More on the Martyrs of Easter Week 1916

J. Anthony Gaughan

Here are two further biographies in the “16 Lives Series” dealing with the leading figures executed after the 1916 Rising, both subjects are among the less well-known of those whose died.

Con Colbert was born on October 19, 1888 in Castlemahon, Newcastlewest. Soon afterwards his family moved to Athea, where he spent his early years and attended the local national school. In his teens he went to live with his sister in Dublin and continued his schooling at O’Connell’s CBS. Thereafter he secured an appointment in the accounts department of Kennedy’s Bakery and remained there until his death.

Colbert joined the Gaelic League in 1905 and became a fluent Irish-speaker. He was an enthusiastic supporter of not only the language but everything Irish – music, dance, games, even dress. An indication of this last was his proclivity to frequently wearing kilts. 

He had a central role in the development of Fianna Éireann, the national boy-scout organisation founded by Bulmer Hobson and Constance Markievicz in 1909. At Patrick Pearse’s request he acted as a drill instructor and part-time PE teacher at St Enda’s school from 1910 onwards.

Recruited into the Irish Republican brotherhood, he became head of an IRB circle composed entirely of Fianna members. At the inaugural meeting of the Irish Volunteers in 1913 he was elected to the organisation’s executive committee. Appointed captain in the Dublin Brigade, he was subsequently deeply involved in drill instruction and selection and training of Volunteer officers.

On Easter Monday, Colbert commanded a contingent of 36 men which established an outpost at Watkin’s brewery. The garrison saw little action and moved to reinforce the larger one in Jameson’s distillery, closer to the South Dublin Union, where the fighting was fierce. 

Their communications cut, they were unaware of events elsewhere, so Colbert was incredulous on receiving the general surrender on Sunday afternoon and wept openly. Not least because of his pre-Rising activities and connection with Pearse, he was court-martialled and four days later executed on May 8, 1916.


Apart from other memorials to honour him, Limerick’s railway station was named Colbert station in 1966. In an apposite introduction John O’Callaghan makes a sensible appeal for balance rather than revisionism in assessing and commemorating Colbert’s physical-force brand of patriotism.

Willie Pearse was born on November 15, 1881 in Dublin. His father was a monumental sculptor, his brother the iconic leader of the 1916 Rising. Following his education at Westland Row CBS he attended the Metropolitan School of Art, where he studied sculpture and later continued his studies in Paris.

 On his father’s death in 1900 he took over the family business until it closed in 1910. During that time he also showcased his own work at the RHA and Oireachtas exhibitions.

By 1910 Willie was teaching art and English in his brother’s school St Enda’s and at its companion school for girls St Ita’s. Keen on drama, he acted in and organised productions in St Enda’s, the Abbey Theatre and elsewhere.


Already a member of the Gaelic League, the executive of the Wolfe Tone and United Irishmen Committee and the IRB, Willie joined the Irish Volunteers in 1913 and was enrolled in the Dublin Brigade. 

Although not involved in the planning of the Rising, he was closely associated with the leaders and was involved in the preparations for it at St Enda’s. 

He was in the GPO throughout Easter Week, where he acted as his brother’s aide-de-camp. After the surrender he was court-martialled on May 3 and executed the following morning.

There is no doubt that the main reason for his execution was his relationship to Patrick. He was universally known to have been gentle and unassuming. John Dillon, MP, described him as “a most inoffensive creature”. 

Thus his shooting did much to discredit the executions in the eyes of many moderate nationalists who had, at first, deplored the events of Easter Week.