Rising’s heroes remembered by proud families

THE piano in Con O’Neill’s childhood home resonated with history even when its keys were quiet.

It was an engagement gift to his mother from a young man whose place in the annals was secured the day he entered Jacob’s Factory to fight with the rebels in the 1916 Rising.

Dick McKee survived the fighting only to be eventually executed by British forces in 1920, but his memory lives on in McKee Barracks in Dublin which was named in his honour.

Less well known are the likes of Maura Gibney, the sweetheart who followed his example and was left to weep for his loss.

“She just went into the GPO on Easter Monday and asked Pearse could she come in. He said yes and that’s how she ended up in the Rising,” explained Con.

Maura was always discreet about her involvement. “She wouldn’t say if she shot anyone. It was sensitive,” said Con. “But she would have had guns,” smiled Con’s wife, Lyn. “There would be no point hanging around with a toothbrush in those circumstances.”

Lyn believes she often saw a sadness about Maura even though she went on to marry a new love, Laurence O’Neill, and have four children.

Con and Lyn were among the invited guests at yesterday’s ceremony to mark the 91st anniversary of the Rising and sharing their pleasure at the tribute was Noel Scarlett, grandnephew of Padraig Pearse himself.

Aged 76 and proudly displaying his own FCA and ONE medals, he welcomed the return of the commemoration as an annual event. “We shouldn’t have done away with the old military parades. They were afraid of offending people in the North but stopping them only offended people here.”

He was willing to forgive the offence — but winked that he felt the Government could go one better by reinstating a Pearse unit in the Reserve Defence Force in place of the disbanded Pearse Battalion in the old FCA. “To keep his name alive in the army,” he said.

Both Pearse’s name and nature are very much alive in the Defence Forces, says Captain Feargal Purcell who said the commemoration was as relevant for members today as for their predecessors 91 years ago.

“A day like today reminds us not only about the foundation of the State but about the reason you joined the army in the first place: pride in the flag.”

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