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.

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3 responses to “They told me how Connolly was shot in the chair…

  1. No matter the circumstances this brave hero leader of Irish freedom made the ultimate sacrifice with his head held high.

    Like

  2. Pingback: James Connolly Heron reading 1916 Proclamation, Glasnevin, 24th April 2016 | The Treason Felony Blog

  3. Pingback: Truckling to Treason: Belfast Newsletter reflects on the Rebellion, 4th May 1916 | The Treason Felony Blog

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