Category Archives: Ireland

Irish Folk Song: Bríd Óg Ní Mháille (Young Bridget O’Malley).

 

Featured Image is La Ghirlandata. Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828-1882). 1873. Oil on canvas. 124 x 85 cm. Guildhall Gallery, London. City of London Corporation.

 

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Bríd Óg Ní Mháille is an Irish Gaelic folk song about a young man who lost his love, “the beauty of Oriel,” to another suitor. This painting is Clytie by French (born English) Symbolist painter Louise Welden Hawkins (1849-1910). Clytie is a Greek mythological figure whose love was unrequited by Helios, the Sun god.

By John P. Walsh

In Ireland a generation ago the girl’s first name of Brigid (along with Mary) was one of the island’s most popular. Growing up in Chicago in the 1960s and 1970s, it seemed that a lot of Irish-American girls were named Brigid, or wished to be. By the 2010s the name of Brigid was no longer, in Ireland at least, very popular as other girls’ names replaced it.1 In Ireland the name Brigid is rendered in a healthy variety of ways. The well-known Bridget is the English variant. In this Irish folk song Bríd Óg Ní Mháille (Young Brigid O’Malley), it is the Irish language Brid (pronounced Breed). Irish also offers Bride, Brídín, Brighid, Brighidín, Brigit, Breeda, and others. With so many alternatives for a very ancient name it may be surprising that none of them rank high on the popularity charts although their accumulated usage may do so.2 With its root word being breo (which means fire), all variations of Brigid have the Irish word brígh in common. According to the Royal Irish Academy’s Dictionary of the Irish Language, brígh has multiple definitions and meanings. It primarily connotes “power, strength, force, and authority” but also translates as “vigor, virtue and fortitude.” In medicine, brígh refers to the antidote which proves to be strongly effective.3 As Brid is sometimes translated as “strong-willed” and “high born,” it becomes clear that this girl’s appellation possesses excellent qualities that, along with the beauty of its sound when spoken and its venerable ancient history,  may presume to reach into the top 100 Irish names for girls some time in the future.

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Saint Brigid of Ireland (c. 451 – 525) with St. Patrick and St. Columba is one of today’s three patron saints of Ireland. From the moment of her birth in the mid-fifth century her story is shrouded in Christian legends and tales. St. Brid is a direct descendant of the older pagan Celtic goddess of the same name. St. Brid’s fire – a flame kept constantly alight in her honor by nuns in the monastery she founded – burned for 1000 years until her monastery along with most others was closed during the Protestant Reformation in the mid-sixteenth century.

The first Irish historical figure directly associated with the name Brid or Brigid that is most relevant to the name in Ireland today is St. Brigid (c. 451 – 525). Along with Sts. Patrick (418-493) and Columba (540-615), she is one of Ireland’s three patron saints. Legends swirl around this early Christian figure from the moment of her birth, including the story of angels seen hovering over the Irish cottage where she was born near Dundalk at the foot of the Cooley Mountains. History records that her mother was a Christian slave and her father was a pagan chief. Soon after Brid’s birth, her mother was sold and had to leave her father’s house although young Brid stayed. There are many Irish fioretti relating Brid’s fantastical holy exploits during this period of her early youth. One appealing story among many tells of her disobeying her father so to journey to visit her enslaved mother. Traveling alone along Ireland’s wild pathways, Brid located her mother who was tending her owner’s cattle.  Mother and daughter worked side-by-side until their labors’ fruit proved so abundant that Brid was able to secure her mother’s freedom. How Brid later chose to consecrate her life to God as a nun which led to her founding Ireland’s first monastic community of women is also explained in legends.4

St. Brigid of Ireland’s misty past is informed by a pre-Christian Celtic goddess named Brigid whose mythology as we know it today was first recorded, ironically perhaps, by early Irish Christian monks. As in St. Brid’s story of liberating her enslaved mother, the pagan goddess Brid is closely aligned to the cow as well as the sheep, but also animals with mythological qualities of regeneration such as the rooster and snake. Surrounding this more remote Brid is a panoply of supernatural qualities and events told in legends and folklore.5 Yet this ancient pagan Celtic goddess has her older forebears in the Proto-Indo-European goddesses that are over 5,000 years old. In ancient Mesopotamia one finds a certain Brid who was deity of the hearth.6

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Brigit is a powerful religious form in Irish history, as she is one of the most complex and contradictory goddesses of the Celts. The pagan goddess is patroness to healers, poets, metal workers – all the practical and inspired civilized arts. Associated with fire and light she is also guardian of inner vital energy.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t9a9SBdJNCo

Bríd Óg Ní Mháille is an Irish folk song in a long line of Irish musical taste about forsaken love. It is performed here brilliantly in the Irish by singer Gillian Fenton who is accompanied on traditional Irish harp by Fiachra O’ Corragáin. There are many traditional and contemporary renditions, however, of this popular late nineteenth-century Irish Gaelic song. Its surge of popularity is an entirely local Irish story.  There was a certain young man in mid-20th-century County Mayo who was a Gaelic teacher. He took particular fancy to this tune about a young Irishman who lost his love – the titular Bridget O’Malley – to another suitor and was left “heartbroken…the arrows of death…piercing my heart.”7 The Gaelic teacher, armed with this air about “the beauty of Oriel without any doubt…now married to another…” took it with him back to the county just next door, his native Donegal, where its popularity first flourished.

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The Beguiling of Merlin, Edward Burne-Jones, 1872–77, Oil on canvas, 186 cm × 111 cm (73 in × 44 in), Lady Lever Art Gallery, Port Sunlight, Merseyside. There is a 12th century story in which Merlin is beguiled by a female figure whose vision thereof inspires or causes History. This female form is sometimes associated with Brigantia. In some stories she is the one who nurtures development of human potential.

There is another Irish Gaelic song referencing the name Brid that is titled Fair Bridget (Brid Bhan) and also emanates out of Donegal. It is not as popular as Bríd Óg Ní Mháille, but speaks about a modern young Brid – similar to the mother of ancient St. Brid – who is taken out of her home to tend cattle in a far-away place not her own. It is heartbreak for this fair Brid to begin a new life where the cows graze on the “sour grass” of the mountain sides. Like St. Brid’s mother, this fair Brid, it is told, eventually returned to her native place, although the song doesn’t tell us, only local legend. The listener, however, can be assured of the veracity of these melancholy verses for in Bríd Óg Ní Mháille it says: “There is nothing more beautiful than the moon over the sea or the white blossom, and my love is like that with her golden tresses and her honey-mouth that has never deceived anybody.”

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La Ghirlandata. Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828-1882). 1873. Oil on canvas. 124 x 85 cm. Guildhall Gallery, London. City of London Corporation.

Oh Bríd O’Malley
You have left my heart breaking 
You’ve sent the death pangs
Of sorrow to pierce my heart sore
A hundred men are craving
For your breathtaking beauty
You’re the fairest of maidens
In Oriel for sure

I’m a handsome young fellow
Who is thinking of wedlock
But my life will be shortened
If I don’t get my dear
My love and my darling
Prepare now to meet me
On next Sunday evening
On the road to Drum Slieve

‘Tis sadly and lonely
I pass the time on Sunday
My head bowed in sorrow
My sights heavy with woe
As I gaze upon the byways
That my true love walks over
Now she’s wed to another
And left me forlorn

(2.49 minutes).

Notes

  1. Topping the list of the 100 most popular girls’ names in Ireland today are Emily, Emma, Sophie, Ella, and Amelia, in that order. Mary ranks number 84 and Bridget is not even on the list. See – http://www.irish-genealogy-toolkit.com/Irish-girl-names.html
  2. In 2015, within the family of girl names directly related to Brígh, Brianna was the most widely used. Brian is the male form of the name.
  3. http://edil.qub.ac.uk/6813 retrieved March 29, 2017.
  4. See Irish Saints, Robert T. Reilly, Avenel Books, New York, 1981, pp. 16-26.
  5. Carey, John. “Tuath Dé” inThe Celts: History, Life, and Culture, edited by John T. Koch. ABC-CLIO, 2012. pp.751-753.
  6. See The Oxford Introduction to Proto-Indo-European and the Proto-Indo-European World, J.P. Mallory; D.Q. Adams, 2006, Oxford, England: Oxford University Press.
  7. Folksongs of Britain and Ireland, edited by Peter Kennedy, Schirmer Books, New York, 1975, p. 82.

©John P. Walsh. All rights reserved. No part of this material may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by an means, electronic  or mechanical, which includes but is not limited to facsimile transmission, photocopying, recording, rekeying, or using any information storage or retrieval system.

 

Irish Folk Songs: An Exploration. “Weile Weile Waila” performed by The Dubliners.

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The Casey Sisters (Nollaig Casey, Mairéad Ní Chathasaigh, and Mairé Ní Chathasaigh). Irish harper Mairé Ní Chathasaigh with UK acoustic guitarist Chris Newman has performed in over 20 countries on 5 continents.

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Mairé Ní Chathasaigh with friends in 2010.

By John P. Walsh

There are thousands of Irish folk songs, a traditional and often nationalistic musical genre that is experiencing today a renaissance and renewal as song collections are widely available that began to be compiled in the nineteenth century and continued into the twentieth century at a productive pace. These folk song collections include the Francis James Child collection of 305 Scottish and English ballads (which has ramifications for the first Irish song discussed here) from the final decades of the nineteenth century to more recent collections including Folksongs of Britain and Ireland compiled by Peter Kennedy in 1975.1 The popularization of an extensive range of Irish folk songs proliferated in the last century with the inclusion of sound recordings and broadcast programs on mass media such as radio and television. Music and words that started in local communities returned to them by way of mass media such as the popularity of “Beidh ceol, caint agus craic again” (“We’ll have music, chat and craic”) used by Seán Bán Breathnach for his Irish-language chat show SBB inaShuí, broadcast on RTÉ from 1976 to 1982. Folk songs, local songs, are experiencing a twenty-first century renaissance with a return to traditional, local cultural sources through the prism of contemporary interpretations and arrangements by established and new musical performers in Ireland and other countries around the world including the United States. These artists find commercial value in performing mainly traditional material on their own terms.3 I hope to add more Irish folk songs, old and new, to this blog where I might offer further discussion on this topic which has been of great enjoyment for me over a lifetime. Now on to the first Irish folk song!

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Craicing Selfie with Seán Bán Breathnach.

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The Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem with bassist Bill Lee, ca. 1964. Photo: Don Hunstein.

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The Dubliners, ca. 1970 (left to right. top: Ciarán Bourke, Barney McKenna, Luke Kelly; front: John Sheahan, Ronnie Drew).

Weile Weile Waila is a folk song that emerged in Ireland during the hardship of the Great Hunger of the 1840s and early 1850s when by necessity hundreds of thousands unto millions of Irish emigrated to the United States and Canada and to many other parts of the world out of sheer desperation.4  Weile Weile Waila is a children’s nursery rhyme specific to Ireland first catalogued by Harvard English professor and folklorist Francis James Child (1825-1896) who discovered over a dozen variants for this song titling them “The Cruel Mother.”5 In Child’s incomplete catalogue of ballads – his project interest in the British Isles in the 1880s and 1890s was more literary than musical – its overall subject offerings range from romance and legends, the supernatural, history, morality tales, and riddles, and in no way precludes even darker subjects and themes as is found in Weile Weile Waila. This folk song could be called a “murder” ballad as well as a “family strife” ballad or “abuse of authority” ballad, all of which are considered “Child” ballads named for Francis James Child who catalogued their type. Which of the 17 versions of this song that Child collected as“The Cruel Mother” best meshes with this Irish ditty belies traits they all appear to share: a woman gives birth and using a pen-knife kills the child, often with the descriptive relish to tear “the tender heart.”6

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The English and Scottish Popular Ballads, 1882–1898 of Francis James Child.

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An undated engraving of Child, by Gustav Kruell (German, 1843-1907). Note the rose at the upper right.

The song’s title phrase Weile Weile Waila is itself murky. Likely medieval in origin, the term’s original meaning is lost to history although in Ireland in the nineteenth century it was primarily used for a popular exclamation of grief – an emotion much roused and justified on the island in that time period.7 This Irish version of Francis James Child’s “The Cruel Mother” poses its own specific plot. An “old” (no longer “cruel”) woman who “lived in the woods” stabs an infant “three months old” to death along the banks of the River Saile, a stream which may refer to one that flows today in and near Dublin.

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The River Saile which features in the Irish folk song Weile Weile Waila may be a local name given to the River Poddle in the city of Dublin. The River Poddle is a tributary of the Liffey, rising in Cookstown to the north of Tallaght. From its source, it flows into Dublin City, and splits at Mount Argus at what is known as the “Tongue” or “stone boat.”

In the Irish version, the old woman is probably not the mother of the baby which provides a remarkable variant to a historic song that extensively describes a cruel mother. Yet the old folk song’s dark flavor is retained for use as a nursery rhyme obviously sung by a young mother to her child perhaps with humor and loving, benign menace. The old woman uses the song’s prevalent pen-knife (here made “long and sharp”) and is quickly approached and arrested by “two policemen” and “a man” to be “sent to jail” where she is dispatched to the gallows and executed for the crime. This series of events unique to the Irish lyric (some of it updated as recently as the 1970s) is that the cruel mother’s hope for eternal mercy or fear of eternal damnation that ends the many Child Ballad versions is replaced with harsh justice for the old woman in the here and now. The death of the baby also is specifically lamented.

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Suffering associated with The Irish Famine of 1845-50 depicted in a contemporary sculpture (1997) called Famine by Rowan Gillespie in Dublin. While causes and numbers are hotly debated, approximately one million people died and at least one million more emigrated from Ireland according to David Ross in Ireland: History of a Nation (2002, Geddes & Grosset, New Lanark).

The song retains in each verse that popular Irish exclamation of grief – Weile Weile Waila –injecting into its dark proceedings, now made into a nursery ditty, a forlorn lyric that stands on the precipice to describe with open eyes shocking and oftentimes glossed-over ancillary misfortunes in Ireland during years of mass starvation and disease in the mid-nineteenth century. Its specificity of Irish suffering –  the “end” of the old woman and the baby – describes a cycle of viciousness met by harsh earthly justice that makes for a sobering two minutes of Irish folk music. The song’s material carries forward to the present a sharp slice of  Ireland’s former meaner times when members of local communities could be driven to despicable acts when necessary resources for survival are long delayed. In this short nursery rhyme with an ample and well-documented folk song history (and popularized in the 1970s by the folk band The Dubliners) Irish parents and children alike could be entertained by others’ calamities where the guilty are meted out justice and the innocent are bemoaned.

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Woman begging with baby in Clonakilty (County Cork), Ireland. Portrait print of a destitute mother holding her baby in one arm and a begging bowl in the other. These miserable conditions were brought on by the Great Famine and compounded by socio-economic practices such as forced evictions of poverty-stricken peasants from their homes and farms (“There was an old woman and she lived in the woods…”)

The Dubliners featuring Ronnie Drew perform Weila Weila Waila in a 1988 television performance (2:19 minutes). Twenty years later, at Ronnie Drew’s funeral in 2008, the large gathering of mourners sang this song to his memory in unison clapping and stamping their feet.8

LYRICS:

And there was an old woman and she lived in the woods
A weila weila waila
There was an old woman and she lived in the woods
Down by the River Saile

She had a baby three months old
A weila weila waila
She had a baby three months old
Down by the River Saile

She had a penknife long and sharp
A weila weila waila
She had a penknife long and sharp
Down by the River Saile

She stuck the penknife in the baby’s heart
A weila weila waila
She stuck the penknife in the baby’s heart
Down by the River Saile

Three loud knocks came knocking on the door
A weila weila waila
Three loud knocks came knocking on the door
Down by the River Saile

There was two policeman and a man
A weila weila waila
There was two policeman and a man
Down by the River Saile

They took her away and they put her into jail
A weila weila waila
They took her away and they put her into jail
Down by the River Saile

They put a rope around her neck
A weila weila waila
They put a rope around her neck
Down by the River Saile

They pulled the rope she got hung
A weila weila waila
They pulled the rope she got hung
Down by the River Saile

Now that was the end of the woman in the woods
A weila weila waila
And that was the end of the baby too
Down by the River Saile

NOTES –

  1. Child collection – see http://harvardmagazine.com/2006/05/francis-james-child.html; Folksongs of Britain and Ireland, Peter Kennedy, Schirmer Books, New York, 1975.
  2. Quote Seán Bán Breathnach – Fintan Vallely, Companion to Irish Traditional Music, New York University Press, New York, 1999, p. 9.
  3. New bands recording Irish folk songs include, in Ireland, The Corrs; in Britain, The Pogues; and in the United States, Dropkick Murphys as well as Flogging Molly. There are many others.
  1. There are many sources on the subject of Irish emigration in the mid-nineteenth century. What is noteworthy is that the causes for it and numbers involved in it frequently remain intensely debated.
  2. On the subject of Child Ballads – see Mary Ellen Brown, Child’s Unfinished Masterpiece: The English and Scottish Popular Ballads, University of Illinois Press, Urbana, 2011 and E. Housman, British Popular Ballads, Ayer Publishing, 1969.
  3. Child’s 17 versions of “The Cruel Mother” – http://www.sacred-texts.com/neu/eng/child/ch020.htm.
  4. Meaning of term weila weila waila – Robert E. Lewis, Middle English Dictionary, 1999, University of Michigan Press. p. 232.
  5. Drew funeral – http://www.independent.ie/irish-news/mourners-give-ronnie-a-rare-ould-sendoff-26470805.html

©John P. Walsh. All rights reserved. No part of this material may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by an means, electronic  or mechanical, which includes but is not limited to facsimile transmission, photocopying, recording, rekeying, or using any information storage or retrieval system.

 

Breakpoint of Irish Nationalism: the 1916 Easter Rising, or how a motley band of playwrights and poets as rebels did more in six days for the cause of Irish freedom than Irish nationalist politicians could in fifty years.

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Dublin’s O’Connell Street in the wake of The Easter Rising in 1916. The centenary of that event whose leaders proclaimed an Irish Republic is this year.

By John P. Walsh. May 12, 2016.

Today marks the centenary of the final executions of Irish rebel leaders by British firing squads in connection with the 1916 Easter Rising which proclaimed an Irish Republic and left Dublin in ruins.  James Connolly and Seán Mac Diarmada—the final two of 14 executions that began on May 3, 1916 with the executions of Pádraic Pearse, Thomas MacDonagh and Thomas Clarke—died in the same fashion as the others: taken at dawn from their cells into a Kilmainham Jail yard—Connolly tied to a chair because his battle wounds in the Rising made him too weak to stand—and summarily shot dead. Three years later, in April 1919, military forces under British command halfway around the world in India reacted with similar cruel and vindictive logic to national protest—this time one that was nonviolent—which by official British statistics killed 379 and wounded 1200 Indians in what is known as the Jallianwala Bagh massacre.

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James Connolly is brought to his execution on May 12, 1916 by British soldiers at Kilmainham Jail in Dublin. Connolly was shot by a firing squad after being carried in on a stretcher from a first-aid station at Dublin Castle.

EXECUTED ON MAY 3, 1916:

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PADRAIC PEARSE (1879-1916), school headmaster, orator, and writer. The extended court-martials and executions by British General Maxwell of Irish rebel leaders—as well as arrests of hundreds without trial following the general surrender on April 29, 1916—fulfilled Pearse’s romantic and revolutionary ideology expressed in notions of “blood sacrifice.” Pearse’s idea was that Ireland “was owed all fidelity and always asked for service (from its people), and sometimes asked, not for something ordinary, but for a supreme service.” Pearse was one of seven signatories of the Irish Proclamation.

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THOMAS MACDONAGH (1878-1916). Poet, playwright, educationalist. A leader of the Easter Rising – MacDonagh was one of the seven signatories of the Proclamation of the Irish Republic. He wrote letters to loved ones in jail before being executed expressing the hope that his death would share in the custom of blood sacrifice for Irish freedom. MacDonagh wrote that he was proud to “die for Ireland, the glorious Fatherland” and anticipated that his blood would “bedew the sacred soil of Ireland.”

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THOMAS J. “TOM” CLARKE (1858-1916). Deeply involved with the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB) since youth, Clarke established in 1915 the Military Committee of the IRB to plan what became the Easter Rising. A signatory of the Irish Proclamation, Clarke was the oldest rebel to be shot by the British in May 1916. Sergeant Major Samuel Lomas who helped shoot the three Irishmen on May 3, wrote that unlike Pearse and MacDonagh who died instantly, “the…old man, was not quite so fortunate requiring a bullet from the officer to complete the ghastly business (it was sad to think that these three brave men who met their death so bravely should be fighting for a cause which proved so useless and had been the means of so much bloodshed).”

The rising involved a treasonable conspiracy that resulted in the deaths of British soldiers among the 418 people killed in and around Dublin. The penalty for such action would certainly call for capital punishment in Western European countries in 1916. It is surprising that executions were kept to under 15 rebels, although British Prime Minister Herbert Asquith (1852-1928), following the first three executions on May 3, 1916, expressed concern that the trials and death sentences were being briskly implemented. General Maxwell’s blunder was to stretch out the executions over two weeks, where the element of daily shock and surprise as to who made the list of the dead forever changed the tide of Irish public opinion against British rule.

gen john maxwell  ignored calls by  British politicians, including the prime Minsiter, for moderation in its treatrment of irish prsioners.

General Sir John Maxwell (1859-1929). For as long as possible, the military governor ignored all appeals by British politicians – including the Prime Minister – as well as  Roman Catholic bishops in the United Kingdom – to halt the executions.

EXECUTED ON MAY 4, 1916:

Joeseph Plunkett

JOSEPH PLUNKETT (1887-1916). Hours before he was executed on May 4, 1916, sickly Joseph Plunkett married his fiancée Grace Gifford in the prison chapel. Thomas MacDonagh, who was executed on May 3, had married Grace’s sister Muriel Gifford in 1912. Plunkett, who came from a wealthy background, was a poet and journalist, a member of the Gaelic League, and a standing member of the IRB Military Committee that planned the Easter Rising. During the Rising, Plunkett’s aide de camp was Michael Collins. Plunkett signed the Irish Proclamation.

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EDWARD “NED” DALY (1891-1916). From Limerick, Ned Daly was commandant of the 4th Battalion, where some of the fiercest fighting of the Rising took place. Daly’s father had taken part in the Fenian Rising of 1867; his uncle, John Daly, served 12 years in English jails; and his sister, Kathleen, was married to Thomas Clarke. Daly commanded the Four Courts garrison during Easter Week 1916. Though there were not enough Volunteers to hold all posts, following the bitter battle of Mount Street Bridge, Daly and his comrades still held the Four Courts, and other significant outposts in Dublin until called by Pearse to a general surrender.

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WILLIAM “WILLIE” PEARSE (1881 – 1916) was the younger brother of Padraic Pearse. Willie stayed by his brother’s side during the entire Rising at the General Post Office (G.P.O.) which served as rebel headquarters. In Kilmainham Jail Willie was promised he could visit his brother before he died on May 3, but the British hid the truth of it since Padraic Pearse was shot as Willie was being taken to see him.

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MICHAEL O’HANRAHAN (1877-1916). Michael O’Hanrahan had come to a newly-formed Sinn Féin out of his work with the Gaelic League as a linguist and published writer where he founded its Carlow Branch and later worked with Maude Gonne and Arthur Griffith. Like Edward Daly, his father had been deeply involved in the Fenian Rising in 1867. O’Hanrahan was the National Quartermaster for the Irish Volunteers and, during the Easter Rising, served under Thomas MacDonagh of the 2nd battalion based at Jacobs Factory.

EXECUTED ON MAY 5, 1916:

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MAJOR JOHN MACBRIDE (1868-1916). Second in command at Jacob’s Biscuit Factory during the Easter Rising. MacBride had had a colorful career previously as an Irish émigré to South Africa where in 1899 when the Second Boer War broke out he raised a brigade of other Irish emigrants who fought bravely against the British. Upon his return to Ireland he married (and divorced) Maude Gonne. Now facing the British firing squad in May 1916 at Kilmainham Jail, MacBride refused a blind fold. He told his executioners, “I have looked down the muzzles of too many guns in the South African war to fear death and now please carry out your sentence,” which they did.

Irish public opinion changed virtually overnight regarding the rebels who had brought the central city of Dublin down onto their heads during the 1916 Easter Rising. At the surrender Volunteers were jeered and cursed on their way into British hands. Two weeks and 14 executions later, they were forever-after hailed as Irish heroes. The attitude of the Irish populace to their British overlords during martial law turned spiteful. The British lost their credibility as a civilizing force for the island. The executed Irish rebel leaders were not saints although some such as forty-one-year-old Michael Mallin, thirty-four-year-old Éamonn Ceannt and twenty-seven-year-old Con Colbert were devoutly religious Catholics. They offered a modern dream of an independent Irish Republic and did it at the supreme sacrifice of their lives. These rebels’ fixity in the pantheon of Irish history rests in large measure on imagery and legend for their undeniably courageous but failed six-day insurrection. Self-appointed, this group of mostly young idealists who by force of arms, will, and words were able, despite a dastardly outcome, to have had an enduring impact on an independent Ireland is well worth remembering today.

EXECUTED ON MAY 8, 1916:

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ÉAMONN CEANNT (1881-1916). Inspired by nationalist events such as the Second Boer War, Éamonn Ceannt joined the Gaelic League which promoted Irish culture. There he met Padraic Pearse and his future wife, Aine O’Brennan. A talented musician and Irish linguist, he joined Sinn Féin and the IRB which was sworn to achieve Irish independence. With Joseph Plunkett and Sean Mac Diarmada, Éamonn Ceannt served on the IRB Military Committee which planned the Easter Rising. He signed the Irish Proclamation. During the Rising, Ceannt saw intense fighting as commandant of the 4th Battalion of the Volunteers stationed south of Kilmainham Jail where he would later be executed. In prison he wrote: “I die a noble death, for Ireland’s freedom.”

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MICHAEL MALLIN (1874 – 1916). With Constance Markievicz as his deputy, Michael Mallin commanded the Irish Citizen Army under James Connolly at St. Stephen’s Green in Dublin during the Rising. At his court martial Michael Mallin, the father of five children, claimed he was not a Rising leader nor had a commission in the Irish Citizen Army. Since the British refused to execute Countess Markievicz, Mallin became their best alternative although his garrison had inflicted little damage from the Green. Mallin had had a fourteen year career in the British Army where, while stationed in India, he became anti-British. In Ireland he rose to become a leading official in the silk weavers’ union where he successfully negotiated a 13-week strike lockout. His negotiating skills led to an appointment as deputy commander and chief training officer of the Irish Citizen Army which was formed by James Connolly to protect workers from employer-funded gangs of strike-breakers. In 2015, Mallin’s youngest child, who became a Jesuit priest, celebrated his 102nd birthday.

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SÉAN HEUSTON (1891-1916). A railway clerk, Séan was a member of Fianna Éireann, a youth organization which helped raise soldiers for the Irish Volunteers and had outreach to the IRB. During the 1916 Easter Rising, he held the Mendicity Institution on the River Liffey with only 26 Volunteers when after more than two days, “dog-tired, without food, trapped, hopelessly outnumbered, [they] had reached the limit of [their] endurance” and surrendered. Heuston Train Station in Dublin is named for this Irish rebel who had worked there in a traffic manager’s office.

con colbertFIXED

“Con” Colbert (1888-1916). Like Séan Heuston, Colbert joined Fianna Éireann – an Irish nationalist youth organization founded by Bulmer Hobson and Constance Markievicz  – at its first meeting in 1909. The night before Con Colbert was shot on May 8 – he had been a student of Pádraic Pearse at St. Enda’s School – he asked to see a Mrs. Séamus Ó Murchadha who was a prisoner since she cooked meals for the Irish Volunteers during the Rising, including Colbert. The 27-year-old rebel told Mrs. Ó Murchadha he would be “passing away” tomorrow at dawn and that he was “one of the lucky ones” to die for Ireland’s freedom. Colbert told her he was going to leave his prayer book to one of his twelve siblings and gave Mrs. Ó Murchadha three buttons from his Volunteers uniform. He asked her that when she heard the shots at first light that would kill him, Éamonn Ceannt, Sean Heuston, and Michael Mallin to say a “Hail Mary” for each of their departed souls. Colbert also requested that the other women prisoners, reprimanded that morning for saluting the men going to the jail’s Sunday Mass, to do the same. According to the surviving Mrs. Ó Murchadha, the British soldier guarding Colbert began to cry as he heard their exchange and said: “If only we could die such deaths.”

May 12, 1916 now arrived. Twelve rebel leaders had been shot since May 3 and there would be two more today. In that short amount of time the traitors of Easter week became Ireland’s martyrs and ascendant heroes. Their pictures started to be hung in Irish homes and their poetry read for inspiration. W.B. Yeats wrote his famous verse about Ireland shortly after the Rising and its executions: “a terrible beauty is born.” A mythical Cú Chulainn dying in battle, an image beloved by Pádraic Pearse, had suddenly become real.

EXECUTED ON MAY 12, 1916:

sean mac Seán Mac Diarmada (27 January 1883 – 12 May 1916)

SÉAN MAC DIARMADA (1883-1916). Séan Mac Diarmada was on the IRB Military Committee which planned the Rising and a signer of the Proclamation of the Irish Republic. Mac Diarmada promoted Irish nationalism in the Gaelic League and in the Irish Catholic fraternity of the Ancient Order of Hibernians. He organized for Sinn Féin, managed Irish Freedom, a radical newspaper started in 1910 by Bulmer Hobson, and helped found the Irish Volunteers. After the surrender, Mac Diarmada, who had been with Pearse at the G.P.O., nearly escaped but was identified by Daniel Hoey of G Division who, in 1919, was shot himself by a firing squad with Michael Collins standing behind it. The British Officer Lee-Wilson who ordered Mac Diarmada to be shot rather than imprisoned, was also murdered on Collins’s order during the Irish War of Independence. Before his execution, Mac Diarmada wrote: “I feel happiness the like of which I have never experienced. I die that the Irish nation might live!”

47-JAMES-C

JAMES CONNOLLY (1868-1916). James Connolly stood aloof from the Irish Volunteers because he considered the leadership to be too bourgeois and not concerned enough with the plight of Ireland’s workers. A Roman Catholic by birth and a committed socialist by choice, Connolly considered using his Irish Citizen Army to strike a blow for Irish independence in early 1916 (Michael Collins later announced that he “would have followed [Connolly] through hell”). The IRB’s Tom Clarke and Padraic Pearse fostered a partnership between the Irish Volunteers and Connolly’s ICA for the Easter Rising in 1916. Connolly became the de facto Dublin commander at the G.P.O.  After his capture, because he was severely wounded, Connolly was held in a makeshift infirmary at Dublin Castle instead of at Kilmainham Jail. He might have died just from his wounds,  but the execution order was given out and on May 12, 1916 the last prisoner was shot. To his executioners Connolly reportedly said: “I will say a prayer for all men who do their duty according to their lights.”

proclamation

Proclamation of the Irish Republic with its seven signatories.

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Cú Chulainn dying in battle, 1911, bronze, by Oliver Sheppard (1865 – 1941), General Post Office (G.P.O.), Dublin, Ireland.

NOTES –

“died in the same fashion” – see Britain & Irish Separatism: from the Fenians to the Free State 1867/1922, Thomas E. Hachey, The Catholic University of America Press, Washington, D.C., 1984, p. 176.

For the Jallianwala Bagh massacre see – Jallianwala Bagh Massacre (Monograph series / Indian Council of Historical Research), V.N. Datta and S. Settar, Pragati Publications, 2002; Imperial Crime and Punishment: The Massacre at Jallianwala Bagh and British Judgment, 1919-1920, Helen Fein, University of Hawaii Press, 1977; Jallianwala Bagh Massacre; A Premeditated Plan, Raja Ram, Publication Bureau, Punjabi University, 2002; The Historiography of the Jallianwala Bagh Massacre, 1919,Savita Narain, Spantech & Lancer,  1998.

Pearse’s idea of blood sacrifice – quoted in Dividing Ireland: World War I and Partition, Thomas Hennessy, Routledge, London, 1998, p.126.

MacDonagh letter excerpts – quoted in Last Words: Letters and Statements of the Leaders Executed after the Rising at Easter 1916, edited by Piaras F. MacLochiliann, The Stationary Office, Dublin, 1990, pp.55-56.

Sergeant Major Samuel Lomas on Tom Clarke – quoted at http://www.irishmirror.ie/news/irish-news/enemy-files-rte-documentary-gives-7591758.

418 people killed – Myths and Memories of the Easter Rising: Cultural and Political Nationalism in Ireland, Jonathan Githens-Mazer, Irish Academic Press, Portland, OR, 2006, p.120.

P.M. Asquith expressed surprise – http://www.irishmirror.ie/news/irish-news/enemy-files-rte-documentary-gives-7591758.

On Edward Daly – http://www.anphoblacht.com/contents/24778.

On Michael O’Hanrahan – http://www.nli.ie/1916/exhibition/en/content/risingsites/jacobs/ and http://thewildgeese.irish/profiles/blogs/no10-in-the-series-s-on-the-leaders-of-the-19116-easter-rising.

Éamonn Ceannt quote –  MacLochiliann, pp. 141 and 171.

Collins quote – Michael Collins: The Man Who Made Ireland,  Tim Pat Coogan, St. Martin’s Griffin, 2002.

Connolly quote – For the Cause of Liberty: A Thousand Years of Ireland’s Heroes, Terry Golway, Simon and Schuster, 2012.

©John P. Walsh. All rights reserved. No part of this material may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by an means, electronic  or mechanical, which includes but is not limited to facsimile transmission, photocopying, recording, rekeying, or using any information storage or retrieval system.