1916 courts martial and executions: Éamonn Ceannt

Trial dominated by mistaken identity

Éamonn Ceannt’s court martial was dominated by a case of mistaken identity.

The chief prosecution witness, Maj JA Armstrong, identified Ceannt as being attached to the Jacob’s Factory garrison, though Ceannt was nowhere near that location during Easter Week.

Instead, he was in command of the 4th battalion, Dublin Brigade, of the Irish Volunteers at the South Dublin Union, located on the site of what is today St James’s Hospital.

Armstrong told the court martial he was present at the surrender at Jacob's Factory on April 30th, 1916. "The accused surrendered as one of the party and was at the head of it, his name was not on the unarmed list," he said.


“There was an armed list made and his name appears at the head and from information he gave he is described as a commandant. I asked him to give orders and he did so, they were obeyed.”

Ceannt called three witnesses in his defence. One of them was Maj John MacBride, later to be executed himself, who confirmed that it was impossible for Ceannt to have been in Jacob’s Factory because he had been there himself.

Two other witnesses, Richard Davys and Patrick Sweeney, confirmed that Ceannt had not been in Jacob’s factory.

Ceannt also intended to call Thomas MacDonagh who was commandant at Jacob’s Factory. The execution file states that MacDonagh was “not available as he was shot this morning”.

Ceannt gave a relatively lengthy statement in his defence denying that he had “been at Jacob’s Factory”.

“The evidence makes it quite clear that I can’t have had anything to do with the firing from the neighbourhood of Jacobs.

“I don’t accuse Major Armstrong of endeavouring to mislead the Court but it is clear that he was deceived in thinking that I was attached in any way to the Jacob’s party.”

Ceannt went on to state that he had been accused of being engaged in acts “with the intention and for the purpose of assisting the enemy”, but he said the prosecution had presented no evidence to that effect. He responded to the charge, “I content myself with a simple denial.”

Ceannt’s trial took place on May 3rd. The members of his courts martial were Brig Gen Charles Blackader (president), Lieut Col George German and Lieut Col William John Kent, all of whom officiated at several other rebel court martials.

Ceannt was found guilty of assisting the enemy and sentenced to death by firing squad. His execution took place on May 8th, 1916. –