More than 90 people were sentenced to death for their part in the Easter Rising. Sixteen of them were executed between 3 May and 12 May 1916. Public opinion then started to swing against the executions and the British revised their approach. They commuted the death sentences of the remaining leaders and imposed prison sentences instead.
However, it was too late. The public remained outraged that 16 of the leaders were executed. There was a wave of sympathy for them that quickly hardened into support for Irish independence. In 1918, the nationalist Sinn Fein party won most of Irish parliamentary seats, leaving no doubt that most of the country wanted to free itself from British rule.
In that sense, although the Rising was quickly quashed, it was the catalyst that helped to bring about the Irish Free State and eventual independence following the Anglo-Irish War.
Seven signatories of the Proclamation of the Irish Republic
Seven of the leaders signed An Poblacht Eireann, the Proclamation of the Irish Republic, which was read out by Patrick Pearse outside the GPO on what is now O’Connell Street. These seven also declared themselves the Provisional Government of the Irish Republic.
In signing the Proclamation, they knew they were effectively signing their own death warrants as they would be executed if the rebellion failed, as they half expected it to do.
Éamonn Ceannt was in command at the South Dublin Union, which saw some of the fiercest fighting throughout the six-day conflict. Story of Éamonn Ceannt.
Tom Clarke was arguably the person who did the most to bring about the Easter Rising in 1916. He devoted his life to achieving independence for Ireland and spent 15 years in prison because of it. Story of Tom Clarke.
James Connolly was a trade union leader who became one of the main driving forces of the Rising. His execution, for which he had to be strapped in a chair because of he had been wounded in the Rising, still resonates as a powerful image in Irish nationalist circles. Story of James Connolly.
Seán MacDiarmada (McDermott) is less well known now than some of the other leaders but at the time he was hugely popular and very influential in nationalist circles. He came to believe that he and other dedicated republicans might have to offer themselves as martyrs to inspire the country on towards achieving independence. Story of Seán MacDiarmada.
Thomas MacDonagh was a poet, academic and playwright who had only become a member of the Military Council planning the rebellion a few weeks before it began. He wrote the Marching Song of the Irish Volunteers. Story of Thomas MacDonagh.
Patrick Pearse was the Commander General of the 1916 Easter Rising and one its most pivotal figures. He was the one who read out the Proclamation of the Irish Republic on the steps of the GPO and he was the one who finally had to give the order to surrender. Story of Patrick Pearse.
Joseph Plunkett was the main military strategist of the 1916 Easter Rising and also provided its most heartrending and poignant love story, marrying his fiancé in jail only hours before being executed. Story of Joseph Plunkett.
The other nine to be executed
Sir Roger Casement
Sir Roger Casement was a British diplomat who was knighted for his human rights campaigns exposing the exploitation of workers in both Africa and South America. His role in the Easter Rising was to persuade Germany to supply guns and ammunition to the rebels. He was successful in this but the shipment of 20,000 rifles was intercepted by the British Navy off the coast of Kerry. The captain scuttled the ship rather than let the guns fall into the hands of the British.
Casement was later arrested and sentenced to death for treason. He was the only one of the executed rebels to be hanged rather than shot. This was because he faced a full criminal trial in London, unlike other rebels who were summarily dealt with by a court martial.
He was hanged at Pentonville Prison in London on 3 August.
Con Colbert was one of the younger generation of Irish republicans. He openly displayed his nationalist fervour to the authorities before the Rising and according to those who fought alongside him, this may have led to him being chosen for execution while more senior officers were spared. Story of Con Colbert.
Edward ‘Ned’ Daly was a member of both the Irish Republican Brotherhood and the Irish Volunteers. He was commandant of the 1st Battalion of the Volunteers stationed at the Four Courts, which saw some of the fiercest fighting. It’s said that he took over a nearby bakery and distributed free bread to the local community.
Daly was the younger brother of Kathleen Clarke, who was married to one of the main leaders of the Easter Rising, Tom Clarke.
At just 25, Edward Daly was the youngest of the 16 rebels to be executed when he faced the firing squad at Kilmainham Gaol on 4 May 1916.
Seán Heuston played a prominent role in the 1916 Easter Rising by leading a small band of young recruits who managed to hold off the advance of the British Army for nearly three days. When the fighting was over, the British were amazed and disgusted that they had allowed themselves to be stopped for so long by such a small group of rebels.
Thomas Kent didn’t take part in the fighting during the 1916 Easter Rising but was still executed because he had intended to take part and because of a gunfight at his home in which a police officer was killed. Story of Thomas Kent.
Michael Mallin was the Chief of Staff of the Irish Citizen Army (ICA) – second only to James Connolly.
Mallin trained and drilled the ICA and was the Commandant of the St Stephen’s Green College of Surgeons garrison during the Easter Rising. Countess Markievicz was his second in command. Story of Michael Mallin.
John MacBride had fought against the British in the Boer War in South Africa. He was a late recruit to the Easter Rising, only taking part after coming across the Volunteers as they marched towards Jacob’s Biscuit factory under the command of Thomas MacDonagh on the first day of the action.
MacBride thought the Rising had been called off following the order from Eoin MacNeill telling the Volunteers to stand down. He was surprised to hear the Patrick Pearse and the other leaders had decided to go ahead anyway. He immediately agreed to join in and accompanied the Volunteers to Jacob’s.
MacDonagh valued MacBride’s military experience and appointed him second in command. Given that MacBride only joined the Rising at the last minute, it’s perhaps surprising that the British should have executed him. It may be that he was paying the price for having fought against the British in South Africa. It may also be that the British overestimated his involvement because he had been married to Maud Gonne, although they were divorced by the time of the Rising. Gonne was a fervent nationalist who had campaigned for Irish independence. MacBride’s association with her may have given the British the impression that he was more involved than he actually was.
MacBride and Gonne had son Sean, who went on to become the leader of the IRA, a prominent politician and a winner of the Nobel Peace Prize.
Michael O’Hanrahan was a novelist and journalist. He was stationed with the Second Battalion of the Volunteers at Jacob’s Biscuit factor during the 1916 Easter Rising. He was nominally second in command to Thomas MacDonagh, but was quickly overshadowed by the more militarily experienced John MacBride who joined the rebellion at the last minute.
He was born in New Ross Co Wexford on St Patrick’s Day, 17 March in 1887. He was interested in promoting Irish culture and joined the Gaelic League in 1898. He became heavily involved in nationalist politics after joining the campaign led by Maud Gonne and Arthur Griffith against the visit of King Edward VII to Ireland in 1903. He later joined Sinn Fein, the Irish Republican Brotherhood and the Irish Volunteers
He was executed by firing squad on 4 May, 1916. Wexford O’Hanrahan Railway Station is named in his honour.
Willie Pearse was the younger son of Patrick Pearse and was stationed with him at the GPO during the Easter Rising. He was given the rank of captain but, although committed to the cause, he was not one of the leaders or guiding minds behind the rebellion.
He faced the court martial like the other rebels but he was the only one to plead guilty to the charge of “the waging of war against His Majesty the King”. Some commentators have suggested the reason he admitted the offence was because he wanted to be executed along with his brother.
Like his father James Pearse, Willie was a gifted sculptor and examples of his work can still be seen in Dublin today.
Willie Pearse was executed on 4 May, 1916.