Short biographies of the seven patriots who signed Ireland’s historic declaration of independence in 1916.
JAMES CONNOLLY (1868-1916)
Born in Edinburgh to Irish immigrant parents, 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 first came to Ireland as a member of the British Army. Age 14, he forged documents to enlist to escape poverty and was posted to Cork, Dublin and later the Curragh in Kildare.
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 spent much of the first decade of the 20th century in America, returning to Ireland to campaign for worker’s rights with James Larkin.
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. Together with Pádraig Mac Piarais, James Connolly united the patriotic movement with that of the working class, the resolution of whose interests remains inter-dependant: “The cause of labour is the cause of Ireland, the cause of Ireland is the cause of labour. They cannot be dissevered.”
Connolly was instrumental in establishing the 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.
On Easter Monday he led his Citizen Army alongside the Volunteers under Pearse and the wording of the Proclamation is said to be heavily influenced by Connolly’s rhetoric.
He served as Commandant-General Dublin Division in the GPO and was badly wounded before the evacuation to Moore Street.
James Connolly was executed by a firing squad in Kilmainham Gaol at dawn on May 12, 1916 while strapped to a chair.
Connolly faced his court martial unbowed and unbroken. He told them:
“We went out to break the connection between this country and the British Empire and to establish an Irish Republic.”
His final resting place is at Arbour Hill cemetery, Dublin.
In Dublin there is a statue of Connolly outside Liberty Hall and others in New York and Chicago, a measure of his international influence.
Connolly Station, one of the main railway stations in Dublin and a hospital in Blanchardstown are also named in his honour.
THOMAS J. CLARKE (1858-1916)
Born on the Isle of Wight to Irish parents, Clarke’s father was a sergeant in the British army who was stationed there. The family moved to South Africa and later to Dungannon, Co Tyrone, where Clarke grew up from about the age of seven, attending Saint Patrick’s national school.
In 1882, he emigrated to American. During his time there he joined the republican organisation Clan na Gael and, as a proponent of violent revolution, he would serve 15 years in British jails for his role in a bombing campaign in London.
Clarke was released in 1898, and spent nine more years in America. He returned to Dublin in 1907 setting up a tobacconist’s shop on Great Britain Street (now Parnell Square), before being co-opted onto the IRB Military Council which was responsible for planning the Easter Rising.
Because of his criminal convictions, Clarke maintained a low profile in Ireland, but was influential behind the scenes in the years of preparation for the Rising. With Denis McCullough, Bulmer Hobson and Sean Mac Diarmada, Clarke revitalised the IRB and had a major role in setting up the Irish Freedom newspaper.
Devoted to the formation of an Irish republic, Clarke was also Chairman and a Trustee of the Wolfe Tone Memorial Committee, which organised the first pilgrimage to his grave at Bodenstown, Co Kildare in 1911.
The first signatory of the Proclamation of Independence because of his seniority and commitment to the cause of Irish independence, Clarke was with the group that occupied the GPO. He opposed the surrender, but was outvoted.
He was married to Kathleen Daly, niece of the veteran Fenian John Daly, and had three children.
In 1922, a collection of his prison writings, Glimpses of an Irish Felon’s Prison Life, was published.
Clarke wrote: “Clinch your teeth hard and never say die. Keep your thoughts off yourself all you can.”
He faced the firing squad at Kilmainham Gaol on May 3, 1916, age 59.
Before its demolition in 2008, a tower in Ballymun, Dublin, and a railway station in Dundalk, Co Louth, were named after Clarke.
PADRAIG PEARSE (1879-1916)
Born in Dublin on Great Brunswick Street (now Pearse Street), he was educated by the Christian Brothers at Westland Row, before taking a scholarship to the Royal University (University College Dublin) to study law.
In 1898 Pearse became a member of the Executive Committee of the Gaelic League. He graduated from the Royal University in 1901 with a degree in Arts and Law. He was later called to the bar. From his early school days he was deeply interested in Irish language and culture. He joined the Gaelic League in 1895 and became editor of its paper, An Claidheamh Soluis (Sword of light). He lectured in Irish at UCD.
One of the first acts to bring Pearse to prominence was his defence in 1905 of an Irish-speaking trader in court who had been arrested by the Royal Irish Constabulary and fined for using his name, Niall Mac Giolla Bhríde, on a commercial sign. The presiding High Court judge in Dublin, Nigel Huntingdon-Smythe, informed Pearse, working as the man’s barrister, that he would not tolerate people either speaking or writing their names in a “foreign” language. The twenty-six year old lawyer-turned-teacher saw this judgment as a confirmation of the United Kingdom’s continued usurpation of Irish rights, and that no compromise or advancement could be possible under the then constitutional arrangement between the two island nations.
To advance his ideal of a free and Gaelic Ireland, Pearse set up a bilingual school for boys, St Enda’s, at Cullenswood House, Ranelagh, Dublin, in September 1908. He later moved the school to a larger location at Rathfarnham in 1910.
Over the following decade he would gradually abandon his casual support for John Redmond and the Irish Parliamentary Party, and the illusionary promise of so-called home rule itself, as he accepted that only a sovereign republic would give the people of Ireland the social, economic and culturally prosperity they deserved. When the Irish Volunteers formed in November 1913, he was elected a member of the provisional committee and later the Director of Organisation.
In July 1914, Pearse was involved in the smuggling of weapons and ammunition through Howth Co Dublin, which were stored at St Enda’s.
As his views became more militant, Pearse’s graveside oration at the funeral of Fenian leader O’Donovan Rossa in 1915 ended with the much quoted words “Ireland unfree shall never be at peace”.
One of the founder members of the Irish Volunteers, and the author of the Proclamation of Independence, Pearse was present in the GPO during the Rising, and was Commander in Chief of the Irish forces.
At 3.30pm on April 29, 1916 he surrendered unconditionally on behalf of the Volunteers to Brigadier-General W. H. M. Lowe in Parnell Street, to prevent further loss of civilian life.
Following a court martial at Richmond Barracks for his part in the Easter Rising, Pearse exclaimed:
“You cannot conquer Ireland. You cannot extinguish the Irish passion of freedom. If our deed has not been sufficient to win freedom, then our children will win it by a better deed.”
He was executed holding a crucifix on May 3, 1916 at Kilmainham, and was buried in quick lime at Arbour Hill. He was unmarried. Pearse’s brother William was also executed.
In Ballymun, the Patrick Pearse Tower was named after him as was Pearse Street, Dublin.
JOSEPH MARY PLUNKETT (1887-1916)
Born in Dublin, he was the son of a papal count, George Noble Plunkett. Plunkett was educated by Jesuits at the Catholic University School, Belvedere College and Stonyhurst College in Lancashire, England.
A gifted writer, he met Thomas MacDonagh when he was tutored by him in Irish in preparation for the University College, Dublin matriculation examinations.
MacDonagh was to become a close friend, as both were interested in poetry, religion and mysticism.
Plunkett graduated from UCD in 1909 but he contracted tuberculosis as a young man and spent periods in Italy, Algeria and Egypt in the years 1910-12.
Plunkett edited the Irish Review, supported Arthur Grith’s Sinn Fein and took the workers’ stand during the 1913 lock-out.
Along with MacDonagh and Edward Martyn, Plunkett also helped to establish an Irish national theatre.
He was elected to the provisional committee of the Irish Volunteers in 1913 and later became a member of the IRB and fully committed to armed revolution. In April 1915 Plunkett went to Germany to assist Roger Casement in procuring arms and assistance for the Easter rebellion.
Plunkett and Mac Diarmada are believed to have forged or at least “sexed-up” a document released on April 19, 1916, supposedly emanating from Dublin Castle, which suggested the authorities were about to crack down on Irish Volunteers and the rising nationalism.
With James Connolly and Sean Mac Diarmada, Plunkett was involved in the military strategy for the insurrection and was the youngest signatory of the Proclamation.
In poor health and recovering from an operation on his glands, Plunkett still joined other members of the Provisional Government in the GPO for the Rising.
He married Grace Giord — a sister-in-law of Thomas MacDonagh — at Kilmainham the night before he was executed.
Just before he faced the firing squad, on May 4, 1916, he said: “I am very happy I am dying for the glory of God and the honour of Ireland.”
The main railway station in Waterford city is named after him, as was the Joseph Plunkett Tower in Ballymun, and Plunkett barracks in the Curragh Camp, Co Kildare.
SEAN MAC DIARMADA (1883-1916)
Born in Leitrim, he emigrated to Glasgow in 1900 where he worked as a tram conductor, and from there came back to Belfast in 1902. A member of the Gaelic League, Mac Diarmada was sworn into the IRB by Denis McCullough, and transferred to Dublin in 1908 where he managed the IRB newspaper Irish Freedom in 1910.
Although afflicted with polio in 1911 and needing a walking stick, together with Tom Clarke, McCullough and Bulmer Hobson, Mac Diarmada is credited with revitalising the IRB and becoming a popular leader.
After the outbreak of the First World War in August 1914, he campaigned against Irishmen joining the British army, and was jailed under the Defence of the Realm Act.
In a speech at Tralee, Co Kerry he claimed: “The Irish patriotic spirit will die forever unless a blood sacrifice is made in the next few years.”
Mac Diarmada was said to be obsessively secretive in his planning, excluding many of his fellow IRB men from the Rising conspiracy.
A signatory of the Proclamation and a member of the Provisional Government, he spent the Rising in the GPO.
Before his execution, Mac Diarmada wrote: “I feel happiness the like of which I have never experienced. I die that the Irish nation might live!”
He was executed by firing squad at Kilmainham on May 12. Mac Diarmada was unmarried.
Sean McDermott Street in Dublin is named in his honour as is Mac Diarmada rail station in Sligo, and Pairc Sean Mac Diarmada, the GAA ground in Carrick-on-Shannon. Sean MacDermott tower in Ballymun, which was demolished in 2005, was also named after him.
THOMAS MACDONAGH (1878-1916)
A native of Tipperary, MacDonagh trained as a priest but like his parents became a teacher, and was on the staff at St Enda’s, the school he helped to found with Padraig Pearse.
A gifted poet, writer and dramatist, in 1909 MacDonagh was a founding member of the Association of Secondary Teachers of Ireland (ASTI), and also was active in setting up the Irish Women’s Franchise League in 1911 which promoted Irish nationalism and the cultural revival. His play When the Dawn is Come was produced at the Abbey Theatre.
MacDonagh joined the Irish Volunteers in November 1913, becoming a member of the provisional committee and taking part in the Howth gun-running.
He believed Irish freedom would be achieved by what he called “zealous martyrs”, hopefully through peace but, if necessary, by war.
Although a member of the IRB from April 1915, MacDonagh was not co-opted to the Military Council until early April 1916, and so had little part in planning the Rising. He is believed, however, to have contributed to the content of the Proclamation.
As one of the four Dublin battalion commandants, MacDonagh was in charge at Jacob’s biscuit factory in Bishop Street. His two most senior officers were Major John MacBride and Michael O’Hanrahan.
Survived by his wife Muriel Giord and his children Donagh and Barbara, MacDonagh was executed by firing squad at Kilmainham Jail on May 3, 1916.
Thomas MacDonagh Tower in Ballymun, Dublin, was named after him, as was the train station in Kilkenny. He briefly worked as a teacher at St Kieran’s College, Kilkenny.
EAMONN CEANNT (1881-1916)
Son of a RIC officer, Ceannt was born in the police barracks at Ballymoe, Co Galway. He was in command of the 4th Battalion of Irish Volunteers at the South Dublin Union in 1916, which is now the site of St James’s Hospital.
Ceannt was a founder member of the Irish Volunteers and a signatory of the Proclamation of Independence.
He attended the O’Connell Schools on North Richmond Street run by the Christian Brothers, and University College Dublin. Ceannt joined the Gaelic League in 1900 where he met Patrick Pearse and Eoin MacNeill, adopted the Irish form of his name, and founded the Dublin Pipers’ Club.
A fluent Irish speaker, he worked as an accountant with a reported salary of #300 a year in the City Treasurer’s Office, Dublin Corporation. Ceannt joined Sinn Fein in 1907 and was sworn into the Irish Republican Brotherhood in 1912.
On the foundation of the Irish Volunteers in November 1913, he was elected to the provisional committee, becoming involved in fundraising for arms.
Married to Aine O’Brennan, they had a son Ronan. Ceannt’s brother William, was a sergeant-major in the Royal Dublin Fusiliers (British army) stationed in Fermoy, Co Cork.
Aine Ceannt later founded the White Cross to help families impoverished by war.
It is said that during the fighting in the South Dublin Union Eamonn Ceannt remained calm and brave at a position his men held until learning of the surrender on Sunday.
He faced the firing-squad at Kilmainham Gaol on May 8, 1916.
Galway City’s Ceannt Station in his native Galway, as well as Eamonn Ceannt Park in Dublin and Eamonn Ceannt Tower in Ballymun were named after him.
Edited from Irish Republican News