An Irishman’s Diary on Peter Macken and the 1916 Rising

Detail on Peter Macken’s gravestone in Glasnevin Cemetery

Detail on Peter Macken’s gravestone in Glasnevin Cemetery

 

Many dedicated young men gave their lives in the 1916 Rising and few among them could have been more dedicated than Peter (or Peadar) Macken, who devoted his adult life to trade-union and local politics and the Irish-language cause, as well as to the achievement of political independence.

Dubliner

An Claidheamh Soluis

He was born on June 29th, 1878, in Nassau Place in Dublin. His father, George, a house painter, instilled a love of both Irish nationalism and the Irish language in his son.

After attending the Christian Brothers’ primary school in Westland Row, he followed his father’s occupation. He joined the William Orr branch of the Gaelic League in 1897, before moving on to the Oliver Bond branch, of which he became president. Other organisations he joined were the Celtic Literary Society, founded by William Rooney and in which Arthur Griffith was also very active, and the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB).

He was soon one of the most active members of the Gaelic League, giving Irish classes, setting up branches and promoting its activities in numerous ways. He had his first article in Irish published in Griffith’s United Irishman in January 1902. He spent periods in the various Gaeltachtaí improving his Irish and also took part in Irish-language plays.

His father had long been active in the Metropolitan House Painters Trade Union and Macken worked on behalf of the union in various capacities from the early 1900s. He was appointed a union delegate to the Dublin Trades Council and Labour League (DTCLL), where he worked with PT Daly (a close supporter of James Connolly, a senior member of the IRB and founder member, with Connolly, of the Irish Labour Party) and WP Partridge (who also fought in the Rising). He stood in the North Dock Ward in the Dublin Corporation elections of 1906, failing to get elected by a narrow margin.

Macken was to the fore in the relaunch of the Socialist Party of Ireland (SPI) in 1909 and was instrumental in bringing James Connolly back from the US in 1910 as SPI organiser. In the June 1912 local elections, Macken was elected alderman for the North Dock Ward in Dublin.

Over the years, he contributed articles, in both Irish and English, to the Harp (a journal published by Connolly while in America), An Claidheamh Soluis, Griffith’s United Irishman and Sinn Féin, the Irish Worker (founded by James Larkin) and An Barr Buadh (a short-lived, weekly, all-Irish paper founded by Patrick Pearse in 1912). He had a particular interest in the English spoken in Dublin, believing that Irish had an enormous influence on it and was the source of many of its idioms. He wrote Irish in roman script (cló rómhánach) and favoured simplifying the spelling as much as possible to make the language easier to learn.

When the Irish Volunteers were founded in late 1913, Macken, Eamonn Ceannt, The O’Rahilly and Seán Fitzgibbon were IRB representatives on the movement’s provisional committee. When the Volunteers split in 1914, Macken stayed with the minority Irish Volunteers. He served as the labour representative on the O’Donovan Rossa Funeral Committee in 1915.

On Easter Monday, 1916, he was one of 80 members of B Company, 3rd Battalion of the Irish Volunteers that occupied Boland’s Mills and surrounding outposts. He was in charge of the Great Clarence (now Macken) Street dispensary. The pressure of the fighting took its toll and when he tried to calm an agitated Volunteer, the man turned on him and shot him dead (his attacker was then shot dead by another Volunteer).

Painters

The painters of Dublin erected his gravestone in Glasnevin Cemetery in 1919 and, the following year, Dublin Corporation named Macken Street after him.

Who can say what a loss he and countless other little-known people who gave their lives between 1916 and 1921 were to the independent State that emerged from all their sacrifices?