Michael Mallin was one of the main military commanders in the 1916 Easter Rising and one of the 16 leaders who were executed. As he faced the firing squad he said he found no fault with the soldiers about to shoot him, but he was full of remorse that he was leaving his wife and five children destitute.
Mallin was the Chief of Staff of the Irish Citizen Army (ICA) – second only to James Connolly. He trained and drilled the ICA, and was the Commandant of the St Stephen’s Green College of Surgeons garrison during the Rising. Countess Markievicz was his second in command.
Michael Mallin was born in Dublin on 1 December, 1874. He joined the British Army as a drummer boy when he was only 14 and served with distinction in India and Afghanistan, and was awarded the India medal in 1895. However, he soon became disillusioned with the role of the army and the way the British treated the native tribes.
He became a socialist and returned to Dublin, where he married Agnes Hickey. They had five children together.
Mallin found work as a silk weaver and became a prominent official in the Silk Weavers’ Union. He set up the Irish Socialist Party with Francis Sheehy-Skeffington.
His interest in socialism and his trade union activity brought him into contact with James Connolly, who by 1914 had become the leader of the Irish Transport and General Workers Union and its paramilitary group, the Irish Citizen Army.
Band instructor and military training officer to ICA
Mallin was acting as a band instructor for the transport union but when Connolly heard of his military background, he asked him to take over as the ICA’s training officer. Mallin then put the ICA through its paces, with marching routines and training in the use of armaments and military tactics.
He then took command of the ICA garrison at St Stephen’s Green/College of Surgeons. This location saw less action than some of the other sites chosen by the rebels because the British concentrated their efforts on the most strategically important targets such as the GPO and Four Courts.
Mallin’s tactics were later criticised by some commentators. He asked his men to dig trenches, which may have been a good defence against an enemy located at the same ground level but were not effective against machine guns with a clear line of fire from the top of nearby buildings. Mallin was also criticised for failing to occupy the nearby Shelbourne Hotel, which would have provided a strong vantage point against the British forces.
Whatever, the rights of and wrongs of Mallin’s tactics, they had little effect on the overall outcome, as the rebels were coming under heavy bombardment across Dublin and after six days had no alternative but to surrender or be slaughtered.
Mallin played down his role in the Rising
Mallin surrendered on 30 April. He was arrested and like the leaders of the Rising, was tried before a court martial. Unlike most of the other leaders, however, he mounted a spirited defence and tried to downplay his role in the Rising. In doing so, he was influenced by the fact that if were executed, he would be leaving behind a pregnant wife and four small children, who would have no one to support them.
In his statement to the Military Court he said: “I am a silk weaver by trade and have been employed by the Transport Union as band instructor. During my instruction of these bands they became part of the Citizen Army and from this I was asked to become a drill instructor. I had no commission whatever in the Citizen Army.
“I was never taken into the confidence of James Connolly. I was under the impression that we were going out for manoeuvres on Sunday.
“Shortly after my arrival at St Stephen’s Green the firing started and Countess Markievicz ordered me to take command of the men as I had been so long associated with them. I felt I could not leave them and from that time I joined the rebellion.”
It was all in vain. Mallin was found guilty and was executed by firing squad at Kilmainham Gaol on 8 May 1916.
Devastated to be leaving his wife and children destitute
He was haunted by the fact that his death would have a devastating effect on his family and was full of remorse. On the night before his execution he wrote: “I have left my wife and children absolutely destitute.”
Shortly before his death he wrote his final letter to his wife saying: “I find no fault with the soldiers or the police.” He then asked her “to pray for all the souls who fell in this fight, Irish or English”.
Referring to his impending execution, he said: “So must Irishmen pay for trying to make Ireland a free nation.” He urged his daughter Una to become a nun, which she duly did in due course, and referring to his baby son, he wrote: “Joseph, my little man, be a priest if you can.”
Joseph too fulfilled his father’s wishes and became a priest, spending a large part of his ministry in the Far East. In 2015, he recorded an interview with Dublin film maker Marcus Howard, expressing his thoughts on his father and the Rising, and his early life after his father’s execution. You can see the video here.
Mallin has since been honoured in his native city – The Dun Laoghaire Mallin DART (Dublin Area Rapid Transit) rail station is named after him.