The son, Fr Joseph Mallin
‘Before 1916 there was despair in Ireland’
Joseph Mallin was just two years old when his father, Michael, was executed at Kilmainham Gaol for his part in the Easter Rising. As Chief of Staff of the Irish Citizen Army, Michael Mallin was second-in-command to James Connolly.
Before he was shot, on May 8, 1916, Michael wrote to his family, telling his baby son: “Joseph, my little man, be a priest if you can.”
Joseph became a priest. He is now 98 years old and lives in Hong Kong, China. There, he works at the Wah Yan College, a Roman Catholic secondary school for boys run by the Society of Jesus, Ireland.
Joseph Mallin is the last surviving child of any of the Easter Rising leaders. In a letter for this project, dated July 2011, he recalled some of his memories of 1916 and the aftermath.
Fr Joseph also described a 2009 visit home to Ireland, and to Kilmainham Gaol, scene of his father’s execution.
“The young lady at the entrance mentioned the entrance fee. I couldn’t refrain from a wee joke. I said, ‘The first time I came here I didn’t have to pay entrance fee’ – but went on – “Ah, that time I was only two and a half years of age – and I was asleep.
“Later, when she leading round the prison and the group had dispersed, I told her who I was.” As he was just an infant, Fr Joseph remembers little of the year 1916, or the day he was first brought to Kilmainham.
“As I said to the young lady in Kilmainham, ‘I was asleep’. I know I was asleep on the metal stairway in the main hall. My sister told me that. A soldier came over and said he was very sorry for me. My first memory comes later.”
Father Joseph said his father, or the events of Easter week were not common topics of conversation in the years that followed the executions as his mother did not want to burden him. “Perhaps it was wise of my mother in those years not to speak of my father. She was very wise. Mrs Pearse and Mrs Austin Stack held her in a certain sort of reverence,” he said.
Michael Mallin was survived by his wife Agnes, his three sons (including Joseph) and two daughters, the youngest of whom was not born until four months after his death. Joseph explained: “The 1916 event took a toll on my mother’s health. I accidentally heard Surgeon Stokes say her breakdown in health was a ‘direct’ result of 1916.”
Educated at UCD, Father Joseph has spent his life devoted to religion and the pursuit of social justice. It has led him from Ireland to Tiananmen Square and beyond.
And he believes those who fought in the 1916 Rising did so for justice and Ireland. “You know before 1916 there was rather despair – you feel it in Yeats, Conor Sheehan and others,” he said, maintaining that their legacy helped to mold modern Ireland.
“They did shape the country. What is gained with little or no effort is not valued. 1916 did set an ideal.”
The doctor, Kathleen Lynn
‘The bullets fell like rain’
Kathleen Lynn was a feminist, socialist and nationalist. A medical doctor, she assisted hunger-striking suffragists. She was described as a “lecturer in first aid to the Citizen Army and Cumann na mBan in 1916”.
“On Holy Thursday, (James) Connolly and the Citizen Army made me a present as a token of gratitude for the help I had given in connection with medial preparations for the Rising, providing first aid equipment, medical dressings and son on. It was a gold brooch in the form of a fibula and it is still my most treasured possession,” she said.
A friend of Countess Markievicz, Dr Lynn was at City Hall on Easter Monday and she marched to take City Hall with an ICA brigade under Sean Connolly.
“When I got to City Hall, say some time before 12, it was already occupied by Sean Connolly, and his section of the Citizen Army. As I arrived there I saw the dead body of a big policeman lying on the ground — it seemed to be in front of the Castle gate. Just then, Sir Thomas Myles came up, evidently going into the Castle and I still remember the look of horror in his face when he saw the body. I don’t think he noticed me. He rushed off. I heard afterwards it was to get first aid equipment,” she wrote in her witness statement.
“The gate of the CIty Hall was locked and I had to climb over it though I don’t know how I did it. Finally somebody came out and helped in in with my things. When I got in Sean Connolly said it would be better if some of us went up on the roof in case an attack might take place there,” she said.
“It was a beautiful day, the sun was hot and we were not long there when we noticed Sean Connolly coming towards us, walking upright, although we had been advised to crouch and take cover as much as possible. We suddenly saw him fall mortally wounded by a sniper’s bullet from the Castle. First aid was useless. He died almost immediately; that, I think, was in the early afternoon.
“We had another casualty on the roof. A young boy, whose name I don’t remember, got a wound in the shoulder which I dressed immediately. His condition was not very serious, but he was nervous. He was brought downstairs and remained there until the evacuation. When he heard the others talk of trying to get out, he was afraid they would leave him behind.”
Shortly afterwards, a regiment of British soldiers arrived at the Castle, and after Connolly’s death the rebel garrison lacked leadership.
“I often though afterwards that it was surprising that those soldiers were allowed to enter the Castle yard unmolested by our men. I think that Sean Connolly’s death had a demoralising effect on the City Hall men. It was a pity some attack was not made on them because immediately after their arrival the fusillade started.
“The bullets fell like rain. The firing came from all sides and continued till after darkness fell. There was no way of escape although we discussed all possibilities. There was no electric light but there was a moon and we could see things where a beam of moonlight fell.”
British forces entered City Hall and the garrison was forced to surrender. Dr Lynn was among those held at Kilmainham Gaol.
“It was a very trying time for us because Madame Markievicz was overhead in the condemned cell and we used to hear reports that she was to be executed. We could hear shootings in the mornings, and we would be told afterwards who it was. It was a very harrowing experience.”
The politician, Garrett FitzGerald
‘Both my parents were in the GPO’
Born in Dublin in 1926, Dr Garrett FitzGerald served two terms in office as Taoiseach for Fine Gael. Educated at Belvedere College, Dublin, and at UCD, he was one of Ireland’s most distinguished politicians. He died in May 2011.
A number of years ago, he wrote for the BBC about his experiences of the Easter Rising, during which both his parents were active.
His father Desmond FitzGerald was Minister for External Affairs, while his mother Mabel Washington McConnell was a strong republican of Ulster Protestant descent.
“Both my parents (Desmond and Mabel) were in the GPO in 1916. My mother was there for the first two days but after Patrick Pearse had sent her on a futile mission on the Tuesday to bring a flag to fly over Dublin Castle, which he wrongly thought had been captured, he told her to return home as he did not wish my elder brothers to lose both parents,” said FitzGerald.
“My father, who had just completed a six-month sentence in Mountjoy for seditious speech, was there until the Friday, when he was ordered to bring the wounded to Jervis Street hospital, a block behind the GPO – from there, after many adventures, he got home to Bray, where he was later arrested.
“In their view by Easter Monday 1916 it had lost any chance of success… Given that background, it is not easy for me to be objective about the Rising. On the other hand it is perhaps easier for me to see those events in the context of their time, and to avoid the common mistake of judging them in terms of present day attitudes.
“Moreover, I am helped in this by the fact that my father wrote some years later about his experiences in the years 1913 to 1916, explaining both why he and others were motivated to contemplate such a Rising, and also why he and several of his friends, such as The O’Rahilly, were opposed to it taking place at the time it did: because in their view by Easter Monday 1916 it had lost any chance of success. As my father recorded, this raised doubts about its morality in the minds even of Pearse and Plunkett — doubts they sought to quell.
“It was the massive rush by Irish men to join the British Army in 1914 that seemed to him and to like-minded others to portend an imminent demise of Irish nationalism. In their view, this made an early attempt to end British rule necessary. Unfortunately, a subsequent misguided attempt by myth-makers to portray the Rising as an outcome of the abiding strength of Irish nationalism came to obscure the fact that it was in fact an act of desperation, undertaken by people who believed that nationalism was dying on its feet.
“It was their hope that if it failed, it would nevertheless revive a dying national feeling…
And although neither my father nor The O’Rahilly nor Eoin MacNeill, the President of the Volunteers who had countermanded the Rising, could see this at the time it was, of course, precisely because the Rising was a heroic failure that its success in reviving national feeling turned out to be beyond the dreams of those who had organised it.”
The priests, Fr Aloysius and Fr Albert
‘Sean bent his head and kissed the crucifix’
Capuchin priest Fr Aloysius heard the last confessions of Padraig Pearse and James Connolly and liaised with the British authorities before the executions. His colleague, Fr Albert, was also represent at Kilmainham Gaol as 14 men faced the firing squad.
Both priests provided a remarkable insight into the state of the leaders’ minds as they faced death. Father Albert described the execution of Sean ‘JJ’ Heuston, who had held the Mendicity Institution on the River Liffey during the Rising. Heuston was executed on May 8, 1916.
“At about 3.45 am a British soldier knocked at the door of the cell and told us time was up. We both walked out together down to the end of the large open space from which a corridor leads to the gaol yards,” recalled Father Albert.
“Here his hands were tied behind his back, a cloth tied over his eyes and a small piece of white paper about four or five inches square, pinned on to his coat over his heart. Just then we saw Father Augustine with Com. M. Mallin come towards us from the cell where they had been.
“We were now told to be ready. I had a small cross in my hand, and though blindfolded, Sean bent his head and kissed the Crucifix this was the last thing his lips touched in life. We now proceeded towards the yard where the execution was to take place, my left arm was linked in his right, while the British soldier who had handcuffed and blindfolded him walked on his left.
“As we walked slowly along we repeated most of the prayers that we had been saying in his cell. On our way we passed a group of soldiers. These I afterwards learned were awaiting Com. Mallin who was following us.
“Having reached a second yard I saw there another group of military armed with rifles, some of them were standing and some sitting or kneeling. A soldier directed Sean and myself to a corner of the yard, a short distance from the outer wall of the prison. Here there was a box (seemingly a soap box) and Sean was told to sit down on it. He was perfectly calm and said with me for the last time, My Jesus, mercy.
“I scarcely had moved away a few yards when a volley went off, and this noble soldier of Irish freedom fell dead. I rushed over to anoint him. His whole face seemed transformed, and lit up with a grandeur and brightness that I had never before noticed.
“Later on his remains and those of the others were conveyed to Arbour Hill military detention barracks, where they were buried in the outer yard, in a trench with holds the mortal remains of Ireland’s noblest and bravest sons.”
Father Aloysius was chaplain to the Irish Volunteers. In a voice recording, held at the Bureau of Military History, Rathmines, Dublin, he described the last days of James Connolly, and meetings with British soldiers at Dublin Castle before the executions.
“At 1am (Friday) the car came for me. I heard Connolly’s confession and gave him Holy Communion. Then I left while he was given a light meal. I had a long talk with (Captain) Stanley in the Castle yard,” he said.
“He told me that he had been very much impressed by Connolly and that Surgeon Tobin had been very stuck too by his character. He told me an amusing story he had from Surgeon Tobin. I don’t know if I ought to narrate it.
“Now the time appointed (2am) — Connolly was to be taken to Kilmainham. I had a few words. I said that the men who would execute him were soldiers — probably they knew nothing about him — and like soldiers — would simply obey orders and fire, and I wanted him to feel no anger against them, but to say, as Our Lord said on Calvary, ‘Father, forgive them’ and to say a prayer for them.”
‘I do, Father,’ he answered. ‘I respect every man who does his duty.’
“James Connolly was then brought down to the car and laid on a stretcher in it. I sat in the ambulance car with him and said a last word to him before they took him from the car in Kilmainham yard, He was put sitting on a chair and the order was given. They fired, and Father Eugene McCarthy, who had been in attendance on Sean McDermott earlier, went over and anointed Connolly. I had stood just behind the firing line. It was a scene I should not ask to witness again. I had got to know Connolly — to wonder at his strength of character and marvelous power of concentration. I had got to regret that I had not known him longer and now I had to say goodbye. All I could do was to return with a heavy heart and to offer the Holy Sacrifice for his soul. Now I thank God that I knew him.”
(Source: Witness statements, The Capuchin Annual, 1966, Curious Journey, 1998).
The Volunteer, Martin Walton
‘If you said you were out in Easter week you were liable to be shot’
Born in Dublin in 1901, Martin Walton was a Feis Ceoil prizewinner on the violin and was just 15 when he took part in the Easter Rising, although he was already 6ft tall.
He had arrived at the Jacob’s garrison on Easter Monday with a “murderous looking shotgun”, according to Peadar Kearney, the man who wrote the words to Amhrán na bhFiann.
Walton worked as a courier between Jacob’s and the GPO during the Rising.
Afterwards he was interned in Ballykinlar Camp, Co Down, where he taught music.
During his imprisonment he was involved in discussions about setting up an Irish School of Music under an Irish government.
On his release he worked as a violinist and musical arranger for cinemas and in 1924 established the Dublin College of Music in North Frederick Street, and began a retail business. Walton’s music shop still stands in Dublin today, with two city centre stores.
Martin Walton gave his version of events in the book, Curious Journey: An Oral History of Ireland’s Unfinished Revolution (Griffith and O’Grady, 1998).
“After the Rising we started to reorganize immediately – to look for guns, try and buck up the language, the Gaelic League and any other organization that wasn’t banned and that we could get into. It was a terrible time,” he said.
“There were still thousands of Irishmen fighting in France and if you said you had been out in Easter Week one of their family was liable to shoot you.
“With the surrender in 1916 and the immediate raids by the military and the round-up, the country was disarmed. Here and there we managed to hold onto a few guns, but very few, so looking for arms was a very high priority.
“I remember getting the key of an old Sinn Fein Hall from an old Fenian, and we started there, about eight, 10 or 12 of us, drilling and organising. I always thought that was the great test of a man – if he was able to keep coming to meetings, without any arms and with nothing happening, just drilling and going through the long haul until he could see combat,” he said.
“It was in that hall that one of the most famous of the guerrilla fighters, Ernie O’Malley, was brought into the movement. That little hall dissolved then and we took up headquarters in the painters’ union – the Tara Hall, Gloucester Street, which is now Sean MacDermott Street. We met and drilled there.
“We were under cover of the painters’ union, you see, so we got away with it. We more or less just kept in touch until the prisoners were released from Frongoch, because they were the ones who would be able to lay the foundations for the fight to come.”
Mrs Lawless, widow, dairy-keeper visiting at 27 North King Street
This witness statement, taken from the Austin Stack Papers at National Library of Ireland, sets the scene for one of the Rising’s most violence episodes — the killing of civilians at North King Street at the rebellion reached a climax.
“On Monday 24th April about 8pm an M MacCartney with her newly born baby and accompanied by her husband arrived at our house. They had been frightened at the firing between the Castle and the Express Office which is quite close to their house, 14 Lower Exchange Street. We made them at home. In addition to Mrs MacCartney, her maid, baby and husband, I had staying in the house my son aged 21, my daughter, & two lodgers (a shopman named Finnegan and a breadvan man named Patrick Hoey). They remained with us during the week of the firing and we all stayed in the house. On Saturday 29th April at eight o’clock in the morning about six soldiers with a sergeant knocked at the door and without waiting to have it opened broke the door in. They made us hold up our hands and made us go before them to the top back room. There we were all searched.
“When the soldiers broke in one of [the] men said “friends” & they said “no foes!” In the top room Mr MacCartney said that Captain Irwin knew him and knew that he had nothing to do with Sinn Fein. One woman was put out of the house and taken to No. 1 Linenhall Street and we were told then the men were made prisoners and would be brought to the guardroom. It was only at seven o’clock in the evening that we were let out at 1 Linenhall Street and we had nothing to eat or drink all day once seven o’clock in the morning. At seven o’clock when we were sent out of the cottage we went to my house but the sergeant came out of a public house, and said we could not go in. We went back to the officer at 1 Linenhall Street and he came out and tried to convince the sergeant that we should be allowed in. The sergt [sergeant] said: “I have made out my billet for that house”. I said we would not mind the soldiers that we were starving and wanted to prepare some food. The sergeant then said “There are four men dead in that house”. I asked who were they – were they soldiers. He answered “No; civilians”. I then said that I should see who they were and went past him into the house. When I got to the top back room I found there the dead bodies of my son, Mr MacCartney and Finnegan and Hoey.
“I came down crying and we all went to the priest’s house where we got tea. We had to stay there all night as no one was allowed out. Next morning at my request one of the priests went to pray over the bodies but he was not allowed into No. 27. A message came later that one of us would be allowed in to arrange about the bodies but when I got to the house there were neither soldiers nor bodies there. Mrs MacCartney then sent for her husband’s brother and Mr McCormack who was next door told us that the soldiers were digging in the back yard during the night. We found the four bodies burned in the back garden. Mrs MacCartney’s brother-in-law got here to disinter them and they were buried in Glasnevin in the following Tuesday, the 2nd May.
“The four murdered men had watches and the soldiers took them away & also money in addition to the watch that my son Peter had. My son Peter was born in America on the 27th November 1894 at 54 Genock Street New York. We returned from America in 1899.”