Republican News · Thursday 1 April 1999

[An Phoblacht]

The first 1916 Rising fatality

Aengus O Snodaigh

The odds are a thousand to one against us, but in the event of victory, hold onto your rifles, as those with whom we are fighting may stop before our goal is reached. We are out for economic as well as political liberty. Hold on to your rifles.

James Connolly, Palm Sunday 1916.

The first casualty of the Army of the Irish Republic in the fighting of Easter week 1916 was a Dublin man, Sean Connolly. Connolly epitomised all the various strands of revolutionary Ireland which came together that fateful week to wage war against the English empire and to declare an Irish Republic. An Irish language enthusiast, an actor, an accomplished footballer and hurler, a soldier of the workers' movement, and a committed republican, he died at the age of 33.

Born in Sandymount in 1883 to a family who'd been driven off the land during the Land League era, Connolly's father was a sailor, who was later employed on the docks. The family moved to the north inner city district of Dublin shortly after Seán's birth. Seán was educated first at the convent school at North William

Street, before going to St Joseph's Christian Brothers school at Marino.

At school he became a fluent Irish speaker and took a great interest in history. After his formal education, he began working for Eason's in Middle Abbey Street as a dispatch clerk, moving from there to become a junior clerk in Dublin Corporation, becoming in time a senior officer in the Motor Licence Department in City Hall.

Seán's interest in the Irish language saw him becoming involved in the Gaelic League (founded in 1893) teaching Irish at several locations around Dublin. His spare time was fully utilised during this period, he was a founder member of the famous Fianna Hurling and Football Club and a player of both codes. In 1910, he won a Dublin Championship medal with St Kevin's and went on to win an All-Ireland Junior Football medal with his county. He was remembered as a ``stonewall goalkeeper''.

Seán also made a name for himself with an amateur theatre group, the Irish National Players, being in great demand for the many nationalistic plays being performed in halls, or at aeríochtaí, throughout the county. He also appeared in plays in the Gaiety and the Abbey. At one stage he was even offered a tempting five-year acting contract in the United States. He turned it down, saying his country would probably need him before the five years were up and that he wanted to be available when the time came.

accomplished singer, he sang with the Emmet Choir and it was here that he met his future wife Christina Swanzy in 1910. They had three children: Kevin, Aiden and Máiréad.

After seeing the state oppression of the striking workers and their families during the 1913 Lock Out, Seán joined the fledgling workers' army, the Irish Citizen Army under James Connolly. He was a regular attender at the company drills in the grounds of the union owned Croydon House in Fairview, being made a company captain. A crackshot, he helped Captain Jack White instruct the recruits in sniping skills, in drilling and during the regular route marches.

On Palm Sunday, eight days before the rising, James Connolly signalled to the assembled soldiers of the Irish Citizen Army in Liberty Hall, Beresford Place, that the rising was coming, but he added a note of caution: ``The odds are a thousand to one against us, but in the event of victory, hold onto your rifles, as those with whom we are fighting may stop before our goal is reached. We are out for economic as well as political liberty. Hold on to your rifles.''

On the morning of Easter Monday 1916, Seán Connolly led out the second company of the Irish Citizen Army (ten men and ten women, a further eight under George Norgrove, whose two daughters were in position in City Hall joined them later) from Liberty Hall. His three brothers, George, Eamonn, and Matthew and his sister Kathleen were under his command. (Another brother,

Joseph, fought under Michael Mallin in St Stephen's Green) They crossed the Liffey and headed for their target, Dublin Castle.

One section of the company entered and occupied City Hall, while another occupied buildings in the vicinity. Members of this section, George Connolly, Philip O'Leary, Tom Kane, Tom Daly, James Seerey and Christopher Brady, rushed the gates of Dublin Castle, captured the guardroom and tied up the three guards. Not realising that the Castle was virtually unguarded due to the

Fairyhouse Races and thinking that the large Castle garrison had been alerted by a shot, one of the captured guards had succeeded in getting off, Connolly's soldiers held the guardroom for a number of hours before retiring to positions held in the vicinity. With such a small garrison, it was obvious that the intention never had been to take the Castle but to impede British troop movements and reinforcements.

A further section headed up Lord Edward Street to take up positions at Werburgh Street and at the Synod House adjacent to Christchurch Cathedral. Inside City Hall, firing positions were taken up and a number of men went to the rooftop. Others, including Dr. Kathleen Lynn and Helena Moloney, helped barricade the doors.

Soon, fire could be heard throughout the city and Sean was wounded in one exchange in his area of command early on. While trying to encourage his soldiers, who were becoming more and more hemmed down by sniper fire on the rooftop, he was mortally wounded by a bullet fired from Bedford Tower inside the Castle. The enemy had found the range and other casualties were soon to follow.

Within hours, the garrison came under a tremendous barrage of machine-gun fire and grenades. A hole was blasted in the wall of City Hall that night and British soldiers with fixed bayonets stormed in. What remained of the garrison of 28 under Dr. Kathleen Lynn surrendered. Four of their number lay dead and another two were wounded.

While three Volunteers on active service in relation to the Rising drowned when the car they were travelling in crashed off a pier at Ballykissane, County Kerry, (Con Keating of Cahirciveen, Charles Monaghan from Belfast and Donal Sheehan from Newcastlewest, were on their way to make radio contact with Roger Casement and the Aud on Holy Thursday, 20 April 1916.) Seán Connolly was the first fatality on the Irish side during Easter week 1916, 83 years ago this month.

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