Edward “Ned” Daly

Edward “Ned” Daly was born into a large and proud Fenian family on this day in 1891. Although he was named after his father, he never met the man. His dad passed away just before Ned was born, leaving his uncle, John Daly, and the rest of his family to raise the young boy. They instilled in him the same rebel nature and Irish Republicanism that his father had once fought for.  When he was a small child, all he wanted to do was to be a soldier, like his father before him. Since his family would never allow him to take a post in the English Army, Ned thought his dream would never be achieved. However, when the march toward yet one more rebellion began, suddenly there was another option. Under the influence of his sister (who happened to be Kathleen Clarke), and her husband Tom, Ned’s interest in fighting and soldiering was brought to fruition. It was his destiny to be a rebel but unfortunately, that destiny would also lead to an early grave.

It is unclear when exactly Ned joined the Irish Republican Brotherhood—the secret organization that was planning the Easter Rising—but he was certainly fast-tracked into command, due to his ties to a few of the leaders and his legendary bloodline. Luckily, he lived up to that nepotism and was a brilliant strategist and fighter. Growing up he had been unremarkable and lazy as a student, but when he was given the chance to be the soldier he had always dreamed of being, Ned excelled. He was the youngest person ever to be given the rank of Commandant and his men followed his orders, despite his youth.

On the day that the Easter Rising of 1916 began, Ned addressed his men somberly, but probably with a bit of enthusiasm as well. He said, “I have to tell you men, that you will shortly be going into action. At 12 o’clock today, the flag of the Irish republic is to be raised – now I don’t want any cheering – and I also want to make it clear that if anyone wants to withdraw now, then he is at liberty to do so.” Only one man left and the rest, known as the First Battalion, marched into the battle. They covered the northwest area of Dublin, where some of the heaviest fighting was to take place.

Ned was quick thinking and brave – and when he had to be, he was merciless. He split his 250 men into smaller, more mobile groups that were strategically placed to give each other cover and aid when necessary. His battalion was one of the first to see any action during the Rising when his men were surprised by Lancers while they were fortifying their positions and building barricades. Luckily for him, they were part of an ammunition convoy and when they fled and/or were killed, Ned had more rounds and weapons than he had started with.

When he and his men raided a nearby jail, he was astonished to find that all the real convicts had been moved, and the police had decided to hide in the cells. He instantly had 24 prisoners of his own. One of his captives was Col J.P. Brereton who was held in the Four Courts. Later he complimented the garrison on their behavior and said he “was treated with kindness by the insurgents.” Though he was in the midst of a long and fierce battle, Ned made sure that his prisoners and the civilians in the area were always cared for. The bread from the local bakery continued to be handed out to those who lived nearby, under the watchful and sometimes starving eyes of the rebels.

Daly was also able to capture Linenhall Barracks, which gave him an excellent field advantage. For this coup he received praise in James Connolly’s wartime report, written on April 28th. It said, “Commandant Daly’s splendid exploit in capturing linenhall barracks we all know. You must know also that the whole population, both clergy and laity, of this district are united in his praises.

He did have to fall back from Linenhall, and in order to impede the oncoming onslaught from the English forces, Ned set fire to the barracks. The fire quickly grew and was soon the biggest fire in city history. Concerned once more for the surrounding neighbors and citizens, Daly sent his men out to fight the fire themselves, despite sniper fire and the ongoing battle. Eventually the fire was brought under control and his men returned to their barricades and their real opponents.

When the order came from Padraig Pearse to surrender, Ned and his men were exhausted, hungry and stretched to their breaking point, but there was still talk of ignoring the order. Daly once again took charge and made sure that the surrender was orderly and professional, unlike the actions of his English counterparts. Thirty British soldiers forced their way into nearby houses and by the end of their intrusions, thirteen innocent civilian men were dead, murdered in cold blood. The North King Street Massacre, as it was called, was vehemently denied by the authorities who claimed that the rebels were to blame and the dead men were merely caught in the crossfire. They tried to dispel the story as a rumor, despite the witness statements of the women and children who were in the houses where the killings occurred. Eventually there was an inquiry into the massacre but no one was ever charged with the crimes. This, along with the executions of the rebel leaders and the care that Daly had shown to the neighborhood during the fight, were some of the reasons that the tide turned in favor of the rebels after the Rising.

In the end, Edward “Ned” Daly was brought before the firing squad on May 4th, 1916. He was one of the youngest leaders and was still only 25 when he was shot. He claimed that he was “just following orders” at his trial but his efficiency and his ancestry made that impossible to believe. A priest who was at Kilmainham Gaol before Ned was executed said “I remember well seeing Commandant Daly coming down from the prison cell. He was calm and brave as when he was with his men in Church Street Area.” He was killed on the same day as Joseph Plunkett, Willie Pearse and Michael Hanrahan.

Over the years, the signatories on the Irish Proclamation have gotten a lot of the credit for the whole of the Rising but Ned Daly has a rightful place with them as well. He may be one of the least known participants but he led his men brilliantly, boosted morale when there was no hope, and maintained a relationship with the surrounding neighborhoods that the Rising was inconveniencing. I have no doubt he would have continued to garner support and would have been a vital leader in the years to come had his life not been cut short. In the days leading up to the Centennial Celebration of the Rising in 2016, it is important to remember all of the men and women who gave their lives nearly 100 years ago and Ned Daly is no exception.

Happy birthday Commandant.

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