How the Irish Rebels of 1916 Died


Maxwell“I am going to ensure that there will be no treason whispered for 100 years.”

These were the words of General Sir John Grenfell Maxwel, General Officer Commanding-in-Chief of the forces in Ireland after the arrest and surrender of the Irish rebels of the Easter Rising.

Maxwell must have thought there was no time to lose.  The trials of the Irish rebels were short and with no defense whatsoever. No barristers to plead for mercy. No impartial jury was formed and within five days after the Irish rebels surrender, the executions commenced. First to be shot by firing squad were Pádraig Pearse, Thomas MacDonagh leaving a wife and 2 small children, and Thomas Clarke.

Arbour Hill 1916 gravesAfter each was shot and a medical officer verified the deaths, they were removed by ambulance to Arbour Hill Detention Barracks then dumped in a mass grave covered with quicklime. There are 14 Irish rebels from the Easter Rising buried at Arbour Hill. In addition to the above men, James Connolly, John McBride, Joseph Plunkett, William Pearse, Edward Daly, Michael O’Hanrahan, Eamonn Ceannt, Michael Malllin, Sean Heuston, Conn Colbert, and Sean MacDiarmada were executed .

Thomas_MacDonagh“He died like a prince.”

Thomas MacDonagh who liked to dress in Gaelic fashion or “kit” and founded the Irish Theater was fluent in the Irish language and in fact had been Joseph Plunkett’s tutor.

1916 was at the height of the Gaelic Revival and  MacDonagh had all the charm of a Gaelic prince. When introduced to his future wife for the first time, his hostess Nora Dryhurst said to Thomas and Joseph, “Now I want you to fall in love with these girls and marry them.” She was introducing Muriel, Grace, and Sidney (John).  Thomas came down the stairs, arms open wide and said it would be difficult to choose in such company.” He did choose Muriel however. At his execution a British officer said of him, “They all died but MacDonagh died like a prince.”

Conn ColbertIn the weeks leading to the Rising, Conn Colbert acted as bodyguard to Tomas Clarke. He was very religious and refrained from smoking and drinking, working as a clerk at a bakery in Dublin. He gave three buttons of his Volunteer uniform to another prisoner the night before his execution saying he was proud to be dying for the cause and he was leaving his bible to his sister.

At his execution, Fr Augustine who was there to the last, recorded Colbert’s last words. He kindly asked the soldier who was pinning a white square to his chest to “move it a little higher to cover my heart.”  The soldier asked to shake his hand, touched by his bravery. Colbert extended his shaking hand to the soldier who afterwards bound his hands behind his back and gently blindfolded him.


James Connolly was the last of the rebels to be executed at Kilmainham Gaol. According to the very reliable eye witness, that of a Franciscan monk, Fr. Aloysius who was with the very ill Connolly to the end, the real scene was even more distressing.At fist Connolly wanted to stand like all the rest but failed. They did indeed strap him to a chair but he slumped so much the chair fell over. They then strapped him to a stretcher and placed it in a reclining position against the wall! It is thought that England already subjected to worldwide criticism over the executions did what they could to keep this scene from being recorded correctly.

Dublin Castle Seat of British Government Fr Aloysius also recorded,  a British officer’s general feeling for the Irish rebels, “They were the cleanest and bravest lot of boys I have ever met.”

Perhaps you could share details of the other executions?

For more short posts on Irish history , see the topics at the right or sign up under the subscription button here. For a more comprehensive narrative my nonfiction book at the right has now been expanded with over 50 more Irish history facts.

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