Michael Mallin was born in 1874 in the Liberty tenements Dublin. He was a son of a carpenter, but his early days living in Dublin elude historians. It is, therefore, his teenage years that are the focus of this biopic.
At the age of fourteen years he joined the British Army as a boy soldier. In this era, Ireland was under British rule and joining the British army was perceived as a means by which young men would be regularly employed and fed. Mallin served in India and Afghanistan, winning the India Medal with the Punjab and the Tirah Clasps in 1897-98.
He served approximately six years (or thirteen years, depending on which history book you read) in the British army before he returned to Dublin.
Having seen so much death and fighting against the impoverished natives on behalf of the British empire, he became radicalised. This, in turn, led him to become involved in the Trade Union movement on his return to Dublin. He became the voice for many workers and helped to campaign for the Silk Weaver Union of which he was Secretary. He was instrumental in securing the demands of the Dublin Silk Workers' Union for better pay and conditions.
Mallin was a member of the Working Men’s Temperance Society, and then joined The Irish Citizen Army in November of 1913. He also co- founded the Irish Socialist Party with Francis Sheehy-Skeffington. These organisations were predominately formed during the 1913 lockout in Dublin to protect workers from the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) who were sent out to disable the workers in whichever way they could -- by brute force, if necessary. Not least, of course, was to protect them from the gangs of strike-breakers funded by the employers. Michael Mallin was also a band leader with the Irish Transport and General Workers Union and committed himself to all his projects with enthusiasm.
Due to his experience in the British army, Mallin helped train men in the art of marches, field manoeuvres, and mock attacks on public buildings. His dedication to the cause of Irish freedom was such that he earned the respect of James Connolly who promoted him to Chief of Staff. Described as a soft-spoken man who was very principled with a strong sense of discipline, his conscientious attention to detail evokes the man and the era.
For all this, Mallin remains an enigmatic loner in the face of how history has portrayed him. His exclusion to the margins of Easter Rising history may be a result of the decision he made militarily on that fateful day. He was assigned to take up position with his garrison of men at St. Stephen's Green with Countess Markievicz as his second in Command. Occupying an open park with no shelter left his men wide open to attack from the British Forces. This was militarily questionable. The ordering of his men to dig trenches (this was possibly influenced by news reels of the first world war and his own experience in India and Afghanistan) appeared to be pure folly. For a man who had so much experience in the British Army and his experience of training men in the Irish Citizen Army, this appeared to be an act that was not conducive to the experienced Chief of Staff in whom James Connolly had placed so much faith.
Worse still was the fact that he did not attempt to take the Shelbourne Hotel nearby. When the British army did just that, they pounded the rebels in St. Stephen's Green. At this point, Mallin ordered his men to take the College of Surgeons at the other side of St. Stephen's Green. His sense of truth and justice came to the fore once more when one of his men vandalised Queen Victoria’s portrait in the hallway of the Royal College of Surgeons. Mallin admonished him for doing so.
As Mallin entered the building, a sniper hit his hat with bullet, knocking it off his head. All this would suggest that while Mallin may have negated his overall role of protecting his men, he knew very well that he was in the line of fire. While shortages of resources, manpower, armoury, and food remain a mitigating factor in these scenarios, historians note that the absence of any surviving documents outlining the "rebel plan for the Easter Rising" would suggest that the responsibility for the St. Stephen's Green debacle remains unclear.
On a personal level, however, the overall evaluation by his men have made a very positive contribution to his historical record. Admired and respected by his garrison of men, not one of them had an anything negative to say about him. Countess Markievicz is on record as saying that due to his leadership and respect for all men, she was instructed into the Roman Catholic Faith. History, however, records that Mallin did not bestow on her the same sense of moral duty. In his testimony, he blamed her for ordering him to take charge of the garrison.
Unaware of his commanding officers' call to surrender after a week, Mallin ordered his men to stand down ... breaking down as he did so.
He was captured, court martialled and sentenced to death by firing squad. At his court martial, Mallin attempted to underplay his role in the Irish Citizen Army as he said he was leaving his wife and children destitute. He was a man with four young children and a pregnant wife. In his final days, he was attended to by one of the Jesuit friars. Finally, he was executed on the 8th of May, 1916.
In a letter to his wife, he asked her to pray for all the men -- both Irish and English soldiers -- who lost their lives in the Easter Rising. He also made a request that his son, Joseph, and his daughter, Una, would join the Jesuit and Loreto Orders.
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Mary Thorpe is the author of "That's Just How it Was," available on Amazon, Kindle, Gardner's Wholesale Books UK, Bertems, and Inghams.
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