New book sheds light on forgotten 1916 heroes

NewsBy Eamon Dillon
Devastation: O'Connell Street in Dublin in the aftermath of the Rising
Devastation: O'Connell Street in Dublin in the aftermath of the Rising

THE names are only recognisable to many people as roads and streets that have become more linked with gridlock than glory.

But the lives and deaths of Willie Pearse and Con Colbert changed the course of Irish history.
Now they are being reclaimed from the footnotes of history as part of a gripping series of biographies featuring the 16 men executed as the leaders of the Easter Rising.
Seized The books, published by O’Brien Press, are part of a project to mark the centenary of the Rising next year and to throw some light on the lives of the leaders, including those that never became household names.
A small group of Irish men and women seized key buildings in Dublin and fought a battle with British soldiers for a week. The execution of the 16 men in the aftermath of the fighting sparked a wider revolution against British rule in Ireland.
Series co-editor Lorcan Collins said the idea for the books came about when he was working on a biography of James Connolly.
“It suddenly dawned on me that there was a gaping hole in the biographical information available on all these individuals. There was plenty on Pearse and Connolly, but little or nothing on some of the others,” he wrote.
The recently released book, by Róisín Ní Ghairbhí, on William Pearse provides a fuller picture of the man usually only known as Pádraig Pearse’s brother. Despite being overshadowed by his brother, Willie was every bit as passionate a revolutionary, teacher and language enthusiast as Pádraig. 
He was a captain in the Volunteers during the Easter Rising of 1916, stationed in the GPO, where he stood by Patrick’s side until the surrender order finally came. After the Rising, Willie was taken to Richmond Barracks, where he was court-martialed and then executed in Kilmainham Gaol on May 4, 1916.
After receiving his early education in Westland Row CBS, Willie decided to pursue an artistic career and studied at the Metropolitan School of Art in Dublin and also in Paris and London.  Willie’s work can be seen in the Mortuary Chapel, St Andrew’s Church, Westland Row. 
The other recently released biography by John O’Callaghan features the life of Cornelius Colbert, who was originally born in Limerick. His family moved to Dublin when he was 13, where he went to CBS North Richmond Street. 
Colbert headed an IRB circle and Pádraig Pearse called him “the gallant Captain Colbert” and asked him to drill the St Enda’s boys. During the Rising he first commanded Watkins Brewery, then moved to Marrowbone Lane Jameson’s distillery. 
He assumed command of the whole garrison on their surrender on Sunday, April 30, 1916. 
He famously moved the piece of white paper that was pinned to his chest for the firing squad to aim at, saying: “Would it not be better nearer the heart?”