Owensie - 'tied to a name'
A Song for the Unknown
The history of the Rising has spawned incredible works of art in all manner of mediums, from Jack B. Yeats’ haunting images to Sean O’Casey’s incredible plays, with hundreds of songs and pieces of music written in between. One such story which has been eulogised in song, is the death of John (Sean) Owens. While songs about Irish rebels go back hundreds of years, in recent years they have been few and far between. Folk Acoustic musician Owensie penned his song ‘Tied to a Name’, when he came across his great uncle Sean Owens’ story. Owensie discovered wrote this song in 2008, before the BMH Witness Statements had been made available online and so he knew very little about his great uncle.
Like many relatives of those who had fought in 1916, Owensie’s family never really discussed it as he was growing up. Rather it was not until later in life that he would read a short account of Sean’s death in a book, the name of which is now forgotten, that Owensie decided to put pen to paper and write the song. The name comes from the feeling of a joint history, that he is, in some way linked to this man, a soldier who died almost 100 years before. However, like most art song runs deeper than what appears at a first listen. Sean was born in the Coombe area, which around the 2008 , when Owensie was writing his song, was fast eroding into a derelict area. In his own word it was written as “a lament of what I perceived as the loss of this piece of history and also the loss of freedom’, due to the bailout which was preoccupying the Irish psyche at the time.
Sean Owens was 24 at the time of the Rising a member of the 4th Battalion, he served under the leadership of Eamonn Ceannt. On Monday the 24th of April, Sean mobilised with the rest of his Battalion at Emerald Square, Dolphin’s Barn. One of six boys, Sean and his brother Larry joined the Volunteers while they were still living at their family home in the Coombe. Sean had been working as an apprentice to a prosthetist, earning a living creating artificial limbs out of wood for the people of Dublin. However, on Easter Monday, Sean and his brother Larry were among the Volunteers who were making their way to the South Dublin Union. The Union was taken with little resistance, and by the time it was completely occupied the nearby Richmond Military Barracks were still blissfully unaware of the unfolding rebellion in the city.
Share the story here and join the conversation!
Before long, the garrison of the Royal Irish Regiment stationed at Richmond Barracks received information about the Rising. It was a reserve battalion and was largely used to resupply the battalions on the frontlines in France and Belgium, thus the majority of its rank and file were raw recruits. This regiment was under the control of another Owens, Lieutenant Colonel R.L Owens, who would later be the first British officer to meet Connolly to negotiate the rebel’s terms of surrender. A detachment of troops was sent out with the intention of attacking the rebels stationed in the GPO.
However, before long Volunteers were spotted crossing Mount Brown, adjacent to Kilmainham Hospital. Under the command of Major Malone, a contingent of twenty men was sent down Mount Street towards the city. Suddenly, shots rang out across the street, as the soldiers had marched right into the Volunteers line of sight. A gun battle erupted as both sides scrambled to return fire. When the haze had settled and the army men quietly reorganised, three volunteers wounded in the middle of the street.
Sean Owens was one of these unlucky men. Sean was on his back, struggling to reach for his water bottle while beside him a fellow Volunteer and a Red Cross man lay mortally wounded.
Owens lay stranded on the street as machine gun fire raked the hedge alongside the road. His fellow volunteers dived for cover, unable to help the wounded men. Lieutenant Patrick Egan, who depicted that harrowing image of Sean Owens' demise, later returned to the frontline near Kilmainham Hospital to see Owens being loaded into the Dublin Corporation Ambulance and taken to St. Stevens' Hospital.
It was in the garden of St. Stevens' Hosptial that Owens was finally laid to rest. He lies in a grave marked by a simple headstone, which bears his own name and that of another Volunteer, Peter Wilson. In this same small garden, lie the remains of five other soldiers, three of whom were from the Royal Irish Regiment, based at Richmond Barracks. Just as with many wars, when the fighting is finished, the bodies of young men, who spent their last days on opposing sides of battle, end their time resting in the earth beside each other.
Owensie says he rarely plays this song anymore since he came across the detailed accounts of his great uncle's death. For him, Tied to a Name was about documenting the unknown. Now aware of the gruesome details of his death, the need for it to be eulogised in song is less apparent.
For those who wish to hear more of Owensie's music, it can be found here.
Written by Daire Collins