James Connolly at the GPO: the clothing of the commandant general

Published in Artefacts, Issue 1 (January/February 2014), Volume 22

The shirt worn by James Connolly during the Rising, stained with his blood. It was given to Nora Connolly, presumably after it was removed while he was treated at the first-aid station in Dublin Castle. (National Museum of Ireland)

The shirt worn by James Connolly during the Rising, stained with his blood. It was given to Nora Connolly, presumably after it was removed while he was treated at the first-aid station in Dublin Castle. (National Museum of Ireland)

On the morning of Easter Monday, 24 April 1916, members of the Irish Citizen Army and the Irish Volunteers gathered at Liberty Hall. Though these were separate organisations, James Connolly, the leader of the Citizen Army, had come to an agreement with the military council of the IRB to mount a rebellion jointly with the Irish Volunteers, and took the role of commandant general with overall responsibility for the military command of both groups.

Connolly not only oversaw the movement of the rebels and issued orders but also attended to the finer details such as organising the provision of basic necessities, sending out men to collect supplies such as bedding and food from the surrounding buildings to see them through the coming days.

Connolly’s bullet-pierced hat. (National Museum of Ireland)

Connolly’s bullet-pierced hat. (National Museum of Ireland)

On Tuesday, when British Army regiments from around the country began to arrive in the city to reinforce the Dublin-based regiments, Connolly ordered a small garrison of rebels, led by Oscar Traynor, to take command of the Hotel Metropole. Their aim was to take control of the entire block down to the corner of Middle Abbey Street, from Eason’s down to Manfield & Son’s shoe shop, to meet the British soldiers approaching from that direction. The civilians were evacuated—Connolly communicating with the hotel manager W.H. Oliver to arrange their safe passage—and the rebels bored through the walls of the block. Connolly’s frequent visits to the garrison at the Metropole were an example of how active and visible he was in his commandant role, often on the streets overseeing the building of barricades and inspecting outposts. It was as he was overseeing the building of a barricade on Princes Street on Thursday that he received his first injury, a bullet wound to the right shoulder. The shirt (above) is stained with blood from this injury. He received a more serious injury that evening, when a ricocheted bullet shattered his ankle. He was taken into the now burning GPO and lay there until the eventual evacuation of the building on Friday. He was taken to Moore Street, and after the surrender on Saturday he was removed to a first-aid station in Dublin Castle for treatment. On the way his bullet-pierced hat fell off to reveal a gash in the side of his head.

Connolly was court-martialled and convicted of treason on 9 May. Owing to his injuries he was tied to a chair for his execution at Kilmainham on 12 May 1916. Both Connolly’s hat and undershirt are currently on display in the National Museum of Ireland, Collins Barracks. HI

Brenda Malone is a historian at the National Museum of Ireland.

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