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Death of Michael Joseph O’Rahilly

michael-joseph-o-rahillyMichael Joseph O’Rahilly, Irish republican and nationalist known as The O’Rahilly, dies in Dublin on April 29, 1916 during the Easter Rising. He is a founding member of the Irish Volunteers in 1913 and serves as Director of Arms. Despite opposing the rising, he takes part and is killed in a charge on a British machine gun post covering the retreat from the General Post Office (GPO) during the fighting.

O’Rahilly is born in Ballylongford, County Kerry to Richard Rahilly, a grocer, and Ellen Rahilly (née Mangan). He has two siblings who live to adulthood, Mary Ellen “Nell” Humphreys (née Rahilly) and Anno O’Rahilly, both of whom are active in the Irish revolutionary period. He is educated in Clongowes Wood College (1890–1893). As an adult, he becomes a republican and a language enthusiast. He joins the Gaelic League and becomes a member of An Coiste Gnotha, its governing body. He is well traveled, spending at least a decade in the United States and in Europe before settling in Dublin.

In 1913 O’Rahilly is a founding member of the Irish Volunteers, who organize to work for Irish independence and resist the proposed Home Rule. He serves as the IV Director of Arms. He personally directs the first major arming of the Irish Volunteers, the landing of 900 Mausers at the Howth gun-running on July 26, 1914.

O’Rahilly is not party to the plans for the Easter Rising, nor is he a member of the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB), but he is one of the main people who trains the Irish Volunteers for the coming fight. The planners of the Rising go to great lengths to prevent those leaders of the Volunteers who are opposed to unprovoked, unilateral action from learning that a rising is imminent, including its Chief-of-Staff Eoin MacNeill, Bulmer Hobson, and O’Rahilly. When Hobson discovers that an insurrection is planned, he is kidnapped by the Military Council leadership.

Learning this, O’Rahilly goes to Patrick Pearse‘s school, Scoil Éanna, on Good Friday. He barges into Pearse’s study, brandishing his revolver as he announces “Whoever kidnaps me will have to be a quicker shot!” Pearse calms him down, assuring him that Hobson is unharmed and will be released after the rising begins.

O’Rahilly takes instructions from MacNeill and spends the night driving throughout the country, informing Volunteer leaders in Cork, Kerry, Tipperary, and Limerick that they are not to mobilise their forces for planned manoeuvres on Sunday.

Arriving home, O’Rahilly learns that the Rising is about to begin in Dublin on the following day, Easter Monday, April 24, 1916. Despite his efforts to prevent such action, he sets out to Liberty Hall to join Pearse, James Connolly, Thomas MacDonagh, Tom Clarke, Joseph Plunkett, Countess Markievicz, Seán Mac Diarmada, Éamonn Ceannt and their Irish Volunteers and Irish Citizen Army troops. Arriving in his De Dion-Bouton motorcar, he gives one of the most quoted lines of the rising – “Well, I’ve helped to wind up the clock…I might as well hear it strike!” His car is used to fetch supplies during the siege and later as part of a barricade on Prince’s Street, where it is burned out.

O’Rahilly fights with the GPO garrison during Easter Week. One of the first British prisoners taken in the GPO is Second Lieutenant AD Chalmers, who is bound with telephone wire and lodged in a telephone box by the young Volunteer Captain and IRB activist, Michael Collins. Chalmers later recalls O’Rahilly’s kindness to him. In a statement to a newspaper reporter, he says that he was taken from the phone box after three hours and brought up to O’Rahilly, who ordered, “I want this officer to watch the safe to see that nothing is touched. You will see that no harm comes to him.”

On Friday, April 28, with the GPO on fire, O’Rahilly volunteers to lead a party of men along a route to Williams and Woods, a factory on Great Britain Street, now Parnell Street. A British machine gun at the intersection of Great Britain and Moore streets cuts him and several of the others down. He slumps into a doorway on Moore Street, wounded and bleeding badly but, hearing the English marking his position, makes a dash across the road to find shelter in Sackville Lane, now O’Rahilly Parade. He is wounded diagonally from shoulder to hip by sustained fire from the machine-gunner.

According to ambulance driver Albert Mitchell in a witness statement more than 30 years later, O’Rahilly still clung to life 19 hours after being severely wounded, long after the surrender had taken place on Saturday afternoon.

Desmond Ryan‘s The Rising: The Complete Story of Easter Week maintains that it “was 2:30 PM when Miss O’Farrell reached Moore Street, and as she passed Sackville Lane again, she saw O’Rahilly’s corpse lying a few yards up the laneway, his feet against a stone stairway in front of a house, his head towards the street.”


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Birth of Michael Joseph O’Rahilly, Republican & Nationalist

Michael Joseph O’Rahilly, Irish republican and nationalist known as The O’Rahilly, is born in Ballylongford, County Kerry, on April 22, 1875.

O’Rahilly is educated in Clongowes Wood College. As an adult, he becomes a republican and a language enthusiast. He joins the Gaelic League and becomes a member of An Coiste Gnotha, its governing body. He is well travelled, spending at least a decade in the United States and in Europe before settling in Dublin.

O’Rahilly is a founding member of the Irish Volunteers in 1913, which is organized to work for Irish independence and resist the proposed Home Rule. He serves as the IV Director of Arms. He personally directs the first major arming of the Irish Volunteers, the landing of 900 Mausers at the Howth gun-running on July 26, 1914.

O’Rahilly is not party to the plans for the Easter Rising, nor is he a member of the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB), but he is one of the main people who train the Irish Volunteers for the coming fight. The planners of the Rising go to great lengths to prevent those leaders of the Volunteers who are opposed to unprovoked, unilateral action from learning that a rising is imminent, including its Chief-of-Staff Eoin MacNeill, Bulmer Hobson, and O’Rahilly. When Hobson discovers that an insurrection is planned, he is kidnapped by the Military Council leadership.

Learning this, O’Rahilly goes to Patrick Pearse‘s school, Scoil Éanna, on Good Friday. He barges into Pearse’s study, brandishing his revolver as he announces “Whoever kidnaps me will have to be a quicker shot!” Pearse calms O’Rahilly, assuring him that Hobson is unharmed, and will be released after the rising begins.

O’Rahilly takes instructions from MacNeill and spends the night driving throughout the country, informing Volunteer leaders in Cork, Kerry, Tipperary, and Limerick that they are not to mobilise their forces for planned manoeuvres on Sunday.

Arriving home, O’Rahilly learns that the Rising is about to begin in Dublin on the next day, Easter Monday, April 24, 1916. Despite his efforts to prevent such action which he feels can only lead to defeat, he sets out to Liberty Hall to join Pearse, James Connolly, Thomas MacDonagh, Tom Clarke, Joseph Plunkett, Countess Markievicz, Seán Mac Diarmada, Eamonn Ceannt and their Irish Volunteers and Irish Citizen Army troops. Arriving in his De Dion-Bouton motorcar, he gives one of the most quoted lines of the rising, “Well, I’ve helped to wind up the clock — I might as well hear it strike!”

O’Rahilly fights with the General Post Office (GPO) garrison during Easter Week. On Friday, April 28, with the GPO on fire, O’Rahilly volunteers to lead a party of men along a route to Williams and Woods, a factory on Great Britain Street, now Parnell Street. A British machine-gun at the intersection of Great Britain and Moore streets cuts him and several of the others down. Wounded and bleeding badly, O’Rahilly slumps into a doorway on Moore Street, but, hearing the English marking his position, makes a dash across the road to find shelter in Sackville Lane, now O’Rahilly Parade. He is wounded diagonally from shoulder to hip by sustained fire from the machine-gunner.

The specific timing of O’Rahilly’s death is very difficult to pin down but understanding can be gained from his final thoughts. Despite his obvious pain, he takes the time to write a message to his wife on the back of a letter he received from his son in the GPO. It is this last message to Nancy that artist Shane Cullen etches into his limestone and bronze sculpture. The text reads:

Written after I was shot. Darling Nancy I was shot leading a rush up Moore Street and took refuge in a doorway. While I was there I heard the men pointing out where I was and made a bolt for the laneway I am in now. I got more [than] one bullet I think. Tons and tons of love dearie to you and the boys and to Nell and Anna. It was a good fight anyhow. Please deliver this to Nannie O’ Rahilly, 40 Herbert Park, Dublin. Goodbye Darling.


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Rebels Surrender Ends the 1916 Easter Rising

pearse-surrenders-to-loweThe Irish Volunteers and Irish Citizen Army rebels headquartered at the General Post Office (GPO) on Sackville Street, after days of shelling, are forced to abandon their headquarters when fire caused by the shells spreads to the GPO. James Connolly, Commandant of the Dublin Brigade, has been incapacitated by a bullet wound to the ankle and has passed command on to Patrick Pearse. Michael Joseph O’Rahilly, a founding member of the Irish Volunteers, is killed in a sortie from the GPO. The rebels tunnel through the walls of the neighbouring buildings in order to evacuate the Post Office without coming under fire and take up a new position at 16 Moore Street.

On Saturday, 29 April, 1916, from the new headquarters on Moore Street, after realising that they will not break out of this position without further loss of civilian life, Pearse issues an order for all companies to surrender. Pearse surrenders unconditionally to Brigadier-General William Henry Muir  Lowe (photo). The surrender document reads:

“In order to prevent the further slaughter of Dublin citizens, and in the hope of saving the lives of our followers now surrounded and hopelessly outnumbered, the members of the Provisional Government present at headquarters have agreed to an unconditional surrender, and the commandants of the various districts in the City and County will order their commands to lay down arms.”

The other posts surrender only after Pearse’s surrender order, carried by nurse Elizabeth O’Farrell, reaches them. Sporadic fighting, therefore, continues into Sunday, April 30, when word of the surrender is received by the other rebel garrisons. Command of British forces has passed from Lowe to General John Maxwell, who arrives in Dublin just in time to accept the surrender. Maxwell is made temporary military governor of Ireland.

The surrender signals the end of the 1916 Easter Rising, the most significant campaign in the struggle for Irish independence since the Irish Rebellion of 1798. The Rising leaves large parts of the city decimated and results in thousands of casualties. It is also, unambiguously, a spectacular military failure. And yet it is the spark that lights the fuse on the Irish War of Independence which, within five years, forces the British government to the negotiating table to discuss the terms of Irish independence.

Martial law, which was declared in Dublin by British authorities, remains in effect in Ireland through the fall of 1916.

The 1916 Easter Rising results in at least 485 deaths, according to the Glasnevin Trust. More than 2,600 are wounded, including at least 2,200 civilians and rebels, at least 370 British soldiers, and 29 policemen. The vast majority of the Irish casualties are buried in Glasnevin Cemetery in the aftermath of the fighting. British families come to Dublin Castle in May 1916 to reclaim the bodies of British soldiers and funerals are arranged. Soldiers whose bodies are not claimed are given military funerals in Grangegorman Military Cemetery.


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Postponement of the Easter Rising

general-post-officeOn Saturday, April 22, 1916, the Easter Rising, originally planned for the following day, Easter Sunday, is postponed for one day.

At dawn a messenger from the Kerry Volunteers arrives in Dublin and informs James Connolly, Commandant of the Dublin Brigade, that Roger Casement had been arrested in County Kerry the previous day during a failed attempt to smuggle arms into Ireland on board the German ship Aud. A meeting of the Military Council is hastily organised, and the decision is made not to inform Chief-of-Staff of the Irish Volunteers, Eoin MacNeill, about Casement’s arrest.

Later in the morning, after attempting to escape the area, Karl Spindler, captain of the Aud, makes the decision to scuttle his ship after it is intercepted by the Royal Navy. Although Spindler and the crew are rescued, the armaments on board the Aud are lost. By early afternoon the Military Council is made aware of the loss of their arms shipment.

At 6:00 PM, Sean Fitzgibbon, Colm O’Loughlin, and Michael Joseph O’Rahilly arrive at Woodtown Park and inform MacNeill of the arrests and the loss of the Aud. After confronting Patrick Pearse at St. Enda’s School, a bilingual school for boys founded by Pearse, MacNeill and others, including O’Rahilly and Bulmer Hobson, gather at the house of Seumas O’Kelly on Rathgar Road and a decision is made to issue countermanding orders cancelling the Rising planned for Easter Sunday. To make sure that the countermanding order is received and understood, James Ryan is sent overnight to Cork, Colm O’Loughlin to Dundalk and Coalisland, Sean Fitzgibbon to Waterford, and Min Ryan to Wexford. O’Rahilly travels to Limerick, Kerry, Cork, and Tipperary. This succeeds in delaying the rising for only one day, although it greatly reduces the number of Volunteers who turn out.

During the evening, Major-General Sir Lovick Friend, General Officer Commanding of British forces in Ireland, travels to London on leave in wake of the capture of the Aud believing that any potential insurgency has been stopped. Chief Secretary Augustine Birrell is also in London having attended a Cabinet meeting. Both men remain in London through Easter, leaving Under Secretary Matthew Nathan as the most senior British official remaining in Dublin. Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, Ivor Churchill Guest, 1st Viscount Wimborne, urges Nathan to order the arrest of a large number of rebel leaders however he is unwilling to do so without the authorisation of Chief Secretary Birrell.