Death of a ‘Boy Soldier’, Memorial Card of Charles Darcy, 1916 Rising

Anyone who’s been listening to RTE’s The History Show recently will have heard about the making of a list of the children who were killed in Dublin during the 1916 Rising.  Joe Duffy began to compile this list as a result of a collaboration with the Jill and Jill Foundation (a children’s charity) and has requested listeners to contribute any information about these children and how they died. Working with various historians and record holders including the General Records Office, Glasnevin Cemetery and the National Museum of Ireland, the list currently stands at 38 children under the age of 16.  Given that about 390 civilians died in the week of the Rising (not counting the rebels, police and army), the children represent about 10% of those who died in the various battles and crossfire throughout the city and suburbs. Some of these children were themselves attached to organisations such as Fianna Eireann (14 year old Sean Healy), and the Irish Citizen Army.  One member of the ICA was Charles Darcy, a 15 year old from the Gloucester Street area who died on Monday 24 April, the first day of the Rising.  This is his memorial card, which was donated to the National Museum along with a small collection of other papers by his mother, Elizabeth Darcy, in 1970.

 

Charles was born in about 1901 to James Darcy, a labourer, and his wife Elizabeth, both from Co. Wicklow. In the 1911 census the family are recorded as living in No. 4 Kane’ Court, a two-roomed labourer’s cottage off Gloucester Street, with six children; Thomas, James, Charles, Edith, Patrick and Agnes. In 1916 the family were living in a similar dwelling at No. 4 Murphy’s Cottages, Gloucester Place, between City Quay and Great Brunswick (Pearse) Street on the southside of the city centre. 

 Charles had attended the Pro-Cathedral School on Lower Rutland Street since it was opened in April 1912, and was educated there until May 1914, when, at age 13, he was no longer obliged to attend school.  A letter of reference written by his schoolmaster Mr A. Scully describes him as obedient and respectful to his teacher, regular and punctual in attendance, attentive to his lessons and well conducted in every respect. He was also a member of the Boys’ Sodality attached to the Pro-Cathedral on Marlboro Street, and attended regularly to his religious duties.  Having left school at this age, which was normal in the early 20th century, he found work in a draper’s shop as an assistant.  He also appears to have joined the Irish Citizen Army around this time.   When the rebellion broke out, he reported for duty at Liberty Hall.

 

The details of Charles’ death are contained in a letter from Elizabeth to Lieutenant A. Rasdale of the Office of the Adjutant General in 1923 during the process of claiming a military pension on Charles’ behalf. Charles was under the command of Captain Sean Connolly in the City Hall garrison, and was allotted to a section under Sergeant E. Elmes to take possession of Henry & James’ premises (a clothiers) as a support to City Hall itself. He met his death on the roof of those premises on the evening of Easter Monday. Charles was shot by a British military sniper from a position around Dublin Castle, and his body was brought into the grounds of the Castle on Tuesday 25 April. His death certificate lists his cause of death as a gunshot wound, and notes that there was no medical attention. It also states that his mother Elizabeth was informed of his death as the next-of-kin.

 

After the formation of the Irish Free State the Military Service Pensions Act (1924) was instigated, and any persons with proven service during the 1916 Rising and the War of Independence were to be awarded a Certificate of Service and were also entitled to a military service pension.  In 1923 Elizabeth started the process of claiming the pension on Charles’ behalf, which resulted in a series of written communications between her and the Ministry of Defence.

In May 1924, Elizabeth received a letter confirming that she would receive a one off gratuity payment of 150 pounds in recognition of Charles’ service.

 

All such persons were later also eligible to receive the 1916 Medal. These were awarded in 1941 on the 25th anniversary, and Elizabeth received one for Charles at this time, who would have been 40 if he had survived. The medals were not generally awarded with inscriptions unless the recipient was killed in the rising; this medal has Charles’ name and a number. This medal, along with the various papers relating to Charles’ service and claim, are now with the National Museum of Ireland.

 

 

I always find it poignant that the last paragraph of school master Scully’s letter of reference for Charles reads ‘I have much pleasure in bearing testimony to his good character and shall always be pleased to hear of his success in life’.

He is buried in the 1916 Plot of Glasnevin Cemetery.   

 

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St. Patrick’s Day Postcard, Cumann na mBan, c.1917/18

Happy St. Patrick’s Day from Cumann na mBan!  This lovely colour postcard depicts the Cumann na mBan emblem of the organisation’s initials entwined with a rifle, held by ribbons in the green white and gold of the Irish flag with a spray of shamrock above. It also includes the brass button of the Irish Volunteers – the Irish harp separating the ‘I’ and the ‘V’.  This card, unused, was published by Fergus O’Connor in Dublin and probably dates from around 1917 or 1918. It came to the museum via Sean Prendergast, an Officer of the Irish Volunteers in Dublin between 1914 and 1916, and Captain in the IRA in 1921.

 

This card was probably commissioned by Cumann na mBan as part of their fundraising activities.  After the 1916 Rising and the near destruction of the Irish Volunteers and Irish Citizen Army through the execution of their leaders and internment of so many members, they became highly involved in a number of activities; organizing commemorations, producing propaganda, opposing conscription and campaigning for the 1918 General Election.

Kathleen Clarke, from the Boston College University Library

 

 

Kathleen Clarke, a founder of Cumann na mBan and widow of Tom Clarke, along with Sorcha McMahon and Áine Ceannt, established the Irish Republican Prisoners’ Dependents’ Fund, which aimed to provide for the wives and children of those who died or were imprisoned after the rising.  The proceeds from the sale of cards such as these not only helped the families, but also raised funds which enabled the Republican movement to continue.

 

The card is full of symbols of the Irish nation; the tricolour dates back to the Young Ireland Rebellion of 1848 (based on the French idea) and had resurged in the 1916 Rising, and the shamrock and Irish harp have been used as far back as the late 18th century. St. Patrick himself as a symbol has long been the embodiment of ‘Irishness’. He is now more associated with ‘Catholic Ireland’ and the Republic, but as far back as the Reformation he was considered by many as a Protestant saint, with claims that the church he founded had no Roman elements and was closer to that of the established Anglican Church of Ireland. One example of Patrick as a Protestant is The Benevolent Society of St. Patrick, founded in the late 18th century by a group of Irish Protestant M.P.s in British Parliament. The society was a charitable organisation whose mission was to raise funds to support the destitute Irish and their children living in London by providing schooling and training to enable them to provide for themselves. However, in the 19th century, with the increasing strength of the Liberal Protestants in English parliament and the advent of Catholic Emancipation, St. Patrick and Patrick’s Day became something that both of the dominant religions in Ireland could embrace as a symbol of nation which crossed the Catholic / Protestant divide, a shared culture, when other days of celebration such as the Williamite commemorations were increasingly seen as divisive and destructive.  The work of the Gaelic League led to the establishing of St. Patrick’s Day as a national holiday in 1903. Today it is a bank holiday in both the North and South of Ireland, though the extent to which it is celebrated in the North still depends on which side of the political divide you happen to be. 

Bridie O’Mullane, Cumann na mBan, 1918

Cumann na mBan was famously founded in Wynn’s Hotel on Lower Abbey Street, Dublin, in 1914, just months after the formation of the Irish Volunteers.  Its members took part in the 1916 Rising alongside the Volunteers and the Irish Citizen Army, and continued its involvement in the nationalist cause throughout the War of Independence, the Civil War and beyond.

Many women dedicated their lives to the cause. One such woman is Bridie O’Mullane, pictured here at about age 25 or 26.

This photograph shows Bridie in full Cumann na mBan uniform, including a small brooch based on the Tara brooch. She was a member of the Executive Committee, an official organizer during the War of Independence and the Director of Publicity and Propaganda during the Civil War. The photograph was donated to the museum by Hanna Sheehy-Skeffington in 1937.

Sinead McCoole, in her book No Ordinary Women, gives a good account of Bridie’s activities during the period.  O’Mullane joined Cumann na mBan in 1918 after meeting Countess Plunkett, who persuaded her to establish a branch in her home town of Sligo. She was made Secretary, and was soon requested by the Cumann na mBan headquarters to set up more branches around the county.  By the end of the year she had been elected onto the Executive Committee, and made an official organizer.

Despite serving a prison sentence in 1919, she continued her recruitment activities and went on to establish branches throughout the country, often with her life in great danger.

She opposed the Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1921, and was appointed Director of Propaganda for Republican Sinn Fein in Dublin in early 1922.  She founded the Cumann na mBan journal, and probably came to know Hanna Sheehy-Skeffington in this context, as she regularly contributed to the paper. She acted as a courier during the Civil War, and in July she was charged with the role of setting up a publicity department.  Bridie, Maire McKee and Nellie Hoyne established an office in Clare Street, publishing a weekly paper called The War Bulletin. In November 1922 she was arrested by Free State Troops and imprisoned. In Kilmainham Jail she continued her political life, and became a member of the Prisoners’ Council and Commanding Officer of A Wing. She was released in late 1923, but arrested again in 1926 while campaigning against the treatment of prisoners in Maryborough Jail.  She resigned her place on the Cumann na mBan Executive in 1927, later dedicating herself to compiling the history of the organization, assisting others in their applications for military pensions, the Women’s Prisoner’s Defence League, and was a founding member of the Irish Red Cross.  She died at the age of 74, and is buried in the Republican Plot in Glasnevin Cemetery.

Bridie made two witness statements to the Bureau of Military History, which can be read here and here.

For more stories on the role women such as Bridie played in the fight for Irish independence, see the further reading section on this site for a few of the titles available.  There are also a number of biographies available which are well worth reading.

Execution Warrant, The Palmerstown Murder, 1865

 

Kilmainham Gaol may be best known to many people as the location of the imprisonment and executions of the leaders of the 1916 Rising, but the prison was the scene of many executions before then.  Built in 1796, it became the centre of execution for the city of Dublin, and over a hundred people were put to death there for crimes ranging from murder and treason to theft. This death warrant of Patrick Kilkenny, who was publicly hung in the front yard of Kilmainham on 20 July 1865, tells the story of the murder of a young woman named Margaret Farquhar in a crime of passion, and was donated to the museum in 1949 by a relative of Thomas Flewett, Deputy Governor of the gaol.

 

 

 

On the morning of Saturday 10 June 1865, a 40 year old farm labourer named Patrick Kilkenny arrived at the police station at Beresford Place to confess to the murder of 26 year old Margaret Farquhar from Co. Meath the previous evening at Palmerstown.  After a short search, the police found Margaret’s body in a ditch, face down in the water and covered with grass and weeds. It seems Patrick and Margaret had had a courtship of sorts over a number of years; Patrick regularly called to her family house and they were often seen at dances together, though no engagement was ever announced. Patrick was described in the newspapers as a low-sized, stout and muscular man with the character of a drunken bully, while Margaret was reported as being considered the best looking girl in the parish. Just days previous Margaret received a letter from an ex-suitor, an Englishman who had emigrated to America for a new life and was now offering her marriage. Patrick, on hearing the news, strangled and drowned her in a roadside ditch, then sat by her body before handing himself in to the police the next day.

 

On 19 June, coming up to Kilkenny’s trial, The Irish Times expressed its suspicion that it was insanity, rather than jealousy, that caused the murder. It urged careful consideration of the case to avoid the execution of a man for a murder similar to two recent incidents where the accused, both of a higher social class than Kilkenny, did not receive the death penalty. The cases they referred to were the Townley Murder in England in 1863 and the O’Dell Murder in Dublin in 1864.

In the English case, George Victor Townley, a 25 year old from a respectable upper middle class family, stabbed his fiancé Elizabeth Goodwin when she broke their engagement. He was tried, found guilty and sentenced to death, but his family’s money and influence allowed for Townley to be later found insane and his sentence was commuted to life imprisonment. He committed suicide in prison in February 1865.

William O’Dell, a 55 year old former barrister and employee of the Fine Arts Department of the Royal Dublin Society, confessed and was convicted of the murder of Bailiff Richard Fox in October 1864. Fox had come to O’Dell’s home at 91 Upper Rathmines Road to collect goods to the value of £8 in lieu of rent arrears, and as he was leaving the house O’Dell fired his revolver, shooting Fox in the head. He was found by the jury to have suffered a ‘paroxysmal mania’, or a fit of mania, and he escaped the death sentence.

 

Patrick Kilkenny’s fate was to be different. The jury found him guilty and, despite their call for mercy, Judge Baron Deasy passed the death penalty with the statement ‘Actuated apparently by the passion of jealousy, you struck down to death that unfortunate young girl that was the object of your love. For that, through that passion, two lives are sacrificed’. On 20July 1865 Kilkenny became the first recorded hanging in Dublin since the execution of John Delahunt, the murderer of 9 year old Thomas Maguire, in 1842. The Delahunt execution reportedly drew a crowd of 20,000 people, and Kilkenny’s execution, which took place on the drop-platform balcony over the main entrance of the gaol, also attracted a large crowd of spectators.

The Freeman’s Journal questioned the practice by asking what comfort it could give the family of Margaret Farquhar as it would not restore her life to her, stating that it was not a deterrent to crime, and also calling public executions a revolting and abhorrent spectacle which disgraced Dublin. The newspaper describes the execution scene in detail with no attempt to disguise its distaste. ‘The novelty of an execution taking place within our city invested the sad scene of Thursday morning with a peculiar and an unusual interest for numbers of that idle and degraded class which is sure to be found in large communities – a class whose morbid love of the terrible, the exciting, the cruel and the sensational is in strange and strong antagonism with the much vaunted civilization of the time. A kind of semi-love romance which was sought to be imported into “The Palmerstown Murder” to some extent contributed to induce the wanton curiosity-monger, the professional sight-seer, the indolent, the vicious, and the depraved to be present at the last act of the fearful tragedy, and as a consequence vast crowds continued to pour from all parts of the city and surrounding suburbs from an early hour this morning and take up their positions in front of the jail or wherever a good view could be obtained of the place where the dread sentence of the outraged law would be carried out’. One hour after the hanging, Patrick Kilkenny’s body was cut down and interred in the grounds of Kilmainham.

Three years later the Capital Punishment Amendment Act was passed, which required all executions to be carried out within the walls of the prison in which they are interned. This saw the end of public executions in Ireland and the UK.  In 1868 John Logue, a convicted murderer, was the last person to be publicly executed in Ireland. However, capital punishment remained common even past the formation of the Irish Free State and Republic. The last execution took place in Mountjoy Jail 1954; that of 25 year old Limerick man Michael Manning who raped and murdered a 65 year old nurse called Catherine Cooper. From that point, any death sentence passed was commuted to life imprisonment by the President of Ireland, until 1990 when it was finally formally abolished. It is now prohibited in the Constitution, and cannot be re-introduced even in the case of war or a state of emergency.