The Stonebreaker’s Yard in Kilmainham Jail is a place that all Irish citizens should visit. In fact, such a visit ought to form part of our school curriculum such is the significance of this haunting location.
For it was here that Yeats’s oft-quoted “terrible beauty” was born, where 14 men were executed by the British crown in response to the Easter Rising of 1916.
The insurrection of April 24th, initially dismissed by a public more interested in attending the Fairyhouse Races, set in train a series of events that would lead to war with the British, Civil War, and independence.
And while doubt has been placed over the pock-marked façade of the GPO – be it caused by bullet marks during the Rising or erosion to the limestone-clad building, there’s no disputing what occurred at Kilmainham.
Standing in the yard where 14 men, including the dying, seated James Connolly were shot (he was executed at the opposite end of the yard from where the other 13 met their fate), was genuinely chilling.
Of local interest, among those executed was Michael O’Hanrahan, a native of New Ross who was second in command to Thomas MacDonagh (Cloughjordan, North Tipperary) at Jacob’s Biscuit Factory during the Rising.
Where these men died was no place for smiling while posing for a photo – for that matter, no place where death lingers merits a creasing of the mouth and a flashing of one’s teeth.
This place of death would, in time, becoming the baptismal font of a free and independent Ireland, though the partition of the island would no doubt have angered all who fell 96 summers ago.
At the grave of O’Donovan Rossa in Glasnevin Cemetery (another ‘must visit’) less than a year before he was executed in Kilmainham, Pádraig Pearse stated: “Ireland unfree shall never be at peace.”
Sadly, in the wake of the car bombing of PSNI officer Peadar Heffron’s vehicle, it’s evident that some remain determined to wreck a process through which the peace has largely been won.
While the events on Sackville (O’Connell) Street, Stephen’s Green and Mount Street Bridge readily spring to mind when recalling 1916, an attack on an RIC barracks in Ashbourne, County Meath took place that same Easter.
In Wexford, well-known for its previous forays into rebellion, volunteers seized Enniscorthy, where the green, white and orange was unfurled above the Athenaeum Hall.
They would hold the town for four days before British brawn proved too formidable to stave off.
In Ashbourne, the fifth battalion of the Dublin Brigade, better known as ‘The Fingal Volunteers’, were led by a Kerryman named Thomas Ashe, who would later die on hunger strike in Mountjoy.
Ashe’s second-in-command during the operation was a 32-year-old man born in Manor Street, Waterford, who would later serve as IRA Chief of Staff and leader of Fine Gael. His name was Richard Mulcahy.
The Fingal Volunteers, which numbered 50 in total come the operation, were split into four ‘Flying Columns’, a tactic which Mulcahy and Michael Collins would deploy to great effect during the War of Independence.
During the course of a five-and-a-half hour battle, four RIC barracks were seized while 90 prisoners were taken by the Fingallians. In fact, some have argued that this was the only successful military action taken during the Rising by the Volunteers.
Following what was perceived as the initial failure in Dublin, the Ashbourne insurgents were ordered to surrender by Pearse, an order which Mulcahy himself had confirmed having journeyed to the capital.
Mulcahy, like so many of those who took up arms in 1916, was sent to Frongoch Prison in Wales before being released in December of that year.
He combined his IRA duties with those of Minister for Defence in the First Dáil, before serving as Minister for National Defence in both the Second Dáil and the pro-Treaty Provisional Government.
Such is the level of detail available on Richard Mulcahy that one column alone cannot perform sufficient justice on his role not only before and after independence, but also as Fine Gael leader.
With all of this in mind, the requirement for a second look at the Manor Street man and his place in Irish history come next week’s edition is more than merited.