DURING the Easter Rising in Dublin in 1916 — when Irish Republicans mounted an armed rebellion against British rule — one of those who stood out as a driving force behind the revolt was Sean McDermott, or Sean MacDiarmada in Gaelic, and he paid for it with his life.
Today, Thursday, 12th May, one of his relatives, Stratford-upon-Avon resident Danny Keaney, will be joining others in a vigil outside the former Kilmainham Jail in Dublin where McDermott was executed by firing squad exactly 100 years ago at the age of 33.
Danny’s link to McDermott is through his grandfather, Simon Keaney. Simon’s mother and McDermott’s mother were sisters, which made Simon and Sean first cousins.
“I first became aware of Sean McDermott when I was seven or eight years old when my grandfather, Simon Keaney, told me about the cousin in Ireland who fought the British,” Danny told the Herald this week.
“At that time I just thought it was an Irish story. It was only later that I found out all the facts.”
Danny, a retired small business owner, is now aged 68 and over the years has steeped himself in the story of Sean McDermott and his role in the tumultuous events of Easter 1916 when the rebels launched their ill-fated bid for independence at the General Post Office in Dublin.
“I don’t want to make any comments on the rights and wrongs of the rising,” said Danny.
“But I am intensely proud, as is the rest of the family, of Sean giving up his life for something he believed in, which was freedom for Ireland from British rule.
“I am looking at this from a purely historical angle. There are enough people who have got a lot to say about the rights and wrongs of it.”
Sean McDermott’s significance in the fight against British rule was considerable.
He was a member of the seven-man military council of the Irish Republican Brotherhood, the forerunner of the IRA, and an organiser for Sinn Fein.
He was also one of the seven signatories of the Proclamation of the Republic of Ireland.
“Some historians have said the seven signatories were mad and Sean McDermott the maddest,” said Danny.
McDermott had a great influence on the future republican leader Michael Collins, who was jailed for his part in the Easter Rising but later played a leading role in the negotiations with the British government that led to the creation of the Irish Free State.
In fact, Michael Collins admired Sean McDermott so much he said of him: “He didn’t seek glory as a personal investment but as a national investment. He was not Sean MacDiarmada. He was Ireland.”
Although Sean McDermott committed very little to paper — for obvious reasons, given the enormity of what he was planning — he is notable for one immensely controversial public statement.
“He was the first to make a speech asking Irishmen not to join the British Army to fight in the First World War,” said Danny.
Danny — who is the author of the book about his upbringing in Stratford called Shakespeare’s Children — is taking part in today’s vigil outside Kilmainham Jail, which is now a museum, with his cousin Tess Woods, who lives in Ireland. She was invited by the Irish government to attend all the Easter 1916 commemoration events.