1916 lives: Miceál Ua hAnnracáin wanted the shackles thrown off

Carlowman Miceál Ua hAnnracáin was certain only armed rebellion would see the British Empire leave, writes Conor Kostick

1916 lives: Miceál Ua hAnnracáin wanted the shackles thrown off

Michael O’Hanrahan, or Miceál Ua hAnnracáin, was an extremely modest man whose greatest ambition from a very early age was to free Ireland from the imperial administration.

Underneath a reserved exterior was a passion and a drive that meant Miceál gave up nearly every evening of his adult life to one organisation or another that furthered this goal.

Born on January 16, 1877, in New Ross, Miceál’s family moved to Carlow town three years later, where he lived at 90 and 91 Tullow St, a house, shop and workshop in which the family business of cork cutting was carried out.

After attending the Christian Brothers School, Miceál planned to take the examination for a place in the civil service. But on learning that all civil servants were required to take an oath of allegiance to the Queen, he abandoned that goal.

From his journalism, it is clear that Miceál read carefully into Ireland’s history — and the history of other countries within the Empire — and came to the conclusion that the attempt of the imperial administration to portray itself as a benevolent influence upon Irish affairs was a lie.

Miceál’s belief was that when their interests were threatened, the supporters of empire were savage in their barbarity. In Carlow, for example, a terrible massacre had been carried out in 1798 against the United Irishmen and Miceál helped preserve the memory of this event through his involvement in the local ’98 Memorial Club.

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His reading led Miceál to write two historical novels, A Swordsman of the Brigade (1914) and, published posthumously, When the Norman Came.

His commitment to the Irish language, too, was impressive. Self-taught, Miceál was giving classes in Carlow from 1899.

His other interest as a young man was in the GAA, which he supported in Carlow and then as a player for Lorcan O’Toole GAC in Dublin.

Whether from his own natural disposition or from the experience of his father (who was a member of the old Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB) of 1867), Miceál operated as covertly as he could against a very powerful enemy, one whom he believed would never voluntarily surrender control of Ireland to the Irish people. As with many of his contemporaries, Miceál was convinced that the British Empire had to be defeated militarily if Ireland were to escape its domination.

When, in 1901, a British officer was allowed to join the Carlow Workingman’s Club, Miceál resigned, even though he had helped found the organisation two years earlier.

Shortly afterwards, the whole family moved to Dublin, settling at 67 Connaught St. There they lived above their shop, which sold tobacco and fancy goods.

Due to Miceál’s discretion, as well as his scrupulous honesty and willingness to devote all his time to the revolutionary movement, he became the key figure behind the scenes in arming and equipping the Irish Volunteers. From the Volunteers’ headquarters on 2 Dawson St, Dublin, he effectively became the quartermaster of the Easter Rising.

Miceál had developed the skills to carry out this task in the course of organising for the Gaelic League in Carlow, then for Sinn Féin in Dublin, and especially through his efforts to ensure the great language processions of 1908 and 1909 were a success. These were marches in support of Irish language and culture that were up to 100,000 strong.

As Easter 1916 approached, Miceál had high hopes for the ability of the Irish Volunteers to inflict a stunning blow on the imperial administration, hopes that were shattered by the loss of the Aud, which was to deliver 20,000 rifles in Kerry the weekend the Rising was to start.

When given the news that the weapons had not been landed, Miceál was as shaken as he had ever been in his life and must have had a premonition of his own death, for the odds of victory suddenly lengthened enormously.

They lengthened again when Volunteers chief of staff Eoin MacNeill issued his countermanding order.

In the event, Miceál, like so many of the other leaders of the rebellion, went out with little hope of victory, but with a determination to create the circumstances, even in defeat, that would ‘save Ireland’.

As he awaited his execution, he believed that those who fought in the Easter Rising had achieved this much at least. Calm and unwavering in the face of death, it seems that he was satisfied that it was worth his life to have helped bring about a fundamental change in political direction for the country, one that would lead to more successful struggles in the future.

In different circumstances, Miceál Ua hAnnracáin would have indulged his love of literature and lived a long life devoted to writing novels. This, however, was not an ambition he could allow himself to yield to while the British Empire remained in control of Ireland.

Instead, in a quiet and indefatigable manner, he put his considerable organisational talents and, ultimately, his life, at the disposal of the cause of revolution.

Conor Kostick is a historian and author of Michael O’Hanrahan in the 16 Lives series of biographies on the executed 1916 leaders, published by O’Brien Press.

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