Éamonn Ceannt, Irish republican mostly known for his role in the Easter Rising of 1916, is born into a very religious Catholic family in the little village of Ballymoe, overlooking the River Suck in County Galway on September 21, 1881.
Ceannt, born Edward Thomas Kent, is the sixth of seven children of James Kent and Joanne Galway. His father is a Royal Irish Constabulary officer stationed in Ballymoe. In 1883 he is promoted and transferred to Ardee, County Louth. When his father retires from the force in 1892, the family moves to Dublin. Here he attends the North Richmond Street Christian Brothers School. Two other leaders from the 1916 rising, Seán Heuston and Con Colbert, are educated at the school. Upon finishing school, he goes on to secure a job with the clerical staff of the City Treasurer and Estates and Finances office. He works as an accountant with the Dublin Corporation from 1901-1916.
In 1907 Ceannt joins the Dublin central branch of Sinn Féin and over the following years becomes increasingly determined to see an Independent Ireland. In 1912 he is sworn to the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB) by Seán MacDiarmada. This movement is pledged to achieve Irish independence and to do so by using physical force if necessary.
In May 1915, the IRB Military Council, consisting of Joseph Plunkett and Seán MacDiarmada as well as Ceannt, begin plans for a rebellion. Ceannt is one of the seven men to sign the Proclamation of the Irish Republic and is appointed Director of Communications. He is made commandant of the 4th Battalion of the Volunteers and during the Rising is stationed at the South Dublin Union, with more than 100 men under his command, notably his second-in-command Cathal Brugha, and W. T. Cosgrave. The South Dublin Union controls a large area south of Kilmainham around Dolphin’s Barn.
As 3rd Royal Irish come to Mount Brown, a section of Ceannt’s battalion under section commander John Joyce opens fire, killing a number of soldiers. The British cannot break through to Dublin Castle and so bring up more troops from Kilmainham Barracks. A ceasefire allows casualty retrieval. The Volunteers drive back repeated assaults from determined regimental attacks. Ceannt uses a contingent at the Marrowbone Lane Distillery to enfilade the passing soldiers. On Tuesday, April 25, the British could close off the battle but fail to press home the advantage when the 4th Royal Dublin Fusiliers arrive. Ceannt continues to hold out with 20 times fewer men. On Thursday, April 27, a British battalion comes south as far as the Rialto Bridge when Ceannt’s outposts open fire.
The British are forced to tunnel into the buildings and, as Ceannt’s numbers reduce, it is increasingly involved in close quarter fighting. His unit sees intense fighting at times during the week, but surrenders when ordered to do so by his superior officer Patrick Pearse.
After the unconditional surrender of the 1916 fighters, Ceannt, along with the other survivors, are brought to Richmond Barracks to be detained. On Monday, May 1, plain clothes detectives known as the “G-men” identify the leaders of the Rising, Ceannt being one of them. He is tried under court martial as demanded by General John Maxwell. Maxwell is determined to afflict the death penalty upon Ceannt and the other leaders of the Rising. However, he faces legal issues which only allow the death penalty to be used if one is found aiding the enemy, being Germany at this time. Not until Maxwell obtains a letter from Patrick Pearse addressed to his mother regarding the communication with the Germans is he legally obliged to deploy the death penalty. From this point Ceannt and his comrades begin facing the prospect of a firing squad. On Tuesday, May 2, he is sent to Kilmainham Gaol to face trial and execution.
Éamonn Ceannt is held in Kilmainham Gaol until his execution by firing squad on May 8, 1916, aged 34. He is buried at Arbour Hill Prison in Dublin.