Michael Mallin, ICA Chief of Staff
Michael Mallin, ICA Chief of Staff

A look at the life and death of the leader of the Irish Citizen Army, Michael Mallin, who was executed by firing squad 96 years ago this week. By eirigi.


Michael Mallin was born 1st of December 1874 in a tenement in Dublin’s Liberties. His father John was a ship’s carpenter and his mother Sarah was a silk winder who had worked in England before losing her job because of her support for the Manchester Martyrs. Michael was the eldest of six children who survived to adulthood; five died in childhood due to the poor living conditions in the city’s slums.

While Mallin’s mother had republican sympathies, many of her siblings were involved in the British military. Michael was interested in music from a young age and just before his fifteenth birthday in 1889 was convinced to join the regimental band of the Royal Scots Fusiliers. He signed up as a drummer boy for twelve years’ service.

For the first few years Mallin’s regiment were stationed in barracks around Ireland and Britain. As part of his training he learned to use several musical instruments, but also received much of the same training as the regular soldiers. In 1896 though, they were sent to India.

While in India, Mallin caught malaria, which left him sick much of the time and would stay with him for the rest of his life. During this time there were several uprisings by native tribes and Mallin became sympathetic to the Indian nationalist cause. In a letter to his fiancee Agnes, he wrote: “We aught to leave the poor people alone for I am sure they will never give in and they have proved brave men. God help them if I were not a soldier I would be out fighting for them.”

He also developed hostility to the British military and British imperialism during this period. As his period of service was coming to an end, he wrote to Agnes: “All the chance of being killed fighting for the robber flag that I am serving under is all over. If ever I am to die by bayonet or bullet I hope it is against it for Ireland.”

Mallin returned to Ireland at the end of 1902 and soon married Agnes. He found work as a silk weaver and joined the Dublin Silk Weavers’ Union, and before long he became secretary of the union. He was also involved in socialist politics at this time, and when the Socialist Party of Ireland / Cumannacht na hEireann was established in 1909, Mallin was elected to its committee.

In 1913, Mallin was heavily involved in a strike by weavers at Atkinson and Co. poplin factory in Hanbury Lane. This was the factory in which Mallin was employed and by the time of the strike almost the entire workforce had been unionised. On 12 March 1913, around 120 men went out on strike.

Weavers at that time were paid according to the amount of material they produced in a week, and a key issue of the strike was the amount of time weavers had to spend at their looms waiting for material to arrive to be weaved. In early April the company began bringing scabs into the factory to replace the striking workers. This elevated the dispute to a point of high principle, as when negotiations began between the union and the bosses, the latter demanded that the blacklegs be kept on and that they be trained up by the experienced workers. The union rejected this and the strike continued until June, when it was eventually resolved to the union’s satisfaction.

Mallin’s young family had run a small newsagents in Meath Street in the Liberties during this period, which helped sustain the family during the twelve weeks of the strike. Perhaps owing to the bitterness of the strike, Mallin left Atkinson’s shortly after its conclusion. He continued working in the shop, but as the Great Lockout of 1913 developed, the family was forced to close it. Workers who were locked out or on strike could not afford to spend money in the shop, and the people who could, such as members of the Dublin Metropolitan Police, would not shop there because of Mallin’s outspoken support for the workers.

In 1914 Mallin joined the Irish Transport & General Workers Union. He quickly put his experience from the British army into use by becoming involved in the Irish Citizen Army, and also by taking over the running of the Emmet Fife and Drum Band, which was based in the union’s premises at Emmet Hall in Inchicore. He also organised a Workers’ Orchestra that performed regularly in Liberty Hall.

James Connolly appointed Mallin Chief of Staff of the Irish Citizen Army in late 1914, and under his command the ICA quickly developed into a disciplined and well-drilled organisation. Connolly and Mallin also gave regular lectures on guerrilla warfare, and both wrote articles for the Workers’ Republic on this theme as well. Most of Mallin’s articles related to attacks and battles that had taken place in India while he was stationed there - they often referred to successful attacks by small, poorly-equipped groups against the might of the British army.

Throughout 1915 and into 1916 Mallin continued to train and drill the Citizen Army, and he also continue to conduct the Workers’ Orchestra. Emmet Hall was situated close to Richmond Barracks and Mallin put some effort into procuring weapons from soldiers who were either sympathetic or were prepared to sell them.

Connolly and Mallin were dedicated to revolution and when Connolly was co-opted onto the Military Council of the IRB the course was set for the 1916 Rising. Following a final performance of the Workers’ Orchestra on Easter Sunday evening, on Easter Monday 24 April 1916 Mallin led a contingent of a few dozen men and women from Liberty Hall to take St Stephen’s Green.

On their arrival the Tricolour was raised above the adjacent Royal College of Surgeons. From the Green detachments of Irish Citizen Army volunteers were sent to Harcourt Street rail station to prevent it being used by British forces, and down Leeson Street to prevent British soldiers from crossing the bridge. However, due to organisational failings or through lack of anticipated numbers, the garrison was unable to fortify the buildings around Stephen’s Green. British forces were able to reach the roof of the Shelbourne Hotel and forced the ICA volunteers to fall back from the Green into the College of Surgeons. British machine gunners pounded the building for days but the rebels held out until the surrender order from Pearse and Connolly came through on Sunday 30 April.

Mallin was tried by British court martial on Friday 5 May and sentenced to death. On 7 May he received a final visit to his cell in Kilmainham Gaol from his family - his mother, three siblings, his four children and his wife Agnes, then pregnant with their fifth child. In a final letter to his wife, Mallin wrote: “sentense of Death has been passed, and a quarter to four tomorrow the sentense will be carried out by shooting and so must Irishmen pay for trying to make Ireland a free nation.”

Michael Mallin, Chief of Staff of the Irish Citizen Army, was executed by firing squad at dawn on Monday 8 May 1916.

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