Courts-martial papers of 1916 leaders released online
Among treasure trove is intelligence data on Éamon on de Valera and Michael Collins
Details from intelligence reports on Michael Collins are now available via Ancestry.ie
Thousands of documents relating to the revolutionary perio, including all those related to the courts-martial of the leaders of the 1916 Easter Rising, have been released online for the first time.
Online geneology website Ancestry.com has digitised 2,600 records and 60,000 images which will be made available online free of charge into perpetuity from March 22nd.
They include extensive intelligence files on some of the best known figures in Irish history such as Éamon de Valera and Michael Collins.
The documents were all accessed from the UK National Archives in Kew where they have been for the last 100 years. The court martial documents were only made public in 2003 and were until now only available to view in London.
Among the items digitised are Patrick Pearse’s last letter home to his mother where he pleaded for the lives of his followers and explained his actions in surrendering in “order to prevent further slaughter of the civilian population and in the hope of saving the lives of our followers”.
The papers contain a poignant account of Seán MacDiarmada’s court martial. An officer gave an account of why MacDiarmada, who had been stricken with polio in 1911, could not walk after surrendering on April 29th.
“I asked him why he could not march. One of the others told me his leg was paralysed,” he reported. MacDiarmada along with Connolly was the last to be shot.
It would appear from the courts martial documents that the authorities took much longer to prove that MacDiarmada was a leader of the Rising because the name they knew him by “John McDermott” was not his name as it appeared on the Proclamation.
A document is included in the files with his name on it in which he tells the men to “report to me at Liberty Hall by 11am today Monday with full equipment”.
In James Connolly’s case, he is assessed by two doctors has being “perfectly rational and in complete possession of his faculties. His mental condition has been and still is perfectly normal and his mind, memory and understanding entirely unimpaired and that he is fit to undergo his trial.”
Many of the field courts martials are very short. Tom Clarke, for instance, entered no defence. Thomas MacDonagh, on the other hand, did speak at his trial, but only to state that he fully cooperated with British officers after the surrender.
Significantly, his courtmartial papers contain no evidence that he ever made a lenghty final address to his court martial. In the weeks following the Rising a pamphlet reported to be his last address was circulated around Dublin and denounced as a fake by the British authorities.
Also being released through the files is a British army sketch map showing where the leaders were going to be buried in Arbour Hill. It starts with the first three men to be executed, Patrick Pearse, Thomas MacDonagh and Tom Clarke.
The Michael Collins files is filled with a vey vivid description. Far from the being the “Big Fellow” of renown, police reckoned he was about 5’8 and turning to seed. “Must have been a powerful man a few years ago: now heavy in movement and greatly out of condition ... Looks like a publican”.
Ancestry historian Rhona Murray said the release of the courts martial files in particular marked a departure from the secret nature of them for so long. “Even when they were released by the National Archives, they were done very discreetly to the extent the majority of people do not know they were open to the public,” she said. “ Some of the details would make the hair stand on the back of your neck.”