Only eyewitness account of Easter Rising leaders’ burial is made public

Archive letter tells how British sergeant major noted the order in which 1916 commanders were buried

The only eyewitness account of the burials of the executed leaders of the 1916 Easter Rising has been made public for the first time.

Fifteen leaders of the Rising were shot in the fortnight after it took place. Fourteen were executed in Kilmainham Gaol in Dublin and Thomas Kent was executed in his native Cork.

The bodies of the 14 were taken to Arbour Hill in Dublin for burial. The manner in which their burials were conducted caused widespread anger at the time, with Bishop Thomas O’Dwyer stating that the British had denied the men a Christian burial by burying them in unconsecrated ground.

The order in which they were buried was regarded as critically important when Arbour Hill became a place of commemoration for the new Irish State.


The letter, which confirms the order in which the men are buried, was sent by a former civil servant, Jerome O’Connell, to the government in 1932. It is described by civil servant E Clancy as probably the “only written record kept of the order in which the executed leaders were buried”.

Military archives
It now appears in a file released as part of the Military Service Pensions Collection opened to the public on Thursday. It is contained in the Department of Defence files.

In the letter, O’Connell states that he was in charge of the Irish Military Lands Records in 1918 which included Arbour Hill military prison.

He went to the prison sergeant major and asked him to point out where the men were buried. The sergeant major, whose name is not mentioned in the document, told him he was on duty when the graves were prepared.

“[He] in a sympathetic description of the events of 1916, stated that he had, on his own initiative, caused a numbered brick to be placed at the head of each of the 14 bodies in the order of burial and has kept a corresponding list of the names from which he allowed me to make the literal copy in the order set out above,” O’Connell wrote.

He sought to assure the Government that, though the ground in which the men were buried was used as an exercise ground, it was part of the Arbour Hill military cemetery and was consecrated in 1848.

O'Connell went on to confirm the order in which they were buried from the northern wall of the cemetery: Thomas Clarke, Thomas Mac Donagh, Pádraig Pearse, Edward Daly, Michael O'Hanrahan, William Pearse, Joseph Mary Plunkett*, John MacBride, Con Colbert, Éamonn Ceannt, Seán Heuston, Michael Mallin, James Connolly and Seán Mac Diarmada.

* This article was edited on January 20th, 2014 to correct a factual error.

Ronan McGreevy

Ronan McGreevy

Ronan McGreevy is a news reporter with The Irish Times