Actors Of 1916: Sean Connolly

Memorial card to Sean Connolly.

Memorial card to Sean Connolly.

Sean Connolly had republicanism in his blood, going back to both his grandfather and indeed his own father's role in the Fenian Rising of 1867. With his wife heavily pregnant, Richard, Sean's grandfather was forced to remain in Wicklow to care for her and thus took no part in the fighting. However, his 11 year old son Michael Connolly, Sean's father, was given the role of leading the pikemen to the battleground at Tallaght Hill. As an adult, Michael was heavily influenced by his work in the Dublin dockyards and was involved with Jim Larkin and the ITGWU. In 1913, he was part of the lock out along with thousands of his fellow dockworkers. Undoubtedly influenced by their father, the younger Connolly children (of which there were 16) became members of the Fianna Scouts, while the older members, Sean and Katie join the Irish Citizen Army.

Sean made a name for himself in the acting world with an amateur group called the Irish National Players. This led to bigger and better things and by 1916, he was in high demand as an elocutionist, reciting speeches and poetry to the audience of the Abbey Theatre and other venues across the city. Connolly would also be in high demand with the leadership of the Citizen Army. Noted as an expert rifleman, he was recruited by ICA Captain Jack White to instruct the new recruits in marksmanship.

On Easter Monday, Sean Connolly was put in charge of the second company of the Citizen's Army, which comprised of 20 men and women. Amongst these volunteers, were his three brothers, and his sister Katie, while another brother, Joe, was fighting in Stephen’s Green under Commandant Mallin. Connolly and his company captured and secured the under-manned Dublin Castle. Their aim had been to merely impede the flow of British troops out of the Castle, but with the primary guard away at the Fairyhouse Races, the small company was able to enter and imprison the few remaining guardsmen. Another detachment from the company headed further up to City Hall and successfully barricaded themselves inside.

Rifle-fire rang throughout the street and bullets cracked the opposing walls, as the remaining British garrison troops called for reinforcements. As British snipers took their positions across the Castle’s various roofs and towers, fire increased and came closer to its mark. Sean was wounded early on yet still urged the men and women under his command to fight on. However, from the vantage point of the British snipers, Sean was desperately exposed. A final crack rang throughout the yard of Dublin Castle, as the sniper on Bedford Tower hit his mark directly. Sean Connolly, actor and member of the Irish Citizen Army was fatally struck down, the first of the Irish rebels to die that gruesome week. 

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-  Written by Daire Collins