1916: The revolution of the young
Many teenagers took part in the 1916 Rising, either as messenger-boys or in the actual fighting
Sean Lemass, out walking on Easter Monday, was told by other youngsters that the Rising had started. The next day the 16-year-old Lemass was given a shotgun and took position on the roof of the GPO
The Easter Rising was overwhelmingly a young people’s revolution. As well as the hundreds of fighters in their late teens and early 20s, many teenagers took part, either as messenger-boys or in the actual fighting.
The most famous was Sean Lemass, who later became Taoiseach. Out walking in the Dublin Mountains with his brother on Easter Monday, he was told by other youngsters that the Rising had started. The next day, Tuesday April 25th, the 16-year-old Lemass was given a shotgun and took position on the roof of the GPO. He was also involved in fighting on Moore Street, but survived, and after a month’s imprisonment, was released due to his age.
Others weren’t so fortunate. One messenger boy was James Fox (16), a member of Na Fianna, the rebels’ youth wing, who lived on Thomas Street in Dublin. He was killed in a trench the rebels had dug on St Stephen’s Green.
One of the youngest to die was 14-year-old Sean Healy. A member of Na Fianna, he had been carrying despatches before being sent home from the GPO by one of the leaders, Thomas McDonagh, who thought him too young to be involved. Sean was hit by a deflected bullet near his home in Phibsborough.
A large group from St Enda’s Secondary School in Rathfarnham joined Na Fianna, and even the IRB, and 15 of these later joined in the 1916 rebellion. It’s no coincidence that the school was run by Pádraig Pearse. He once offered a new rifle as a prize for a poetry competition.