The first 1916 Rising fatality
Aengus O Snodaigh
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.
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.
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
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
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
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
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.