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Along with other Irish Volunteers, Connolly seized the General Post Office in Dublin on 24 April 1916. During the action at the Post Office, Connolly was shot in the thigh. Following the end of the rebellion on 29 April 1916, James Connolly was detained by the British Forces. Connollys Field General Court-Martial (FCGM) was convened by General Sir John Maxwell, commanding British Forces in Ireland, on 8 May 1916. The trial itself took place on 9 May 1916.
In a memorandum sent by General Sir John Maxwell to the then British Prime Minister, Herbet Asquith, the following description was provided for James Connolly:
This man has been a prominent leader in the Larkinite or Citizen Army for years. He was also a prominent supporter of the Sinn Fein movement. He held the rank of Commandant General of the Dublin Division in the rebel army, and had his headquarters at the GPO from which place he issued orders. On the 24 April he issued and signed a general order to "The Officers and soldiers in Dublin of the Irish Republic" stating that " ... the armed forces of the Irish Republic had everywhere met the enemy and defeated them." This man was also a signatory to the Proclamation of Irish Independence.
The court consisted of three members: Colonel D. Lapte (President), Lieutenant-Colonel A.M. Bent, 2nd Royal Munster Fusiliers, and Major F.W. Woodward, DSO, Loyal North Lancs. Regiment.
James Connolly was charged with two offences:
2nd Lieutenant S.L. King, 12 Res. Battalion, Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers states:
In Sackville Street Dublin about 11am on 25th April 1916 I was taken prisoner by the rebels and taken upstairs in the General Post Office. There were 2 other Officers confined in the same room. There were many armed rebels in the building. I saw firing from the Hotel Metropole.
I saw the accused, in uniform and equipped with a revolver etc., going across to the Hotel Metropole. I saw him pointing out as if to order a window to be broken in the Hotel which was done, and fire opened from the window. I saw the accused on 3 or 4 occasions near the General Post Office.
Cross-examined by the accused.
I was in the Post Office from 25th to 28th April when I was marched out of it by some of the rebels. We were very well treated generally by the rebels. The window broken gave a good field of fire across Sackville Street. The uniform the accused wore was the green Volunteers uniform with strips on his arm, and a wide hat. I cant remember any feathers in it.
Re-examined by the prosecutor.
When we were put out of the Post Office we were told to run for our lives and we were fired on by the rebels, and 2 of us hit. I cant state whether the British troops were firing at the time.
Captain H.E. de C. Wheeler, Res. of Officers states:
I saw the accused, James Connolly, in bed at the Dublin Castle Hospital on the 29th April 1916 between 3 & 4pm. I had previously seen the rebel leader P.H. Pearse surrender at the top of Moore Street off Great Britain Street. I produce a document which I brought to the accused from Pearse, which he signed in my presence.
2nd Lieutenant S.H. Jackson, 3rd Royal Irish Regiment states:
On the 1st May 1916, I searched the rebel John McBride and found the document I produce to the court. It purports to be signed by James Connolly and I consider the signature the same as that shown to me by this court (signature on Exhibit X).
2nd Lieutenant A.D. Chailman, 14th Royal Fusiliers states:
About 12pm on 24 April 1916 I was in the General Post Office Dublin when about 300 armed rebels entered and seized the Post Office and made me prisoner. I saw the accused present among them. The accused ordered me to be tied up in the Telephone Box. This was done. I was kept there about 3 hours. One of the rebels came in and asked me how I was getting on. I replied that I was about suffocated. Apparently the man went to the accused. I then heard the accused say "I dont care a damm what you do with him." The words were obviously concerned with me. I was kept in the General Post Office until 28th April 1916. On the 25th and 26th April from the window of the room I was in, I saw the accused giving orders about firing from the Hotel Metropole. I heard him give orders for firing on more than one occasion.
Cross-examined by the accused:
I think I last saw the accused on 26th April. Up to that I had frequently seem him. The rebels did their best for us whilst we were in the Post Office. The accused was in dark green uniform with a distinctive hat with cocks feathers in it. The distinctive uniform was very noticeable from the other Volunteer uniforms. I saw the accused close while he was in the Post Office. I did not actually hear the accused order me to be tied up in the box. One of the rebels went up to the accused and on his instruction I was tied up.
The accused in his defence states:
I read this written document.
James Connolly also stated that a copy of his courts-martial proceedings be given to his wife. The court directed him to apply to C-in-C Irish Command.
James Connolly was shot in the thigh during the fighting at the Post Office. He was kept in Dublin Castle Hospital up to his execution. This room is now known as the James Connolly Room.
The Connolly Room, Dublin Castle (Stephen Stratford 1998).
The following statement was given by two doctors at the hospital:
We certify that during the entire period of James Connollys detention as a patient in the Dublin Castle Hospital he has been perfectly rational and in complete possession of his faculties. His mental condition has been and still is perfectly normal and his mind, memory and understanding entirely unimpaired and that he is fit to undergo his trial.
The statement was signed by R.J. Tobin, FRCS, in medical charge of the patient, and P.J. OFarrell, LRCP & S.
Verdict & Sentence
James Connolly was found guilty of the 1st charge, and sentenced to death with no recommendation for mercy. He was found not guilty of the 2nd charge. The decision of the court was promulgated to James Connolly at Dublin Castle Hospital on 10 May 1916. Two days later, on 12 May 1916, James Connolly was executed by firing squad in the stone-breakers yard at Kilmainham Jail.
Exhibits X, Y and Z
Exhibit X: Document signed by P.H. Pearse, J. Connolly & T. MacDonagh.
In place of this exhibit in the proceedings document was found the following piece of paper:
Received from the Judge Advocate-General a document signed by P.H. Pearse, James Connolly & Thomas MacDonagh, which was attached as Exhibit X to the proceedings of the F.G.C.M held at Dublin on James Connolly on 9 May 1916.
Lost 2 July 1918. Signed: J.G. Maxwell, Lieutenant-General.
Exhibit Y: Letter signed by James Connolly
Date: 24 April 1916.
The Officers & Soldiers in Dublin of the Irish Republic.
We Salute you. This day the flag of the Irish Republic has been hoisted in Dublin and the armed forces of the Irish Republic have everywhere set the enemy and defeated them - North, South, East and West. The Irish Army has been in action all day, and at no single point has it been driven in, nor lost a single position it has taken up. In the name of Ireland we salute you. This is the greatest day in Irish history and it is you who have made it so.
Signed: James Connolly
Exhibit Z: Statement submitted by James Connolly in his defence.
I dont wish to make any defence except against charges of wanton cruelty to prisoners. These trifling allegations that have been made in that direction if they record facts that really happened deal only with the almost inevitable incidents of a hurried uprising and overthrowing of long established authorities, and no where show evidence of a set purpose to wantonly injure unarmed prisoners.
We went out to break the connection between this country and the British Empire and to establish an Irish Republic. We believe that the call we thus issued to the people of Ireland was a holier calling and a holier cause than any call issued to them during this war having any connection with the war. We succeeded in proving that Irishmen are ready to die endeavouring to win for Ireland their national rights which the British Government has been asking then to die to win for Belgium. As long as that remains the case the cause of Irish Freedom is safe. Believing that the British Government has no right in Ireland, never had any right in Ireland, and never can have any right in Ireland. The presence in any one generation of even a respectable minority of Irishmen ready to die to affirm that truth makes that Government for ever an usurpation, and a crime against human progress. I personally thank God that I have lived to see the day when thousands of Irishmen and boys, and hundreds of Irish women & girls, were equally ready to affirm that truth and seal it with their lives if necessary.