Patrick Pearse was born in Dublin in 1879. His father James was a stone worker who worked on Church buildings in Dublin. His mother Margaret was a survivor of the Great Hunger in 1846 and came to Dublin from Co. Meath, where she met James and raised four children, Patrick being the second.
While in school and still a teenager he was taught the Irish language and joined the Gaelic League, which promoted the study of the Irish Language and Irish Literature. Pearse graduated with a law degree from the King’s Inns and in 1901 and was subsequently called to the bar in Dublin. Pearse continued his studies of Irish history and by 1909 had developed some strong political leanings. He could not accept the impact England and all things English had on Ireland. By 1913 Pearse helped organize the Irish Volunteers. The Volunteers were the public face of the outlawed Irish Republican Brotherhood.
In 1914 he was sent on a fundraising tour to America. While the tour was a success financially, not many Americans were swayed by Pearse’s speeches. By the time WWI broke out Pearse had taken an extreme political stance. He wanted full Irish independence, and with England involved with the war, he felt the time was ripe to overthrow British rule in Ireland. He took command as leader of the Rebellion and on Easter Sunday, 1916 he read out the Declaration of Independence at the General Post Office. Pearse surrendered to the British in Friday, April 28, and was charged for treason, convicted and sentenced to death. Pearse was executed by firing squad on May 16, 1916.
Seán Heuston was born in 1891 in Athea, Co. Limerick. He was an organizer for Fianna Éireann in Limerick. After earning an Intermediate Certificate at the local school, he got a job with the Great Southern and Western Railway Co. Along with Conn Colbert, Heuston was involved in the education of the schoolboys at Scoil Éanna, organizing drill and musketry exercises.
During the Howth gunrunning operation in 1914, Heuston was in charge of a cart, which successfully moved a large quantity of rifles to Dublin. During the Rising he led a section of the First Battalion of the Volunteers and occupied the Mendicity Institute on the south of the Liffey, holding out there for two days. After surrendering he was tried, convicted and sentenced to death. He was executed by firing squad at Kilmainham jail on May 8, 1916. Heuston Railway Station in Dublin is named after him.
John MacBride was born in 1868 at The Quay, West-port, Co. Mayo. He was educated at the Christian Brother’s School, Westport and St. Malachy’s College, Belfast. After school he worked for a period with a firm of wholesale chemists in Dublin. It was then that he joined the Irish Republican Brotherhood and was associated with Michael Cusack in the early days of the Gaelic Athletic Association.
In 1896 MacBride immigrated to The Transvaal (South Africa), where he worked in a gold mine. In 1899 during the Boer War, MacBride had a leading role in organizing ‘the Irish Brigade’, a commando force of 300 Irishmen which fought on the side of the Boers against the British, and held the rank of Major. The force was widely publicized in Ireland where it was commonly referred to as ‘MacBride’s Brigade’. After the Boer War MacBride fled to Paris to avoid prosecution that he had given succor to the enemy. Following amnesty for those involved in the Boer War, MacBride returned to Ireland and settled in Dublin. There he resumed some level of political involvement, joining Sinn Fein and serving for a period on the Supreme Council of the IRB. MacBride had no involvement with the preparations for the Rising. It is said that on Easter Monday he happened to meet Thomas MacDonagh and his force of Volunteers on their way to take over Jacob’s Biscuit Factory, and volunteered his services. Following the surrender he was taken into custody tried by court.
Edward Daly was born on Feb. 25, 1891 in Limerick, Ireland. His father Edward and his Uncle John were both prominent Republicans who took part in the Fenian Uprising. He was educated by the Presentation Sisters, the Congregation of Christian Brothers and at Leamy’s Commercial College. He spent a short time in Glasgow before returning to Limerick and working in a timber yard. He later moved to Dublin and lived in Fairview with his sister Kathleen and her husband Tom Clarke who was an active member of the Irish Republican Brotherhood.
Daly’s membership in the IRB is certain although it is not known when he joined. In 1913, Daly joined the Irish Volun¬teers. He soon reached the rank of Captain and was eventually promoted to the rank of Com¬mandant of the 1st Battalion. During the Rising, Daly was stationed in the Four Courts, which saw the most intense fighting of the Rising. He surrendered his Battalion on April 29 and was charged with treason. He was convicted, sentenced to death and executed by firing squad.
Thomas MacDonagh was born in 1878 in Cloughjordan, Co. Tipperary, the son of Joseph MacDonagh and Mary Parker, both of whom were teachers. He was educated at Rockwell College near Cashel and spent several years training for the priesthood.
On leaving Rockwell, MacDonagh worked as a teacher and while working at St. Colman’s College in Fermoy, Co. Cork he joined the Gaelic League, which introduced him to nationalist ideals. While studying the Irish language in the Aran Islands, he first met Patrick Pearse. When Pearse opened St. Edna’s School in Dub¬lin in 1908, MacDonagh joined the staff as assistant head teacher. He joined the Irish Volunteers on their formation in Nov. 1913 and took part in the Howth gunrunning operation. In March 1915 he became commandant of the 2nd Battalion of the Irish Brigade.
Although a member of the Irish Republican Brotherhood from April 1915, he was not co-opted to the military council until early April 1916, and so had little part in the planning of the Rising. He is believed however, to have contributed to the content of the Independence Proclamation. He took an active part in the Rising, being in charge at Jacob’s Biscuit Factory. Because of its location in a densely built up area Jacob’s was not directly assaulted and when Pearse’s surrender order came MacDonagh was reluctant to comply. He was court-martialed and executed by firing squad in Kilmainham jail on May 3, 1916.
Joseph Plunkett was born in 1887 in Dublin. Jesuits at the Catholic University School educated Plunkett. He also studied at Belvedere College, and Stonyhurst College, in Lancashire, England. A gifted writer, he met Thomas MacDonagh when he tutored him in the Irish language. MacDonagh was to become a close friend as both were interested in poetry, religion and mysticism. Plunkett edited the Irish Review, sup¬ported Arthur Griffith’s Sinn Féin and took the workers stand during the 1913 lockout.
He was elected to the provisional committee of the Irish Volunteers in 1913 and later became a member of the Irish Republican Brotherhood. In April 1915 he went to Germany to assist Roger Casement in procur¬ing arms for the Rising. He and MacDonagh are believed to have forged a document released on April 19, 1916 suggesting the authorities were about to crack down on Irish Volunteers and the rising nationalism. Plunkett was the youngest signee of the Independence Proclamation and served at the GPO during the Rising. Just before he faced the firing squad on May 4, 1916, he said: “I am very happy I am dying for the glory of God and the honor of Ireland,”