish nationalist, was the youngest of the signatories and fought at the GPO. The night before his execution by firing squad on May 4,1916, he married his fiance, Grace. A Catholic priest, Father Augustine who saw him in his cell before his death, noted “he was absolutely calm, as cool and self possessed as if he looked on what was passing and found it good”. Another priest, Father Sebastian, accompanied Plunkett to his execution and was told by Plunkett, “Father, I am happy… I am dying for the glory of Ireland and honour of Ireland.”
Sean Mac Diarmada, activist and member of the Irish Republican Brotherhood, died by firing squad on May 12,1916. In a letter to his brothers and sisters the day before his death, he asked that they “pray for his soul and feel a lasting pride at my death…I die so that the Irish nation may live.”
Thomas MacDonagh, Irish patriot and poet, fought at Jacob’s Biscuit Factory, also met his death by firing squad on May 3, 1916. The Catholic Bulletin reported that a Catholic priest wrote, “MacDonagh had received his last rites and knelt in prayer with the crucifix clasped in his hands”. MacDonagh wrote to his son before he died, “I still think I have done a great thing for Ireland, and, with the defeat of her army, won the first step of freedom.”
Eamonn Ceannt, Sinn Fein and Irish Brotherhood member, was stationed at South Dublin Union and executed on May 8,1916. At the end of his trial he wrote to his wife, “I shall die like a man for Ireland’s sake….I die a noble death for Ireland’s freedom.”
Thomas Clarke, leader of the Irish Republican Brotherhood, directed a message to the Irish people on the day of his May 3, 1916 execution, “I and my fellow signatories believe we have struck the first successful blow for Freedom… the next blow, which we have no doubt Ireland will strike, will win through…in this belief we die happy.”
Like the rest of Irish America, the Butte Irish community mourned the death of these men and the countless others who were either executed or imprisoned for their role in the Easter Rising. Throughout the 1900s commemorations were held by many Butte Irish organizations on the anniversary of the Rising.
In addition to these commemorations, two examples show direct action taken by the Butte Irish to help the families of
Padraig Pearse and Thomas Clarke, two of the Proclamation’s signatories. One Butte organization to help was the Robert Emmet Literary Association, a member of the radical Clan na Gael organization based in New York. The Emmets were an organization committed to Irish independence free of British rule. The Robert Emmet Literary Association not only recognized the historical importance of the Rising with yearly commemorations but also contributed to a relief fund for the widow and family of Easter Rising patriot,Thomas Clarke.
John Devoy, President of the national Clan na Gael, sent a letter to the Butte Robert Emmet Literary Association “urging all the old friends of the late Thomas Clarke and martyrs of the Easter Week Rising to subscribe to a fund for the relief of his widow, who is now in distress.” The Emmets set up a committee to raise money for Clarke and collected $260.50 which would have had the purchasing power of $4,440 in 2023.
Also, many Irish activists and patriots traveled to Butte following the Easter Rising, keeping the memory of the event relevant among the Butte Irish community. One important visitor, Margaret Pearse, mother of the Rising’s main leader Padraig Pearse, visited Butte in July, 1924. Margaret had assumed directorship of Padraig’s St. Edna’s School in Dublin after his death. The school was experiencing financial problems and while in America she discussed not only her son’s death during the Rising but also the need to keep his St. Edna’s school financially solvent. The visit by Maragaret Pearse provided a direct family connection to the Easter Rising and she was warmly received in Butte.
It is important to discuss the impact of the Easter Rising and future episodes will explore the historical importance of the Easter
Rising in Ireland and its perception in Irish America. However, on this anniversary date, it is important for now to hear the last words of the Proclamation signatories.
This is John Conlan and thanks for listening to this episode of the Harp Without the Crown.