Skip to main content

The 1916 Easter Rising in Dublin Ireland and Sean McDermott

  • Author:
  • Updated date:

L.M.Reid is an Irish writer who has published many history articles online and in magazines.

Sean McDermott was executed after he fought and then surrendered in the 1916 Easter Rising in Dublin, Ireland.

Sean McDermott was executed after he fought and then surrendered in the 1916 Easter Rising in Dublin, Ireland.

Sean McDermott

Sean McDermott was one of the leaders of the 1916 Easter Rising. This week-long battle took place in Dublin, Ireland, and was fought to free the Irish people from hundreds of years of British rule.

Irish men, women and children fought hard during that week. In the end, the leaders decided it was time to surrender. Even though this was done during wartime, the leaders were executed.

Sean MacDermott was shot by firing squad in Kilmainham Jail. He lies in the mass grave in Arbour Hill Park in Stoneybatter, Dublin 7 Ireland.

This is his story and the story of those who fought alongside him.

The Start of The Easter Rising at the GPO

Sean McDermott had left Liberty Hall a few minutes before noon on Easter Monday, 24 April 1916 and walked up to the General Post Office with Tom Clarke. Neither man could march with the rest of the Irish soldiers because of their bad health. They waited outside the GPO and watched when, as arranged, James Connolly, Patrick Pearse and Joseph Plunkett marched towards them from Liberty Hall.

They were leading the men of the Irish Volunteers and the men and women of the Irish Citizen Army up O’Connell Street. Sean McDermott was to take on the duties of Liaison Officer in the GPO between Patrick Pearse and James Connolly.

GPO Headquarters

Patrick Pearse read out the Proclamation of the Irish Republic on the steps. The GPO became the headquarters, and the military action was to be coordinated from there. Many garrisons all over Dublin had also been captured at the same time by the Irish soldiers. The 1916 Easter Rising had begun.

Easter Rising Leaders

Sean MacDermott was born in Co Leitrim on February 1884. In 1911 he suffered an attack of polio, and one of his legs was left badly damaged; he could only walk with the aid of a stick from then on. He was the National organiser for the Irish Republican Brotherhood. Because of this job, he travelled all over Ireland for some years.

He met people, built an arsenal of supplies and trained men. He was also the Editor of the Irish Freedom newspaper and one of the founders of the Irish Volunteers. He gave a speech in protest against the conscription of Irishmen into the British Army to fight in World War One. He was arrested and imprisoned for four months.

Cumann na mBan

The women of the Cumann na Ban and the boys and girls of the Fianna were carrying out the dangerous task of delivering dispatches from outposts to the headquarters at the GPO. Since Monday, fifteen-year-old John McLoughlin was one of the lads that was in and out of the GPO getting reports from the other garrisons.

John had brought a dispatch back from the Mendicity Institution to say they were holding out. Connolly was surprised and delighted. He had given them orders to hold out for a few hours. He knew they had an almost impossible task because the British army outnumbered them. He sent John McLoughlin back with another dispatch, but they had surrendered by the time he arrived.

John McLoughlin

On his return to the GPO, John McLoughlin met his mother. She told him she heard his sister was also in the GPO acting as a messenger. She was worried because she was so young, so he was to tell her to come home. When John gave his report to James Connolly, he went to his sister.

He said, 'Mary McLoughlin, your mother will murder you! She says you are to go home.' Sean MacDermott heard this and smiled at John, saying, 'Her mother will not murder her, indeed she won't. Her mother will be proud of her later on.'

Burnt out GPO after the Irish Rising

Burnt out GPO after the Irish Rising


As the GPO caught fire on Friday, the men were busy trying to get the ammunition away from the flames. But the roof was on fire, and the hoses and water pressure were insufficient. The GPO was burning down, and the men had to get out.

A plan was worked out for Michael O'Rahilly to take thirty men and try to capture the building of Williams and Wood on Parnell Street. As they prepared to go, one of the men started singing 'The Soldier's Song,' and they all joined in. It was to become the Irish National Anthem.

Twenty-one of Michael O'Rahilly's men had been shot in the first attempt. Michael Collins had been with that group, but he managed to fall back and escape the bullets unharmed. Michael O'Rahilly had been wounded and had taken cover in Sampson Lane. But he regrouped his men and made a second attempt to get up Moore Street to storm the Barricades.

He was hit again—this time in the chest—and crawled into Sackville Lane, now O'Rahilly's Parade. By now, Michael Collins, Joseph Plunkett, Tom Clarke and Sean MacDermott were out on the street with their men. They took cover as darkness fell, the only light coming from the fires at the GPO. Although only fifteen years old, John McLoughlin also led a group of men out of the GPO.

Escaping the GPO

Joseph Plunkett ordered that a van be put across the road at the junction of Henry Place and Moore Street. This gave them some shelter from the machine guns of the British troops from Parnell Street, the roof of the Rotunda and the top of Henry Street.

So the Leaders were faced with two choices: take a chance and be shot by the British machine guns, or burn to death in the GPO. They knew they had to leave the GPO, so once again, all the Irish soldiers in the GPO attempted the short journey across the road.

Joseph Plunkett, Patrick Pearse and Sean MacDermott stood out in the street. Small groups of men ran out into Henry Street and sought cover from the machine guns, supervised by the three leaders. James Connolly had to be brought across on a stretcher and managed to get there without being shot again.

The ammunition and explosives blow up in the cellar of the GPO. Those who did manage to get across to Moore Street alive were now held up in a row of terraced houses with shops at the bottom of them.

The men broke holes in each house's walls so they could safely go from one house to another without fear of being shot. The fires in the GPO finally reached the gunpowder in the cellar. It was 3.00 am on Saturday morning when the men in Moore Street and the Irish people all over Dublin heard the huge explosion.

Michael O'Rahilly

Michael O'Rahilly

Michael O'Rahilly

Also, during the night, the men had tried unsuccessfully to reach Michael O'Rahilly, who had been shot many times earlier. He still lay on the ground at Sackville Lane. At around midnight, he called out for water. A woman in the house nearest to him tried several times to bring him some, but each time she was fired at. Finally, with the cup of water in her hand, she decided to make a run towards Michael O'Rahilly. She was immediately shot at and fell to the ground, cursing the soldiers for preventing her from giving a dying man a drink.

Linda Kearns

Another woman who tried desperately to get to him was Linda Kearns. She was a member of Cumann na mBan and a qualified nurse. At the beginning of the week, she had set up a field hospital near North Great George's Street with six women and two Fianna boys. As the fighting continued and the injured came in, they helped all sides of the conflict.

But a British Officer insisted they only tend to their side, so Linda closed down the hospital and transferred all the injured to the Mater and Temple Street hospitals. She then became one of the many stretcher bearers on the streets of Dublin. As he lay dying in Sackville Lane, she tried several times to reach him but was also stopped by the deliberate machine gun fire aimed in his direction.

Michael O'Rahilly was dead by morning. A note was found on his body addressed to his wife, Hannah. It said, 'It was a good fight anyhow;' They had three sons.

The 1916 Easter Rising in Dublin - Sean McDermott

The 1916 Easter Rising in Dublin - Sean McDermott

The Meeting

Later that morning, Sean McDermott, James Connolly, Patrick Pearse, Tom Clarke, Joseph Plunkett and Willie Pearse held a meeting to decide what to do next. Sean MacDermott and John McLoughlin went out into Sackville Lane, now called O'Rahilly Parade, to see if they could work out the escape plan and find water. There were over two hundred and fifty men held up in the houses. The first thing they came across was the body of Michael O'Rahilly. His body was riddled with bullets. They stopped for a minute.

They Had Tears in Their Eyes

Neither man spoke as they continued on their mission. When they returned to the headquarters at 16 Moore Street, a plan was decided upon. They would create a diversion so that the main body of soldiers could leave the houses on Moore Street and regroup.

Dillon family

The row of terraced houses on Moore Street was occupied by the families living there when the Easter Rising began. And when, on the following Friday, the GPO was evacuated by the soldiers, the families were still in their own houses on Moore Street.

One of these families was a mother and father and their daughter, the Dillons. As the leaders were meeting, this family ran out of their house in Moore Street waving a white flag and up into Henry Street.

The British soldiers were taken by surprise and, not realising they were civilians, they opened fire with the machine guns killing the Dillon family immediately. Another meeting was held with the leaders. They decided to abort the plan and made the tough decision to surrender.

They were soldiers and had not planned to put civilian lives at risk. They were willing to fight to the death themselves but felt it was unfair to continue to put the lives of ordinary Irish people on the line.

Kilmainham Jail Yard

Kilmainham Jail Yard

Elizabeth O'Farrell

Sean MacDermott went in search of a white flag, and Captain O'Reilly gave him his handkerchief. He tied it to a stick, and O'Reilly opened the door of 15 Moore Street and stuck it out. It was shot to pieces. He tried it again, this time with more success. Patrick Pearse had given Elizabeth O'Farrell verbal instructions, and she stepped into the street at 12:45 pm on Saturday, 29 April, and walked towards the British barricade.

She was taken to a house in Parnell Street where she was searched and her Red Cross badges torn off her apron and arm. Eventually, at 2:45 pm, she saw Brigadier General Lowe. It was agreed that she return to the Irish Headquarters in Moore Street and tell the leaders that only unconditional surrender would be accepted.

The Surrender

The leaders accepted this, and Patrick Pearse went out with Elizabeth O'Farrell and surrendered to General Lowe. Patrick Pearse and General Lowe agreed that Elizabeth O'Farrell would bring the surrender note around the City, which by now was also signed by Connolly.

Patrick Pearse was taken away by the British soldiers so he could give the order to surrender to the remaining Irish troops all around Dublin. British soldiers then escorted Elizabeth O'Farrell to the other Irish-held garrisons, where she was to deliver the surrender orders from Patrick Pearse and James Connolly to the Irish soldiers of the Irish Volunteers and the Irish Citizen Army.

Arbour Hill Memorial Park

Arbour Hill Memorial Park

Moore Street Surrender

As the news of the surrender circulated to the men in the houses on Moore Street, some of them wanted to fight to the death. Tom Clarke tried to convince them that the surrender was best, even though he wanted to fight on. Joseph Plunkett and Michael Collins had a few words, too, but the men would listen to none of them; they still insisted on continuing the fight to the death.

Sean MacDermott was sent for. He addressed the men and said to them that they would probably only get a few years in prison as the British would only shoot the Leaders. He told them, 'The thing you must do, all of you, is survive, come back, carry on the work so nobly began this week. Those of us who are shot can die happy if we know you will be living on to finish what we started.' They were silent and finally agreed to surrender. A short time later, he gathered all the men together in the yard behind 16 Moore Street.

The Surrender Order

'In order to prevent the further slaughter of Dublin citizens, and in the hope of saving the lives of our followers now surrounded and hopelessly outnumbered, the members of the Provisional Government present at Headquarters have agreed to an unconditional surrender, and the Commandants of the various districts in the City and country will order their commands to lay down arms.'

P H Pearse

29th April 1916

3:45 p.m.

I agree to these conditions for the men only under my own command in Moore Street District and for the men in the Stephens Green Command.

James Connolly

April 29/16

The men were subdued, but Sean MacDermott told them, 'I know also that this week of Easter will never be forgotten, Ireland will one day be free because of what you've done here.' Later that day, Sean MacDermott, Joseph Plunkett and Sean McLoughlin got the men into columns of four. They marched to the green in front of the Rotunda Hospital.

There they spent a cold and uncomfortable night under the glaze of machine guns. The British ordered them not to stand up or move all night. They were marched to Richmond Barracks the next day.


Sean MacDermott was tried by Court Martial at Richmond Barracks. He was then transferred to Kilmainham Jail, where he received his death sentence. He was shot dead by firing squad in Kilmainham Jail at dawn on 12 May 1916. His body was dumped in the pit in Arbour Hill and covered in quick lime.

Grave of Sean MacDermott

Grave of Sean MacDermott

The Aftermath

The Rising lasted seven days until 30 April. The men and women who fought in the Easter Rising were imprisoned in England and Wales. Sixteen men were executed. Fourteen of these men were buried in a Mass grave at Arbour Hill in Stoneybatter, Dublin 7 Ireland.

The Irish soldiers who fought during the 1916 Easter Rising failed to free Ireland from British Rule that week. But they reignited the desire for Irish freedom in the heart and soul of the Irish people. Sean MacDermott had been correct, and most of those who fought in the Easter Rising and were jailed were released within a year and could continue to fight for Irish freedom.

The Irish War of Independence began in 1919 and ended in January 1922 when Ireland finally gained freedom from British Rule and became a Free State. Sean MacDermott and the other thirteen men buried at Arbour Hill Memorial Park are now an important part of Irish history.

They are Tom Clarke, Joseph Plunkett, Con Colbert, Sean Heuston, James Connolly, Thomas MacDonagh, Michael O'Hanrahan, John McBride, Eamonn Ceannt, Michael Mallin, William Pearse, Patrick Pearse and Edward Daly.


  • The History of Kilmainham Gaol. Government of Ireland 1995.
  • Markievicz, The Rebel Countess. Moriarty & Sweeney. 1991
  • Countess Markievicz. An Independent Life. Anne Haverty. 1988
  • The Easter Rising. Nathaniel Harris. 1987
  • The Easter Rising. Dublin, 1916 The Irish Rebel Against British Rule. Neil Grant. 1973
  • 1916 As History. The Myth of the Blood Sacrifice. C. Desmond Greaves. 1991
  • The Irish Republic. Dorothy Macardle. 1968
  • North Dublin Easter 1916. North Inner City Folklore Project. Souvenir 1992.
  • Revolutionary Woman. Kathleen Clarke. 1878 - 1972 an Autobiography. 1991
  • A Memory of John Fitzgerald Kennedy. Visit to Ireland 26th - 29th June 1963.
  • Wood Printing Works Ltd.
  • Unmanageable Revolutionaries. Women and Irish Nationalism. Margaret Ward. 1983
  • Women of Ireland, A biographic Dictionary. Kit and Cyril O Ceirin. 1996
  • Guns and Chiffon. Women Revolutionaries and Kilmainham Gaol. Government of Ireland. 1997
  • As I was going down Sackville Street. Oliver St John
  • A walk through Rebel Dublin 1916. Mick O'Farrell. 1999
  • Terrible Beauty. Diana Norman. 1987
  • Constance Markievicz. Sean O'Faolain. 1938
  • 1916 Rebellion Handbook. Mourne River Press. 1998
  • 113 Great Irishwomen and Irishmen. Art Byrne & Sean McMahon. 1990
  • Last Words. Piaras F. Mac Lochlainn. 1990
  • The Easter Rebellion. Max Caulfield. 1964
  • The O'Rahilly. Marcus Bourke. 1967
  • Agony at Easter, The 1916 Irish Uprising. Thomas M. Coffey. 1971
  • A Terrible Beauty is Born. Ulick O'Connor. 1975
  • Sixteen Roads To Golgotha. Martin Shannon.
  • The mystery of the Casement Ship. Captain Karl Spindler. 1965
  • Ghosts of Kilmainham. Kilmainham Jail Restoration Society. 1991
  • The Insurrection in Dublin. James Stephens. 1966
  • Kilmainham. Kilmainham Jail Restoration Society. 1982
  • Dublin 1913, A Divided City. Curriculum Development Unit. 1989
  • Ireland Since The Famine. F S L Lyons. 1973


L M Reid (author) from Ireland on April 05, 2019:

Hello Tony, Henry Coyle was buried in Glasnevin Cemetery, Dublin.

I have posted a photo of his gravestone above

L M Reid (author) from Ireland on September 09, 2010:

Thanks billyaustindillon for reading and your comment, I appreciate it.

billyaustindillon on September 06, 2010:

1916 Easter Rising has been described so completely here - I have had to go back and read these hubs after the later ones - brilliantly done.

L M Reid (author) from Ireland on September 06, 2010:

Hello LeanMan thanks for reading. I am glad you are enjoying the irish History hubs thanks

Tony from At the Gemba on September 06, 2010:

Enjoying your series of History hubs very much.