The Connollys-A Nest of Irish Rebels
Well, it finally happened, we went to Dublin and launched “the BOOK” on 23 May in Liberty Hall Dublin. We had a good turnout on the night with about 60 people attending. The surprise of the night was the attendance of Sabina Higgins the wife of the President of Ireland, Michael D Higgins. She was particularly welcome because of her acting in the centenary year production of a play called “Under which Flag” which as I shall explain presently has deep significance both for Liberty Hall and my own family.
On 26 March 1916 a play written by Commandant James Connolly of the Irish Citizen Army, had its first performance in the theatre attached to the original Liberty Hall, headquarters of the Irish Transport and General Workers Union and the Irish Citizen Army.
The leading role was played by my uncle, Captain Seán Connolly and his sister, Mrs Katie Barrett, who played opposite him in the leading female role. On Palm Sunday 16 April a second performance was staged, once again with the same cast.
On 26 March 2016 a production of the same play was staged in Dublin to mark the centenary of its first airing. Playing the role of the mother was none other than Sabina Higgins.
The play is set in 1867 which also has a resonance with my family. It was a significant year for the Connolly family. As my great grandfather, Richard Connolly was working for Lord Massy who was one of the landed gentry and had extensive property in the area around Killakee and Montpelier in the Dublin Mountains. Richard worked as a general farm labourer and shepherd in an area that can have a harsh climate.
It was on a cold day in March 1867; Richard’s wife was heavily with child and the arrival of a new Connolly into the world was imminent. The recent weather in the area had been severe with snow, sleet, rain and poor visibility. When a band of Fenian pike men from Wicklow and Wexford appeared at Richard’s door; they were on their way to take part in the Battle of Tallaght Hill and were totally lost in the poor visibility.
As Richard had to stay with his expectant wife, he had no option but to call upon his son Michael, (my grandfather) then eleven years old to lead this band of rebels to the site of the battle at Tallaght Hill. The boy who knew the area well, set off to guide this gallant band to the battle site.
When they arrived in Tallaght the leader of the group sent the young boy back home to his parents although the lad wished to be witness to the action.
Michael set off for home in the miserable weather and when he arrived at the house he was introduced to his new brother who would be called Richard after his father.
Young Michael’s adventure with the Fenian rebels must have had a profound effect on him as he went on to imbue his future family with a burning Nationalism. This in turn would lead to six of his children joining the Irish Citizen Army and taking part in the Easter Rising. Michael’s eldest son Seán would pay the ultimate price and sacrifice his life on the roof of Dublin’s City Hall in the name of Irish Freedom on Easter Monday 1916.
Sabina Higgins wife of the Irish President, Michael D Higgins with the author Mike Connolly at the recent launch of his book
“The Connollys-A Nest of Irish Rebels”
Available; www.choicepublishing.ie or Amazon - E-book & Kindle formats available.