James Connolly 1916

Posted by The Skibbereen Eagle | May 12, 2016 0

james connolly
A minutes silence was held in the Stonebreakers’ Yard of Kilmainham Jail, Dublin for James Connolly who was executed 100 years ago today, along with Seán Mac Dermott .  Of all the executions carried out during the 1916 Easter Rising, none raised as much public anger then or since as the execution of James Connolly. Connolly, who was one of the last to be executed, was shot in a chair in the courtyard of Kilmainham Jail. He was so wounded that he could not stand up to face the firing squad.

jcstonebreakers yard

100 years ago yesterday, May 11, there were no executions, but there were two significant developments. In Dublin, according to the Irish Times, “The following results of trials, by Field General Court-martial, were announced at the Headquarters, Irish Command, Dublin: Sentenced to death, and sentence commuted to penal servitude by the General Officer, Commander-in-Chief, Éamon de Valera, penal servitude for life.” jccomm196804u jconnolly1895

Across the Irish Sea, there were fireworks in the House of Commons, courtesy of John Dillon, MP of the Irish Parliamentary Party, who stood up to lambast the British over their secret court-martials and executions:

“I say I am proud of their courage, and, if you were not so dense and so stupid, as some of you English people are, you would have had these men fighting for you, and they are men worth having. … ours is a fighting race … The fact of the matter is that what is poisoning the mind of Ireland, and rapidly poisoning it, is the secrecy of these trials and the continuance of these executions … enthusiasm and leadership.

“[The rebels showed] conduct beyond reproach as fighting men. I admit they were wrong; I know they were wrong; but they fought a clean fight, and they fought with superb bravery and skill, and no act of savagery or act against the usual customs of war that I know of has been brought home to any leader or any organized body of insurgents.

“[…] I do most earnestly appeal to the Prime Minister to stop these executions … it is not murderers who are being executed; it is insurgents who have fought a clean fight, a brave fight, however misguided, and it would be a damned good thing for you if your soldiers were able to put up as good a fight as did these men in Dublin—three thousand men against twenty thousand with machine-guns and artillery [Heckled and responds] … we have attempted to bring the masses of the Irish people into harmony with you, in this great effort at reconciliation—I say, we are entitled to every assistance from the Members of this House and this Government.” jclibertyhall jcsong

jcbookAlthough Dillon’s words may have saved the lives of some rebels sentenced to death, they were too late for two of the most prominent leaders, James Connolly and Seán MacDiarmada. Their fates had been already determined because both had been signatories of the Proclamation and Prime Minister Asquith had already signed off on their shootings: “There are two other persons who are under sentence of death—a sentence which has been confirmed by the General [Maxwell]—both of whom signed the Proclamation and took an active part…in the actual rebellion in Dublin…in these two cases the extreme penalty must be paid.”

The executions of Connolly and MacDiarmada would constitute a clean-sweep of those who had put their names to Ireland’s Declaration of Independence.

The Court-martials of James Connolly (Prisoner #90) and Seán MacDiarmada (Prisoner #91) at Richmond Barracks, May 9, 1916 – the two faced the same charges:

CHARGE: 1. Did an act to wit did take part in an armed rebellion and in the waging of war against His Majesty the King, such act being of such a nature as to be calculated to be prejudicial to the Defence to the Realm and being done with the intention and for the purpose of assisting the enemy”

  1. “Did attempt to cause dissatisfaction among the civilian population of His Majesty”

PLEA: Not Guilty (both charges)

VERDICT: Guilty. Death (first charge): Not guilty (second charge)

Born in Edinburgh, June 5th, 1868, Connolly first went to Ireland as a fourteen year old member of the British Army. He married in Scotland where he became involved in Socialism. In 1896 he moved to Dublin where he founded the Irish Socialist Republican Party and also started a newspaper the Workers’ Republic. He spent seven years in America where he lectured and organised. He was an organizer for the Wobblies in the New York area. james_connolly13 james-connolly-new-york1

In Dublin he met Lillie Reynolds and they married in 1890. Despite returning to Scotland, the Irish Diaspora in Edinburgh stimulated Connolly’s growing interest in Irish politics in the mid 1890s, leading to his emigration to Dublin in 1896. Here, he founded the Irish Socialist Republican Party.

Connolly was one of the seven signatories of the Proclamation and one of three to sign the surrender. Raised in poverty, his interest in Irish nationalism is said to have stemmed from a Fenian uncle, while his socialist spark came from an impoverished working-class childhood combined with his readings of Karl Marx and others.

Connolly returned to Ireland in 1910 and campaigned for the Socialist Party. Jim Larkin appointed him as Ulster Organiser for the ITGWU in Belfast but in 1913 he came back to Dublin to help during the Lockout. Connolly was one of the founders of the Irish Citizen Army, originally founded to protect striking  union members from attacks by scabs and thugs hired by the employers  and from the frequent brutality of the Dublin Metropolitan Police. Throughout his life he wrote and published extensively on Irish and socialist issues. Tom Clarke was always sure to include Connolly and the ICA in any IRB or Volunteer celebrations, e.g. Rossa’s funeral in 1915 or the Wolfe Tone commemoration.james_connolly1James_Connolly_-_Dublin_statue

Co-founder of the Labour Party in 1912, Connolly would unite Catholic and Protestant colleagues against employers as the Irish Transport and General Workers’ Union battled for workers’ rights — strikes which were countered by the employers in the notorious Dublin Lock-out of 1913. Connolly was a prolific author and pamphleteer whose ‘Labour, Nationality and Religion’ is still relevant to modern Ireland and its woes.

Connolly was instrumental in establishing the Irish Citizen Army in 1913 and publicly criticised the Irish Volunteers for inactivity. He opposed conscription, and flew the banner, ‘We serve neither King nor Kaiser, but Ireland’ at Liberty Hall. The ICA numbered among its members Constance Gore-Booth, The Countess Markiewicz, who was the first female M.P. and the playwright Seán O’Casey whose plays dealt with the plight of Dublin’s working classes. He welded the ICA into a potent force and potential weapon for his own use. Though small, just 220 members in 1912, it was well disciplined and trained and ideologically united; its goal was an independent Irish republic. During the Easter Rising he was appointed Commandant-General of the Dublin brigade, directing the Army of the Irish Republic in the GPO.

Connolly had been so badly injured from the fighting (a doctor had already said he had no more than a day or two to live, but the execution order was still given) that he was unable to stand before the firing squad; he was carried to a prison courtyard on a stretcher. His absolution and last rites were administered by a Capuchin, Father Aloysius Travers. Asked to pray for the soldiers about to shoot him, he said: “I will say a prayer for all men who do their duty according to their lights.” Instead of being marched to the same spot where the others had been executed, at the far end of the execution yard, he was tied to a chair and then shot.


James Connolly (5 June 1868 – 12 May 1916) Irish republican and socialist leader


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