‘If our deed has not been sufficient to win freedom, then our children will win it by a better deed.’

Patrick H. Pearse, President of the Provisional Government of Irish Republic, Kilmainham Gaol, May 2nd 1916, later executed at 3.30am, 3rd May, by the gunshots of 12 soldiers. He was 36 years old. He left notes of goodbye for his family including his mother and brother Willie who was a teacher at St. Enda’s college which Patrick had established as a school to teach boys not only the English language but also their own Irish language. Patrick (or Padraic in Irish) had no idea that his brother was to be placed in the cell next to his own in Kilmainham to be be executed the following day.


Kilmainham Goal, opened in 1796 in Dublin, was to be the first reform prison in the Ireland, but later, during the famine it became overcrowded with dreadful conditions as people sought to be arrested so they could have a roof over their heads and the possibility of one meal a day. It later detained many of the leaders of the rebellions during the Irish fight for independence, most significantly after the Easter Rising of 1916 when 14 of its leaders were shot at dawn including James Connelly, Joseph Plunkett and Patrick Pearse. It closed its doors in 1924. It previously imprisoned Eamon DeValera, the 3rd president of the Republic of Ireland, who later came back to reopen the building as a museum.

Twelve shots rang out
at dawn
the hope
a rising
would be done.

Twelve shots rang out
but all they could spill
was blood
not spirit.


Damien B. Donnelly

scrape their names
into the concrete
that’s what makes


the silence screams
with the sound
of your smashed soul
within the stillness
of these cells

‘…I would have brought you royal gifts, and I have brought you
Sorrow and tears: and yet, it may be
That I have brought you something else besides-
The memory of my deed and my name
A splendid thing which will not pass away
When men speak of me, in praise and in dispraise,
You will not heed, but treasure your own memory
Of your first son.’


A poem by P. H. Pearse entitled To My Mother, written just before he was executed.

Did she hold thereafter,
that Mother gifted of sorrows,
that splendid thing to her heart
as the rifles ripped the remains
of both her sons
across the helpless walls.


Damien B. Donnelly.

Joseph Mary Plunkett was married to Grace Gifford (a protestant who’d converted to catholicism) on the night of 3rd May, 1916 in the prison chapel surrounded by soldiers in a brief ceremony where they only spoke their vows. In the early hours of the following morning Grace was brought to her new husband’s cell. They were given 10 minutes to say their goodbyes. It is said they stood together in silence. Joseph was executed at dawn at the age of 28, less than 9 hours after being married.

The cell of Eamon De Valera, 3rd President of the Republic of Ireland

The list of those executed after the Easter Rising 1916

By the morning of May 12th 1916, James Connelly had already been shot twice while trying to hold the GPO (Dublin’s General Post Office and the main scene of the rising from Easter Monday up to their surrender the following Saturday 29th April) and was already dying from those wounds. He could not stand or walk and so was carried into the yard on a stretcher and had to be secured to a chair so the 12 soldiers could execute him.

the nearest light
feels the furthest from reach.


Damien B. Donnelly

Into the shadow
Of a cold cell
There is only one choice
Trust in the coming light
Or be blown out.


Damien B. Donnelly


All photographs by Damien B Donnelly

Words by me unless otherwise stated.



  1. It’s impossible not to be moved by the courage of those men and women. It’s called dying for a cause freely chosen not the result of brainwashing and lies, committing suicide in the hope of glory. Such a lot of pathos in Pearse’s poetry.

    • I think I was too distracted by getting away when I was a kid that none of my own history seemed appealing and it was so badly thought at school, almost as a second thought after world history, very much ‘oh, by the way…’
      But now, oh my god, I’m so ravenous to know how we became who we are, who stood up and who fought and who died for a dream of freedom that too many at the time thought so foolish. I’m just discovering Pearse’s poetry now and it’s so honest and bare and breath taking. And he was so young. They all were.
      When they brought us out into the yard where they had been executed my body was actually shaking; the site of the end of their dream and the start of our real freedom. Oh!!!

      • I think it was the idea that they knew the rising had failed, they were dead meat and the English were still there, but they still hoped in the future, and they died with that hope, that it hadn’t been in vain. To die, without the knowledge that your country will honour you, knowing the priests will bad mouth you, and in the end, the English are still there, must have been so hard.
        Being brought up in England with the Provos in full throttle meant Irish history was taught in school up to Parnell, but nothing that might be called ‘modern’ that might offend our English hosts. Integration, forgiveness etc was the watchword, and we got our history from the source, the grandparents and great-grandparents. It’s a great history with a lot to be proud of.

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