Sixteen Dead Men
O but we talked at large before
The sixteen men were shot,
But who can talk of give and take,
What should be and what not?
While those dead men are loitering there
To stir the boiling pot.
-from “Sixteen Dead Men” by W. B. Yeats
Following the Rising, fifteen leaders of the revolt, including all seven signatories of the proclamation, were executed between May 3 and May 12.
Though not among the fifteen leaders executed in the immediate aftermath of the rebellion, Sir Roger Casement, a knighted former diplomat with the British Colonial Service, was hanged in London in August 1916. Casement, an Irish Volunteer, had attempted to recruit Irish POWs from Germany to assist in the insurrection and was captured on his return to Ireland as he attempted to postpone the revolt. He was convicted of treason and sentenced to death, losing his appeal despite intercessions on his behalf by several prominent figures and the U.S. Senate.
Commemorative broadsides and pamphlets, like those shown here for Pearse and Casement, circulated statements and other pertinent writings of the executed men. In his prepared speech from the “Dock” at his trial, Casement declared,
Loyalty is a sentiment, not a law. It rests on love, not on restraint. The government of Ireland by England rests on restraint and not on law; and since it demands no love it can evoke no loyalty.
Such pamphlets sought to cast the 1916 leaders as patriotic martyrs.
Pearse, Padraic. Last Letter & Poem of Padraic Pearse. [Dublin, Ireland?: no publisher, 1916?]. B3680.
Casement, Roger. Speech of Roger Casement from the Dock. Dublin: Fergus O'Connor, . D1152, Item 10.
Click for the full PDF of the Speech of Roger Casement from the Dock.
Following the 1916 Rising, British authorities arrested over 3000 people, transporting many to prisons and camps in England and Wales. Some had participated directly in the rebellion, but others had not.
This autograph book belonged to Paul Cusack, an Irish Volunteer from Granard in County Longford, Leinster Province. He was interned at Frongoch in Wales after it was discovered that he and a friend had attempted to travel to Dublin upon hearing news of the rebellion on Easter Monday. Cusack appears to have been arrested again during the Anglo-Irish War, as the autograph book also contains inscriptions from Mountjoy Prison in Dublin in 1921. Contrary to what the British might have hoped, the internment camp at Frongoch bolstered republican sentiment since men who had not been militant previously were won over to more radical commitments through their proximity to separatist leaders.
The book contains inscriptions of patriotic sentiments, poems, and quotations by Cusack’s fellow internees. It is opened to an inscription by Terence MacSwiney (1879–1920), Vice-Commandant of the Cork Volunteer Brigade in 1916. During the Anglo-Irish War (1919-1921), MacSwiney would serve as Lord Mayor of Cork following the murder—likely by police—of the sitting mayor Tomás MacCurtain, an Irish Republican Army Commandant. MacCurtain’s brief inscription appears on the facing page. Soon after becoming mayor, MacSwiney was arrested for sedition. He was sent to Brixton Prison in London, where he died after 74 days on a hunger strike.
MacSwiney was also a poet and playwright. He signs using the Irish form of his name, Toirdhealbhach Mac Suibhne, and includes lines of verse—“A Memory of Home and Ireland”—for Cusack to set to music:
A Night in May
The glory of the stars is mine;
The shadows mystery,
The beauty of the night like wine,
Fills the heart of me.
And music whispers soft and low
From a hidden stream –
Oh all the world is hushed to know
Of my hidden dream.
Internment camp autograph book belonging to Paul Cusack. Frongoch Camp, Wales, 1916; Mountjoy Prison, Dublin, 1921. MS K18.
Click to view a PDF version of the full Frongoch autograph book.
Following the rising, a Royal Commission was convened to investigate “the question of responsibility of persons or associations for this particular outbreak.” The Commission’s report and the minutes of evidence from the inquiry were presented to the UK parliament. Included in the Minutes are the testimony of Augustine Birrell and Matthew Nathan, the Secretary and Under-Secretary for Ireland during the rising. Ultimately, the Commission found the main cause of the rebellion to be that “lawlessness was allowed to grow up unchecked” and that Ireland was “administered on the principle that it was safer and more expedient to leave the law in abeyance if collision with any faction of the Irish people could thereby be avoided.”
Royal Commission on the Rebellion in Ireland. Minutes of Evidence and Appendix of Documents. London: Darling and Son, Limited..., 1916. [Inscribed by P. S. O’Hegarty.] O’Hegarty E105, duplicate copy
I am trying to write a poem on the men executed—‘terrible beauty has been born again.’ […] I had no idea that any public event could so deeply move me—and I am very despondent about the future.
-Letter from Yeats to Lady Gregory, May 11, 1916
At once a personal and a political meditation, Yeats’s poem “Easter, 1916” is among the best-known literary works to address the Easter Rising and its aftermath. Although Yeats completed the poem in September of 1916, he elected not to share it publicly at that time, mindful of Ireland’s political uncertainties and inflamed emotions. Instead his friend Clement Shorter printed a private edition of twenty-five copies, of which Spencer’s is number eighteen. Close readers will note that the text of this early edition differs from that of the poem as it later appeared in Yeats’s collection Michael Robartes and the Dancer (1920). Several of the variants come at the beginning of the second stanza. The unnamed woman of that passage is Constance Markievicz (née Gore-Booth), whom Yeats had known in Sligo in his youth. The lines referring to her charity in this version were later omitted.
Yeats, W. B. Easter, 1916. [London: Privately printed by Clement Shorter, 1916 or 1917]. Yeats Y175
Click for the full PDF of the privately printed edition of Easter, 1916
Dora Sigerson Shorter (1866-1918), a nationalist and figure of the Irish Literary Renaissance, also wrote verse on the Easter Rising. She had arranged this posthumously published volume before her death. As the foreword notes, Sigerson Shorter determined many of its details, from the order of the poems to its dedication to the Tricolour (the green, white, and orange flag used during Easter Week). The profits from the poems were to be used to erect a memorial in Glasnevin Cemetery in Dublin, which she had sculpted in honor of the executed men. It can be seen there today.
Like Yeats, Dora Sigerson Shorter penned a poem titled “Sixteen Dead Men,” though hers stands as a less conflicted celebration of the 1916 leaders’ patriotism.
Shorter, Dora Sigerson. The Tricolour: Poems of the Irish Revolution. [Dublin]: Maunsel and Roberts, 1922. O'Hegarty B2920
The longhand caption appearing above this image reads, “Photo taken at Reception Given to Countess after Release.” The question of which release, however, might well be asked. In addition to being imprisoned following the Easter Rising, Countess Markievicz (center, with flowers and dog) would again be imprisoned with other Sinn Féin leaders in 1918, as well as on several other occasions for her republican activities. This photograph likely dates from one of her earlier releases—either 1917 following the general amnesty for those imprisoned following the Easter Rising, or 1919. The presence of W. T. Cosgrave, seated in the center next to Markievicz, suggests that the photo was taken prior to the Irish Civil War, during which the two politicians found themselves on opposite sides. While Cosgrave supported the Treaty with England and headed the government of the resulting Irish Free State, Markievicz opposed the Treaty because it did not achieve the ideal of an independent Irish Republic.
Photo Taken at Reception Given to Countess after Release,” undated, circa 1917. P. S. O’Hegarty Collection photographs