Top left Thomas MacDonagh, right Thomas Clarke, and lower left Padraig Pearse, all executed May 3, 1916.
100 years ago today, May 3, 1916, three of the leaders of the 1916 Easter Rising were murdered at the hands of an English Firing Squad. Thomas James Clarke, Thomas MacDonagh, and Padraig Henry Pearse were executed for their part in the Easter Rising. This was certainly something they saw coming and even welcomed as part of the sacrifice they would need to make to set Ireland on the path to true freedom. Irish across the globe reacted in different ways; many of the Irish in America reacted in a strong way – as their Fenian spirt was no small instigator in the Easter Rising.
The front page of the Butte Independent from May 13, 1916. It was clear from the headline how the Irish of Butte felt about the Easter Rising. This paper was donated to the Butte Silverbow Archive by Julie Crowley, it belonged to her uncle, Dan Crowley. The Crowley family have been one of the many active Irish families in Butte, Montana. There remains to this day a vibrant community of Irish in Butte, the most Irish city per capita in the United States.
For the Irish in cities like Butte, Montana, the Rising was a part of their story too – one they had long been involved. Irish America both mourned these men as they gave they lives and likewise rallied to the cause. Within days of the execution – which they decried as Murder – they had formed the Padriag Pearse Order of the Friends of Irish Freedom in Butte and raised over $10,000 to support the cause and they pledged to have $10,000 more soon. This massive amount was raised within a short span. These supporters saw the Easter Rising as the equivalent of their 4th of July. You can see on their certificate below; on the top left is George Washington, and below him 1776 and on the upper right Padraig Pearse below him 1916. Their view was clear – the Easter Rising was their Independence Day.
Today is special because of that sacrifice these men, as well as many others, made for the freedom of Ireland. As Pearse was preparing for “court” he knew it would take martyrdom to achieve their goal. His efforts were set on that end, a blood sacrifice for the freedom of Ireland. He wrote to his mother on the 1st of May, “People will say hard things of us now, but we shall be remembered by posterity and blessed by unborn generations.” On this day 100 years ago, May 3, 1916, he wrote to her again, “This is the death I should have asked if God had given me the choice of all deaths—to die a soldier’s death for Ireland and for freedom. We have done right.”
Thomas MacDonagh was taken out before the firing squad and killed first, blindfolded and shot at 10 paces. Pearse followed. Samuel Henry Lomas, a Sergeant in the British Military, wrote that Pearse whistled as he was taken to the firing squad. Thomas Clarke was shot before the firing squad – but did not immediately die. A follow up shot to the head at close range was required to finish “the ghastly business.” Lomas went on to write “it was sad to think that these three brave men who met their death so bravely should be fighting for a cause which proved so useless and had been the means of so much bloodshed.” He was only right on one account though – there was much bloodshed; however, it was Pearse who saw the true nature of their sacrifice.
In his last letter to his mother, Margaret Pearse, Padraige told her “You asked me to write a little poem which would seem to be said by you about me. I have written it.” Below is that poem, The Mother.
I do not grudge them: Lord, I do not grudge
My two strong sons that I have seen go out
To break their strength and die, they and a few,
In bloody protest for a glorious thing,
They shall be spoken of among their people,
The generations shall remember them,
And call them blessed;
But I will speak their names to my own heart
In the long nights;
The little names that were familiar once
Round my dead hearth.
Lord, thou art hard on mothers:
We suffer in their coming and their going;
And tho’ I grudge them not, I weary, weary
Of the long sorrow-And yet I have my joy:
My sons were faithful, and they fought.