Easter Aftermath
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Easter Aftermath

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Ned McGinley, National President  

This is an article to remember as we think back to 1916 and the Rising.

 “Echoes Of The Risings Final Shots”

 (A manuscript found in the Capuchin Archives in Church Street in

Dublin offers a new perspective on events during the Easter Rising

of April 1916, writes Benedict Cullen.)

 Between April 30th and May 4th, 1916, Father Columbus Murphy, a

Capuchin priest, was called on to help and administer to the

prisoners in Kilmainham Gaol prior to their execution. The

following is based on a portion of Father Columbus's manuscript

between these dates.

 The day after the surrender of the Four Courts on April 29th, there

was still confusion in North King Street about whether this was a

truce or a surrender. To clarify, Father Columbus went to the Four

Courts in an effort to retrieve Pádraic Pearse's note, which had

led to the surrender there of Comdt Ned Daly. Failing in this

effort, Father Columbus crossed the river to Dublin Castle to see

if someone there had the note.

 He met Capt Powerscourt and explained to him that he needed the

document to convince the Volunteers in the North King Street area

that the Rising was over. The officer suggested he should go in

person to Pearse at Arbour Hill detention barracks and ask him to

rewrite the surrender note.

 A two-seater army car was then provided to take Father Columbus to

headquarters to ask Gen Maxwell's permission to see Pearse. As the

car passed through James Street, a dangerous zone still manned by

the South Union Volunteers, the Capuchin stood up in the car so

that the Volunteers would see him clearly and allow the car to


 At headquarters, Gen Maxwell received him courteously. Father

Columbus asked to be allowed to see Pearse. Having consulted some

officers Maxwell said: "Very well! I will grant your request."

 "May I also see the other prisoners?" asked the priest.

 "Yes," replied the general.

 Gen Maxwell deplored the loss of life and property which had


 "Oh, but we will make those beggars pay for it," he said.

 "But," replied Father Columbus, "the blood of martyrs is the seed

of martyrs."

 "Are you backing them up then?" queried the general. Concluding

that prudence was the better part of valour, the priest said


 Handing the written permit to Father Columbus, the general said: "I

hope, Padre, you will make good use of it to prevent further


 The priest was taken by army car to Arbour Hill barracks.

Presenting his permit to the governor, he asked to speak to Comdt

Pearse. The sarcastic reply came back: "I believe there is a man

here who calls himself that!"

 The governor accompanied Father Columbus down the right wing to the

door of Pearse's cell.

 The cell door was opened. Pearse was seated with his head bowed and

sunk deep into his arms, resting on a little table. He looked a

sad, forlorn, exhausted figure. Disturbed by the opening of the

cell door, he slowly raised his head. He had the vacant, dazed look

of someone waking from sleep. Then, recognising the Capuchin habit,

he got up quickly, stretched out his hand and said: "Oh, Father,

the loss of life, the destruction! But, please God, it won't be in


 The priest explained briefly why he had come, and asked Pearse to

rewrite the document. Pearse agreed, saying his one wish was to

prevent further loss of life and property.

 In the governor's office, Pearse wrote:

 In order to prevent further slaughter of the civil population and

in the hope of saving the lives of our followers, the members of

the Provisional Government present at headquarters have decided on

an unconditional surrender, and commandants or officers commanding

districts will order their commands to lay down arms.

 - P.H. Pearse, Dublin, 30th April 1916


 Shaking hands with the priest, Pearse said: "Hurry, Father, as time

is precious and perhaps there are lives depending on it."

 The next time Father Columbus saw Pearse was shortly before his


 At about 10 p.m. on Tuesday, May 2nd, a motor car drove up to the

friary in Church Street carrying two soldiers who told Father

Columbus that Father Aloysius Travers OFM Cap was required at

Kilmainham Gaol. Within minutes the car drove off with Father


 About a half an hour later Father Columbus answered the door again.

Two policemen handed him a written message that had just been

phoned through to the Bridewell. The note read: "Please tell the

Franciscan Fathers at Church Street that the two men they wish to

see at Kilmainham Detention Prison should be seen by them tonight."

 Father Columbus consulted his superior, who agreed that Father

Columbus should go. Fortunately, he had gone only a short distance

when the car, which had collected Father Aloysius earlier,

returned. It had gone to pick up Mrs Pearse, but the sniper fire

had been so fierce that it had had to turn back without her.

 Father Aloysius, feeling the cold in the open car, had decided to

pick up some extra clothing. Availing of the car, Father Columbus

accompanied his confrčre to Kilmainham Gaol.

 When they arrived, they were shown into a little room. There,

Father Columbus was informed that three men were to be shot at

daybreak. He was also told that one of them, named MacDonagh, had

asked for a Father Aloysius.

 "Father Aloysius is here," said Father Columbus. "But who are the

other two?"

 "Pearse and Clarke," replied the governor.

 Father Aloysius went to see Thomas MacDonagh. Father Columbus went

into Thomas Clarke's cell, where he remained for about an hour.

 Clarke told him that the three men had been court-martialled early

that morning, but that sentence had not been passed on them until

after 5 p.m. He also said that he had received no food since

breakfast-time and that he would like something to eat. At Father

Columbus's request, one of the soldiers went to get a couple of

biscuits and a tin of water. Grateful for the biscuits, Clarke gave

his Volunteer badge to the priest as a souvenir.

 When Father Columbus had concluded his ministry to Clarke, he went

to see MacDonagh, who, together with Pearse, had already been

attended by Father Aloysius.

 "Father," said MacDonagh, "they are going to shoot us after all."

He then said he was looking forward to a visit from his sister, who

was a Sister of Charity at Basin Lane Convent.

 Time was passing. The governor told Father Columbus that Tom

Clarke's wife and Willie Pearse were on their way, but that the

visit of MacDonagh's sister, the nun, was out of the question

because of practical difficulties. When MacDonagh was told this he

was so disappointed and upset that Father Columbus promised that he

himself would bring her to the prison if at all possible.

 It was now past 2 a.m. An open military car, driven by two Dublin-

born British soldiers, was put at the Capuchin's disposal and he

set out for the convent. Soon after, he was able to return to the

prison with Sister Francesca, MacDonagh's sister, and the Mistress

of Novices.

 Father Columbus conducted Sister Francesca to her brother's cell

with only the flickering of a candle to light the way.

 Following a brief visit with Clarke and his wife, Father Columbus

left Clarke's cell and met Father Aloysius, who told him that he

had forgotten to bring the holy oils for the anointings after the

shootings. It was now past 3 a.m. and Father Columbus set off again

in the military car to obtain holy oils from Father Tom Ryan in


 When he returned to the prison he found that the governor was

anxious to get the nuns to leave, as time was almost up. Sister

Francesca was numbed and dazed with grief. To gain more time she

asked for a lock of her brother's hair as a keepsake. But there

were no scissors. The governor then produced a penknife with a

small scissors attached. It was given to Sister Francesca, but she

could not use it, as her shaking fingers refused to work. A soldier

took it from her, and, cutting a lock of her brother's hair, handed

it to her.

 Still she was unwilling to leave. Finally, after she had hung her

rosary beads around her brother's neck, Father Columbus led her

away and supported her down the stairs to the military car outside.

As the car drove away, the firing squad marched up the road to the


 When Father Columbus re-entered the prison the governor informed

him that both priests would have to leave immediately as it was now

3.20 a.m.

 "We have not finished giving the rites of the church to the men,"

said Father Columbus.

 "Do so immediately," replied the governor.

 The priest explained that the anointings could only be given after

the shootings.

 "Well, in that case," said the governor, "it cannot be done at all

as it is written in the regulations that all except officials have

to leave the prison."

 The priests were surprised and indignant, but were unable to change

the governor's mind. Having administered the Sacraments of

Confession and Holy Communion, the priests accepted the ruling, but

lodged a formal complaint. Then they said a last farewell to the

three prisoners without telling them that they would not be present

at the shootings.

 As they left the prison the governor told them that they were to

keep the executions a secret. Then it was home to the friary to

celebrate Mass for the repose of the souls of the three executed


 The following night, Father Columbus slept soundly until he was

woken shortly before 3 a.m. and told that he was wanted again at

Kilmainham. As he came downstairs he saw Fathers Augustine, Albert,

and Sebastian OFM Cap waiting for him.

At Kilmainham, an excited governor told them that four men were to

be shot at 3.25 a.m., and that there was only a short time left for

the priests to exercise their ministry. He asked that one priest go

to each man adding: "Of course this time you will remain for the

executions and do all that is necessary for them."

 To their dismay, the priests realised that none of them had brought

the holy oils. As Father Columbus knew Edward Daly, he went to his

cell. Father Albert attended to Michael O'Hanrahan, Father

Augustine to Willie Pearse and Father Sebastian to Joseph Mary


 When he entered Daly's cell, Father Columbus saw a look of relief

and gladness appear on the prisoner's face. The prisoner received

the sacraments of Confession and Holy Communion with great fervour

and prepared for death.

 When it was realised that that Holy Communion had not been brought

to J.M. Plunkett, who was in a different wing, Father Columbus went

there and literally gave him the Sacrament as he was being led from

his cell.

 Anxious to see Daly for the last time, the Capuchin rushed back,

only to discover that he had been led out already to be executed.

As the priest proceeded to follow him, the shots rang out.

 Father Columbus went back to where the other prisoners stood

chatting with each other, with the priests and with the soldiers.

The whole process was callously informal. The governor said a name

and gave a signal. The prisoner shook hands all round. His hands

were then tied behind his back, and a bandage placed over his eyes.

Two soldiers took up their places, one on either side to guide the

prisoner, and the priest went in front.

 When the prisoner reached the outer door another soldier pinned a

piece of white paper over his heart. The procession went along one

yard, then through a gate leading to the next. Here the firing-

squad of 12 soldiers was waiting, rifles loaded. An officer stood

to the left, a little in advance; on the right were the governor

and the doctor.

 The prisoner was led in front of the firing-squad and was turned to

face it. The two soldiers guiding him withdrew quickly to one side.

There was a silent signal from the officer; then a deafening

volley. The prisoner fell on a heap on the ground - dead.

 After the executions the four friars were driven to the friary at

Church Street, where they celebrated Mass for the repose of the

souls of the executed men.

 Dr Benedict Cullen is a retired Oxford don and Capuchin archivist

 © The Irish Times


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