I was delighted to be asked to give a brief talk last night in Drumcondra Library on the life of Seán Connolly, the first rebel fatality of the 1916 Rising in Dublin. This talk was part of the Dublin Festival of History, which is a Dublin City Council initiative that grows with each year. While there are large events in the Printworks venue at Dublin Castle, there is also a full calendar of talks in DCC libraries.
Seán Connolly (1882-1916) was a trade unionist and cultural nationalist who was heavily involved in the language, theatre and sporting movements of the early twentieth century. Gary Holohan, a leading member of the republican scout movement Na Fianna, recalled that “the Connolly’s were the first Irish-Ireland family I ever knew.” Seán O’Casey, who also entered radical politics through the cultural movements around it, remembered the first time he met Connolly, as “in the lapel of the coat he wore a button badge, having on it a Celtic cross with the words The Gaelic League over it.”
From a family of committed Larkinites, some of Sean’s siblings were later central to the reorganising of the Citizen Army after Easter Week, with his brother Joseph holding the rank of Captain in the ICA until 1923.
I want to express my thanks to those who traveled to the talk last night with this unique banner, loaned by Catriona and John Malone. From 1918, the banner was produced for a local Cumann of the Sinn Féin party in Naas. It was made by Elizabeth Garry (nee Cahill) of Poplar Square in Naas, and looks remarkably well after 98 years:
While the Connolly family home was on Gloucester Street (now Seán MacDermott Street) in Dublin’s north inner-city, the roots of the family were in Kildare, which may well explain the decision to name a Sinn Féin Cumann there in his honour. The family had a tradition in radical politics that stretched back to the days of the Land League, when the family were evicted from their land at Straffan. Seán’s grandmother, Eileen Connolly, was evicted for subscribing to the Land League funds, something that the landlord took exception to.
Produced just two short years after the Rising, the banner shows that some of those who died in the fighting in Dublin were already taking on enormous symbolic importance. Seeing such a piece of history up close also makes you wonder how many gems like it are hiding in attics!