There has been much written about the Easter Rising in Dublin, the execution of the Leaders, and the journey towards the signing of the Treaty of 1921. Today we arrive at the 100th anniversary of the 1916 Rising. The first the Capuchins heard of the Rising was a “startling burst of fire” almost outside the door of St. Mary of the Angels Church, on Church St on that Easter Monday morning, April 24th 1916. They were just finishing their midday meal when all this began to happen. This was also following what would have been a busy time for the priests and the brothers in the Friary with the Easter ceremonies. No doubt they were looking forward to some rest during these next few days.
Fr. Columbus (Murphy) tells of rushing outside to meet walking wounded and a doctor ministering to a man shot in the arm. There were some accounts of soldiers of the Sixth Cavalry Regiment taking gun powder to the Phoenix Park and coming under fire at the Four Courts. At this stage, no one seemed to have any idea that the beginnings of a rebellion was taking place. Later, he learns of a small boy, John Francis Foster (2) being killed in his pram outside the Father Mathew Hall. The Hall seems to have become a flash point as the week progresses as members of Cumann na mBan tend to people’s injuries in the Hall and the more seriously injured are taken to the Richmond Hospital.
Frs. Columbus and Aloysius (Travers) are on duty that week supplying Mass in both Jervis St Hospital and Gloucester Street Convent so they are making their way over each morning through the chaos. Fr. Columbus gives a very comprehensive account of the noise of incessant gunfire, the blast of cannon fire, and the eventual destruction of many buildings in Dublin City Centre and indeed O’ Connell Street. He also risks serious injury and even his life to perform his priestly duties to those killed and injured.
As the week wears on and the casualties increase, the priests from Church St continue to be involved in the relief work. This is perhaps because they are on the ground where the action is happening, also because they are hi-visibility in their religious habits. They endeavour to be honest brokers in ministering to those killed and injured and their families. Fr. Columbus in his memoir tells of how on April 29th Padraig Pearse formally surrenders the GPO Garrison “To avoid further slaughter” and Columbus travels with Elizabeth Farrell, a Cumann na mBan nurse, who attempts to convince Edward Daly at the Four Courts Garrison that Pearse’s surrender was genuine. This then spreads to the other Garrisons over the next few days. Fr. Aloysius and Fr. Augustine (Hayden) mediate negotiations between the British authorities and Thomas MacDonagh (Jacob’s Biscuit Factory) and Éamonn Ceannt (South Dublin Union) for the peaceful capitulation of the men and women under their command.
When the leaders were imprisoned in Kilmainham gaol and court martialled, the Capuchin priests were called upon to come to minister to them and give them spiritual support. They were taken by car very late each night and driven to Kilmainham gaol where they would meet the prisoners individually. By extension, they made themselves available to some of the families of the men too, and they also ministered to some of the women prisoners, most of whom were members of Cumann na mBan.
The executions began on May 3rd 1916 when Fr. Aloysius heard the last confessions of Padraig Pearse and Thomas MacDonagh. He was ordered form Kilmainham Jail before they were executed. Later following protests, the priests were allowed to remain present for the executions to complete the administration of the Last Rites of the Church. Tom Clarke was attended by Fr. Columbus.
On the 4th of May, Fr. Aloysius notes in his memoir that Fr. Augustine Hayden ministered to Joseph Mary Plunkett, he also ministered to Michael O’Hanrahan, and William Pearse. Fr. Columbus Murphy ministered to Edward Daly. Fr. Albert Bibby, and Fr. Sebastian O’Brien were also in attendance that night.
On the 5th of May, Fr. Augustine was in attendance for John McBride.
On the 8th of May 1916, Fr. Augustine was in attendance at the executions of Éamonn Ceannt, Con Colbert, And Michael Mallin. Fr. Albert Bibby was in attendance for Seán Heuston.
Finally, on May 12th Fr. Aloysius ministered to James Connolly (both before in Dublin Castle, and then in Kilmainham Gaol) and was in attendance at his execution. He notes that Fr. Eugene McCarthy of James’s St and chaplain to Kilmainham, ministered to Seán MacDiarmada earlier but Aloysius then attended to him after the shooting.
Having read through some of the accounts Frs. Columbus and Aloysius (Aloysius much later ministered to Jim Larkin before his death in 1947) It shows to me the commitment, the bravery, and the selflessness of these priests who were primarily pastors of souls in their ministry. They were on hand night and day to try to bring pastoral care and hope to the many people who were deeply affected by the violence and chaos of the Rising. I’ve no doubt that they were also moved by the bravery of the 1916 Leaders who were executed.
Humanly speaking, reading their accounts, I am also moved by how they stayed sane following what most have been a deeply stressful time for them seeing the things they did. Today those of us in ministry will be involved at times in critical incidents and we have structures in place to help us in our pastoral ministry. In the days following the executions for example, Fr. Columbus travels to Dundalk to give a two-week Parish Mission. He pens his memoir in the following months as a way of recording the week that was. I also believe he writes it to help him cope with what must have deeply ingrained itself in his soul – as it has done on the soul of Ireland and indeed the world.
Top left; Fr. Columbus Murphy, Bottom left; Fr. Augustine Hayden, Middle; Fr. Albert Bibby, Top right, Fr. Aloysius Travers, Bottom right, Fr. Sebastian O'Brien