Role of Dublin priests in Rising must be acknowledged - Martin

Archbishop critical of ‘clinically secular concept of the way 1916 will be marked’

The role of Dublin's Catholic priests in assisting the dead and injured during the 1916 Rising is being ignored in centenary commemoration plans, Archbishop Diarmuid Martin has said.

“There’s a sort of a clinically secular concept of the way 1916 will be marked,” he said.

“The priests of the Pro-Cathedral played an enormous role in the Rising. People took refuge in the Pro-Cathedral.”

It was probably the only substantial building in the area of the Rising that remains as it was in 1916, he said. “It wasn’t burnt down because the wind changed. If you’re looking at buildings that need a little plaque, it would deserve it.”


Significant role

The Archbishop's family, on his mother's side, played a significant role in the Rising, which was condemned by a majority of Catholic bishops at the time. His uncle, Martin Mullen, was in the unit at Jacob's factory, while an aunt, Mary Mullen, served with James Connolly's Citizen Army.

Another aunt, and the Archbishop’s godmother, Bridie Mullen, fought at St Stephen’s Green. “She must’ve been quite young at the time. My mother always said her first memory as a child was her mother putting the bullets into the bandolier of her brother.

“The third brother of that family [James] was in the British army at Gallipoli,” he recalled.

Later, Martin Mullen was interned at the Frongach camp in Wales. "My grandmother went over to see him," the Archbishop said.

He felt it would be interesting “for somebody to do something on the faith roots of 1916”.

Seeking confession

When the fighting began, two priests were let into the GPO by James Connolly. Padraig Pearse requested that they send more priests as many of the men wanted their confession heard.

The two priests were Msgr Michael Curran, then secretary to Archbishop of Dublin at the time, William Walsh, and Fr Edward Byrne, administrator at the Pro-Cathedral. They were joined by other Pro-Cathedral priests Frs Flanagan and O'Reilly.

Later that afternoon Msgr Curran anointed the first fatality of the Rising, a soldier shot near Nelson’s Pillar.

"People said to him [Msgr Curran] 'he's got a miraculous medal on him'. An officer said 'many of the men have those, they're good luck charms'," Archbishop Martin said.

Priests were also blocked inside Jervis Street hospital by the fighting while tending to casualties. They did “an immense amount of work”, Archbishop Martin said.

He recalled how “the chaplain in Kilmainham [Fr Aloysius Travers] said he watched James Connolly receiving Holy Communion devotedly on two occasions before he was executed”.

On May 3rd, 1916, Fr Francis Farrington of Aughrim Street parish and chaplain to Arbour Hill prison was summoned at 4am to receive the remains of Padraig Pearse, Tom Clarke and Thomas McDonagh, who had been executed at 3.30am.

‘Thrown into grave’

“The bodies arrived, warm and dripping with blood, and were thrown into a grave,” the Archbishop said. Uncoffined, they were put in a 60-foot trench.

Also busy bringing spiritual comfort to the dead and dying were the Capuchin priests at Church Street, as well as other priests in Aughrim Street. Archbishop Martin hoped all would be remembered in centenary commemorations next year.

On May 8th, 1916, General John Maxwell, military governor in the aftermath of the Rising, wrote to Archbishop Walsh conveying his thanks for the services rendered by priests during the previous weeks.

Archbishop Walsh was ill during much of that period but never publicly condemned the Rising.

Patsy McGarry

Patsy McGarry

Patsy McGarry is a contributor to The Irish Times