The people of 1916: The main players

Profiles of the 25 people who played leading roles on both sides involved in the Rising

James Connolly


Born - June 5, 1868 Died - May 12, 1916

A Scottish-born socialist and trade union activist, Connolly co-founded the Irish Citizen Army to defend workers’ rights after the 1913 Lockout. In early 1916, he threatened to launch his own rebellion against the British, but was persuaded to wait until April by the IRB leaders. He was one of the seven signatories to the Proclamation and was militarily in command of the GPO garrison. He was sentenced to death but, unable to stand after being seriously injured in the fighting, he was shot while strapped to a chair in Kilmainham Gaol on May 12th.



Born - August 13, 1859 Died - February 20, 1929

Although he served the British Army in the Sudan, in South Africa, and in the first World War, General Sir John Maxwell is best remembered for the execution of the 1916 Rising’s leaders. After the British Government allowed the military to handle the rebels’ punishment, Maxwell was made “military governor” of Dublin and from May 2nd-9th, tried the rebel leaders by secretive field court martial – a trial without either defence lawyer or jury. Of the 3,400 people he had arrested, 183 were tried and 90 sentenced to death. Fifteen of these were shot between May 3rd and 12th.

The executions helped win sympathy for Irish independence.


Born - October 14, 1882 Died - August 29, 1975

In charge of rebel garrisons at Boland’s Mills, Jacob’s Factory, and around Mount Street Bridge, Cmdt De Valera saw little fighting, as the British avoided his HQ at Boland’s Bakery. He was among the last to surrender. A maths teacher and staunch Catholic, “Dev” was born in the US to an Irish mother and escaped a death sentence after the Rising, partly due to his US citizenship. The most dominating Irish leader of the 20th century, he was president of the first Dáil (1919), and as Fianna Fáil’s first leader won five elections, 1932-1959, before becoming President of Ireland (1959-1973).


Born - March 11, 1858 Died - May 3, 1916

The first signatory on the 1916 Proclamation was Thomas Clarke, who joined the IRB, or the Fenians, in 1878 and with his protégé Seán Mac Diarmada effectively ran it in the run-up to the Rising.

In 1915 they formed a Military Committee to plan a rebellion, later adding Pearse, Eamonn Ceannt, Joseph Mary Plunkett, Connolly and Thomas MacDonagh. Though three times the age of some Irish Volunteers, Clarke fought in the GPO throughout Easter Week. He was executed by firing squad on May 3rd, 1916, at the age of 59.



Born - February 1, 1878 Died - May 3, 1916

Born in 1878 at Cloughjordan, Co Tipperary, MacDonagh attended Rockwell College and followed his parents into teaching. During a trip to the Aran Islands he met Pearse and the two became friends. A poet like Pearse, he became the first teacher on the staff of St Enda’s. With Joseph Plunkett he edited the Irish Review and helped Edward Martyn to found the Irish Theatre in 1914. He joined the Irish Volunteers in November 1913 and in 1915 the IRB. He was drafted on to the military council a few weeks before the Rising. He was in command of the Jacob’s factory garrison on Bishop Street (now the National Archives) during the Rising. A signatory of the Proclamation, he was executed on May 3rd 1916.

Patrick Pearse


Born - November 10, 1879 Died - May 3, 1916

Pearse was headmaster at St Enda’s, Rathfarnham, in Dublin. The finest writer and orator of the Rising (although Thomas MacDonagh was the better poet), he read out the 1916 Proclamation and, as commander-in-chief, commanded the GPO garrison with James Connolly. A devout Catholic, he joined the IRB late, but quickly grew extreme in his thinking. He was a much better talker than fighter. Held by some to embody the “blood sacrifice” doctrine, whereby Ireland would mimic Christ by sacrificing herself to British guns, Pearse was quietly criticised by survivors for treating the rebellion as “a Greek tragedy”.

He was executed on May 3rd, 1916.



Born - January 27, 1883 Died - May 12, 1916

Born in 1883 in Kiltyclogher, Co Leitrim, at 16 he emigrated to Glasgow. In 1906 he joined the Belfast circle of the IRB and was later appointed treasurer of the IRB’s supreme council. He became a close friend of Tom Clarke. In 1910 Mac Diarmada became a full-time organiser for Arthur Griffith’s Sinn Féin. He was crippled by an attack of polio in 1912 but continued his work. He was elected to the provisional committee of the Irish Volunteers in 1913 and in 1915 was on the IRB military council set up to plan the Rising. He fought in the GPO.

He was executed on May 12th, 1916.


Born - November 21, 1887 Died - May 4, 1916

Born in Dublin in 1887, Plunkett was educated at Belvedere College, Stonyhurst in England and UCD. After university he spent some years in Italy, Egypt and Algeria. On his return to Dublin in 1911 he renewed his friendship with Thomas MacDonagh and with him launched the Irish Review. He joined the Irish Volunteers in 1913. In 1915 Plunkett was inducted into the IRB and he travelled to Berlin to help Roger Casement secure German support for a rebellion. He was appointed to the IRB military council but fell ill in early 1916. Despite his illness, he took his place in the GPO and signed the Proclamation.

He was sentenced to death but married the artist, Grace Gifford, in his cell in Kilmainham Gaol shortly before his execution on May 4th.



Born - September 21, 1881 Died - May 8, 1916

Born in Glenamaddy, Co Galway, in 1881, Ceannt moved to Dublin with his family, when he was 10 years old. He went to UCD and later worked for Dublin Corporation. In 1900, he joined the Gaelic League and became passionately involved in the language revival movement. Ceannt joined Sinn Féin in 1908 and soon afterwards was inducted into the IRB. He was one of the founding members of the Volunteers in 1913. In 1914 he was involved in the Howth gun-running and a year later joined the military council planning the Rising. He was placed in command of the detachment that took over the South Dublin Union (now St James’s Hospital).

A Proclamation signatory, he was executed on May 8th, 1916.


Born - February 4, 1868 Died - July 15, 1927

The only female leader of the 1916 Rising, Constance Georgine Gore-Booth took her name from her 1900 marriage to the Polish Count Casimir Markievicz. She joined the IRB and in 1909 founded Fianna Éireann, a sort of boy scouts with guns. She joined the Irish Citizens Army in 1913 and sold her jewellery to feed the poor. In Easter 1916 she was second in command of the rebels’ Stephen’s Green garrison. In 1918 she became the first female British MP and in 1919 the second woman to become a European cabinet minister as minister for labour in the first Dáil.

Michael Collins


Born - October 16, 1890 Died - August 22, 1922

Aide-de-camp to Count Plunkett in the GPO, he fought alongside Pearse and Connolly. After the surrender, he witnessed British captain Lee-Wilson humiliate rebel prisoners by making them relieve themselves lying down. Some rebels, such as Thomas Clarke, were forced to sleep naked in the open. Collins tried to help Clarke and took note of Lee-Wilson’s name. Collins later became IRB president and minister for finance of the first Dáil (1919). As the main figure in the War of Independence (1919-21), he had Lee-Wilson shot.

Collins was chairman of the new Irish Free State provisional government and head of the Irish Army when killed by anti-Treaty forces in Co Cork in 1922.


Born - September 1, 1864 Died - August 3, 1916

An Ulster Protestant knighted by Britain for exposing brutal behaviour by Europeans in Peru and the Congo, Casement joined Sinn Féin in 1905, and quit Britain’s consular service in 1913 to co-found the Irish Volunteers. After financing the Howth gun-running, Casement met German officials at the start of the first World War, and persuaded them to give arms to the Volunteers. The British captured the U-boat carrying the arms near Tralee, however, and Casement was arrested.

British officials used his African diaries (which contained gay references) to quell international pressure to spare him, and he was hanged in Pentonville Prison in London on August 13th.


Born - December 23, 1878 Died - April 26, 1916

A pacifist and feminist who opposed violent rebellion, Sheehy-Skeffington tried to organise a citizens’ police force to stop looting on the Tuesday of the Rising. Heading home, he was arrested in Portobello for no obvious reason by British troops. Capt JC Bowen-Colthurst used him as a hostage while attacking the shop of Alderman James Kelly, at the top of Camden Street (now Kelly’s Corner). Bowen-Colthurst destroyed the shop with grenades, and shot dead a 17-year-old boy before marching Sheehy-Skeffington and two journalists to Portobello Barracks.

They were executed the next morning.



Born - September 1, 1856 Died - March 6, 1918

The 1916 Rising largely ended Irish Party leader John Redmond’s dream of Home Rule. In 1912 he persuaded the British Parliament to pass a Home Rule Bill giving Ireland limited autonomy. Delayed after protests in Britain and Ulster, the Bill was suspended in 1914 over the first World War. Eager to prove Ireland’s support, in 1915 Redmond led around 170,000 Irish Volunteers to form the National Volunteers. Many joined the British army. Taken aback by the Rising and the rise of republicanism, Redmond grew ill and died in March 1918, a few months before his Irish Party were trounced in the General Election by Sinn Féin.

Thomas Kent


Born - August 29, 1865 Died - May 9, 1916

In the aftermath of the Rising, Thomas Kent and his brother Richard were involved in a gunfight with the Royal Irish Constabulary outside the family home in Castlelyons, Co Cork, on May 2nd , 1916. An RIC constable was killed and Richard later died of his wounds. Kent was executed by firing squad on May 9th, 1916, in the Military Detention Barracks, Cork, and buried in an unmarked grave in its grounds.

In June 2015, his remains were exhumed and following DNA testing, Kent was given a State funeral in his native Co Cork.

Major John McBride


Born - May 7, 1868 Died - May 5, 1916

“A drunken vainglorious lout,” is the poet William Butler Yeats’s famous description of Major John MacBride. Yeats may have been motivated by jealousy as MacBride had been married to Maud Gonne, the great love of the poet’s life. MacBride was a nationalist hero before the Easter Rising for his part in commanding the Irish Brigade which fought with the Boers in South Africa. He was not even supposed to be in the Rising, but chanced upon it while on his way to meet his brother. He was appointed second-in-command by Thomas MacDonagh at Jacob’s factory. Many historians believe he was executed not for his fairly minor part in the Rising, but for his actions with the Boers. His son, Séan MacBride, went on to win the Nobel Peace Prize.


Born - December 1, 1874 Died - May 8, 1916

He was in command of the Irish Citizen Army at St Stephen’s Green on Easter Monday. Second-in-command was Countess Markievicz. Mallin, like James Connolly, was one of the two rebel leaders who had been in the British Army. He joined as a drummer boy aged 14 and served for 14 years. He said his experiences of British colonialism while on foreign service turned him into an Irish republican. At his trial, Mallin claimed he did not have a commission in the Irish Citizen Army and had never been confided in by James Connolly about the Rising plans. He believed he was going out on manoeuvres.

Mallin was executed on May 8th, 1916. His son, Fr Joseph Mallin (102), is the last surviving child of an executed Rising leader. Before he died, Mallin told his son: “Joseph, my little man, be a priest if you can.”


Born - February 25, 1891 Died - May 4, 1916

Daly was commandant of the 1st battalion of the Irish Volunteers at the Four Courts. His sister, Kathleen, was married to Thomas Clarke, one of the signatories of the Proclamation. The Dalys were a well-known republican family. John Daly, the old Fenian, was an uncle. Daly’s battalion held out until the end despite heavy losses. The streets around Four Courts saw particularly bitter fighting and in one infamous incident British soldiers killed a number of civilians in nearby North King Street. Daly pleaded not guilty at his trial to staging a rebellion. He told his trial that he had no knowledge of the insurrection until Monday morning April 24th. “The officers including myself when we heard, held a meeting and decided that the whole thing was foolish, but that being under orders we had no option but to obey.”

Willie Pearse


Born - November 15, 1881 Died - May 4, 1916

Willie Pearse was Patrick Pearse’s younger brother by two years and five days. They were so close that they were said to have a private language that only they could understand it. He was the art teacher in his brother’s school, St Enda’s, and was Patrick Pearse’s eyes and ears when the elder brother went fundraising in the US in 1914.

He was executed the day after Patrick Pearse, who wrote of Willie while awaiting execution: “Of all the men that I have known on earth, you only have been my familiar friend, Nor needed I another.”



Born - March 17, 1877 Died - May 4, 1916

Michael O’Hanrahan from Co Carlow was from a republican family – his father Richard was an old Fenian and his brother Henry was involved in the Irish Volunteers. The family were steeped in the Gaelic revival of the late 19th and early 20th century. O’Hanrahan founded the first Carlow branch of the Gaelic League, and published two novels, A Swordsman of the Brigade and When the Norman Came. Before the Rising, he worked as the quartermaster of the 2nd battalion of the Irish Volunteers.

During the Rising, he joined Thomas MacDonagh in Jacob’s factory and was third in command after MacDonagh and John MacBride. O’Hanrahan was offered the opportunity to flee, but declined. He was executed on May 4th 1916.


Born - October 19, 1888 Died - May 8, 1916

Con Colbert was one of the youngest to be executed. One of 13 children who grew up on a farm in west Limerick, he moved to Dublin and became a drill instructor in Patrick Pearse’s St Enda’s School. He joined both the Irish Volunteers and the Irish Republican Brotherhood. During Easter Week he fought at several locations around the city and surrendered with the Marrowbone Lane Garrison, which was part of the South Dublin Union Garrison. He forbade his family to come to see him before he was executed and told them he was “proud to die for such a cause. I will be passing away at the dawning of the day”.


Born - February 21, 1891 Died - May 8, 1916

At just the age of 25, he was the youngest of the Rising leaders to be executed. Born in Dublin, he attended O’Connell School in North Richmond Street. He joined Fianna Éireann, the scouting association set up as a counterweight to Robert Baden Powell’s boy scouts. Heuston got a job in the traffic manager’s office in Kingsbridge Station, which was renamed in his honour. He was among the most capable of all the military commanders of Easter Week. He was given command of the Mendicity Institution, on Usher’s Quay, a strategically important location that blocked attempts by the British to access the city centre. It took two days of heavy fighting before Heuston and his small body of men, some 26 in total, surrendered.

He was executed on May 8th, 1916.

Kathleen Lynn


Born - January 28, 1874 Died - September 14, 1955

Kathleen Lynn was the daughter of a Church of Ireland clergyman. In 1899 she graduated from the Royal University of Ireland, having studied at the Catholic University Medical School. Politicised by the suffrage movement, she joined the Irish Women’s Suffrage and Local Government Association and the militant, British-based Women’s Social and Political Union. James Connolly’s socialism and Helena Molony’s trade unionism converted her to republicanism, and she was commander of the City Hall Garrison during the Rising, and chief medical officer of the Irish Citizen Army. She became vice-president of Sinn Féin and was elected a TD in 1923. Lynn’s greatest work lay in medicine, and she established St Ultan’s Hospital for Infants with her friend Madeleine ffrench-Mullen in 1919. Lynn was buried with full military honours in 1955.


Born - May 28, 1892 Died - October 10, 1971

Margaret Skinnider, a teacher and member of Cumann na mBan, was shot and injured during Easter Week 1916. In her mid-20s at the time, Skinnider was commanding five men on a mission to “destroy houses in Harcourt Street to cut off enemy approaches”. Early in the morning of Wednesday, April 26th, 1916, she received “two gunshot wounds in shoulder and one gunshot wound a quarter inch from spine” she wrote in a pension application in 1925. She served as quartermaster general of the IRA for a period during the Civil War when she was involved in communications and purchasing arms. Despite her injuries, Skinnider was refused an Army pension because the law was “applicable to soldiers as generally understood in the masculine sense”. After a new, widened military pension Act was introduced in 1934, she applied again and was eventually granted a pension in 1938.


Born - November 5, 1884 Died - June 25, 1957

Elizabeth O’Farrell, a Cumann na mBan member born in Dublin in 1884, was stationed at the GPO during the Rising, where she attended to the wounded including James Connolly. O’Farrell was the person Patrick Pearse sent out from Moore Street to deliver the surrender document on Saturday April 29th. Afterwards, Pearse himself went out to surrender in person to General Lowe. In a photograph of this moment, Elizabeth O’Farrell’s skirt and feet are visible beside Pearse. What can be seen of her is often edited out of the surrender photograph – a metaphor for some for how women have been erased from the 1916 narrative. Later O’Farrell was given the job of conveying news of the surrender to outposts including Boland’s Mill. She was accompanied by a British army officer as far as Butt Bridge, where he turned back leaving her to brave the sniping and complete her task, which she did. She later qualified as a nurse. O’Farrell died in 1957.