On this day in 1928, a great Irish warrior passed away. John Devoy lived a long life that was devoted to Irish freedom. For him, despite the many years he was in exile, Ireland was always home and its freedom was the only cause worth fighting for.
“They think that they have foreseen everything, think that they have provided against everything; but, the fools, the fools, the fools! — They have left us our Fenian dead, and while Ireland holds these graves, Ireland unfree shall never be at peace” – Patrick Pearse
This passionate call to arms and declaration of war was delivered by Patrick Pearse at the graveside of Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa. It is one of the most famous speeches in Irish history and O’Donovan Rossa’s funeral was a show of military might, a genius stroke of propaganda created by the Irish Republican Brotherhood, and one of the catalysts that led to the Easter Rising in 1916. It took place on this day in 102 years ago.
Over the last few years interest in the roles that women played throughout Irish history has finally picked up. We now know that there were far more women who took part in the Easter Rising than previously thought. Estimates have put their numbers anywhere from seventy-seven to several hundred and many are finally getting the recognition that they have deserved for so long. Sorcha MacMahon was one of those women and without her, the 1916 uprising may have been very different indeed.
It’s appalling that Heather Humphreys continues to be in charge of Ireland’s arts, language and heritage. Her failure to protect any of these things has been going on for far too long. She’s a disgrace to the position and her ongoing quest to redevelop and erase the historical importance of Moore Street proves this time and time again.
Humphreys always favors new business over history and obviously believes that Ireland’s heritage is less important than modern development. She has refused to protect Ireland’s history on numerous occasions, letting go of historical properties and landmark sites repeatedly but this new blunder may take the cake. She is refusing to purchase Patrick Pearse’s last surrender letter. This handwritten message was sent to the volunteers in the Four Courts garrison and it indicated they should stand down. It signaled the end of the Easter Rising and came from the man who was the figurehead of it but apparently this is not important enough for Heather Humphreys. Nevermind that this letter is vitally important to Ireland’s history. Nevermind that someone else in some other country may lose or destroy it after purchase. Nevermind that it should be preserved and placed with the other two in the National Museum immediately. She cares not about those things. She thinks the cost is too high for a single letter, while any historian or lover of Ireland would argue that it’s priceless. The thought of her not fighting for this letter mere months after the centenary celebration of the Rising makes me sick to my stomach.
On this day 102 years ago, a large shipment of arms landed in Howth, destined for the Irish Volunteers. Many of these guns were used two years later during the Easter Rising of 1916 and without them, the Rising may never have happened at all. When the Asgard came to shore it was met by the Fianna Éireann and other Volunteers who were quick to unload the weapons and begin carting them off. They hoped to avoid the attention of the police, but their mission did not pass unnoticed. The authorities who were watching did not engage the large crowd but they did call for backup. As the Volunteers left the area they were met by the King’s Own Scottish Borderers, a regiment of the British Army. A tussle ensued but in the end, the soldiers were only able to confiscate a mere nineteen of the nine hundred guns brought into Ireland that day.
News spread quickly of the successful smuggling operation and the military’s failure to seize most of the weapons so by the time the Borderers were marching back into Dublin, crowds had already gathered to celebrate and to mock them. They antagonized the soldiers, taunting them and throwing rubbish and fruit at the column (which magically became stones in the official reports). They shouted insults and openly laughed at the troops and their failed mission. Soldiers and police officers never tolerate this kind of behavior for long (as they continue to prove to this day) and by the time they marched onto Bachelors Walk they had had enough of the hostile crowd. The soldiers turned to face the people and seconds later shots were fired directly into the busy street, hitting those who had been following them and innocent civilians alike. They followed the volley of bullets with a bayonet charge. The collective lack of self control from the army resulted in four casualties and nearly forty others were injured.
On May 3rd, 1916, Grace Gifford walked into a jewelry store in Dublin. Her eyes were red and she had obviously been crying. She bought her own ring and left with it in hand. Grace was on her way to Kilmainham Gaol to marry Joseph Plunkett, the love of her life. She knew that her family didn’t approve and that she’d be a widow just a few hours after the wedding but she chose to marry him anyway. The executions of the leaders of the Easter Rising had begun that same day. Patrick Pearse, Tom Clarke, and Thomas MacDonagh were executed for their roles in the Easter Rising and her beloved would soon join them.
It must be agonizing for a parent to outlive their child. It goes against the natural order of the universe and has to be absolutely devastating. For many, it usually involves anger and hopelessness. Margaret Pearse knew that suffering better than most, for she didn’t lose one son, but two—at once—both executed at the hands of the British for their roles in the Easter Rising of 1916. Despite this, she steadfastly refused to give in to despair and she spent the rest of her life fighting for the free Ireland that her sons had died for.
It has been said that tourists – and mostly American tourists – are the only reason that Kilmainham Gaol is still open because most Irish couldn’t be bothered with it these days. My new friend who is now happily married here in the U.S. agrees with the travel books that say things like that because he and his generation seem to be sick to death of the glorious dead mentality and couldn’t care less about the history and the Troubles that have haunted the country since even before the Rising of 1916. In fact, he was shocked that we were still asked questions about our religion and last names on our travels to Ireland at the end of last year, both in the Republic and the North because he thought those kinds of things were finished.
However, when I did tour Kilmainham Gaol, I was in a group mostly made up of Irish people and all seemed just as profoundly affected by it as I was. Perhaps it was because of the off season which meant my group was thankfully smaller when we went through the infamous prison, or perhaps it was an anomaly altogether but I was glad for it. It made for a decidedly more intimate and more personal experience.
I believe that he knew he was about to be executed. I believe that he thought it was worth it completely. I have seen his letters to his mother in person, once he was imprisoned and about to die. This schoolmaster, this poet, this philosopher and this hero of Ireland – this reason that I wear an Easter Lily badge – this man, is an idealist – a cheerleader – a man who never lost his faith in humanity and justice. He was amazing. His triumph was through his failure. His life was short but full and meaningful.
Nov. 10th, 1879 – May 3rd, 1916
Padraig Pearse’s Address to Court Martial:
I desire in the first place to repeat what I
have already said in letters to General Sir John
Maxwell and to Brigadier General Lowe. My object in
agreeing to an unconditional surrender was to prevent
the further slaughter of the civil population of
Dublin and to save the lives of our gallant followers
who, having made for six days a stand unparalleled in
military history, were now surrounded and (in the case
of those under the immediate command of Headquarters)
without food. I fully understand now, as then, that my
own life is forfeit to British law, and I shall die
very cheerfully if I think that the British
Government, as it has already shown itself strong,
will now show itself magnanimous enough to accept my
single life to forfeiture and give a general amnesty
to the brave men and boys who have fought at my
In the second place I wish it to be understood
that any admissions I make here are to be taken as
involving myself alone. They do not involve and must
not be used against anyone who acted with me, not even
those who may have set their names to documents with
me. (The Court assented to this,)
I admit that I was Commandant General
Commanding in Chief the forces of the Irish Republic
which have been acting against you for the past week,
and that I was President of their Provisional
Government. I stand over all my acts and words done or
spoken in those capacities. When I was a child of ten
I went down on my bare knees by my bedside one night
and promised God that I should devote my life to an
effort to free my country. I have kept that promise.
As a boy and as a man I have worked for Irish freedom,
first among all earthly things, I have helped to
organise, to arm, to train, and to discipline my
fellow-countrymen to the sole end that, when the time
came, they might fight for Irish freedom. The time, as
it seemed to me, did come, and we went into the fight.
I am glad we did. We seem to have lost. We have not
lost, To refuse to fight would have been to lose; to
fight is to win. We have kept faith with the past, and
handed on a tradition to the future.
I repudiate the assertion of the prosecutor
that I sought to aid and abet England’s enemy. Germany
is no more to me than England is. I asked and accepted
German aid in the shape of arms and an expeditionary
force. We neither asked for nor accepted Germany [sic]
gold, nor had any traffic with Germany but what I
state. My aim was to win Irish freedom: we struck the
first blow ourselves but should have been glad of an
I assume that I am speaking to Englishmen, who
value their freedom and who profess to be fighting for
the freedom of Belgium and Serbia. Believe that we,
too, love freedom and desire it. To us it is more
desirable than anything in the world. If you strike us
down now, we shall rise again and renew the fight. You
cannot conquer Ireland. You cannot extinguish the
Irish passion for freedom. If our deed has not been
sufficient to win freedom, then our children will win
it by a better deed.