James Connolly’s execution

On this day, 99 years ago, James Connolly was executed by the English for his role in the Easter Rising of 1916 and his death caused anger to explode all over Ireland. This is not to say that the death of Sean MacDiarmada who was executed on this day as well for the same reasons, was any lesser of a sore point to be mad or upset about, or that any executions before them were either.  In fact, the decision to kill the leaders after secret trials still haunts the British to this day. It is only the fact that James Connolly was driven to his death in Kalmainham Gaol by ambulance and shot after being tied to a chair that makes his execution any different from the other leaders.

That final disrespectful treatment was just too horrible though. News of his death and the circumstances surrounding it spread like wildfire and led many into action. Those who had been more apathetic to the ideas of labor and Irish freedom or who had been put off by the rebellion were so offended by the way Connolly was killed that many were galvanized into Republicanism and anti-English sentiments because of it. It was an affront to any decent human to imagine what it must have been like to be carried through a prison yard and tied to a chair in order to be upright for your own execution. The outrage over shooting an already wounded man was extensive. It was so great that in all likelihood, his death saved about 100 more who had been condemned but were instead allowed to live. In fact, he was the last leader to die in the direct aftermath of the Easter Rising.

There is a theory that James Connolly was already dead when he was tied to that chair, but that the English needed to claim his death for themselves in order to fulfill all their verdicts. This would mean that they ordered the squad to fire on him for the sake of some vengeful and petulant principle.  I rather hope it’s true because the man who could stand up to exploitative employers and the might of the English army should not have to sit, bound and infirm, in the face of his demise. This rumor seems to be disproved by the doctor who witnessed the execution though who said,  “He was the bravest man I have ever known. He gripped the sides of the chair to steady himself, held his head up high and waited for the volley.” All we know for sure is that James Connolly was defiant to the end, whether he cheated the English out of an execution or not. He was a proverbial giant in life, and remains a legend in death, even 99 years later.


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