My Photo
Location: Dublin, Ireland

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Stop 11: Sonebreakers Yard: 1916


The first executions took place on May 3rd 1916 at 3am (which was dawn – given the way clocks were set at this time)

It is believed that the majority of the men executed stood to attention at the spot marked by this simple black cross which is where sandbags were stacked to receive the volley of gunfire from the firing squad.

Order of preparation prior to arrival:

Target (White cloth or paper about 4 inches wide)
Hand bound
Eyes blindfolded

Con Colbert asked for his target to be re-positioned as it was not quite over his heart.

Major John MacBride requested that his hands not be bound and promised to remain perfectly still for his execution.
This request was not granted.
He then asked to forgo the blindfold and the soldier replied
“Sorry Sir, but these are the orders.”

The firing squad consisted of twelve members of the Sherwood Foresters who took up formation 10 paces from their target. 6 knelt, and 6 stood, and when given the order by the commanding officer, fired 11 bullets at the heart of the man before them. The second part of the process was, if necessary, the coup de grace: a single gun shot with a revolver, made by the commanding officer to the back of the skull.


• Patrick Pearse

The orator of the proclamation of the republic and the man who tendered the unconditional surrender of the Irish rebels, was the first to be executed at the break of dawn, May 3rd 1916, at 3.30am.

His only visitor prior to his execution was a monk of the capuchin order, Father Aloysius who was denied access to the execution despite his request.

• Thomas Clarke,

the oldest man to executed at the age of 58 was executed at 4am.
His arm was in a sling as he was wounded in the elbow during the rebellion.

His wife Kathleen who visited him in his cell prior to his execution recorded how he had said he was relieved that he was being executed, his one dread being the prospect of being imprisoned again.

In his lifetime, he had already spent 15 years suffering some of the worst treatment available in the british penal system and looked considerably older than his years as a result.

• Thomas MacDonagh

First in command of the Jacob’s Factory Garrison,

MacDonagh was reluctant to accept the order to surrender from Connolly and Pearse because the order was given after they were taken into custody.

The supreme command now devolved to him, and he thought he could hold out for a number of weeks.

After consulting with his colleagues he did decide to surrender,

despite the fact that it meant certain death for themselves personally, because he thought it would save, what he described as “many true men among our followers, good lives for Ireland.”


• Edward Daly

The borther-in-law of Thomas Clarke,

his sister Kathleen had the traumatic task of visiting her only brother prior to his death only 24 hours after she bid her last farewell to her husband, executed the previous night.

Under arrest herself at this time, she shortly afterward miscarried the child she was bearing.

• William Pearse
The younger brother of Patrick Pearse, an ordinary member of the rank and file rebel army, there appears to be little legal justification for his execution.

It appears that it was his relationship to his brother Patrick that sealed his fate.

The official court-martial records are still being held under the 100 year secrecy rule for sensitive military documents.

Michael O’Hanrahan
Michael O’Hanrahan’s family had been told by the British army that he was to be deported to England, they were only made aware of the truth when they arrived in the prison.

After Michael was taken from his cell for his execution, his own brother Harry was then placed in the cell to await his own sentence of death.
This sentence was ultimately reprieved.

• Joseph Mary Plunkett.
Married his fiancée Grace Gifford in the Chapel of the Gaol just hours before his execution,

Plunkett had been very ill with tuberculosis during the rebellion itself,
but Father Augustine who attended him recorded how he went to his execution with composure and a distinguished tranquility.

MAY 5th
• Major John MacBride
• A popular story is that John MacBride was unaware of the plans for the rebellion and was on his way to a wedding when he came across it.

MAY 8th

Sean Heuston
The youngest man to face execution at 25 years of age,

Father Albert who attended him recorded that Heuston was executed sitting on a soap box, it appears that this was not because Heuston could not stand, it appears that he was perfectly calm prior to his execution,

and that father Albert was so impressed by the beauty and fearlessness of his last moments that he said he “would have given anything to be in his place”.

• Michael Mallin
Michael Mallin was the father of four children and his wife gave birth to his fifth child after his death.

His family visited him on the eve of his execution and it appears that the sounds of crying coming from his cell were so sorrowful that a Cardinal Browne who was in the gaol to visit Sean Heuston, left that call, and asked to enter Mallin’s cell. Despite not having the required military permit, the guard who himself was in tears let him in.

His youngest son Joseph, who visited him in this cell at that time at 2 years, and who became a priest as per his father’s dying wish, and is a missionary in China, is now 91 years of age.
His most recent visit to the gaol was only two years ago and he is contemplating a return visit next year.

• Eamonn Ceannt
Was described in the account given by Father Augustine who attended to him before his execution and gave Ceannt his crucifix to hold during his execution to edify him, described Ceannt as “the poor, sweet, gentle soul, the dying saint, who died with forgiveness on his lips.”

He was executed sitting on a soap box and was reported to have still been alive after the volley of gun fire when the coup de grace was given by the commanding officer.

• Con Colbert
Given probably about 16 hours notice of his death sentence, Colbert did not want to put his family and himself through the ordeal of a final farewell.

Instead he wrote 10 letters to his family and was visited instead by one of the women who was with him in the Marrowbone Lane Garrison and was being held in the gaol.
She recorded how as she spoke to Colbert the soldier guarding them with a fixed bayonet was crying throughout.

MAY 12th

• Sean Mac Diarmada
Sean Mac Diarmada had walked with a limp since 1911 when he had had a serious bout of poliomyelitis.
He visited by a woman named Mary Ryan who Mac Diarmada said would most likely have been his wife had he survived.

When he went to his execution he probably did not have a single button on his clothing as he had taken them all off and inscribed these as well as every coin he and his visitors had in their pockets to give to his friends as souvenirs.

• James Connolly


Blogger Mona said...

i visited kilmainham jail earlier this year and i was moved by one of the ill-fated revolutionary's last words. something of the nature: "to live and die for ireland was my one true..." but i can't seem to find the direct quote. any idea who said that and what it is?

8:40 PM  
Blogger Buckley said...

Hi Mona,

I had forgotten that this account was still on the internet, and didn't know it was google-able. It seems like a very long time now since I put it up.

I don't know the quote you are referring to, but it sounds reminiscent of Pearse.

If you know which tour guide said it, I might be able to ask them - I'll be seeing a bunch of them next week!

3:50 AM  
Blogger Buckley said...

There is a nice quote of what James Connolly said to his doctor toward the end when the latter asked him, "Do you forgive all your enemies ? " Connolly said he did, and then the doctor asked him, "Will you pray for the men who are about to shoot you ? "

The account goes that he turned a "sudden beaming smile" on the soldiers and said " I pray for all brave men who do their duty according to their lights."

["light" being a word used to mean knowledge and conscience in the context]

4:09 AM  
Anonymous Steve Fielding said...

Excellent and informative site. With reference to the comment about Patrick Reilly's execution in 1893 being omitted from my Hangman's Record books - this is because there is no record of anyone of that name being hanged at the gaol - he certainly wasn't hanged alongside Edward Leigh. As you note a man named James Reilly was hanged in September 1893 but there was no record of a Patrick Reilly being executed here.

7:36 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi, Do you know what other regiment took part in the executions.

7:56 AM  
Anonymous Carol Beaver said...

When John MacBride was still being held at Richmond Barracks, he told a comrade (I believe it was William T COSGRAVE) that his dream had been to not die before fighting the Brits in Ireland. Perhaps this is what you were referring to.

3:55 PM  
Blogger Stanley Workman said...

Check out the Cleveland artist being hailed as the daVinci of this, the digital age, Marc Breed. Creator of the psychedelic peace symbol, male exotic dance pioneer, filmmaker to two of the highest grossing adult films of all-time, civil and first amendment rights advocate, and if that weren't enough, he readily admits to having escaped from one of America's most secure prisons (his golem remains in the prisons archive).And to boot, he has a testedI.Q. Of 152

11:09 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home