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Last battles, death mask of NAPOLEON BONAPARTE (1769-1821) at the bicentenary of his death on remote Saint Helena island.

FEATURED image: Napoleon Crossing the Alps, Jacques-Louis David, 1801, oil on canvas, 102 1⁄3 × 87 in., Château du Malmaison.

The Emperor Napoleon in His Study at the Tuileries, 1812, Jacques-Louis David (1748-1825), National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.

Major facts of the life of Napoleon Bonaparte (1769-1821) are well known. Known as Napoleon I, the French Emperor who died two centuries ago was a shrewd, ambitious and skilled military leader who conquered much of Europe in the early 19th century.

Born on the island of Corsica that had recently handed authority from Italy to France, Napoleon rose rapidly in the French military during the unsettled period of the French Revolution after 1789 and until 30-year-old Napoleon seized power in a coup d’état in 1799.

In 1804 Napoleon crowned himself emperor in Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris in the presence of the pope. In the next decade Napoleon successfully waged war against various coalitions of European nations and expanded his empire. Following his disastrous French invasion of Russia in 1812 explored in some detail in this post, Napoleon abdicated his throne in 1814 and was exiled to the island of Elba not far from his native Corsica in the Mediterranean Sea near Italy.

In 1815, he escaped Elba and returned to France where he briefly returned to power in his Hundred Days campaign. He received a crushing defeat at the Battle of Waterloo in today’s Belgium and was exiled until his death on May 5, 1821 to the remote island of Saint Helena in the South Atlantic Ocean. Napoleon Bonaparte was just 51 years old at the time of his death stemming from mysterious circumstances, though likely something such as stomach cancer.1

Napoleon on St. Helena, Franz Josef Sandmann (1805-1856), c. 1820. Musée national des châteaux de Malmaison et de Bois-Préau.

The bicentenary of the death of Napoleon I is commemorated in 2021.

The former French emperor died on May 5, 1821 on the island of Saint Helena in the middle of the South Atlantic Ocean nearly halfway between the continents of Africa and South America. Napoleon Bonaparte was exiled there in 1815 following his defeat at Waterloo.

The British government selected St. Helena for the former French emperor’s place of exile after he escaped from Elba, the initial location of his forced exile.

St. Helena built on airport only in 2011.

Napoleon lived on St. Helena for about 6 years; a chunk of rock reachable only by sea. He died on St. Helena at Longwood House, Napoleon’s permanent residence that was completed for him in December 1815.

Napoleon was 51 years old when he died and was buried on St. Helena. In 1840, in a controversial move, his remains were transferred to France. Napoleon’s tomb in Les Invalides in Paris was the military hospital whose construction was begun by Louis XIV (1638-1715).

Napoleon’s plaster death mask, known as the Malmaison mask, May 1821.

The death mask was made on Saint Helena about two days after the former French Emperor’s death there on May 5, 1821 at his permanent residence of Longwood House. (see – http://www.lautresaintehelene.com/autre-sainte-helene-articles-malmaison2.html – retrieved May 5, 2021).

Longwood House on the island of St. Helena in the South Atlantic.

In 1858, French emperor Napoleon III, nephew of Napoleon I, purchased Longwood House and various other lands associated with Napoleon I on St. helena for the French government.

Though Napoleon’s remains were returned to France in 1840, Napoleon III’s purchase on St. Helena remains the property of France . It is administered by a French representative under the authority of the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Photo: “Longwood House (c) St Helena Tourism” by sthelenatourism is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0.

(see – https://fondationnapoleon.org/en/activities-and-services/preserving-heritage/operation-st-helena/retrieved May 5, 2021).

A BAD ECONOMY, BLOCKADES, AND THE DISASTROUS INVASION OF RUSSIA BY NAPOLEON IN 1812

Three years earlier, during the War of 1812, world domination by Napoleon Bonaparte (1769-1821) was done within a sagging, uncooperative economy in Europe.

France had 300,000 French troops and a rafter of French generals occupying Spain to keep the blockaded British from invading. Napoleon, in a near constant state of war since 1793, had created an Empire whose subjected parts didn’t fully cooperate. With competing objectives—had he finally overextended his capacities?—Napoleon had to choose between potentially losing his blockade in Spain or in Russia.

Since the Treaty of Tilsit in 1807 following the Battle of Friedland where Napoleon defeated the Russian army, Russia had still been trading with England. It was this violation of the treaty that was the pretext for Napoleon’s invasion of Russia in 1812.

Though fifteen hundred miles away, Russia’s autonomy from the French dictator—along with a temptation to dominate some of Russia’s vast territory for future ventures—beckoned Napoleon to shut it down and take firm control. For Russia, Napoleon’s invasion required the defense of their homeland.

FRENCH CONSCRIPTS FOR A NEW WAR AND THE NEED TO SUPPLY 700,000 SOLDIERS

To animate Napoleon’s newest military campaign, he needed fresh conscripts—but nearly a third of Napoleon’s French draftees failed to appear. Many of Napoleon’s generals advised the dictator to stay home, in Paris, and enjoy his spoils. An ambitious and autocratic Napoleon refused. He explained that rest was not possible if he was to fulfill the dream to form a United States of Europe.2

Overcoming lay-abouts, Napoleon assembled a military host of nearly 700,000 men and faced the monumental task to supply it. For years Napoleon stockpiled materials along the route to Russia. He arranged for supplies to be delivered when in Russia. But Napoleon’s vision of universal dominion had been stretched to the breaking point—and the French Emperor – if not all those who served him – realized the risk.

Napoleon left St. Cloud for Moscow in June 1812 for a high stakes gamble which involved not only the rise and fall of one man but the many inhabitants of the Empire.

Ernest Meissonier (1815-1891), Campaign of France, 1814, 1864. Oil on wood, 51.5 x 76.5 cm, Paris, Musée d’Orsay.

Ernest Meissonier’s Campaign of France, 1814, was the artist’s first painting produced in a cycle of Napoleon’s conquests. Though the episode Meissonier depicts was painted for the fiftieth anniversary of Napoleon’s invasion of France from Elba in 1814, it captures the overall desolation that surrounded the former French Emperor by the time of his invasion of Russia in 1812.

The series made by the 49-year-old artist, an admirer of seventeenth-century Flemish and Dutch small-format painting, captures the desolate landscape the Grande Armée endured. It also depicted a solitary, unusually unkempt, and tenuous figure of Napoleon who is leading the General Staff and troops in an over-extended military campaign that spelled defeat.

For the painting, the artist’s imagination was informed by historical documentation including interviews of surviving eyewitnesses, including the detail of the Emperor’s grey coat. Its realist style was a prevailing aspect of mid-19th century artistic taste during the Second Empire headed by Napoleon III from 1852 to 1870.

(see https://www.musee-orsay.fr/en/collections/works-in-focus/painting/commentaire_id/campaign-of-france-1814-8947.html?tx_commentaire_pi1%5BpidLi%5D=509&tx_commentaire_pi1%5Bfrom%5D=841&cHash=41368ad16b#:~:text=Campagne%20de%20France%2C%201814%20%5BCampaign,demonstrates%20his%20nimble%2C%20polished%20style. – retrieved May 5, 2021.

From Paris to Vilna in Lithuania was a twelve hundred mile march. The object of Napoleon’s campaign was to defeat the Russian army. But the Russians had retreated. It was another 550-mile march to Moscow. French troops were suffering from distant and nonexistent supply lines. Conscripts and battle-hardened veterans alike were sick and exhausted.

In the Battle of Smolensk, the French invaders—viewed by some to be battling for strongman Napoleon’s united liberal Europe over petty church and small state autocrats—set the town on fire. Yet Napoleon’s criminal reputation preceded him: he murdered without mercy and often donned the smock of treachery. Not only royalists criticized him but articulate liberals like Alexis de Tocqueville (1805-1859) and François-René de Chateaubriand (1768-1848) who saw in the emperor an enemy of liberty. 

Chateaubriand wrote: “Les Français vont indistinctement au pouvoir, ils n’aiment pas la liberté, l’égalité est leur idole. Or l’égalité et le despotisme ont des liaisons secrètes” (“The French go to power indiscriminately, they don’t like liberty, equality is their idol. But equality and despotism have secret links”).

Reactionary French historian and journalist Jacques Bainville (1879-1936) assessed Napoleon’s legacy in this way: “Sauf pour la gloire, sauf pour l’art, il eut mieux valu qu’il n’eut pas existé.” (“Except for the glory, except for the art, it would have been better if he did not exist.”)

With casualties for one battle climbing to around 15,000 for both sides, the Czar appointed Mikhail Kutuzov (1745-1813) as commander of all Russian forces to coordinate efforts.

Portrait of Mikhail Kutuzov, 1829, George Dawe (1781–1829). Oil on canvas, State Hermitage Museum, Winter Palace War Gallery, St. Petersburg, Russia.

Napoleon called Kutuzov, “The sly old fox of the north“ (cited in Roger Parkinson, The Fox of the North, 1976).

At 67 years old, Kutuzov was lazy and lecherous, but knew how to fight—and, regarding Napoleon’s invasion of Russia, how to retreat strategically. The grand designs of modern internationalism and unification were long-held ancient and medieval dreams. They proved difficult to implement in geo-political reality and usually led to its own forms of disaster and oppression.

In the contest of geopolitical ideas, holing up in eternal Mother Russia provided its military advantages over an invading French force set upon international commonwealth by way of military and financial domination.

In an address to his troops before the Battle of Borodino in the War of 1812 General Kutuzov observed: “Napoleon is a torrent which as yet we are unable to stem. Moscow will be the sponge that will suck him dry.”3

BATTLE OF BORODINO, SEPTEMBER 7, 1812, WAS A CONTEST OF 242,000 COMBATANTS AND MORE THAN 1,000 BIG GUNS

FAILURE OF THE SUPPLY CHAIN

Napoleon was aware of the trap. The years-long planning for an invasion supply chain was no match for the conditions on the ground. The failures of the supply chain left the army and its dictator high and dry. Napoleon ordered the troops to keep marching, telling his generals: “Motion alone keeps this army together.”4

The march from Smolensk to Moscow took 3 weeks. Many soldiers of the Grande Armée died on the march east. Kutuzov was preparing for battle. The Russian general set up a defensive position in Borodino, about 70 miles west of Moscow. On Sept. 7, 1812, French forces engaged the Russians. Both sides were well matched: the French possessed 587 guns and 130,000 troops and the Russians deployed 640 guns and 112,000 troops with the vast expanse of Mother Russia at their back.

Battle of Moscow (or Borodino), the Capture of the Great Redoubt. Engraving by unknown artist, 1820’s. State Borodino Military Historical Museum, Russia.

Battle of Moscow (or Battle of Borodino) in 1812. Attack of the Lithuanian Life Guards Regiment, oil on canvas, 1912, Nikolay Semyonovich Samokish (1860-1944). State Borodino Military Historical Museum, Russia.

General Uvarov at Borodino, Auguste-Joseph Desarnod (1788-1840), State Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg, Russia.

In the War of 1812 Fedor Petrovich Uvarov (1769 -1824) commanded the 1st Cavalry Corps and then the Cavalry of the 1st and 2nd Russian Armies. With the Cossacks of Matvei Platov (1753-1818), Uvarov distinguished himself in the Battle of  Borodino when he turned the left flank of the French army and made a raid to its rear. The Russian attack of the main French forces delayed Napoleon’s battle plans for two crucial hours.

Napoleon near Borodino, Vasily Vereshchagin (1842–1904), 1897, oil on canvas, State Historical Museum, Moscow.

The image of a sullen dictator seated on his field chair with boots raised onto a battle drum, as his General Staff views in their spyglasses the men of the Grande Armée in harm’s way at the Battle of Borodino, can be seen as indicative of Napoleon’s exercise of arbitrary power as the first of modern history’s tyrants.

Hanging over the battlefield was the feeling that the destiny of Europe—whether united under Napoleon or giving space to a later attempt at a balance of powers– depended on these warriors. The battle’s outcome was a draw. The French remained master of the field but the Russians retreated to fight another day. It was one more day of immense military slaughter—the combined French and Russians losses was 80,000 soldiers—a full third of the total.

Battle of Borodino, 7th September 1812, 1822, Louis-François Lejeune (1775-1848).

In the French invasion of Russia in 1812, Lejeune was made général de brigade and chief of staff to Davout (1770-1823). During the retreat, Lejeune was frostbitten on the face and left his post where he was subsequently arrested on Napoleon’s orders.

During his military service, Lejeune produced a series of important battle-pictures based on his experiences. They were generally executed from sketches and studies made on the battlefield. Known for their lofty perspective which, according to Chase Maenius in The Art of War[s], “offer[ed] a panoramic view of the totality of the battle’s events,” the Battle of Borodino… of 1822 is considered his masterwork.

When Lejeune’s battle-pictures were shown in London, they were met by eager crowds who viewed them for their realistic and detailed depictions of significant contemporary events.

In his Memoirs of Baron Lejeune, aide-de-camp to marshals Berthier, Davout, and Oudinot (translation, 1897), Lejeune related one of the many wretched scenes that the Napoleonic Wars produced. He wrote: “As we were pushing on the next day, we came upon two poor creatures at a turn in the road whose condition tore our hearts. They were a handsome well-built man of about forty and a woman of about thirty, also with a fine figure, both stark naked. They approached us and said to us in very good French, ‘Our home has been sacked by Cossacks, who stripped us of everything and left us as you see us. For pity’s sake help us.’ We could do nothing for them but give them a little food, and we felt very wretched as we turned away. The next day at a bivouac some distance off a fresh irresistible demand was made upon our pity, and our stock of provisions was so much reduced that I don’t know what we should have done but that some German peasants brought us a few sheep, with which we replenished our larder.” (p. 158, https://archive.org/details/memoirsbaronlej01maurgoog/page/n170/mode/2up
—retrieved May 5, 2021.)

The bodies of dead soldiers of Napoleon’s Grand Armée left on the bridge over the River Kolocha after the Battle of Borodino, 1812.  Christian Wilhelm von Faber du Faur (1780-1857), published 1830’s.

Gen. Kutuzov at the conference of Fili deciding to surrender Moscow to Napoleon, Aleksey Kivshenko (1851–1895), 1880, oil on canvas, Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow.

Following the Battle of Borodino on September 7, 1812, the Russian army retreated towards Moscow and camped near Fili. A military council led by General Kutuzov assembled in a hut in Fili where, despite objections from younger generals, Kutuzov insisted on his plan to abandon Moscow.

The action not only saved the remains of the Russian army but worked to stymie and ultimately defeat Napoleon’s invasion drive. The personalities in the painting include Prince Michael Andreas Barclay de Tolly (1761-1818), who was replaced by Kutuzov on order of the Czar and sits in the corner below the Virgin Mary and Child Jesus icon. Fyodor Uvarov sits near Barclay holding a paper. Nikolay Raevsky (1771-1829) sits by the window with his fingers locked together. Aleksey Petrovich Yermolov  (1777-1861) stands on the far right. The much younger Yermolov resented old general Kutuzov’s plan and demanded to fight the enemy.

When Napoleon and no more 100,000 French troops reached Moscow on September 8, 1812, there were no Russian troops to fight inside the city. Instead, Napoleon found only Russia’s poor, displaced, and underprivileged. Some sex workers stayed there to ply their trade in exchange for limited food. Moscow was Russia’s largest city, its capital, its Holy City—and French troops of liberation took to looting it. As the military forces of western Enlightenment watched Moscow burn for four days, the event in the war was a watershed for the Russian resolve to not surrender.

Napoleon wrote a letter of apology and condolence to the Czar for the wanton destruction in Moscow. The Czar, Alexander I Pavlovich, the Blessed (1777-1825), did not answer. He was concerned with Kutuzov’s army. Russia’s Czar, the commanding general, the troops and people were of one mind: to fight the Western invader to the last Russian man, woman, and child. Moscow’s demise was the turning point for the autocratic world that viewed Napoleon as an atheist and butcher at the head of an international army of mercenary thugs and savages. Only the wealthy in Russia were willing to negotiate with Napoleon mainly from fear that he might try to free their serfs. In this clash of civilizations, Napoleon surmised, “I beat the Russians every time—but that does not get me anywhere.”5 Old general Kutuzov’s inaction attained his objective to defend Russia whereas his 43-year-old French counterpart’s active efforts to rally his men far from home on behalf of his Empire failed.

Posthumous Portrait of Czar Alexander I of Russia, 1826, George Dawe, State Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg, Russia.

Napoleon’s interest now turned back to Paris. Having heard of an impending coup d’état led by Gen. Claude François de Malet (1754-1812), Napoleon had to raise more fresh troops to crush rebellions in Paris. There were rebellions to crush taking place in other lands of the Empire as they squirmed under his dictatorial rule and were emboldened by his latest inglorious defeat.

By late 1812, the weather in Russia turned to ice and snow. Whereas the Russians retreated prior to defeat, the French retreated in defeat. Reports of cannibalism among the retreating combatants is recorded. On Napoleon’s retreat, the French army lost another half of their men. Napoleon’s supply lines had long been sacked and looted by his anti-Empire enemies.

Famous tell-all graph by French civil engineer Charles Joseph Minard (1781-1870) showing the size of Napoleon’s Grande Armée as it marched towards Moscow (top gray line, left to right) in summer of 1812 and its retreat (bottom black line, from right to left) in the late fall of 1812. Frozen temperatures during the humiliating retreat are plotted on the bottom graph.

On the retreat, surviving warriors fought among themselves over any existing supplies. Napoleon’s retreat included the humiliation of being chased out of Russia by Kutuzov’s redeployed 80,000 troops. The old man’s hot pursuit did not allow Napoleon, the once young Enlightenment military figure, to rest.

Under military surgeon Baron Dominique Jean Larrey (1766-1842), the Grand Army’s medical and sanitary measures were the finest in the world but the retreat route offered no food and no medical care. As a remedy for possible future ills, including his capture, Napoleon convinced his doctor to give him a vial of poison which the dictator could ingest if conditions deteriorated to become inescapably dire.

Portrait of Dominique-Jean Larrey, oil on canvas, 1804, Marie-Guillemine Benoist (1768-1826), Musée des Augustins, Toulouse, France.

Baron Dominique Jean Larrey was a French surgeon and military doctor who distinguished himself during the near endless wars of the French Revolution and under Napoleon. Baron Larrey served as the Grand Army’s medical and sanitation leader and was an important innovator in triage who is considered the first modern military doctor and surgeon.

Napoleon: Retreat, 1812. /Ncrossing The Beresina River In Russia During The Retreat Of The Grand Army Under Napoleon Bonaparte, December 1812; Baggage Carts And Ambulances Have Been Abandoned In The Foreground. Watercolor, c. 1812, attributed to General François Louis Fournier-Sarlovèze (1773-1827).

During the Russian Campaign, Fournier commanded a brigade of light cavalry composed of French, German, and Central European horsemen, and led a noted cavalry charge at the Battle of Smolensk.

Generals Kutuzov and Wittgenstein attacked the retreating remnants of Napoleon’s army at a critical bridge crossing in modern-day Belarus. Hundreds of Frenchmen drowned. To stop the attack, Napoleon ordered the bridges destroyed. He stranded hundreds more of his company to the enemy’s gunfire.

Napoleon now told his aide-de-camp, Armand-Augustin-Louis de Caulaincourt, what the Russian campaign taught him: “I can hold my grip on Europe only from the Tuileries.” In Warsaw, when Napoleon met Abbé de Pradt, his ambassador there, he told the French clergyman: “From the sublime to the ridiculous is but a step.”6

Napoleon had led almost 700,000 men into Russia with the intent of conquering the country. By the end of 1812, only about 30,000 had survived. Out of that number, less than 1,000 soldiers returned to active duty after their return to France. 7

NAPOLEON DEFEATED IN PENINSULAR WAR IN SPAIN

Simultaneous with the debacle of Napoleon’s blood-thirsty Russian invasion, French forces lost the long fight in Spain and Portugal (since 1808) to keep the British off the Continent.

Significant losses in the east and west of the Empire were followed in 1813 by the Battle of Leipzig, Napoleon’s penultimate defeat by an international coalition that included Austria, Prussia, Russia and Sweden.

FORCED ABDICATION, EXILE, WATERLOO, AND DEATH

After Napoleon withdrew into France, in March 1814 these allied forces captured Paris. By early April 1814 Napoleon was forced to abdicate as Emperor. Napoleon had to go for his pursuit of glory had become a menace to his country and the world.

With the Treaty of Fontainebleau, Napoleon was exiled to Elba, and, following his brief escape into France in 1814, he was defeated for the final time at the Battle of Waterloo and exiled to St. Helena which held him until his death at 51 years old on May 5, 1821.

Napoleon Crossing the Alps, Jacques-Louis David, 1801, oil on canvas, 102 1⁄3 × 87 in., Château du Malmaison.

NOTES:

1. see- https://www.history.com/topics/france/napoleon

–retrieved May 5, 2021.

2. The Age of Napoleon, Will and Ariel Durant, Simon & Schuster: 1975, p. 698.

3. A Dictionary of Military Quotations, edited by Trevor Royle, Routledge: 1989, Section 105, quote 13.

4. http://www.military-info.com/freebies/maximsn.htm

5. The New York Times, “The Napoleon Legend—A New Look; How can we know the man whose transformation into a myth began long before his death?; Napoleonic Legend,” April 5, 1964. https://www.nytimes.com/1964/04/05/archives/the-napoleon-legenda-new-look-how-can-we-know-the-man-whose.html#:~:text=When%20he%20failed%2C%20he%20never,in%20defense%20of%20their%20country.–retrieved May 5, 2021.

6. Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations, 13th edition, p. 199.

7. https://slate.com/technology/2012/12/napoleon-march-to-russia-in-1812-typhus-spread-by-lice-was-more-powerful-than-tchaikovskys-cannonfire.html 

— retrieved May 5, 2021.




Two hours by car from Cancún’s beaches, the ancient Mayan city of CHICHÉN-ITZÁ in Mexico’s Yucatán jungle offers a view into a lost civilization’s temples, pyramids, and astronomical observatories.

FEATURE image: Chichén-Itzá serpent head sculptures guard a staircase. Author’s photograph.

By John P. Walsh

Serpent head at the base of El Castillo. Author’s photograph.

Cancún’s sandy spit of land at the northern tip of the Yucatán peninsula was uninhabited by the ancient Mayans. It was trodden by the conquistadores and used by pirates as a hide-out. Today, oozing like wet plaster into the Caribbean sea, the beaches are a new jet-age resort. I visited the Yucatán from Chicago for a few days in May 1988.

Though the tourist board in Cancún was telling of more resort development by the mid-1990s, it already boasted of 85 hotels and about 9,000 guest rooms during my trip.

After two days acclimating myself nicely to the Caribbean climate and working my way un poco with the Spanish language, I signed up with a local tour operator for a 12-hour bus tour. The destination was to one of the most famous sites on the Yucatán peninsula and the world: the ancient Mayan archeological site of Chichén-Itzá.

With its mysterious, virtually-intact looming pyramids and temples as well as startling tales of human sacrifice and one of the world’s most accurate cosmic calendar systems—all over 1,000 years old—I was excited to adventure out of the comfort of Cancún’s “Zona Hotelera” into the Yucatán jungle interior.

Setting out from Cancún into the Yucatán jungle

Iguana

The ancient Mayan cities and later Spanish colonial ones that sit on top of them are a stark contrast to the touristy jet-set beaches of Cancún.

An extensive jungle stretches across the Yucatán’s three states of Quintana Roo, Campeche, and Yucatán that are inhabited by human communities as well as wild animals such as jaguars. We frequently saw black-headed, blue-bodied birds called Yucatán jays. We saw iguanas on sun-washed rocks.

Yucatán jays.

I left the hotel and met the bus in Cancún town at 8:00 a.m. Francisco drove the air-conditioned 40-seater as Raúl toted a microphone and told the group about some of the things we were seeing along the way.

They took us out of Quintana Roo’s Cancún to Yucatán’s Chichén-Itzá about 125 miles away. On arrow-straight highway 180 we drove into small local communities along the two-lane road. We would reach Chichén-Itzá out of Valladolid, the Mayan/Spanish colonial city which is sometimes called the most colorful town in Mexico.

Chichén-Itzá’s famous complex of Mayan ruins dates from the Classic period of 600 CE to 1200 CE. Important archeological sites in the Yucatán still await reclamation from the jungle today –such as smaller Cobá in Quintana Roo. Guided tours are recommended for an extensive and remarkably safe visit into these interesting backwater places.

Highway 180: Route From Cancún to Valladolid

Yucatán’s South 180. Author’s photograph.

The bus climbed onto south highway 180 and followed it through villages such as Cocoyol, Catzin, Chemax, Xalaú, and others. Along the route there were thatched-roof dwellings which held patterned hammocks inside. Outside, dogs slinked around and small farm animals sometimes shared the road. The entire Yucatán peninsula is sparsley populated with only a fraction (about 4%) of Mexico’s total population. 

Francisco told us that the thatched-roof dwellings were durable. One such dwelling could last almost 20 years. The huts were made of sticks which we were told kept dwellers cool and comfortable year-round. Raúl said that the average year-round temperature on the peninsula was 93 degrees Fahrenheit. Starting in April, humidity levels rose and the temperature hovered over 100 degrees. Thatched hut dwellings were the predominant local housing we saw from highway 180.

Traditional Mayan homes. Author’s photograph.

With exceptions, the lifestyle of modern Mayans has not strayed from their ancestors’ of the last millennia. Traditional Mayan homes are oval-shaped huts made of sticks bound together to form walls. Palm fronds are laid upon the wood frame for a peaked roof. Inside there is a main room usually with a dirt floor. Hammocks create a sleeping area.

In Valladolid, a Spanish colonial town founded in 1543, there were larger stores. From the bus windows, we saw local women in the huipil, the traditional garment worn by indigenous women from central Mexico to Central America, doing their errands. They outnumbered men on the street who were mostly absent on this sunny and hot May morning in the middle of the week.

Larger Stores in Valladolid. Author’s photograph.
Author’s photograph.

Raúl said the men worked in Cancún during the week for about eight dollars a day, This wage was significantly higher than the $5 a day usually earned on the peninsula. The workers, Raúl said, are “smart” because when they are working, they live at the hotels where they eat, shower, and live rent-free. When they return home to the villages, they bring all of their earnings with them to their families. In most of these outlying towns it requires about $40 per week in income to meet living expenses, whereas workers in Cancún can earn nearly twice that amount.

Iglesia de San Servacio in Valladolid was built in 1545

The Iglesia de San Servacio is in the center of Valladolid on the south side of the main square. It was founded and built by Fr. Francisco Hernandez on March 24, 1545.

In 1705 part of the original church was demolished by order of the Benedictine bishop of Yucatán, Pedro Reyes de los Ríos de Lamadrid (1657-1714). The bishop ordered this partial demolition following the desecration of the sacred building during a political battle in July 1703 known as the “Crime of Mayors.”

San Servacio in Valladolid, Mexico. Author’s photograph.

July 1703: San Servicio desecrated in the “Crime of Mayors”

After Captain Hipólito de Osorno lost political favor in Valladolid he decided, together with his lawyer Pedro Gabriel de Covarrubias, to take refuge in the church of San Servacio.

But the political excitement of the time had reached an uncontrollable situation. In the pre-dawn hours of July 1703, a frenzied mob, led by Valladolid’s newly-elected mayors, Señors Avuso and Tovar, broke into the sacred enclosure.

The lawyer De Covarrubias was killed in the church after being driven through by a spear. His blood spilled on the altar and and stained it. The captain was mortally wounded when the mob found him hidden behind the organ. The ruckus in no way benefitted the two new mayors. Both Señors Ayuso and Tovar were found guilty of murder and hanged.

Due to this murder in the cathedral the bishop had it rebuilt in 1706 as it is seen today. The altar’s position was moved to face north and west towards Rome. The church building is located on Valladolid’s main square named after Francisco Cantón Rosado (1833-1917), a conservative governor of Yucatán (1898-1902).

In early 18th Century Yucatán, a Benedictine Bishop and Franciscan Church

The church building’s main façade has a coat of arms carved on stone with arabesques, a royal crown, and a Franciscan cord. There are images of an eagle and a palm that were frequently used in the decoration of Franciscan churches in the Yucatán. Two square-shaped towers rise on either side of the central façade.

Downtown Valladolid. Author’s photograph.

Ancient Mayans are 1,000 years older than the oldest books of the Bible

The Mayan civilization is shrouded in the mists of history. Archeologists, anthropologists and historians have speculated that they originated in about in 2600 BCE in the middle of the Bronze Age (3300 BCE to 1300 BCE). The origins of the Mayans therefore predate the oldest books of the Bible by 1,000 years.

Mayan technical skill extended to complex calendar systems and hieroglyphic writing whose images are in evidence at Chichén-Itzá. Mayan artisans were skillful weavers and potters and artifacts have been found in vast quantities at the site. The ancient Mayans also cleared routes for trade. Their main source of fresh water was from cenotes (sink-holes) and they stored rainwater in reservoirs called chultun.

Mayan civilization was socially complex and technologically evolved

Mayan culture made remarkable advances in mathematics and astronomy. Mayans are known for their impressive urban planning, farming methods, and architectural achievements. All of these impressive achievements are to be seen at Chichén-Itzá in its pyramids, temples, ball courts, palaces, and astronomical observatories.

By 300 BCE Mayan society had evolved into a hierarchical social structure where kings and priests ruled. Stretching from Cancún through the Yucatán, Belize, and Guatemala to the coast of the Pacific Ocean, Mayan civilization was a highly structured society. It consisted of several independent states, each possessed of several classes—a ruling class, warrior class, and agricultural class. The society reached its apex in the Classic period from about 200 CE to 900 CE.

The stone monuments at Chichén-Itzá were built as a ceremonial center during the Classic period. As it continues to impress visitors today, it accomplished the same thing for ancient Mayans over 1,000 years ago.

Toltecs absorb Ancient Mayans in about 900 A.D.

The decline of ancient Mayan civilization started around 900 CE as they began to surrender their independence to the Toltecs who absorbed them. The Toltecs were another pre- Colonial Mesoamerican civilization located in central Mexico that reached its height between around 900 to almost 1200 CE. Though Chichén-Itzá as a ceremonial center would not die for another 250 years, the city became a vestige of itself whose remnants alone of a great civilization survived when conquered by the Spanish colonists in the 15th century.

Chichén-Itzá today

It was hot and humid when we arrived into Chichén-Itzá. Discovered by explorers as early as the 1830’s—and opened to the public in 1922—it was today an impressive and expansive series of ancient stone monuments on a grassy 1200-acre campus carved out of jungle. Do people live further into the jungle? Raúl said about one mile from the road there are small communities of two or three hundred people who live in farther from the main road.

The pyramids and temples of Chichén-Itzá are the Yucatán’s best known monuments. The Mayan city was absorbed by the Toltecs in 987 CE. According to legend, a man named Kukulcan—who is the same figure as Quetzalcoatl from the Toltec capital of Tula —arrived from the west “for the redemption of his people.” In Chichén-Itzá, Kukulcan built this magnificent city which combined the Puuc style of the Mayans and the motifs of the Toltecs, namely, the feathered serpent, warriors, eagles and jaguars.

Maya explorers include American Edward Thompson (1857-1935) and others

Starting in the midnineteenth century and again at the end of the century, there was a range of scientists and explorers associated with the discovery and excavation of the archeological site of Chichén-Itzá that is seen today.

As its great natural water well (or cenote) likely gave Chichén-Itzá its name, one major figure worth considering is the early American explorer Edward Thompson (1857-1935). For most of his adult life Edward Thompson lived and worked at Chichén-Itzá including famously dredging and diving into the sacred well in search of treasure and human remains for evidence of legends of human sacrifices.

A diplomat by profession and an amateur archeologist, Thompson had an indefatigable curiosity about the ancient Mayan ceremonial city and did important work here.

As a young scholar Thompson was inspired by the writings of American explorer and diplomat John Lloyd Stephens (1805-1852). Together with English artist Frederick Catherwood (1799-1845) they were pivotal figures in the rediscovery of Maya civilization in Central America.

Catherwood’s detailed drawings of the ruins of the Maya civilization explored by Stephens led to best-selling books published in the early 1840s such as Incidents of Travel in Central America, Chiapas and Yucatán and Incidents of Travel in Yucatán. These were illustrated works that introduced Europe and the United States to the civilization of the ancient Maya.

Portrait of John Lloyd Stephens, whose Incidents of Travel in Central America, Chiapas and Yucatán was published in 1854. Public Domain.
Lithograph of a maize god by Frederick Catherwood in Views of Ancient Monuments in Central America, Chiapas, and Yucatán published in 1844. Public Domain.

Stephens and Catherwood in turn had been inspired by earlier pioneers of scientists and explorers. Two figures who influenced them were Alexander von Humboldt (1769-1859) and Juan Galindo (1802–1840).

Portrait of Alexander von Humboldt by Joseph K. Stieler (1843). Charlottenhof. Public Domain.
Juan Galindo before 1839. From the book Ancient Maya Cities: The Hidden Wonders in the Forest. Public Domain.

Von Humboldt was a Prussian geographer, naturalist, and explorer whose work in botanical geography led to the development of the field of biogeography. Galindo was an Anglo-Irish military and administrative officer in the short-lived liberal Federal Republic of Central America (1823-1841) and who was actively engaged in Maya archeology.

In 1847 the Caste War of Yucatán broke out limiting access to the Yucatán’s unexcavated ruins. The Caste War restricted the borders of Yucatán and Quintana Roo to all but indigenous Maya for nearly 60 years, making travel to the area dangerous. When the United States appointed Edward Thompson archaeological consul to the Yucatán in 1895 he became one of the first to explore the land since the Caste War.

Edward Thompson, before 1920. Thompson famously dredged and dived the sacred well at Chichén-Itzá and brought up a fortune of gold and jade as well as human skeletons providing evidence for legends of ancient human sacrifice.

Edward Thompson arrived in the Yucatán at Mérida in 1895. He had purchased land in 1894 that included the unexcavated site of Chichén-Itzá. For the next 30 years Thompson dedicated his life to exploring the site.

Thompson dredges Sacred Well

In 1904 Thompson started to explore the bottom of the sacred well— the cenote sagrado. Thompson used divers (including himself) and dredges. Over six years he brought up a fortune in gold, copper and jade as well as a wealth of vases, obsidian glass knives and Maya incense called copal. Thompson did some of his explorations for major American museums such as The Field Museum in Chicago and the Peabody Museum at Harvard University, among others.

From his arrival, the sacred well attracted Thompson’s intense interest. In his 1932 book, People of the Serpent, Thompson stated he became intrigued with the murky waters of the great well as soon as he first saw it from the top of El Castillo.

Though most ancient Maya artifacts as well as its codice books with its written language were destroyed by the local Catholic Church authorities in the 16th century, Thompson read the colonial Spanish accounts of Mayan history.

Spanish Franciscan Fray Diego de Landa (1524-1579), colonial bishop of Yucatán. De Landa later regretted destroying the Maya civilization’s cultural treasures and wrote a history of the Mayas (Relación de las cosas de Yucatán, c. 1566) to make up for his thoughtless, wholesale destruction. Edward Thompson read the bishop’s account of the “cenote,” where Fray Diego detailed the pilgrimages of ancient Maya priests and farmers to the sacred well to “appease the gods.” These pilgrimages included throwing gold and ornaments into the waters. The bishop’s history also told of human sacrifices there as well. Public Domain.

To implement his plan to explore the cenote, Thompson returned to his hometown of Boston where he raised money, took diving lessons, and constructed a specialized diving mechanism. Thompson sent the dredging bucket, winch, tackles, steel cables, derrick and 30-foot boom to Chichén-Itzá.

The dredge buckets brought up ornaments and objects of daily life. Thompson’s and another diver’s plunges discovered more precious treasures, including human skeletons. These discoveries were controversial. The fact that this ancient site was being disturbed brought critics. Further, Thompson was neither a scientist nor academic but simply an enthusiastic amateur. He published his Maya civilization studies in Popular Science Magazine. But these critiques aside, Thompson’s field work virtually single-handedly put Chichén-Itzá on every world explorer’s own bucket list.

Edward Thompson dredged the sacred well at Chichén-Itzá between 1904 and 1910. Public Domain.
Cenote from the platform of El Castillo. This is the view Edward Thompson had when he first became fascinated with the sacred well in the late 1890’s. Photograph by author.

Thompson excavated graves at the Ossario (High Priest’s Temple), the mid-sized step-style pyramid within the Ossario Group complex of Mayan temples found just south of the Kukulkan pyramid series. Thompson’s discoveries offered an outcome not unlike the cenote. In the Ossario pyramid and its cave Thompson found more jade, pottery, human bones, and various other ancient Mayan artifacts.

How Chichén-Itzá’s pyramids were built

Close to Chichén-Itzá Thompson discovered pits with quarried veins of lime gravel that the Mayan’s used for mortar. Nearby he found stones of calcite (to hammer), flint (to pick) and smooth stones used to produce flat surfaces on walls. Ancient Mayan craftsmen had no metal tools, but these stone implements helped scientists to reconstruct how the monumental buildings could be constructed. Thompson also uncovered shards of nephrite (a type of jade) as well as the so-called Mayan “date” stone, known later as the Tablet of the Initial Series. This stone let iconographers decipher the dates of Chichén-Itzá’s Classic period.

In 1926 Thompson’s land was seized by authorities of Mexico’s new nationalist government and Thompson was charged with removing artifacts illegally. It was only in 1944, almost a decade after Thompson’s death, that the Mexican Supreme Court ruled in the North American explorer’s favor.

Major sites at Chichén-Itzá

Visitors climb El Castillo’s steps to the top in May 1988. A visit to the pyramid (Temple of Kukulkan), is a highlight at Chichén-Itzá. Photograph by author.

It is frankly thrilling to see the pre-Columbian Mesoamerican step pyramid. At nearly 80 feet tall, the pyramid dominates the center of the archaeological site of Chichén-Itzá. It was built between 700 and 1100 A.D.

Chac-Mool statue on top of the Temple of the Warriors at the ancient Mayan archeological site of Chichén-Itzá on the Yucatán peninsula. The impressive sculpture was used in ancient times as an altar for sacrifices. Author’s Photograph.
Chichén-Itzá relief carving depicting a Mayan warrior in elaborate headdress and jewelry. Warriors were one of the major classes in Mayan society in the Classic period. Author’s photograph.

El Castillo served as a temple to the god Kukulkan. Each side of the pyramid has 91 steps for a total of 364 steps. With the platform at the top, it equals the 365 days of the year. There are 52 smooth stone panels on each side of the pyramid which coordinates with the ancient Mayan calendar’s 52-year cycle. The nine terraces on each side of the pyramid represent the 18-month solar calendar.

Twice during Spring Equinox (March 21) at sunrise and sunset, the sunlight is observed to move down stair by stair from the top stair of the northern stairway until it touches the famous serpent head stone carving at the base of the pyramid. In a marvel of nature, sunlight and shadow work to form a “serpent” that appears to descend into the earth. The cosmological phenomenon was an important fertility symbol for the Mayans whose society was agricultural. It signaled that the golden sun had entered the earth in the form of a serpent and that it was time to plant corn.

Unexcavated El Castillo in 1882 in a photograph by Teobert Maler
El Castillo dominates the Great North Platform Series. Known as the Kukulkan Pyramid and the Temple of Kukulkan, the 8-story 1,500-year-old stone structure is a masterpiece of ancient Mayan Cosmovision. Author at Chichén-Itzá in May 1988. Author’s collection.
Snakehead sculpture at Chichén-Itzá in Mexico. There are smaller pyramids inside the Chichén-Itzá ruins with “snakehead” statues scattered around. Author’s photograph.
Walking towards the Nunnery complex with the stone steps of its north side in the distance. Author’s collection.
El Palacio in the complex of buildings called the Nunnery. Edward Thompson used these buildings as his headquarters during his first explorations of Chichén-Itzá. Author’s photograph.
This 1892 photograph of El Palacio (Templo de tres Cuerpos) of the building complex called the Nunnery at Chichén-Itzá gives record to one of Teobert Maler’s many expeditions. Public Domain.

Teobert Maler (1842–1917) was a pioneer of ancient Maya research. Maler’s expeditions to over 150 ruins in the Yucatán began secretly in the 1870s.

Several ruins Maler described and photographed had been discovered by him, and his photographs of its architecture and inscriptions aided further research in ancient Maya civilization.

Many sites Maler photographed were not visited by scientists until decades later. As the ruins were often further damaged by climate events or human impact—Maler’s photographs remain some of the best record of Maya ruins.

Because of Maler’s work at Chichén-Itzá and elsewhere, the German explorer is regarded as one of the most important research photographers of the 19th century.

Buildings of the Nunnery (Las Monjas) include La Iglesia (partial view, left). At Chichén-Itzá, Mayan-temple structures in the Puuc style. These buildings at Chichén-Itzá shared similar designs with the ruins at Kabah and Uxmal about 100 miles to the southwest of Chichén-Itzá. Author’s photograph.
In the day’s heat and humidity, the profligate flora delights the visitor’s senses at Chichén-Itzá. On the site’s 1200 acres, the blooms of jungle growth offer a feast of fragrances, colors and living forms. From the Temple of Warriors, the visitor can see nestled beyond a field of red flowers the Grupo de las Mil Columnas (“The Forest of 1,000 Columns”). These stone columns may once have had a thatched ceiling to enclose an expansive space. Author’s photograph.
In the landscape of Chichén-Itzá there are a variety of mammals, hundreds of species of birds and many reptiles. On the Yucatán peninsula there are almost 150 varieties of snakes, many of which, including at the archeological site, are highly venomous. A photograph of the jungle from the air in May 1988.
Coral Snake Closeup” by MyFWC Florida Fish and Wildlife is marked with CC BY-ND 2.0.
A visitor climbs atop the Nunnery, the Mayan temple complex built in the Puuc style during the Classic period of 600-1200 CE at Chichén-Itzá. Author’s photograph.
The El Caracol observatory temple at Chichén-Itzá. We visited the dark recesses of El Caracol’s central circular tower. The Mayas built the observatory over an extended period of time to coincide its construction with their increasing knowledge of day-time and night-time skies. The Mayas’ objective in building and using the observatory was to acquire more exact measurements of cosmic bodies. Author’s photograph.
The “Venus” staircase of the observatory at Chichén-Itzá. The highly sophisticated Maya calendar system was based on their study of the movements of the sun, moon, and planets, particularly Venus’s orbit. The position of El Caracol’s front staircase aligns with Venus’s most northern position while the building‘s corners are affixed to the sun’s position at sunrise of summer solstice (June 21) and sunset of winter solstice (December 21). Author’s photograph.
The Observatory temple at Chichén-Itzá in a photograph by Teobert Maler. When explorers first viewed the ruin in the late 19th century, it was buried in centuries of natural debris. Public Domain.
Maya Calendar System. Ancient Maya time-keepers designed highly accurate methods to measure time that interwove calendars as space/time cycles. Mayan calendars formed an understanding of the interrelationships of cosmic bodies—the moon orbiting the Earth; the Earth orbiting the sun; and the sun as it travels in the galaxy. Author’s photograph.
The Great Ball Court at Chichén-Itzá from El Castillo. Almost two football fields in length (181 yards), it is enclosed by 13-foot high stone walls and is the largest ball court in ancient Mesoamerica. Sports arenas like this were a staple in the sacred complexes of ancient Mayan cities. Some archeological anthropologists believe the nature of play in the ball courts had a purely sporting purpose, though the games may have had high-stakes cosmological and mythological dimensions.
Grand Ballcourt—field of play. Author’s photograph.
Temple of Warriors. The Chac-Mool sits atop the platform of this temple dedicated to the Mayan warrior class. Author’s photograph.

OTHER PHOTOGRAPH CREDITS:
YUCHATAN JAYS – Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic  license. Tony Hisgett – originally posted to Flickr as Yucatan Jays – immature
IGUANA – CC BY-SA 2.0 view terms.

The 1916 Easter Rising in Dublin, Ireland, and Portraits of 14 IRISH LEADERS who were executed for proclaiming the Irish Republic.

FEATURE image: Proclamation of the Irish Republic with its seven signatories. Public Domain.

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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.

EXECUTED ON MAY 3, 1916:

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Pádraic Pearse.

PÁDRAIC 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.

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. Clarke.

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.

General Sir John Maxwell (1859-1929) was the military governor in Ireland. He ignored all appeals by British politicians — including the Prime Minister and Roman Catholic bishops in the United Kingdom — to halt the executions.

EXECUTED ON MAY 4, 1916:

Joeseph Plunkett
Joseph 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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Ned Daly.

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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Willie Pearse.

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.

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.

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:

Eamonn-Ceannt-400x300
Éamonn Ceannt.

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.

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.

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.

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Con Colbert.

“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.

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!”

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James Connolly.

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. Roman Catholic by birth and 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.”

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

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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.