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24 September 2014
Wars and Conflict - Witnesses

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Sean Heuston
How Sean Heuston Died,
by Father Albert O.F.M. Cap,
(The Capuchin Annual, 1966).

Image of Sean Heuston

Sean Heuston ©


I am glad to be able to comply with your request for "some particulars about the closing scenes of Sean Heuston’s life." Shortly after Easter Week, 1916, I gave a rather full account for publication in The Catholic Bulletin, but owing to the censor restrictions it could not appear in print. The following is a brief summary of what came under my notice on Sunday night, May 7th. Father Augustine and myself were notified that we would be required at Kilmainham Gaol the following morning as four of the leaders in the Rising were to be executed.

At 1.30 am a military motor car came for us to Church St., and on our arrival at Kilmainham we were brought to the wing of the jail in which our friends were confined.

Father Augustine went to Eamon Kent’s cell and I to Com. M. Mallin’s. I did not remain long as he was on his knees in prayer with two friends. Having visited Con. Colbert and Eamon Kent, I went to Sean Heuston’s cell at about 3.20 am. He was kneeling beside a small table with his Rosary beads in his hand and on the table with a little piece of candle and some letters which he had just written to some relatives and friends. He wore his overcoat as the morning was extremely cold and none of these men received those little comforts that are provided for even the greatest criminals while awaiting sentence of death. During the last quarter of an hour we knelt in that cell in complete darkness, as the little piece of candle had burned out, but no word of complaint escaped his lips. His one thought was to prepare with all the fervour and earnestness of his soul to meet Our Divine Saviour and His Sweet Virgin Mother to Whom he was about to offer up his young life for the freedom and independence of his beloved country. He had been to Confession and had received Holy Communion early that morning and was not afraid to die. He awaited the end not only with the calmness and fortitude which peace of mind brings to noble souls, but during the last quarter of an hour he spoke of soon meeting again Padraig MacPhiarais and the other leaders who had already gone before him. We said together short acts of faith, hope, contrition and love; we prayed together to St. Patrick, St. Brigid, St. Columcille and all the Saints of Ireland; we said many times that very beautiful little ejaculatory prayer: Jesus, Mary and Joseph, I give you my heart and my soul. This appealed very much to him. But though he prayed with such fervour for courage and strength in the ordeal that was at hand, Ireland and his friends were close to his soul.

In his last letter to his sister – a Dominican nun – he wrote:

Let there be no talk of "foolish enterprises." I have no vain regrets. If you really love me, teach the children the history of their own land and teach them that the cause of Caitlin ni h-Uallachain never dies. Ireland shall be free from the centre to the sea as soon as the people of Ireland believe in the necessity for Ireland’s freedom and are prepared to make the necessary sacrifices to obtain it.

In his last message to me he said:

Remember me to the boys of the Fianna. Remember me to Miceal Staines and to his brothers and to all the boys at Blackhall Street.

Image of Fr Albert O.F.M. Cap.

Fr Albert O.F.M. Cap. ©

At about 3.45 am a British soldier knocked at the door of the cell and told us time was up. We both walked out together down to the end of the large open space from which a corridor leads to the gaol yards. Here his hands were tied behind his back, a cloth tied over his eyes and a small piece of white paper about four or five inches square, pinned on to his coat over his heart. Just then we saw Father Augustine with Com. M. Mallin come towards us from the cell where they had been. We were now told to be ready. I had a small cross in my hand, and though blindfolded, Sean bent his head and kissed the Crucifix this was the last thing his lips touched in life. We now proceeded towards the yard where the execution was to take place, my left arm was linked in his right, while the British soldier who had handcuffed and blindfolded him walked on his left. As we walked slowly along we repeated most of the prayers that we had been saying in his cell. On our way we passed a group of soldiers. These I afterwards learned were awaiting Com. Mallin who was following us. Having reached a second yard I saw there another group of military armed with rifles, some of them were standing and some sitting or kneeling. A soldier directed Sean and myself to a corner of the yard, a short distance from the outer wall of the prison. Here there was a box (seemingly a soap box) and Sean was told to sit down on it. He was perfectly calm and said with me for the last time My Jesus, mercy.

I scarcely had moved away a few yards when a volley went off, and this noble soldier of Irish freedom fell dead. I rushed over to anoint him. His whole face seemed transformed, and lit up with a grandeur and brightness that I had never before noticed.

Later on his remains and those of the others were conveyed to Arbour Hill military detention barracks, where they were buried in the outer yard, in a trench with holds the mortal remains of Ireland’s noblest and bravest sons. Never before did I realise that man could fight so bravely, and die so beautifully and so fearlessly as did the heroes of Easter Week. On the morning of Sean Heuston’s death, I would have given the world to have been in his place, he died in such a noble and sacred cause and went forth to meet……………..*

*Rest of letter is missing.

Capuchin priest Fr Aloysius administered the last rites of the Catholic Church to Pearse and Connolly and liaised with General Maxwell. Read his diary of those events here (Rich Text Format - 50k)
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