The role of Michael Joseph O’Rahilly (also known as “The O’Rahilly”) in the Easter Rising of 1916, is not much talked about, and this, in my opinion, makes it all the more fascinating. Many would feel, that he has, in a sense, been ‘written out of history’.
O’Rahilly was a man who believed that the Irish people could not achieve independence of the British without confrontation in an armed struggle. It was for this reason that he joined played a large part in the foundation of the Irish Volunteers in 1913.
Interestingly, O’Rahilly refused to join the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB) on the grounds that he could not join a secret society. He was a man of very strong principles, and felt that he could not keep an oath whereby he would have to withhold information from his wife, Nancy, which would be of ‘vital concern’ to both of them: ‘There is only one “secret society” I would advocate, and it would have only one rule; everyone in it must get a gun and learn to shoot.’.
Perhaps one of the reasons O’Rahilly’s story has, for the most part, gone untold, is because he ‘wouldn’t have suited either side’. By this it is meant, that clearly as a Republican, he wouldn’t suit the British’s telling of events, whilst, as he was against this particular strike at freedom, he didn’t particularly suit the Irish. This feeling of a ‘reluctant rebel’, is perhaps a good meter of how most people reacted to the Rising; whilst they were initially against the idea, once it had begun, they felt obliged to join in.
Our journey begins, with the, so-called “Castle Document”. This was a forged document, supposedly having been leaked from British Intelligence in Dublin Castle in an attempt to force Eoin Mac Neill and the Irish Volunteers to join the planned Rising. This was because MacNeill refused to take part, unless the British threatened to disarm them; which the document conveniently pointed to. Unknowingly, MacNeill ordered his Volunteers to stage a Rising, all over the country, on Easter Sunday, 24th of April, 1916. When the forgery was discovered, MacNeill instantly drew up a message, cancelling all maneuvers for the Rising, to be distributed around the country. This however was on the Saturday night, and, as they could not wait to publish it in the morning paper, The O’Rahilly was made a courier to deliver the message: ‘Volunteers completely deceived. All orders for special action are hereby cancelled…’. Although O’Rahilly was one of the few men to own a car at the time, he chose to take a taxi, as his car was too well known by the police, and he was forbidden by law from entering the counties of Kerry, Cork or Limerick. As the message was delivered around the country, no-one thought to convey the message to James Connolly’s Irish Citizen Army, in the heart of Dublin. He and Pearse, on learning the news, decided to go ahead with a Rising on Monday in Dublin anyway, without the Volunteers and their army of 13500 men. (Which would have made a massive...