Éanna Ó Conghaile (b.1958)
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Éanna Ó Conghaile (b.1958)


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Éanna Ó Conghaile recalls his grandfather, Seán Connolly, who led the attacks on Dublin Castle and City Hall on Easter Monday 1916. Four of Connolly’s brothers and one of his sisters were also involved on that day. The group left Liberty Hall and marched up Dame Street. A number of men, including Seán’s brother George Connolly, attacked the Palace Street gate of Dublin Castle, while Seán led the main group to the Castle Gate on Cork Hill. Éanna explains that while the original plan may have been to take over the Castle, this would have been discarded following the issuing of the Countermanding Order, and the decision was made to take City Hall which provided a good aspect down Dame Street and Parliament Street. Eddie Connolly, a third brother, took up position on the roof of Henry and James on Dame Street, while another brother, Joe, fought alongside Michael Mallin and Countess Markievicz in the College of Surgeons. Éanna explains that because of the races at Fairyhouse, the strength of the British garrison at the Castle was diminished on that day. The City Hall came under gun and sniper fire from Bedford Tower. Seán Connolly was on the roof of the building and was shot. Éanna believes that Helena Moloney, a fellow actor at the Abbey Theatre, may have been there at the time, as may also have been Dr Kathleen Lynn who is said to have provided medical assistance to Seán after he was shot. At this time his sister, Kate Connolly, was on the ground floor of the building. Éanna is the son of Kevin Connolly, one of the two sons of Seán Connolly and his wife Christine. He had a brother, Aidan, and a sister, Madge. Kevin was born on 8 December 1912 when the family lived at Gloucester Street. Accounts vary about what happened to his grandfather on Easter Monday, Éanna remarks, and explains that he has learned much of what he knows from witness statements, family folklore and from talking to relatives. Seán’s widow, Christine Connolly, applied for a pension after the Rising, and after some time the family moved into Walter Cole’s house at number 3 Mountjoy Square. Éanna discusses Walter Cole who was certainly involved in the movement for Independence and whose house was a centre of political activity. Regular visitors included Arthur Griffith and Michael Collins. He has found a newspaper article which details a raid by the Black and Tans on the house while his grandmother Christine lived there. She worked as a school monitor which was not well-paid employment. Walter Cole is remembered as a very kind and generous man who shared Christine’s interest in culture and the arts. Éanna explains that Christine was a trained singer who would have met her future husband when they were both members of the Emmet Choir, one of the many choral societies operating at the time. Seán was also a keen hurler and he played for the Fianna and later for Kevins in Dolphin Barn. In as much as Éanna knows, Christine, with her children and her sister Brid, lived at Mountjoy Square for some years. In or around 1920 Kevin Connolly was sent from Dublin to Gaeltacht areas for some time, as were possibly his brother and sister. He spent some time in Carraroe and he later attended national school at Keimaneigh, near Gúgán Barra in Co. Cork. It is possible that the children were boarded out for their own safety as the house was frequently raided, Éanna says. Kevin Connolly’s career as a painter and poet is recalled. One of his poems is dedicated to his father and entitled Do m’ Athair. Éanna describes the atmosphere in which his father was reared. Seán Connolly was involved in the Abbey Theatre and moved in the same circles as Seán O’Casey and Peadar Kearney. He acted with the Irish Players and appeared at the Abbey alongside Countess Markievicz. His wife, singer Christine Swanzy, was another influence on the young life of her son Kevin who studied for a Bmus degree at UCD and went on to conduct the Abbey orchestra in the 1940s. Éanna does not recall his father as being very politically-minded. In the early 1950s Kevin was appointed as a school inspector and he and his family were to be based in various areas around the country, so contact with Dublin almost ceased. Éanna’s mother was Úna Gibney from Ranelagh in Dublin, the daughter of Edward Gibney who was a stonemason and builder. The Gibney family was not republican and Éanna recalls the dichotomy which existed between his parents with regard to their political views. His father, though not politically active, believed in the new State but Úna leaned more towards the previous establishment of rule by Britain. Seán Connolly and his family were seen as rebels at Easter 1916, and prior to the executions of the leaders they would not have been given popular support. Éanna says that on a personal level, the impact of his grandfather’s early death at that time, and the disruption which ensued, certainly would have had an impact on his father Kevin. In general, he feels that the Rising was a catalyst for events which eventually led to Irish Independence. The effects of the 1913 Lockout and the radicalisation of the people in Dublin city centre, which led to the 1916 Rising, are discussed. Éanna has researched his grandmother’s Swanzy family of the Cavan/Monaghan area, and explains that her father came to Dublin in the 1870s and he married a Miss Mary Stephenson from the Coombe in 1888. The Swanzy family was republican and Christine’s brother Pat, who was also involved in the struggle for independence, was interred in Frongoch at one time. On a few occasions Éanna met his grandmother Christine and her second husband, Joe McCarthy, who came from Cork and had been Police Commissioner for the Kerry area during the 1940s and 1950s. The couple returned to Dublin to live on Palmerston Road. Éanna remembers Christine as a tall, imperious woman. She died in the 1980s. Her first husband, Seán Connolly, is buried at Glasnevin Cemetery. The many activities in which his grandfather was involved, such as acting, hurling and politics, are considered by Éanna. As he grew up he became familiar with many of the famous names, and he remarks that the same names and the same families occur over and over again in Dublin city centre as the circles overlapped and developed in the struggle for Independence. Seán Connolly’s youngest brother, Mattie, was involved in the War of Independence. Two other brothers, George and Joe Connolly, were on the republican side during the Civil War, while another brother, Eddie, went to the USA after the Rising. The Connolly’s were a very large family with a varied history, Éanna explains. It is not clear whether Christine Connolly was a member of Cumann na mBan, although Éanna recalls reading a report of a debate prior to the outbreak of the Civil War in relation to which side the organisation would support. At this event his grandmother spoke in support of the Treaty. Items of memorabilia from revolutionary times are discussed, and a number of postcards Seán Connolly sent to his wife are described, including one postcard sent from Cove (Cobh) in 1913 or 1914. Éanna has a single sheet of blank Irish Citizen Army headed notepaper, and he explains that Seán had two commissions, one dating from the time when he was appointed Captain in the Irish Citizen Army and the second from when he was appointed Commandant on the eve of the Rising. Éanna also has a photograph of Arthur Griffith standing on a rooftop in Dublin, which he believes was taken at Walter Cole’s house on Mountjoy Square. He returns to his memories of his grandmother and her husband, Joe McCarthy, who was in the IRA in Cork city during the War of Independence. He was captured and incarcerated on Spike Island. Éanna recalls seeing his photograph which was taken after his arrest in an exhibition at the Imperial War Museum, London. Éanna reflects on what he would wish the commemorations in 2016 to achieve, remarking that it would be a good thing if the people who fought in 1916 were remembered fairly in the context of their time. They were patriots in the best sense of the term, he says, and people who truly believed they were doing their very best for their country.

Additional information



Audio series:

The 1916 Rising Oral History Collections


128 kbps

Download time limit:

48 hours

File size(s):

40.35 MB

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Product ID:



Seán Connolly (Interviewee’s grandfather)

Recorded by:

Maurice O’Keeffe – Irish Life and Lore