Sixteen Dead Men

Patrick Pearse, Irish Nationalist, teacher, barrister, poet, author,  leader of the Easter Uprising, had no illusions about the quixotic mission. Beforehand he wrote, “The day is coming when I shall be shot, swept away, and my colleagues like me.”


One hundred years ago today, Patrick Pearse and his brother Willie lead a group of Irish Nationalists from Liberty Hall to the Dublin Post Office to proclaim a Free Irish State. The group included poets, teachers, and dreamers all.


Liberty Hall

The rebellion lasted six days. Afterwards the British Government executed sixteen leaders, fifteen by firing squad (Roger Casement was hung.). The one remaining leader, Eamon de Valera was spared because he was a US citizen.


On the steps of the post office, over which flew the tricolor flag of Ireland and the green flag with Ireland in Celtic, Pearse proclaimed and declared:

In the name of God and of the dead generations from which she receives her old tradition of nationhood, Ireland, through us, summons her children to her flag and strikes for her freedom… We declare the right of the people of Ireland to the ownership of Ireland and to the unfettered control of Irish destinies, to be sovereign and indefeasible.


W.B. Yeats wrote two poems about the events. The first, A Terrible Beauty, “changed utterly” Irish opinion and stirred the Irish political consciousness into action. The second, Sixteen Dead Men, was melancholy and thoughtful.

Sixteen Dead Men

By William Butler Yeats
O but we talked at large before
The sixteen men were shot,
But who can talk of give and take,
What should be and what not
While those dead men are loitering there
To stir the boiling pot?

You say that we should still the land
Till Germany’s overcome;
But who is there to argue that
Now Pearse is deaf and dumb?
And is their logic to outweigh
MacDonagh’s bony thumb?

How could you dream they’d listen
That have an ear alone
For those new comrades they have found,
Lord Edward and Wolfe Tone,
Or meddle with our give and take
That converse bone to bone?

The group included teachers, poets, and even a knighted British diplomat. World War I was raging at the time of the uprising. Pearse was the overall leader of the Easter Uprising. Tom MacDonagh was commander of the Second Battalion of Volunteers that occupied Jacob’s biscuit factory. Lord Edward and Wolfe Tone were early Irish Nationalists


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