November 2, 2015, by Harry Cocks
Easter Rising Lives: Michael O’Hanrahan
Next year will be the 100th anniversary of the Dublin Easter Rising, Conor Kostick Writes. Already, every school in Ireland has been sent a special commemorative flag, and the Arts Council of Ireland has awarded €2m worth of commissions for new art. As well as various parades, there will be hundreds of presentations and discussions in public venues and on the Irish media. One of these commemorations is a major new series of biographies of the sixteen rebel leaders, 16Lives. The entire set will be launched at a special event in the General Post Office, the headquarters of the Provisional Government at the time of the Rising. My biography of 1916 quartermaster Michael O’Hanrahan was published on 21 October this year. I was recently appointed to the Board of the National Library of Ireland, and have returned to my former studies of modern Irish history for the task. Reconstructing the life and thought of Michael O’Hanrahan was a real challenge, because he handled the finances of the Rising and did so in a very discreet fashion. He worked behind the scenes and thus did not leave a strong mark in the sources. But this also made it an exciting project for me: I knew I was looking into the life of someone who had not previously been the subject of a detailed study. As I learned more about him, I warmed to Michael O’Hanrahan. He was passionate about the Irish language (founding the Gaelic League in Carlow, the town of his youth), Gaelic sports, workers’ rights and the art of writing novels. In this latter regard, although from a modest background (the family business was that of cork cutting), he read widely enough and sufficiently taught himself the craft of writing to produce two excellent historical adventure stories: A Swordsman of the Brigade and When the Norman Came. His first political action was to lead a group of young men of Carlow in disrupting a loyalist film show on behalf of the British Army’s efforts in the Boer War: cheering the images of Boers; booing the British generals and drowning out “God Save the King”. His last political action was that of Quartermaster General of the Easter Rising. In between, his relatively short life (he was 39 when he was shot by firing squad at Kilmainham Jail) was devoted to various organisations expressing Irish nationalism. Hardly a day passed when he was not attending a meeting or forwarding the efforts of the many societies of which he was a member.
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