|Read 'The Unbroken Tradition' by Nora Connolly, published 1918, in full here|
The writer and activist Nora Connolly (born 1893), daughter of James Connolly, wrote ‘The unbroken tradition’ an account of the Irish rebellion of 1916, published in 1918. Nora wrote about the her experience of Easter Week 1916 and the aftermath of the rebellion, with general commentary on the movement, its leaders and events.
In it Nora refers to going to Mass no less than four times and talks about saying the rosary on Monday for the rebel fighters. Nora left Dublin on Easter Monday, going North with a dispatch as part of a First Aid Corps. She gave in her own words an account of the preceding days:
"After that I was kept busy with the Ambulance class, and in preparing field dressings and bandages. There were about fifty girls working under my instructions and the work was beginning to be piled up. One squad was cutting up the material, another wrapping it up in waterproof material, others pasting on the directions, others sewing the completed bundle up in cotton bags which permitted them to be sewn into the men's coats. We were kept busy. When one of the officers came to the room to order the field dressings for his men, he voiced the opinion of all when he said, "Well, this looks like business. As soon as I stepped inside the door I felt that something important was going on. I suppose you all feel that way?" We did, and worked all the harder for it.
Some tune before this my father had asked me if I would be in Dublin with him during the fight, but I had said, No, I would rather (p.83) stay with the Northern division; that I thought I had better stay with the girls with whom I had been working. A younger sister had also decided to join the Northern detachment. My mother and the rest of the family were going to Dublin so as to be near my father. We were leaving the house just as it stood, to avoid suspicion, taking nothing from it but the trunks containing clothes. These could easily be taken without causing undue suspicion as it is quite a usual thing for families to go away for the Easter holidays. Between helping to pack up the trunks at home and the field dressings outside I managed to secure six hours' sleep during the latter part of Holy Week. My mother left Belfast on Good Friday, my sister and I the following day.
The instructions given the First Aid corps were: To meet at the Great Northern Station with full equipment and two days' rations. When we met the station was crowded with holiday-goers. There were three different queues circled around the station. We divided ourselves amongst them so that our party would not be large enough to attract attention.
I found myself behind a party of soldiers going home on furlough. I could not help wondering (p. 85) if their furlough would be cut short, and if I might meet them again under different circumstances.
After I had taken the tickets I went to the trains to see if it were possible to get a carriage to ourselves. As the party had been split in two, one part to come on a later train, we could just fill a carriage. There was so much traffic that the railroad company had pulled out from many hiding places all the cars they could find. The line of cars presented a very curious picture as it stood waiting for the signal to start. There were the very latest corridor carriages, carriages quite new-looking, carriages old, carriages very old, and carriages so very old that they were an absolute temptation to us. These last were of that old type that has no wall between tho carriages; the back of the seat is the only dividing wall. We picked out one and entered, took our seats, stowed away our haversacks, water-bottles, and hospital supplies under the seats and on the racks over our heads. Then we sat in pleasant anticipation to see who would enter the other carriage. One of the girls had put her head out of the window, and suddenly she gave a whoop and waved her arms. We hauled (p.86) her in angrily, demanding to know what she meant by attracting attention in such a manner — didn't she know that the fewer that saw us the better? "But," she said when she got a chance, "I saw the Young Ireland Pipers coming up the platform looking for a carriage, and I thought it would be great to have them in the next carriage. They would pass the time for us by playing the pipes." (The Young Ireland Pipers were attached to the Volunteers.)
By this time the Pipers had come to the door of the carriage next to us and were getting in. They were both surprised and pleased when they saw the girls. They knew then that they could play all the rebel songs they desired, and say all the revolutionary things they could think of. That was one good thing about the
Republican forces in our part of the country — every one knew every one else; and so it was elsewhere I am told. I doubt if ever pipers were so dressed going to battle. Slung from one shoulder was a haversack, crossing it was a bandolier filled with cartridges, a belt held the haversack in its place on one side, and from the other a bayonet was suspended. Strapped to the backs were rolled tar sheets, and under (p. 87) their arms they held the bagpipes with their green, white, and orange streamers flying over their shoulders. They were most warlike musicians. But more significant than all were the eager eyes shining out from under their caps. One young chap leaned over the wall and said to me, "My God! Isn't it great?
We worked and worked without hope and now ". One of the boys had been tuning up the pipes and as the train began to move we swung out of the station to the tune of:
"Soldiers are we, whose lives are pledged to Ireland, Some have come from the land beyond the wave,
Sworn to be free, no more our ancient Ireland.
Shall shelter the despot or the slave. Tonight we man the Bearna Baoighail
In Erin's cause come woe or weal,
'Mid cannon's roar or rifle's peal
We'll chant a soldier's song."
Tyrone was our destination and we arrived there before dark. We were met by a local committee and taken to a hotel. After we had something to eat, we went over to the drill hall. There I had the first wound to attend to — one of the men had accidentally shot himself while cleaning his revolver. There was quite a crowd around me while I was dressing the wound (p. 88).
When I had finished, the men said that they hoped I would be detailed with their company, as they would feel much safer. I said that I didn't want to dress wounds till I had a chance to make some: at this they laughed and promised me that I would get all the chance I wanted. I then asked them when they would mobilize. "Tomorrow morning," they replied. "We are waiting for the Belfast Division to arrive. We start on our maneuvers at 12 o'clock. We will all be together then."
We were still talking of our hopes when some one came into the hall and said that he had a message for Miss Connolly. "Here I am," I said. "What do you want?"
"Come outside, Miss Connolly," said he. "I have a message for you." I. followed the man outside. The message he gave me was to the? effect that the Commandant in the North had sent him to say that there would be no fighting in the North; that he had received a demobilizing order, but that he thought there would be fighting in Dublin. We could decide whether we would go back to Belfast or on to Dublin. He left the matter entirely in our own hands. I left the messenger and went back to the hall to call the girls together. I asked them to (p. 89) come with me to the hotel. I then told them the text of the message I had received and asked them to decide whether they would return to Belfast or go to Dublin. I said that I was going to Dublin and they decided to go with me. One of the girls suggested that we say the Rosary for the men who were about to fight. We knelt down and said it. We then began to get our things together again. I inquired about the trains to Dublin and was told that there would be no train till midnight. It was almost 10 o'clock then and we were some miles away from a station. I asked one of the men where I could get a car to take us to the station. They protested against our leaving, but I said that we had our work to do, and must get to Dublin as soon as possible. After some talk he sent one of the men to get two cars for us. We waited most impatiently till they came, then piling on to them as best we could we left the town and went towards the station.
While we were waiting for the train we saw the second contingent arriving from Belfast. The men had their equipment with them and swung out of the station in a truly martial way. I knew from their joyous faces and their (p.90 ) remarks that they had not received the news we had, and I pictured to myself the change there would be when they did.
Our train left Tyrone at twelve-thirty, and arrived in Dublin at five-fifteen. We went directly to Liberty Hall for I knew my father would be there. Ever since the attempted raid on Liberty Hall, he had stayed there every night under an armed guard. He had determined that he would not be arrested before the day arrived.
As we approached to the building we saw an armed sentry keeping watch through a window; we went up the steps and knocked on the door. A sentry came to the door and asked our business. I said I was Mr. Connolly's daughter and that the girls were ambulance workers from the North. He did not know me, so he called to some one else to decide for him. The man he called to was the officer of the guard who knew me. As we went inside the door and up the stairs I asked him if he thought I could see my father. He told me that my father had not been able to go to bed until three o'clock. I said I thought it best to see my father at once. He then escorted me to the corridor in which my father's room was (p. 91) and told me the number. I walked along the corridor till I found the room and knocked on the door.
"Who is there?" called my father.
"Nora," I answered.
"What are you doing here? I thought you were with the North men."
"Let me in, father," I said. "I am afraid there is something wrong."
He opened the door and I entered the room. It was rather a small room, square and slightly furnished. There were but two chairs, a table, a cupboard and an army cot. My father was lying on the cot and looking at me in surprise. I went over to him and knelt down beside the cot to tell him why I was there.
"What does it mean, father? Are we not going to fight?" I asked him when I had finished.
"Not fight!" he said in amazement. "Nora, if we don't fight now, we are disgraced forever; and all we'll have left to hope and pray; for will be, that an earthquake may come and swallow Ireland up."
"Then why were we told last night that there would be no fighting in tha North?" (p. 92)
"We received word last night that there could not be got fifty men to leave Belfast."
"That is not true!" I cried. "Why, there were fifty men on the train with us leaving Belfast; and before we left Tyrone there were two hundred. I saw them myself. They are there now with all their equipment, eager and happy and boisterous with delight."
"That is a different story from what we were told," said my father.
"Mine is the true one," I returned. "But don't accept my word for it. Call in the other girls and question them."
"Ask them to come in."
I went out to the girls and said that myfather would like to see them. They came in; they all knew my father but he did not know them all, so I told him all their names.
"Tell me, girls," said my father, "how many men you saw in Tyrone before you left, Belfast men particularly."
Their story was practically the same as mine. When he had heard them all, my father asked one of them to call in the guard who was on duty in the corridor. When the guard had entered the room, or rather stood at the door, (p. 93) my father said to him, "Call the officer of the guard."
Shortly afterwards the officer of the guard knocked on the door. I opened the door and he came inside, saluted and said, "Yes, sir?"
"Send in five men who know the city thoroughly," said my father.
"Yes, sir," said the officer as he saluted again.
"Now," said my father turning to us again.
"I am going to send you to each of the other Commandants. You tell them just what you have told me. And after you tell them all, ask them to come here as quickly as they can."
The five Citizen Army men came to the room shortly after that, and each of the girls was given different addresses to go to. It fell to my lot to go to Sean MacDermott. I had as my guide a man who looked as little an Irishman as he well might be. He was short and stout yet very light on his feet; he wore bright blue overalls, short black leggings, and his face was burnt a dark brown. He wore a wide black felt hat and from under it I saw hanging from his ears, big, round gold ear-rings. He looked as I fancied a Neapolitan fisherman would look like. (p. 94)
The leaders slept no two nights in the same place. Only themselves knew where each other was sleeping. This was for safety. I was taken to a place beyond Parnell Square, about twenty minutes walk from the Hall. When we arrived there we had to knock the people up; and it was some time before we received any answer. They were very suspicious of us when I said who it was I wanted. The woman, who opened the door, consulted with some one inside the house, before she decided to let me in. The guide having done his duty in bringing me there and seeing that I was about to enter the house, went back to Liberty Hall to report.
The woman then asked me who I was, what did I want, wouldn't any one else do, and a score of other questions. She went away after she had received my answers. In a few minutes a young man came down to interview me also. I told him that I was Mr. Connolly's daughter and that Sean MacDermott knew me, and that I had a message for him from my father. He was still reluctant to let me see Sean and said that Sean had hardly had time to go to sleep. I said that I knew that but that I had been traveling all night from the (p. 95) North, and had wakened my father over an hour ago who had had even less sleep than Sean.
After that he went away and came hack to say that I could see Sean MacDermott. I went upstairs and found him in bed. He was looking very pale and tired. He listened to me, while I told him all I had to tell, without saying a word till I had finished. He then asked me if the others knew this. I told him that there were other girls seeing the other leaders at the same time. He remained silent for a while and then said, "I am very glad you came. Tell your father that I'll be at the Hall as soon as I can." I then returned to Liberty Hall. It was then about seven o'clock and we decided to go to Mass at Marlborough Cathedral around the corner.
[Chapter VIII] "When we returned from Mass my father had risen, and dressed in his uniform was going about the room singing to himself:
"We've got another savior now, That savior is the sword."
I began to prepare breakfast for my father and the rest of us. But it was some time before we sat down to our breakfast, as one by one the leaders dropped into the room, and as none of them had waited to have breakfast before coming they had to be served. I remember giving breakfast to a young officer who had come up on the night mail from Limerick, for final instructions. I gave Tom Clarke his last Easter breakfast. It seemed fitting he should have as table companion Sean MacDermott — they were always such close friends.
Before they had finished Joseph Plunkett, his throat heavily swathed in bandages, for he had shortly gone under an operation, arrived; and (p. 97) following him closely came Thomas MacDonagh. Michael Mallin and my father had their breakfast together. They were all in uniform, except Tom Clarke and Sean MacDermott.
Pearse did not have his breakfast at Liberty Hall; he arrived somewhat later than the others and had already eaten. While they were all standing around and talking, one of the girls came in and said, "Mr. Connolly, look, the Independent says, 'No maneuvers to-day.' What does that mean? Is it a trick?"
"What is that?" said my father, taking the paper from her. "Maneuvers" was the name under which our men were being mobilized. If the Independent, which had the largest circulation of any Sunday paper throughout the country, printed such a bit of news it would disorganize our forces to a great extent. Yet, there it was:
'Owing to the critical situation all Volunteer parades and maneuvers are canceled.
"What does this mean?" asked my father turning to Pearse.
"Let me see it," said Pearse. "I know nothing whatsoever about this," he said when he (p. 98) had read it. After that there was some low-voiced conversation among the leaders; and then the Council room. They remained there till after one o'clock.
We then ate our long delayed breakfasts and then went to another part of the Hail to see more stirring sights. On our way out of the corridor we had to pass the Council room. It was guarded by an armed sentry who stood at the door forbidding all to pass. He stopped us and would not allow us to pass until one of the officers coming out of the room saw our, plight and told him who we were. When we came to the corner of the corridor we were again stopped by a sentry, but he knew me and we went on out to the front of the building.
Here, all was excitement, guards at the top and the bottom of the stairs, men and boys, women and girls running up and down; Citizen Army men arriving by the dozen armed with all then equipment, poured steadily into the great front hall.
We remained about the Hall as we had been told to stay within call in case we were needed as messengers to the North. We remained in the vicinity until well on in the afternoon. It (p. 99) was not until the Citizen Army started out on a march that we were freed. I have never been able to understand how it was that the authorities did not become aware that something untoward was afoot.
There were two dozen policemen detailed to attend the Citizen Army march and they hung around Beresford Place waiting for the march to begin. Surely they should have been able to sense the difference in the feeling of the crowds that were thronged around Liberty Hall all the day. There was no disguising by the people that they expected a different ending to this march than to all the other marches. Else why the haversacks filled with food, the bandoliers filled with ammunition, and the supply wagons piled high with supplies? The men and women were under military orders. They were no longer a volunteer organization, they were a nation's army. Their fathers and, mothers, their wives and children, their sisters and brothers, and their sweethearts knew that from that day forth their lives wexe no longer their own, but belonged to Ireland. And while they openly exulted in this thought and brought parting gifts to their loved ones, the police saw nothing. (p. 100)
Before they went on their march my father called me to him and told me to bring the girls to Surrey House, the home of the Countess de Markievicz, so that they would have a rest before reporting at Liberty Hall the following morning. They badly needed rest as they had had no sleep the night before. Our orders were to report at Liberty Hall the next morning at eight o'clock.
MONDAY APRIL 24 1916
The next morning when we reached Liberty Hall we were told that we were to be given a message to take back North with us. The message was to be written and signed by Padraic Pearse; therefore we had to wait until he came. While we were waiting Thomas MacDonagh came into the room. He was in uniform. He greeted us in his gay, kindly way and pretended to jeer at us for leaving the city.
"Here we are," he said, "on the brink of a revolution and all you are thinking of is to get out of the city before we begin. "
While he was talking my father came into the room carrying a large poster. He unrolled it and spread it out on the table saying, "Come here, girls, and read this carefully. It would be too dangerous to allow you to carry it with (p. 101) you, but read it carefully and tell the men in the North of what you have read." We all gathered around the table and read The Proclamation of the Irish Republic. I think that we had the honor of being amongst the first to see the proclamation.
Pearse came in while we were discussing our intended journey. He was in uniform; his military overcoat making him look taller and broader than ever. My father told him that we were waiting for the message. He went to the Council room to write it and we followed him. While we were waiting my father gave me some advice as to what we should do when we arrived in the North. Then Pearse called to us and we went to him. He handed me an envelope and said, "May God bless you all and the brave men of the North." He said it so solemnly and so earnestly that I felt as if I had been at Benediction. I then said "Good-by" to my father and left the Hall to take the nine o'clock train to the North.
[Chapter IX] "We knew that the men were to rise at twelve o'clock and as that hour drew nigh we watched and listened anxiously to hear or see if the news had reached the North before us.
At twelve o'clock [Easter Monday April 24 1916] we left the train at Portadown. There was a large body of men belonging to an Orange Band parading up and down the platform beating their drums. They were going to some meeting in Deny. The noise was terrific but we bore it gladly for it told more than words that our men in Dublin had been able to cany out their plans without any untoward accident. We changed into the other train and finished our journey in a less anxious frame of mind. But there was disappointment awaiting us at Tyrone; when we arrived there the men had already received the demobilizing order of MacNeill and had obeyed it. The Belfast contingent was already in Belfast and the country divisions had not had time to mobilize before the order from MacNeill had (p.102) arrived. When I found this out I sent messengers to the various bodies advising them of what was going on in Dublin. The principal dispatch was the one given us by Pearse and that one was sent off in care of my sister, other girls going to other places. There was nothing for the rest of us to do but to await the return of the messengers.
At eight o'clock that night a boy came from Belfast who said that he had been sent to advise us to return to Belfast and asked us to go back with him. I asked the officer of the local Volunteer Corps if they intended to go on with the fight now that the men in Dublin were out, or if they intended to obey MacNeill's order.
He replied that they were in honor bound to assist the Dublin men. I said that being the case I would remain with them and that we would attach ourselves to their body as they had no First Aid Corps.
About an hour later the local organizer came to the hotel and asked for me. I went out to him; he said that it would be better if we were in a less conspicuous place — would we go to some place out in the country? It was nearer to the meeting place. We agreed to go and started out about ten o'clock. (p. 104)
It was a night of pitch darkness, a heavy-rain was pouring steadily. After a ten minutes' walk we were out on a country road where the darkness seemed to grow thicker with every step. We could see nothing but trusting to our guides soughed up and down in the mud. For twenty minutes we walked on, then we were told to turn to the right. We could see nothing that showed a turning, still we turned and found that we were in a narrower road than before. It was even muddier than the road we had left but it was shorter. At the end we were stopped by a door of what appeared to be a barn. One of the men rapped on it and it was opened to us. We stepped inside and when our eyes were used to the light again, saw a number of men with their rifles. The hall was filled with standing men, a place was cleared around the hearth upon which was blazing the biggest turf fire I had ever seen.
On a bench near the fire were a half dozen women; they had brought food to the men and were now waiting to take the girls home with them. After a short wait we started out again, still following blindly where we were led. At length we came to a crossroads and there the party divided. I, along with some other girls, (p. 105) was taken to a large farmhouse where the folk were waiting up for us. We went into a large kitchen and sat around a big turf fire. There was porridge, in a pot hanging over the fire from a long hook, for those who liked it; and the kettle was boiling for those who preferred tea. We had a long talk around the fire. The old man told us of his experiences when he was a Fenian and drew comparisons between that time and this. Our time was nothing like his — so he told us.
In the morning [Tuesday] we rose early; we expected to have word from Belfast every minute telling us to get on the march. But no word came that day. As the hours passed my anxiety became unbearable. I had had no word from anybody since I had come there. The men and the boys could not work for fear the word would come when they were in the fields and might be delayed if they were not on hand. And all the day long they were riding up and down the roads on the watch for the messenger who would give them the orders to rise. The second day passed, still the word never came. [Now Wednesday]. The men and boys came to us every hour to re- port all they knew. And on Wednesday at noon a man burst into the farmhouse crying, (p. 106)
"Pack up in the name of God, the word has come!"
With what joy we packed up. How quickly the water bottles were filled and the haversacks stuffed with food. Butter, eggs, bread, and milk were thrust upon us. We could not take enough to satisfy the good people. The place was full of bustle and excitement, and then — the order was rescinded; it was a false alarm.
[Chapter XII] "It was about two-thirty on Saturday when we started to walk from Dundalk to Dublin..."
SUNDAY APRIL 30 1916
"There now" I said as I turned to Agna. "Isn't that good news? Wexford out and the West awake! East and West the men are fighting for Ireland. For Ireland, Agna! O, aren't you glad to be alive! We used to read about the men who fought for Ireland and dream about them, and now, in a couple of hours we'll be amongst the men and women who are fighting in Dublin. We'll be able to do something for Ireland.'
That thought cheered us so and spurred us on that we arrived in Drumcondra, a suburb of Dublin, at seven o'clock on Sunday night. We were going to the house of a friend in Clonliffe Road. On our way there we were astonished at the ordinary aspect of the streets. Save for the fact that we saw no soldiers, we could have thought that there had been no fighting at all.
Dublin is the most heavily garrisoned city in Europe. Ordinarily one could not walk the streets without seeing scores upon scores of soldiers. Therefore, our not seeing them was a sure sign that things were not in Dublin as they had been. When we reached the house of our friend, the two daughters, Kathleen and Margaret, were at the door.
"My God!" said Margaret, when she spied us.
"Where have you come from?" asked Kathleen, looking at our travel-worn figures.
Our faces were burnt red by the sun and the heat, and our boots were white with the dust of the road.
"We've come from Tyrone. We got a train to Dundalk and walked the rest. We spent last night in a field. What's the news? How are things down here?" I asked.
"How are things," she repeated in amazement. "Haven't you heard?"
"Nothing," I answered, as I shook my head, "The boys are beaten," she cried.
"They've all surrendered. They're all prisoners. The city has been burning since Thursday."
"All surrendered," I cried aghast. "Are you sure? It doesn't seem possible."
"Yes," she said. "I'm sure. They're all prisoners, every one of them. The College of Surgeons was the last to surrender and it surrendered a little while ago. Madame was there," she said, meaning the Countess Markievicz.
I sat there too stunned to think or talk. I knew that there were women and men going past the window, yet I could not see them. After a while I managed to ask, "My father?"
"He's wounded and was taken a prisoner to Dublin Castle. They don't think he'll live. Though God knows maybe they'll all be killed."
I was roused from a dazed condition by the sharp crack-crack-crack of a rifle.
"What does that mean?" I asked, turning to Kathleen.
"My God!" she exclaimed. "Are they starting again?" But there was no further reports.
"Can I get across the city?" I asked.
"No," she answered. "We are not allowed out of our own district. And anyway we must not be out after seven; martial law has been declared."
"Must not be out after seven," I repeated. "But it's after seven now, and there are lots of people out there on the street."
"They're at their own doors," she said indignantly. "We can stay around our own doors, I hope. Though," she added, "if the soldiers order us to go inside we must obey."
MONDAY MAY 1 1916
Kathleen went down to the barricade to ask for permits which would allow us to pass it and through the city. She was refused the permits. But we were not discouraged at the failure of our first attempt. Kathleen, Agna and I went in another direction till we met the sentries at the bridge on (p. 169) Jones' Road. Here we were allowed to pass and after a circuitous route we arrived at the top of O'Connell Street, near the Parnell statue.
There were evidences of the fighting all around us. We saw the buildings falling, crumbling bit by bit, smoldering and smoking; a ruin looking like a gigantic cross swayed and swayed, yet never fell. I was reminded of pictures I had seen of the War Zone. Here were the same fantastic remains of houses. Crowds of silent people walked up and down the street in front of the Post Office. The horrible smell of burning filled the air. And on one side of the street were dead horses.
We saw the General Post Office, the head-quarters of the rebels, still standing, although entirely gutted by fire. The British gunners in their attempt to destroy the Post Office had destroyed every building between it and the river. All around were buildings levelled, or falling — but the General Post Office stood erect. It was symbolical of the Spirit of Ireland. Though all around lies death and destruction, though wasted by fire and sword, that very thing which England had put forth her might to crush, stands erect and provides (p. 170) a rallying place for those who follow after.
English guns will never destroy the Spirit of Ireland, or the demand for Irish freedom.
We were not stopped by any of the soldiers as we went through the city. It was not until we reached Portobello Bridge that we were told to go back. We had quite a discussion with the soldiers. They said they were under orders not to allow man or woman, boy or girl, to pass without permission from their officer."
"We arrived at Dundrum late in the [Monday] afternoon. We had stopped on our way at shops to buy some provisions for my mother in case she were in need of them. When I came to the cottage the half-door was open, and through it came a sound of weeping, and the frightened crying of my youngest sister. I pulled back the bolt of the half-door and stepped into the cottage. My mother was sitting on a chair weeping. I saw that somehow she had received (p. 172) a copy of the Daily Sketch bearng the false news of my father's death. But she did not know it was false and was mourning my father. When I entered she looked up in amaze, caught her breath, and then run towards me crying,
"My girl, my girl. I thought you were lost to me too."
"You haven't lost any one yet, Mamma," I said. "Papa is wounded and a prisoner, but that is all. They don't shoot or hang prisoners of war. Agna is coming up the path. She'll be here in a minute. Be our own brave little mother again."
Just then Agna came and mother's grief was somewhat alleviated. With her arms around the two of us she said:
"I'd given up all hope of ever seeing you again. Now, I have you and know that your father is not dead. But they'll not let him live long," she cried. "They fear him. They know they can neither bribe nor humble him. He'll always fight them. I've lost Rory too. I don't know what happened to him. He went with his father on Monday. That was the last I saw of him." Rory is my fifteen-year-old brother, the only son."
NORA CONNOLLY ON THE EXECUTIONS
In ‘The unbroken tradition’ Nora wrote about the aftermath of the Easter Rising, including the executions and the execution of her father, and their effect. Nora wrote:
"On Wednesday [May 3 1916] my mother and sisters came in to Dublin. Agna went up to Dublin Castle to try to see my father. She made a number of attempts to see him, received all sorts of advice, was sent chasing from pillar to post; and finally was told that no visitors would be allowed. The only news she was able to get was from a nurse who told her that Papa was very weak from loss of blood; and that he was not improving.
After that all the news we had of my father was through the newspapers. They told us that he was steadily growing weaker and that his recovery was doubtful. Then we had heard of the murder of Sheehy Skeffington. Agna had met Mrs. Skeffington when she was at Dublin Castle, and had been told the awful news of Skeffington’s death. It was a dreadful shock. We had known and admired Sheehy Skeffington, and he had been a great friend of Papa’s.
Then day by day the news of executions nearly drove us out of our minds. We heard of the executions of Tom Clarke, and of Padraic Pearse, and of Thomas MacDonagh. Every time we heard the newsboys call out, “Two more executions,” or “One more execution” we dreaded to look in the paper for fear we might read my father’s name. And yet we must buy the papers.
Every day we heard of further arrests. Every day we saw men being marched off between rows of soldiers. And Mamma had had the added fear of my being arrested given to her. Some one had come to the house and told her that the police were searching for me.
I felt that it was not so but could not convince Mamma, At times the awful terror that we were all going to be taken from her took possession of her, and she could not be comforted. We had found out that Rory was imprisoned in Richmond Barracks. Mamma feared and dreaded that he might be shot because of his relationship to his father.
“Willie Pearse was executed because he was Padraic Pearse’s brother,” she would say when we remonstrated with her. “He was not a leader; he was only a soldier. Rory was a soldier too. How can I be sure that he won’t be shot?”
On Sunday afternoon we found a note in the letter box addressed to Mrs. Connolly. Mamma opened it and read: “If Mrs. Connolly will call at Dublin Castle Hospital on Monday or Tuesday after eleven o'clock she can see her husband.” Mamma was in terror that Papa’s time had come. Every one had been telling her that the fact of Papa’s being wounded was a good thing for him; that as long as he was wounded he would not be executed; and that by the time he was well public feeling would have grown so strong the authorities would hesitate to shoot him. “They’ll never execute a wounded man” was the cry.
I quieted Mamma’s terror somewhat by pointing out that the note said Monday or Tuesday, so the day of his execution could not be either of those days. Still she was in an agony of impatience for Monday morning.
“I’ll have to tell him that Rory is in Richmond Barracks,” she said.
She had just said this when a knock came to the door. When we opened it Xlory and a chum of his stepped inside of the door. They were filthy dirty and their eyes were red rimmed. Sleep clogged their eyes and made speech difficult to them.
“Rory,” cried my mother. “And Eamonn — where were you?”
“We were both in Richmond Barracks,” said Rory. “We’re hungry,” he added.
While we got them something to eat they had a wash and came to the table more like themselves.
“We haven’t had a real sleep since Easter,” said Rory as an excuse for his prodigious yawns.
“Couldn’t you sleep in Richmond Bar- racks?” asked my sister Moira.
“Sleep,” he cried. “The room we were in had marked on the door "Accommodation for eleven men” and they put eighty- three of us into it. There Avas hardly room to stand. We couldn’t sit down, we couldn’t lie down, we couldn’t wash, we couldn’t do anything there,“ he broke off.
We asked him if he knew many of the men in the room with him.
"Yes,” he said. “Tom Clarke was in the room with me, and Sean MacDermott, and Major MacBride. But they were removed later.”
How did they come to let you out?“
"O, they were releasing all boys under sixteen.”
“Did they ask you anything about your father?” asked Mamma.
“O,” said Rory, “I didn’t give them my right name. I’m down as Robert Carney, of Bangor, Co. Down.”
On Monday morning Mamma went to see my father. Before she went I said, “If you get the chance tell him that we are safe.”
“O, I’d be afraid to mention your name,” she said.
“Well,” I said. “Tell him that Gwendolyn Violet has turned out to be a great walker; that she walked to Dublin. That will satisfy him and quiet his mind.”
Gwendolyn Violet was a name bestowed on me by my father when once I had tried to ride my high-horse. And he often used it when ha did not desire to refer to me by name.
Before Mamma was allowed to see Papa she was subjected to a most rigorous search. She was also required to give her word that she would not tell him of anything that had gone on outside since the rebellion. Also to promise that she would not bring in anything for him to take his life with. My youngest sister, who was not quite eight years old, and whom Mamma had brought with her was also searched. Mamma came home in a more contented frame of mind. She was sure that he would be spared to her for some time.
On Tuesday I went with Mamma to see my father. There were soldiers on guard at the top of the stairs and in the small alcove leading to Papa’s room. They were fully armed and as they stood guard they had their bayonets fixed. All that armed force for a wounded man who could not raise his shoulders from the bed!
In Papa’s room there was an officer of the R. A. M. C. all the time with him. Papa had been wounded in the leg, both bones had been fractured. When I saw him his wounded leg was resting in a cage. He was very weak and pale and his voice was very low. I asked him was he suffering much pain.
“No,” he said. “But I have been court- martialed to-day. They propped me up in bed. The strain was very great.”
I was very much depressed. I had been thinking that there would be no attempt to shoot him till he was well. Rut then — I knew, that if they courtmartialed him while he was unable to sit-up in his bed, they would not hesitate to shoot while he was wounded. I asked him how he got wounded.
“It was while I had gone out to place some men at a certain point. On my way back I was shot above the ankle by a sniper. Both bones in my leg are shattered. I was too far away from the men whom I had just placed to see me, and I was too far from the Post Office to be seen. So I had to crawl back till I was seen. The loss of blood was great. They couldn’t get it staunched.”
He was very cheerful as he lay in his bed making plans for our future. I know now that he knew what his fate was to be. But he never gave us word or sign that his sentence had been pronounced an hour before we were admitted to him. He gave my mother a message to Sheehy Skefrmgton asking him to get some of his (Papa’s) songs published and to give the proceeds to my mother. It nearly broke my mother’s heart to think that she could not tell him that his good friend and comrade had already been murdered b}^ the British. I tried to tell him some things. I told him that the papers had it that Captain Mellowes was still out with his men in the Galway hills. I told him that Laurence Ginnell was fighting for the men in the House of Commons.
“Good man, Larry,” he said. “He can al- ways be depended upon.” He was very proud of his men.
“It was a good, clean fight,” he said. “The cause cannot die now. The fight will put an end to recruiting. Irishmen now realize the absurdity of fighting for the freedom of another country while their own is still enslaved.”
He praised the brave women and girls who had helped in the fight.
“No one can ever say enough to honor or praise them,” he said. I mentioned the number of young boys who had been in the fight.
“Rory, you know, was only released on Sunday last along with the other boys of sixteen or under.”
“So Rory was in prison,” said my father. “How long?”
“Eight days,” I answered.
“He fought for his country, and has been imprisoned for his country, and he’s not sixteen. He has had a great start in life. Hasn’t he, Nora?” he said.
“Tell me,” he said. “What happened when you arrived in the North?”
“The men were all dispersed and could not be brought together again,” I answered. “When I saw that there would be no fighting there, I tried to come back here. I came by road,” I added.
“Did you walk the whole way?” he asked.
“Only from Dundalk,” I said. “And when, I arrived the fighting was over. I had no chance — I did nothing.”
“Nothing,” said my father as he reached up his arms and drew me down to his breast. “I think my little woman did as much as any of, us.”
“There was one young boy, Lillie,” he said, turning to my mother, “who was carrying the top of my stretcher when we were leaving the burning Post Office. The street was being swept continually with bullets from machine guns. This young lad was at the head of the stretcher, and if a bullet came near me, he would move his body in such a way that he might receive the bullet instead of me. He was so young looking, although big, that I asked him his age. ‘I’m just fourteen, sir/ he answered.”
My father’s eyes lit up as he was telling the guard at the top of the stair with rifles and fixed bayonets. And in the alcove leading to the room were three more also with fixed bayonets. There was an officer on guard in the room.
When we entered the room Papa had his head turned to the door watching for our coming. When he saw Mamma he said:
“Well, Lillie, I suppose you know what this means?”
“O James! It’s not that— it’s not that?” my mother wailed.
“Yes, Lillie,” he said. “I fell asleep for the first time to-night and they wakened me at eleven and told me that I was to die at dawn.”
My mother broke down, laid her head on his bed and sobbed heartbreakingly. My father patted her head and said, “Don’t cry, Lillie, you’ll unman me.”
“But your beautiful life, James,” my mother sobbed. “Your beautiful life.”
“Well, Lillie,” he said. “Hasn’t it been a full life, and isn’t this a good end?” My mother still wept.
I was crying too. He turned to me at the other side of the bed and said:
“Don’t cry, Nora, there is nothing to cry- about.”
I said, “I won’t cry.” He patted my hand and said, “That’s my brave girl.” He then whispered to me, “Put your hand here,” making a movement under the clothes. I put my hand where he indicated. “Put it under the clothes,” he said. I did so and he slipped something stiff into my hand.
“Smuggle that out,” he said. “It is my last statement.”
Mother was sitting at the other side of the bed holding Papa’s hand, her face growing grayer and older every minute.
“Remember, Lillie,” said my father. “I want you and the girls to go to America. It will be the best place for the girls to get on. Leave the boy at home in Ireland. He was a little brick and I am proud of him.”
My mother could only nod her head. Papa tried to cheer her up by telling her about a man who came to the Post Office, during the revolution, to buy a penny stamp; and how indignant he was when he was told he could not get one. “Don’t know what Dublin is coming to when you can’t buy a stamp at the Post Office,” he said.
Papa then turned to me and said, “I heard that poor Skeffington was killed.” I said, “Yes.” And then I told him that all his staff, that all the best men in Ireland were gone. He was silent for a while, then said, “I am glad I am going with them.” I think he thought he was the first to be executed. I told him that the papers that day had said, that it was promised in the House of Commons that there would be no more shootings. “England’s promises,” was all he said to that.
The officer then told us that we had only five minutes more. My mother was nearly overcome; we had to give her water. Papa tried to clasp her in his arms but he could only lift his head and shoulders from the bed. The officer said, “Time is up.” Papa turned to say “Good-by” to me. I coulcl not speak. “Go to mother,” he said.
I tried to bring her away, I could not move her. She stood as if turned to stone. A nurse came forward and helped her away. I ran back and kissed my father again. “Nora, I’m proud of you,” said my father. I kissed him again, then the door was shut and we saw him no more.
We were brought back to the house. Mother went to the window, pulled back the curtain, and stood watching for the dawn, moaning all the while. I thought her heart would break and that she would die too.
When dawn was past and we knew that my father was dead, I opened the stiff piece of paper he had given me, and read to my mother, my brother and sisters the Last Statement of my father. This is what I read:
"…I do not wish to make any defense except against charges of wanton cruelty to prisoners. These trifling allegations, that have been made, if they record facts that really happened, deal only with the almost unavoidable incidents of a hurried uprising against long established authority, and nowhere show evidence of set purpose to wantonly injure unarmed persons.
We went out to break the connection between this country and the British Empire, and to establish an Irish Republic. We believed that the call we then issued to the people of Ireland, was a nobler call, in a holier cause, than any call issued to them during this war, having any connection with the war. We succeeded in proving that Irishmen are ready to die endeavoring to win for Ireland those national rights, which the British Government has been asking them to die to win for Belgium. As long as that remains the case the cause of Irish Freedom is safe.
Believing that the British Government has no right in Ireland, never had any right in Ireland, and never can have any right in Ireland, the presence, in any one generation of Irishmen, of even a respectable minority, ready to die to affirm that truth, makes that government forever a usurpation and a crime against human progress.
I “personally thank God that I have lived to see the day when thousands of Irishmen and boys, and hundreds of Irish women and girls were ready to affirm that truth, and to attest it with their lives if need be.
(Signed) James Connolly, Commandant-General,
Dublin Division, Army of the Irish Republic.
We went to Dublin Castle that morning to ask for his body. It was refused to us. The authorities were not permitting even a coffin, we were told. But a kind nurse had cut off a lock of Papa’s hair and this she gave to Mamma.
That was all there was left of him for us.
We saw Father Aloyisus who had attended my father to Kilmainham jail where he had been shot.
"How did they shoot him — how could they shoot him? He couldn’t sit up in his bed. He couldn’t stand up to be shot,” I cried. “How was he shot?”
“It was a terrible shock to me,” said Father Aloyisus. “I had been with him that evening and I promised to come to him this afternoon. I felt sure there would be no more executions — at least that is how I read the words of Mr. Asquith. And your father was so much easier than he had been. I was sure that he would get his first night’s real rest.”
“But, how did they shoot him, Father?” “The ambulance that brought you home from him came for me. I was astonished. I had felt so sure that I would not be needed that for the first time since the rising I locked the doors. And some time after two, I was knocked up. The ambulance brought me to your father. He was a wonderful man. I am sorry to say that of all men who have been executed, he was the only one I did not know personally. Though I knew of him and admired his work. I will always thank God as long as I live that He permitted me to be with our father till he was dead. Such a wonderful man he was. Such concentration of mind.”
“Yes, Father, biit they shot him — how?” “They carried him from his bed in an ambulance stretcher down to a waiting ambulance and drove him to Kilmainham Jail. They carried him from the ambulance to the Jail yard and put him on a chair… . He was very brave and cool. … I said to him, 'Will you pray for the men who are about to shoot you/and he said, 'I will say a prayer for all brave men who do their duty.’ … His prayer was, 'Forgive them for they know not what they do.’ ...And then they shot him...”
“What did they do with him, then?” whispered my mother.
“They took the body to Arbor Hill Bar- racks. All the men who were executed are there.”
Papa had told mother to ask for his personal effects. And mother had asked for them. We only received some of his underclothes and the night clothes he wore in bed while he was wounded. Papa had said that the authorities had his watch, his pocketbook, and his uniform. But the officer in charge knew nothing about them.
Mother made many inquiries. But it was not until she went in person to General Maxwell that she succeeded in having the pocket book returned to her. Major Price, Chief Intelligence Officer in Ireland, had told her that they were keeping it for evidence.
Evidence — what more evidence did they require against a man they had executed?
Some time afterwards we recovered his watch; but we never found his uniform. And since I came to America I have been shown that a copy of the paper my father edited with his last corrections upon it, was put upon the market by a careful British officer who had figured out its value as a souvenir.
And then the whispered warnings came again to awaken my mother’s fear. Some messages reached her that the police were again looking for me. Nor could I convince her otherwise. She begged and pleaded with me to go away from Dublin so that I would not be arrested. So that she might feel more at ease in her mind, I went to Belfast.
Even then she did not feel that I was safe. She came to Belfast and asked me to try to get to America alone. In accordance with my father’s last wish she had applied for passports to take us all to America, or to take the girls.
But the British authorities felt that the arrival of Mrs. Connolly and her five daughters in America would be prejudicial to the interests of the Realm; and refused her the passports.
She had gone again and again to the authorities, only to be sent hither and thither on a fool’s errand. And as she despaired of ever getting them she asked me to make any attempt I could and to use whatever means I could to get to America.
“Let them see that your comings and goings are not dependent on their goodwill.”
And I to please her left Ireland and crossed to England. There I applied for a passport; and was given one. Not as the daughter of James Connolly, however.
It was the last week of June that we re- ceived the final refusal of our request for pass-ports, and on the third week of July I sailed from Liverpool. I arrived in New York the first day of August, nineteen hundred and six-teen.“
NORA ON PROFESSOR EOIN MACNEILL
Nora wrote about the appointment of Eoin MacNeill as President of the Volunteers:
"For the benefit of the reader in whose mind there might rise some confusion with regard to the demobilization of the Irish Volunteers, and how this demobilization order could spoil the plans for the Rising, and why Eoin MacNeill had the power to send out such an order. I am adding the following statement:
When the Irish Volunteers were first organized, it was necessary to have a man known throughout Ireland, a man of some reputation and authority, as the head of the organization. Eoin MacNeill was such a man. He was an authority on Irish History and Ancient Ireland. Also, what was more necessary, he was an unknown quantity to the English Government. Had there been elected as President a man well known as a revolutionary and as an Extremist, there would have been short work made of the Irish Volunteers. The English Government would then have known immediately that the Irish Volunteers were being (p. 195) organized, drilled, and supplied with arms for the sole purpose of a rebellion against it, and would have given it no opportunity to spread and grow, and become disciplined. As it was, with MacNeill as the President, whom they knew as a rather conservative, academic person, whose politics at that time were more of the Home Rule order than anything else, they felt quite at ease and contented about the growth of the Irish Volunteers.
MacNeill, although friendly with, and because of the Irish Volunteers in continual contact with, the revolutionary members, was not a member of the Revolutionary Organization. He was not of the type to which revolutionists belong. His mind was of the academic order which must weigh all things, consider well all actions, and count the cost. A true revolutionist must never count the cost, for he knows that a revolution always repays itself, though it cost blood, and through it life be lost and sacrifice made. He knows that the flame of the ideal which caused the revolution burns all the more brightly, and steadily, and thus attracts more men and minds, and because of the life-blood and sacrifice becomes more enduring.
That a man of MacNeill's type of mind (p.196) should have gone so far along the road to revolution is the extraordinary thing. Due credit should be given to him for that, although he did fail his comrades at the critical moment.
MacNeill was made President, and all orders affecting the organization as a whole, that is all important orders, came from him under his signature. Therefore, when an order came with his signature, the Irish Volunteers obeyed it unquestioningly.
Padraic Pearse as Commandant-General of the Irish Volunteers was Chief in military affairs. And that is where the Irish Volunteers, made the first mistake. The office of President should have been of a purely civil character. So that when a military order was issued from Headquarters, it w T ould bear, not the signature of the President but the signature of the Military chief. That this would have been difficult, I am aware, — it is so easy to see mistakes after they are made.
MacNeill, through the columns of the Irish Volunteer (the official organ of the Irish Volunteers), always preached prudence, and a waiting policy. He advised the Volunteers not to be the first to attack, but to wait to be attacked. He counseled them to recruit their (p.197) ranks, so that when the war was ended their number would reach three hundred thousand; and that an armed force of three hundred thousand men would then be in a position to demand the freedom of Ireland from England.
Still, as before, this counsel was regarded by the rank and file of the Irish Volunteers as a necessary evil, knowing that it is not wise policy to show your hand to the enemy before the appointed time.
The revolutionary members, all this time, were completing their plans, strengthening the organization, and waiting eagerly and hope- fully for the days to pass, and the Day of all days to come. Every time they thought of the approaching day they were quietly exultant. They knew that their chance of success was greater than it had ever been since the days of Shane and Hugh O'Neill. And they joyfully, and prayerfully thanked God that the opportunity had come in their day. All things went well, their plans matured, and at last they were ready for the fight.
The order for mobilizing was sent through the length and breadth of Ireland, and it was signed by Eoin MacNeill. The order was received and obeyed by the Irish Volunteers. (p.198)
Then, on Good Friday, came the news that Roger Casement was arrested..."
NORA CONNOLLY ON THE CAUSES OF THE REBELLION
Nora Connolly wrote in the Introduction to her book an explanation of the Rising:
"There have been many attempts to explain the revolution which took place in Ireland during Easter Week, 1916. And all of them give different reasons. Some have it that it was caused by the resentment that grew out of the Dublin Strike of 1912-13; others, that it was the threatened Ulster rebellion, and there are many other equally wrong explanations. All these writers ignore the main fact that the Revolution was caused by the English occupation of Ireland.
So many people not conversant with Irish affairs ask: Why a revolution? Why was it necessary to appeal to arms? Why was it necessary to risk death and imprisonment for the self-government of Ireland? They say that there was already in existence an Act for the Self-government of Ireland, that it had been passed through the English House of Commons, and that if we had waited till the end of the war we would have been given an opportunity to govern ourselves. That they are not conversant with Irish affairs must be their excuse for thinking in that manner of our struggle for freedom.
To be able to think and to speak thus one must first recognize the right of the English to govern Ireland, for only by so doing can we logically accept any measure of self-government from England.
And we cannot do so, for, as a nation Ire- land has never recognized England as her con- queror, but as her antagonist, as an enemy that must be fought. And this attitude has succeeded in keeping the soul of Ireland alive and free."