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24 September 2014
Wars and Conflict - Witnesses

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Brighid Lyons Thornton
CURIOUS JOURNEY: An Oral History of Ireland’s Unfinished Revolution,
by Kenneth Griffith and Timothy O’Grady,
(Mercier Press, 1998).

Image of Pearse’s cell

Pearse’s cell at Kilmainham Gaol

One morning our cell door opened and two women came in, wardresses from Mountjoy prison. They came to see what types of people we were, they’d never seen the likes of us before. Early that morning then I heard a terrible volley of shooting and I asked the one who came into me, a Miss McInnerney, I said ‘What was all the shooting this morning?’ And she said, ‘They were shooting some of the men.’ Now I didn’t know who or what and I didn’t believe it. Later that day we were let out for about ten minutes’ exercise and we met a lot of other girls who had been at other centres during the week and I said to one of them. ‘I heard they were shooting the men.’ And she said, ‘Don’t you worry, they’re not going to shoot any of the men. They’d be too much afraid of America.’

Well the next morning the shooting was on again and again and again, every morning after that at about five o’clock. I could hear the men marching out down by my cell door, a heavy march and then out and then the volleys. And that was very frightening now but I was consoled by what this girl had told me. Then I asked Miss McInnerney again and she said, ‘Yes, there were more shot this morning.’ And then on the Sunday we were led down to Mass and put on the balcony. I saw four Volunteers going to Holy Communion and I leaned over the balcony to peep down at them and of course I got a bite with a bayonet. Well they were all executed the following morning, and they were the last, apart from Connolly and MacDermott. Well for months afterwards I always woke at that hour and I’ve never forgot those volleys, never.

Image of Tom Clarke

Tom Clarke ©

It was calamitous, shattering. Everybody was gone. I had only known Tom Clarke and Ned Daly personally. We used to spend a lot of time down at Tom Clarke’s house with his wife and the young children, and many pleasant days and memories we had from that place. I didn’t know the others, but it was as if the head of a family, if both your parents were shot and all your family and you were orphaned. There was no head or leadership or anything left. I never felt so desolate in my life as I did after that. And that was the feeling of most people, that everything was gone and lost. But it helped to unite the people too. Their hostility to the executions brought them together again.

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