Easter week, divided loyalties

16 Lives: Éamonn Ceannt

by Mary Gallagher

(O’Brien Press, €12.99)

J. Anthony Gaughan

On April 24, 1917 exactly a year to the day after the Easter Rising, Éamonn Ceannt’s brother, Bill, was killed on the Western Front. News of his death reached the family on May 8, the anniversary of Éamonn’s execution. 

Bill, a professional soldier, had spent the war with the reserve battalion of the Royal Dublin Fusiliers in Co. Cork. The battalion was a training unit for troops before they were posted to the front. 

On September 11, 1916 Bill was posted to France. The family believed that this was because of his connection to Éamonn. However, Bill’s diary indicates it was his decision and also records his horrific experiences at the battle of the Somme, where he was promoted Acting-Sergeant Major in the field. 

James Kent, father of Bill and Éamonn, joined the RIC in 1862. He served at Kanturk in Co. Cork and Ballymoe, Co. Galway. On promotion to Head Constable he was transferred to Co. Louth, where one of his other sons, James, like his father joined the RIC at the age of 18. Following his retirement James, anxious to ensure the best educational opportunities for his children, transferred the family to Dublin.


The family settled in the North Strand area; nearby was O’Connell schools. This institution was established in 1829 by Edmund Rice, founder of the Christian Brothers, and its foundation stone was laid by the ‘Liberator’ after whom it was named. 

Uniquely at that time, the Christian Brothers presented a course on Irish history. They did so from their own textbooks which highlighted the themes of “Irish resistance to English invasion” and “Irish suffering resulting from English persecution”. 

They also stressed the splendour of the old Gaelic civilisation which the English had suppressed and displaced. At O’Connell’s Éamonn was a gifted and keen student, winning academic awards.

In 1900, Dublin Corporation decided that appointments to clerkships should be made by competitive examination and Éamonn was one of the earliest appointments under the new system. 

Musically talented, he was a founding member of the Dublin Pipers’ Club and acted as its secretary. 

He joined the Gaelic League and was one of its most active members, changing his name from Edward T. Kent to Éamonn Ceannt and he married Áine Ní Bhraonáin, a student in a class he conducted for the league. 

Already a member of the IRB, he was involved in the preparatory meetings leading to the establishment of the Volunteers in November 1913. He participated in the gun-running at Howth and Kilcoole in 1914. After the volunteer movement split he became a leading member of the Irish Volunteers executive and commandant of the 4th Dublin battalion. 

As a member of the Military Council, he appended his name to the Proclamation of the Republic and authorised the Rising on Easter Monday.

Owing to the confusion arising from Eoin MacNeill’s countermand, less than 60 of his 700-strong battalion mustered. He led them to the cluster of buildings of the South Dublin Union (present day St James’ Hospital), which his battalion was directed to defend. 

The author provides a detailed account of the fighting in the area during Easter week. 

After the surrender, Éamonn marched his battalion to St Patrick’s Place, near the cathedral, to be disarmed. During his court martial he did his best to cast doubt on the prosecution charges, seemingly attempting to secure an acquittal on technical grounds.

With this monograph, Mary Gallagher provides more than a biography. Her well-researched accounts of Éamonn Ceannt and the extended Kent/Ceannt family highlight the diverse loyalties in Irish families and the political complexity of Ireland in the early part of the 20th Century.