It was not just revolutionaries, soldiers and medics who willingly entered the battlefield in 1916. Some of the other participants that week were priests, more specifically Capuchin priests. Prior to 1916, those who took part in revolutionary activity were viewed as sinners by the majority of religious orders and thus were not willing to give them the last rights or other blessings. The Capuchin priests however, were heavily involved with the Gaelic revival and through that formed intimate links with the Irish Volunteers. This resulted in the Capuchin order playing a huge role in serving the 1916 garrisons.
One of these priests was Fr. Columbus Murphy, a Cork man who had entered the Capuchin Order in 1898. In 1916, Fr. Columbus was working at the Capuchin Friary on Church Street, Dublin. During his time there, he wrote a diary which was discovered in later years by a Capuchin archivist, who published a book on the experiences of the Capuchin’s during 1916 entitled ‘Echoes of the Rising’s Final Shots’.
The North King Street Garrison, just a stones throw from the Capuchin Friary, was one of the last of the rebel strongholds to surrender in 1916. They were unsure if the orders coming from the Four Courts was a truce or a complete surrender and thus were unsure as how to proceed. In order to stop the fighting and ongoing violence, Fr. Columbus went to clarify the situation by attempting to get P. H. Pearse's note of surrender, which would have been accepted by the remaining rebels as legitimate. Fr. Columbus was unable to find the note and so decided to cross the Liffey to Dublin Castle. He was immediately taken to General Maxwell, the commander of the British forces, who was apparently quite courteous and receptive to the priest, and from there, he was then taken to Arbour Hill Prison, where Pearse was being held.
According to Fr. Columbus, Pearse was totally dejected and defeated when he entered his cell. When Pearse recognised the garb of the Capuchin Friar he quickly repented for the loss of life but wished that it would not be in vain. Fr. Columbus sat down and explained to him that in order to prevent more death he needed the surrender note to be rewritten for the men of the North King Street Garrison.
Pearse appreciated that the fight was over and that any delay would only further his guilt in the destruction that had been brought upon Dublin and so obliged the priest's request. Fr. Columbus quickly returned with the rewritten surrender note and handed it over to the men at North King Street, who subsequently lay down their arms.
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Fr. Columbus did not return to Pearse’s cell until shortly before his execution. This pattern was to be repeated as Fr. Columbus attended the condemned men’s cells each night before they were summarily executed by firing squad the next morning. Most of these meetings went the same way, with the condemned men asking for repentence in the eyes of God and requesting that the priest pass on messages to the loved ones they were not able to see.
The meeting with Thomas Clarke, however, is an interesting story with two sides. Fr. Columbus details the tale, in his diary, like any other meeting with the leaders of 1916. He noted that Clarke had given him his Volunteer badge and he had gotten the condemned leader biscuits and water, as he had not eaten all day. Later that night, Clarke told his wife a very different story. He said that Fr. Columbus had demanded that he admit he had done a great wrong and repent for his sins. Thomas Clarke responded by throwing the priest out of his cell and refusing to repent, or so that side of the story goes. Fr. Columbus repeated his visits the following night, this time to Edward Daly, a man he had known well. This pattern would continue over the next 12 days until all of the leaders of the 1916 Rising were executed.