James Connolly Heron reading 1916 Proclamation, Glasnevin, 24th April 2016

On the day marking the 100th anniversary of the start of the 1916 Easter Rising, James Connolly Heron read the Proclamation of the Irish Republic at the republican plot, Glasnevin at one of many great events on in Dublin during the day (the Glasnevin event was organised by the National Graves Assocation). James is a great-grandson of James Connolly and grandson of Ina Connolly-Heron (who served in the Belfast Cumann na mBan in 1916 at Coalisland and Dublin) and Archie Heron (Belfast Battalion, Irish Volunteers at Coalisland).


The first shots of the 1916 Easter Rising?

Were the first shots of the 1916 Rising fired in County Tyrone on Easter Sunday?

As part of the planned Rising, the Belfast Battalion of the Irish Volunteers and Belfast IRB Circles mobilised on Saturday 22nd April, 1916, and traveled by train to Coalisland in County Tyrone. There, they were to drill and parade, while the Tyrone Volunteers also mobilised. Both units were to then proceed to Connacht where they were to link up with Liam Mellow’s command, apparently by providing a screen along the River Shannon to prevent British forces attacking from the east.

You can read accounts of the Belfast volunteers who took part here, along with the story of their mobilisation, and read the National Graves Association 1966 commemorative booklet here.

Under the President of the Supreme Council of the IRB, Denis McCullough, advance parties had reached Coalisland on Friday 21st April. By the time the Belfast units formed up in Coalisland, a Belfast IRB member was already dead, Roger Casement was under arrest and Eoin McNeill’s countermanding order printed in the press. With the confusion surround McNeill’s order and whether the Rising was going to take place at all, it was decided that the Belfast units would return to the city by train from Cookstown before suspicion was raised about their real intention.

Then, in Cookstown:

Shortly after three o’clock it was evident that there was something unusual astir, as small advance parties began to reach Cookstown and busied themselves, though fruitlessly to secure bikes or other vehicles to meet the main body, who it was feared would not arrive in time for the train. When the procession, marching in sections of fours, reached Killymoon Street, one of the most Nationalist streets in Cookstown, several shots were fired. On passing the police barracks two arrests were made, and eventually the main body reached the railway and entrained for Belfast without further mishap.

Then, that evening:

John Dillon, 49 Gibson Street, Belfast, was charged that at Gortalowry, Cookstown , on 23rd April, he did feloniously, unlawfully and maliciously shoot at certain persons unknown with intent to maim. Jeremiah Hurley, 9 Amelia Street Belfast, was charged that unlawfully he did assult and wilfully obstruct Head Constable O’Neill in the execution of his duty, apprehending John Dillon

These appear to be the first shots fired in the Easter Rising in 1916, a day before the Rising began in Dublin. A full account of this episode was reported in Tyrone Courier on 27th April 1916 (thanks to Anthony Fox for sending this to me – he has published the article on his Listamlet.com blog here), I have reproduced the relevant text below.


Dungannon and Coalisland districts were the scenes of great excitement on Saturday evening and Sunday in consequence of the advent of large parties of Sinn Feiners from Dublin, Belfast and other centres. A number of them bore arms. At 12.45 on Saturday afternoon the first party of Dublin representatives arrived in Dungannon by the ordinary tram, and marched to Coalisland where they were met by local leaders. The first Belfast contingent arrived at 7 p.m, accompanied by pipers and marched to Coalisland. A further large contingent from Belfast arrived by the midnight mail train, and having paraded in Market Square at one o’clock on Sunday morning they, too marched to Coalisland. A portion of them was billeted for the night in the Coalisland Volunteer Hall, another party was accommodated in Annaghaboe, while others were put up by sympathisers in private houses in Annaghmore and Spring Island, in the Coalisland locality. On Sunday a further contingent from Belfast arrived in Cookstown by the Midland route and drove to Dungannon, whence they marched to Coalisland. Other representatives from Belfast and various Ulster centres came to Coalisland in motors, and altogether some 140 members were present. The Edendork company, marched to Coalisland and local leaders from Donaghmore, Cappagh, Carrickmore, and Eglish, were in attendance. A private conference was held at noon, and at 1.15 p.m a motor arrived from Dublin, and the message which its occupants conveyed appeared to have a very depressing effect on the conference, which immediately broke up. It had been intended to camp out in the vicinity of Coalisland during the night and march to Cappag, a stronghold of the movement, at daybreak on Monday. On receipt of the news from Dublin, however, the Belfast and Dublin representatives were paraded, and marched to Cookstown, a distance of eight miles.

Cookstown, a distance of eight miles.


A Cookstown correspondent says: A party of Sinn FeinVolunteers marched from Coalisland to Cookstwon on Sunday afternoon, when the orders from”chief of staff” were received from Dublin cancelling the parade. Although each individual Volunteer was directed to obey this order in every particular, about one hundred of them decided to march to Cookstown to catch the 4-20 train on the Midland railway. Shortly after three o’clock it was evident that there was something unusual astir, as small advance parties began to reach Cookstown and busied themselves, though fruitlessly to secure bikes or other vehicles to meet the main body, who it was feared would not arrive in time for the train. When the procession, marching in sections of fours, reached Killymoon Street, one of the most Nationalist streets in Cookstown, several shots were fired. On passing the police barracks two arrests were made, and eventually the main body reached the railway and entrained for Belfast without further mishap. In the evening a special Court was held by Mr H. Alfred Mann J.P when John Dillon, 49 Gibson Street, Belfast, was charged that at Gortalowry, Cookstown , on 23rd April, he did feloniously, unlawfully and maliciously shoot at certain persons unknown with intent to maim. Jeremiah Hurley, 9 Amelia Street Belfast, was charged that unlawfully he did assult and wilfully obstruct Head Constable O’Neill in the execution of his duty, apprehending John Dillon , who was then charged with shooting at certain women with intent to maim. The accused were remanded for eight days, and on Monday afternoon were admitted to bail, Dillon in £50 and two sureties of £25 each, and Hurley in £20 and two sureties of £10 each. The sureties were James Mayne, law clerk, Cookstown, and Mr Dermot Barnes, draper St James’s Park, Falls Road Belfast.

Other people record the same story. The various accounts are interesting as they highlight the difficulty in achieving a consistent reconstruction of events, and how, from different perspectives, the same event was viewed, and later remembered, with some variations. According to Denis MCullough:

An incident happened on the journey which will illustrate the type of population we had to contend with in Tyrone. A man named Butler, who was a kind of hanger-on to the Volunteers before the split, but had no connection with us afterwards, apparently came from or his wife came from Coalisland and was there for the Easter holidays, when our men arrived. He was a drunkard and took up with the few men of our body who took intoxicating liquor and was a very bad influence with them generally. On Sunday morning he was the worse of drink and tailed on to the Column, on its march to Cookstown. Between Coalisland and Cookstown is the village of Stewartstown, a hotbed of Orangeism. Passing through Stewartstown, a crowd of the inhabitants attacked the Column and it took all my efforts to keep them steady and from retaliating. I got them safely through Stewartstown, but Butler, who was in the rear, turned back and fired a shot or two at the Orange crowd, from an old revolver he Ducee 29. carried. Immediately the R.I.C. who were, of course, accompanying the Volunteets, closed in and arrested him. A number of the Volunteers broke ranks and proceeded to stage a rescue. I got between them and the police and with the help of one or two of the Volunteer officers, got them to re-form ranks and continue their march. I had no hesitation whatever in leaving him to his fate (though some of our men bailed him out the following morning). He didn’t belong to oir body and disobeyed the order which he heard me give, firmly and vehemently, to our men. If I had permitted a fracas to develop, undoubtedly some of our men would have used the revolvers or automatics they still had and the whole affair would have developed into a sectarian riot, to the disadvantage and disgrace of the whole movement.

And Thomas Wilson:

On our arrival at the outskirts of Cookstown a man who followed us from Belfast and was not a member of the Volunteers fired off a revolver near some R.I.C. men who were marching at our rear. The R.I.C. made an effort to arrest him and he ran into our ranks. A scuffle took place and one of the R.I.C. went in front of us to the R.I.C. barracks and apparently reported the matter to the police in the barracks. A number of police were outside the barracks when we came up. We halted, and Denis McCullough had a discussion with them. As a result of this discussion the man who fired the shot was taken into the barracks. 

And, Seamus Dobbyn:

We marched to Cookstown. On the way there was some shooting at Stewartetown, where a number of Orangemen apparently had tried to block the passage of rearguard. A email number of police were cycling and marching on both sides of the road, but very few. At the fall-out on the journey between Stewartstown and Cookatown we learned definitely that the Rising was to take place, but were informed that we were going to Belfast to go later to Dublin. I cannot say who brought that information, but the man who told me was Manus O’Boyle. When we reached Cookstown we were halted by a number of police outside the barracks. They parleyed.eyedfor a while with Mr. McCullough, Cathal McDowell and others immediately in front of our ranks. Mr. McCullough then asked us to go peacefully to the station, but just as we were moving off a numberof R.I.C. charged into our ranks and seized one of the men. I forget this man’s name. We immediately surrounded the R.I.C. and struggled with them to try and release this man, but we were called on urgently to re-form ranks and to let the man go. He was taken into the barracks and we marched to the station and entrained for Belfast.

Charlie Monahan’s fateful journey, 20th-21st April 1916

Charles Monahan was the first Belfast casualty of 1916.

The pier at Ballykissane where Charlie Monahan met his death when a car carrying IRB members on an operation connected to the 1916 Easter Rising took a wrong turn and ended up in the sea.

The pier at Ballykissane where Charlie Monahan met his death when a car carrying IRB members on an operation connected to the 1916 Easter Rising took a wrong turn and ended up in the sea.

He had been born on 21st March 1879 to Robert and Johanna Monahan, who lived at 23 Reilly’s Place, off Cromac Street in the Markets. Robert was originally from Wexford, where the surname Monahan is mainly found in the area between New Ross and Hook Head in the south of the county. His mother, Johanna, was born Johanna Nolan and was originally from Kildare.

Robert was a sawyer, one of a number who lived in Reilly’s Place (at the end of the street was John Brown’s Cromac Steam Saw Mills). At the time of the 1901 census, he and two of Charlie’s brothers were were working as mill sawyers or wood cutting machinists. The spelling of Reilly’s Place changed over the twenty years after 1879, becoming Riley’s Place but it is no longer there (it was largely demolished in the 1970s). Its location can be seen on the map below.

Reilly's Place/Riley's Place, location shown in red.

Reilly’s Place/Riley’s Place, location shown in red.

Charlie was one of seven children and had an older brother and sister Johanna (born 1872) and George (born 1876), and a younger sister and three younger brothers, Edith (born 1881), James (born 1883), Joseph (born 1886) and Alfred (born 1889). The girls worked in the textile mills, while George, Charlie and James were all wood machinists. His youngest brother, Alf, apprenticed as a poster and lithograph artist.

Charlie had attended the Christian Brothers School in Oxford Street and had trained as a machinist, moving to Dublin in around 1900. In Dublin he lived with Mrs Byrne in 70 Seville Place. While there, he got involved in the GAA (with St Laurence O’Tooles club), the Gaelic League and acquired some further training as a mechanic. He also joined a Dublin Circle of the IRB, while his brother Alf joined the Belfast Circle. His mother died in 1903, while his father died in February 1908. Some time around 1910 he appears to have gone to the United States, returning in 1915.

Prior to the Easter Rising, he was a late addition to the team going down to Kerry as Sean McDermot had him replace Joseph O’Rourke (secretary to the Dublin IRB Centre) almost as they were about to leave. According to Sean Prendergast, Monahan had returned from the United States as an expert mechanic and wireless operator, which is suggested by tools found on his body after he drowned. O’Rourke had been in charge of money and the orders for the mission and he handed these over to Monahan. The team selected for the mission was led by Denis Daly and included Con Keating, Dan Sheehan, Colm O Lochlainn and Monahan. They were given their last instructions by McDermot and Tom Clarke they day before they were to start their journey. The night before they left, Charlie and Con Keating stayed in Connaught Street in the house of Eily O’Reilly, Michael O’Hanrahan’s sister (O’Hanrahan also lived there). According to Denis Daly:

On Holy Thursday night at 44 Mountjoy Street we were given final instructions by Seán MacDermott. They were to the effect that the five of us were to proceed to Killarney by train on Good Friday. At a specified time after the arrival of the train in Killarney we were to go to the road junction on the Killarney-Killorglin road, about a quarter of a mile north of the Cathedral, where we would be met by two motor cars with drivers who would have come to that point from Limerick. We were then to proceed in the two cars, via Killorglin, to Caherciveen, force an entrance to Maurice Fitzgerald’s Wireless College there as quickly as possible, remove the necessary equipment to the cars and take it to a point on the Castlemaine-Tralee road where a party of Tralee Volunteers were to take it over, All of us were armed with revolvers. It was estimated that we would be able to complete the mission and hand over the wireless equipment to the Tralee men before daylight on Easter Saturday morning.

They met with the two cars in Killarney as planned, with Monahan in the car driven by Tom McInerney. After that nothing went to plan. The two cars got separated with the wireless expert (Keating) in McInerney’s car with Sheehan and Monahan. As they passed by the Laune River, McInerney appears to have mistaken directions they were given and, at 10pm, in the darkness, drove off the pier and into the water at Ballykissane.  You can see the pier in the photo above (the only difference today is the warning bollards). Only McInerney survived.

As news got out about the drowning, word reached Alf who was with Liam Mellows in Galway during the Rising. Alf didn’t realise that one of those killed with his brother Charlie. According to Eily O’Reilly, Michael O’Hanrahan was badly affected by Keating and Monahan’s deaths (the O’Hanrahans hailed from New Ross in Wexford). A close aide of Sean McDermot and Tom Clarke, Sean McGarry, wrote that there were tears in Tom Clarke’s eyes when he had to inform other IRB members of Monahan’s death.

Charlie Monahan’s remains weren’t recovered from the water until 30th October when they were washed ashore. Even then, his head and feet were missing. They were only found on 3rd November 1917.

Charlie Monahan lies buried in Dromavally cemetery in Killorglin.

Charlie Monahan, IRB

Charlie Monahan, IRB

British rule in Ireland may, owing to gerrymander, be ballot proof but it is definitely not bullet proof…

I had written previously about David Fleming, who undertook several prolonged hunger strikes in 1944 and 1946, which had a severe impact on his health (and appear to have contributed to his early death in 1971). This month sees the 70th anniversary of his and Sean McCaughey’s parallel protests which ultimately ended in McCaugheys death and also shortened Flemings life. Against the odds (he was released from prison in 1946 on the assumption he was about to die), Fleming did survive until 1971, but what I had overlooked was one last tragic episode in 1947 that, in some ways marked the end of a chapter for the wartime era Belfast IRA.

And it was very much a sad one.

David Fleming

David Fleming

Fleming had written to the Minister of Home Affairs in the northern government, Edmund Warnock, from ‘G.P.O. Dublin’, on 18th September 1947, stating that he “…was returning to occupied Ireland on 20th on the 5 pm Dublin-Belfast plane… Enclosed is a medical certificate, just in case your puppet Government, plus your Empire, attempt to run up an alley-way. I am returning for one and definite purpose of continuing Ireland’s glorious struggle against foreign occupation in the only way I know to be effective – armed revolution. Yours is a puppet Government. Therefore I can only regard your cabinet and alleged police force as unexecuted criminals, and every further day you remain in society’s debt is a slur on my country’s honour. The only reason I inform you as to my intended movements is because I refuse to sneak from one city in my own country to another city also in my own country. Before God I am not a British subject. Rather than be considered as such, I prefer death any kind of death, even death from starvation. I shall return to occupied Ireland and I shall fight in occupied Ireland, and if it is necessary I shall die fighting and protesting against the foreign occupation of any portion of Ireland.

He also addressed a second letter to ‘Your Britannic Majesty’ in which he said “One of your subjects, alleged subjects, is discontented and wishes to inform you that he intends to revolt. Let us examine the cause and facts… Yours truly was born in Ireland in 1920. Ireland, 1920! What masterpieces of sadism, brutality and barbarity leap before the eye of the informed. A nation – a very old nation – whose boundaries God in his wisdom had clearly set out in rocks and soil, was fighting for its freedom. A gallant handful was fighting a powerful, cunning and brutal foe – a foe that resorted to the barabrities of the Dark Ages. Cottages and factories were looted and razed to the ground; juries were shot or beaten; old men and young girls were beaten insensible. Live youths were tied to the rear of army trucks and towed at great speed along public highways to their deaths. Prisoners were brutally battered to death in cells with the butts of rifles, or starved to death on hunger-strike rather than accept the slavery of a foreign crown. Left with the option of war or slavery, I prefer war . . .  British rule in Ireland may, owing to gerrymander, be ballot proof but it is definitely not bullet proof. The exploding land mine, the dead enemy, the Irish soldier patriot lying in his own warm blood-pool are to all necessities in Ireland’s road to nationhood. There is no other way. Before God. I am not a British subject, and I prefer death, any kind of death, even death from starvation, rather than suffer such a stigma. I shall, if your thugs lay hands on me again, hunger-strike my way to freedom, thereby obtaining your admission that I and all Irishmen are not British subjects, or I shall die of starvation in protest. Your father’s Government partitioned Ireland, your troops occupy it. Withdraw your troops, withdraw your insult to our national emblem (you have got it on your postage stamp), and Ireland is happy and free… I shall die with a gun in each hand, helping to establish a republic, de facto, or in a cell starved, attempting to wring recognition from the usurper.

A further letter stated: “In case you have not already grasped, I, David Fleming, am returning to Northern Ireland – Ulster, by nickname-on Saturday, 20th September, 1947, on the 5 o’clock Dublin-Belfast plane.

And Fleming did get on the plane and was seen handling rifle bullets during the flight by other passengers. He was arrested by the RUC when the plane landed, then searched and brought to Chichester Street RUC Barracks as he was still under an eight year exclusion order from the north. During the search he was found with some documents and three bullets in his pockets. He was held for the next few days in Chichester Street Barracks. On the Tuesday, after a conference with officials and the RUC, Warnock decided to hold him under the Special Powers Act and Fleming was brought to Crumlin Road.

As the northern government grappled with what to do with him, he immediately went on hunger and thirst strike. At the end of the week he was brought to court despite being already unsteady on his feet. After hearing his letters read to the court,  which he described as an ‘unlawful assembly’ and refused to recognise, he was found to have a case to answer and brought forward for trial in October. His last comment to the court was “Fight fair. Do not use a tube. I refuse to be a tube-fed British subject. I shall resist to the limit of my endurance.”

By the end of September, when he had been on hunger and thirst strike for nine days, his brother Patrick was allowed to visit him and arrangements were made for a doctor to see him. By the 6th October he was 16 days on hunger and thirst strike and was removed to the hospital. While he was by now very weak, he must have taken some liquid as he would have been at a fatal stage of a thirst strike by 16 days.

When the case was about to go to trial he had been on hunger strike for a further 9 days.  By now he had been assessed as to his state of mind. Even to a court of the northern government, the tragic legacy of Fleming’s prison experience clearly weighed too heavily on him and his brother, Paddy, a former IRA Chief of Staff, was allowed to collect David and return with him to a hospital in Dublin.

They told me how Connolly was shot in the chair…

How was James Connolly executed? The popular image is of Connolly strapped into a chair to be shot. This may not exactly be the case, though.

I found this recent post on the 1916 Easter Rising Historical Society Facebook group. It concerns a graphic account of Connolly’s execution (posted by Kevin Good). A subsequent comment by Michael Barry include a sketch from the military archives which is taken as showing Connolly in the chair. I think both can be reconciled and suggest Connolly’s execution was slightly different to the usual depiction.

Kevin Good posted that church sacristan Hubert O’Keeffe was obliged to accompany priests like Fr McCarthy on their jail visits and so recorded this account of Connolly’s execution and wrote it down in 1944 (also published here):

In giving a description of James Connolly’s execution, Father McCarthy told me that the prisoner, who was in a bad condition, elected to stand like the rest but failed.

“He was then tied to a chair but slumped so much he overbalanced. Finally, he was strapped to a stretcher and placed in a reclining position against the wall. In this manner he passed into the role of Ireland’s honoured martyrs.”

“The sight left an indelible impression on Fr. McCarthy. Describing the scene to me afterwards he said, ‘The blood spurted in the form of a fountain from the body, several streams shooting high into the air. The possible explanation of this may have been the tightening of the straps around the body.’

In response, Michael Barry posted this sketch (also online here):

He states that the sketch was from military archives and was done by the officer presiding over Connolly’s execution. While it is a quick sketch, it is taken as showing the chair, but no stretcher. Given that Connolly, according to O’Keeffe, had been unable to sit up on a chair, it seems unlikely that he could have held himself rigid across a chair as shown. In fact, this is the exact position he is described as being unable to hold in the chair. A more likely explanation appears to be that Connolly was tied to a stretcher, which was then balanced over the chair (and apparently leant up against a wall). I don’t know enough of terminal ballistics and forensics to make any comment on the description of the impacts of the bullets on Connolly’s body.

In the song ‘The Patriot Game’, Dominic Behan has Fergal O’Hanlon remembering that ‘They told me how Connolly was shot in the chair. His wounds from the battle, all bleeding and bare…’ While that may be the classic republican image, the reality appears to be even more shocking.