Changed utterly – An Irishman’s Diary about revisionism and 1916

Edward Kelly’s change of mind

Recalling those turbulent events half a century later, Kelly put himself very close to the action – Nelson’s Pillar, to be exact – and suggested it was only a lack of bravery by his companions that prevented him joining Pearse and Connolly

In fairness to Edward Kelly, he stopped short of pretending to have been in the GPO during Easter Week. But recalling those turbulent events half a century later, he put himself very close to the action – Nelson’s Pillar, to be exact – and suggested it was only a lack of bravery by his companions that prevented him joining Pearse and Connolly inside.

Fairyhouse Races

Kelly and three friends from Monaghan had, he said, been attending the Fairyhouse Races as the Rising broke out. Later, travelling into the city en route home, they saw the emerging stand-off. And although the friends were Sinn Féin men, whereas Kelly was a Redmondite, it was he, apparently, who wanted to fight. Here’s his version, recorded for the 1966 anniversary and now part of the Marron Papers in Monaghan County Museum: “One of the Sinn Féiners with me said ‘Come on, boys, let us get out of here. There will be trouble here. The army is not going to tolerate this.’ ‘Wait a minute, boys,’ I said, ‘surely if there’s going to be trouble, we should be in. After all, we pose as great Irishmen down in County Monaghan. You are great Sinn Féiners. I am a great Hibernian. If we are sincere in what we say, the acid test [is] being applied now. It is up to us to do our little bit to drive home the blow. I, for one, am game to do that, if any of you will come with me into the P.O.’ [....]My company left me standing there at the Pillar. When they were fifty yards away, I went after them, and pleaded with them again. They left me. I returned and stood and [sic] the Pillar. Then I followed them to Wynn’s Hotel and pleaded again in vain. We set off for home and reached home about 3 a.m.”

Sadly, it appears that this almost-heroic stand was an invention. Or if it happened, then 50 years earlier, as chairman of Carrickmacross Board of Guardians, the same Edward Kelly had taken a dramatically different attitude soon afterwards.

‘Hot-headed revolutionaries’

Then, in the wake of Rising, he spoke in favour of a motion condemning the “hot-headed revolutionaries and socialists” in Dublin. And according to the official minutes, he was glad that the local Sinn Féiners had proved so “weak-spirited” as to save themselves from involvement. As for those in the GPO: “Everyone should approve of the action of the authorities in shooting the rebel leaders – because that is what they are [–] only a handful of revolutionists. I say it knowing that the press is here and that it will be published – they were nothing but cowards who flinched conscription when their tried and true leader John Redmond declared that Ireland would be a strong arm to assist England in this war (hear, hear). We are all ashamed of them.”


I owe this fascinating vignette to an historian named Ciarán J Reilly, with whom I shared a platform recently. A post-doctoral research fellow at Maynooth University’s Centre for the Study of Historic Irish Houses and Estates, Ciarán was a fellow speaker at the annual conference of the Association of Irish Local Government. And his speech was the need for a more honest, but also nuanced, approach to the decade of centenaries that the one taken in 1966, about which Edward Kelly’s spectacular revisionism was a cautionary lesson.


It wasn’t the only time Kelly changed sides. A one-term TD for Fianna Fáil, he later stood, unsuccessfully, for Fine Gael. But we shouldn’t be too hard on him. He was an old man in 1966, by which time the nationalist consensus on the Rising was so powerful it must have been hard to admit that, having attended the Fairyhouse Races, you just went home.


After all, most people were wrong-footed by the events. Indeed Ciaran’s speech also featured the sad case of William Mulraney, from his home town of Edenderry, Co Offaly. Mulraney too illustrates the complexities of 1916 that didn’t fit the simplified narrative of the 50th anniversary.

As a teenager he played GAA for his local club, named after a Fenian. And his death during Easter Week might have been glorious were it not for what history decided was the losing side.

A private with the King’s 8th Hussars, he had been wounded in the war and was convalescing at the Curragh that fateful month. Then his unit was dispatched to Dublin to put the rebellion down. So on April 26th, 1916, Mulraney found himself in the right place but with the wrong uniform. And unlike others, he didn’t live to amend the record.