Oration delivered by Republican Sinn Féin Vice President Des Dalton at the Eamonn Ceannt Commemoration, Sundrive Road, Crumlin on Sunday July 26
Born in Ballymoe, Co Galway in 1881, he was brought up and educated in Dublin where like his comrades of Easter Week Con Colbert and Sean Heuston he attended the Christain Brothers’ School, North Richmond Street.
He joined Conradh na Gaelige and was eventually elected to its governing body An Coiste Gnó. He also immersed himself in Irish music and mastered the Irish war pipes. He insisted on speaking only As Gaelige whenever possible.
Eamonn Ceannt believed like Pearse that it was necessary for Ireland to be not only Gaelic but free well. Sean Fitzgibbon wrote of Ceannt that he “believed in the logic of the Pike” and was more “naturally a physical force man than any of the other leaders”. Brian Barton in his book ‘From behind a closed door; Secret Cout Martial records of the 1916 Easter Rising’ writes: “His republicanism was rooted initially in his cultural nationalism, and confirmed later by contemporary events and by his reading.”
In 1912, at the beginning of the Third Home Rule crisis, he declared: “Once the weapon of peace breaks in the hands of the parliamentary leaders there should no further recourse to it in our time. Force is winning in Ulster, winning a political battle. It is up to the nationalists of Ireland to adopt similar means.” Writing a review of John Mitchel’s Jail Journal Ceannt stated that the book would encourage Irish readers to “drink at the undiluted font of eternal national principles….it proved [England’s] law was a formula for converting Irish patriots into English felons”.
Sean MacDiarmada quickly recognised Ceantt’s talents and commitment and swore him into the IRB in 1911. Ceannt was a founding member of the Irish Volunteers which gave his natural military ablities an outlet. He rose quickly within its ranks to become Commandant of the Fourth Battalion, Dublin Brigade. He was Director of Communications on Headquarters Staff.
As a convinced Irish revolutionary he opposed attempts by John Redmond and the ‘Constitutionalist’ to take control of the Irish Volunteers. He played a prominent role in the Howth ‘gun-running’ in August 1914.
Ceannt was from the beginning involved in the planning and preparation of an insurrection. Ceannt was one of the three original members of the Military Council set-up by the IRB in May 1915 to direct preparations for the 1916 rising.
Eamonn Ceannt was in command of the Irish Republican garrison in the South Dublin Union, today the site of St James’ Hospital as well as supporting outposts in Watkin’s Brewery, Jameson’s Distillery and Roe’s Distillery. Some of the fiercest fighting of Easter Week took place at the South Dublin Union led by Ceannt and his second-in-command Cathal Brugha. Ceannt wrote afterwards of the magnificent gallantry and fearless, calm determination of the men”.
Following the order to surrender the British forces were shocked to find that such resistance could be put up by such a small force of only 50 men, they had estimated the Republican garrison to number 500. The Capuchin priest Fr Augustine wrote a vivid description of Ceannt as he led his men to captivity: “Ceannt was in the middle of the front with one man on either side. But my eyes were rivitted on him so tall was his form, so noble his bearing, and so manly his stride. He was indeed the worthy captain of a brave band who had fought a clean fight for Ireland.”
As a commandant and recognised leader Eamonn Ceannt was tried by a British military court martial on May 3 and 4. British Prosecution Counsel William Wylie writing twenty years later described Ceannt as “a brave man [who] showed no sign whatever of nervousness before the court. I would say in fact, that he was the most dignified of any of the accused.”
The Ireland of today is far from the ideal which inspired Ceannt and his comrades to risk all in battle against British rule in Ireland. The vision of that heroic generation is spelt out in the 1916 Proclamation which remains our freedom charter and the standard against which we must judge a new Ireland.
The increase in sectarianism and attacks including the murder of Kevin McDaid as well as the racist attacks by loyalists on the immigrant community in Belfast illustrate clearly for all who wish to see that the Six-County state is an abnormal political entity. So long as British rule remains in Ireland there can be no normal political or indeed social or economic development. The most fitting tribute we can pay Eammonn Ceannt is to continue the struggle for a free and Independent Democratic Socialist Republic.
We should take stock of the words left by Eamonn Ceannt on the eve of his execution addressed to future generations: “I leave for the guidance of other Irish revolutionaries who may tread the path which I have trod this advice, never to treat with the enemy, never to surrender at his mercy, but to fight to a finish.”