Two Athy Men in the Easter Rising:
Volunteer Mark Wilson and ‘Cadet’ William Keegan
The Easter Rising was mounted by Irish republicans to end British rule in Ireland and establish an independent Irish Republic while the United Kingdom was heavily engaged in World War Organised by seven members of the Military Council of the Irish Republican Brotherhood, the Rising began on Easter Monday, 24 April 1916, and lasted for six days. About 1,600 men, women and children of the Irish Volunteers, the Irish Citizen Army, Cumann na mBan, the Hibernian Rifles and Na Fianna Eireann seized key locations in Dublin and proclaimed an Irish Republic.
Ned Daly was commandant of the 1st Dublin Battalion and his Four Courts garrison, next to the GPO, was the largest rebel stronghold. The Four Courts area saw some of the heaviest fighting of the Rising and the notorious massacre of fifteen civilians by British troops in North King Street.
The 1st Battalion mobilised in Blackhall Street on Easter Monday. The turnout of 250 men was less than a third of its full strength. At noon, after formally announcing the republic had been proclaimed, Comdt. Daly marched his main force through North King Street into Church Street, where they occupied a series of premises and set up barricades. The North Dublin Union was occupied, although no attempt was made to take control of the nearby Broadstone Station. Daly’s men raided the Bridewell Police Station and found twenty-four members of the Dublin Metropolitan Police (DMP) hiding in the cells.
Kildare-born Mark Wilson was positioned by Ceannt at the Bridewell Police Station. Mark Albert Wilson was born, on 31 August 1891, to Robert and Juliana Wilson, of Russelstown, Athy. Robert Wilson, a van driver and a native of Co. Wicklow, married Juliana, or Johanna, Heffernan, of Leinster Street, Athy, in 1887, in the civil register district of Dublin South. In 1901 the family of Robert Wilson were living in Berkely Road, Inns Quay, Dublin, and in 1911 they were in Fontenoy Street, Inns Quay. Robert and Juliana had five children living from a total of eight births. Mark, the oldest, was in 1911, employed as a tea mixer. He married Annie Elizabeth Salmon, of Summerhill, in the parish of St. Michan’s on 3 August 1913. Mark Wilson joined the 1st Battalion, Dublin Brigade, Irish Volunteers, some time prior to 1916.
Mark Wilson was in command of a section of Volunteers on the roof of the Bridewell and towards the end of the week they fired with everything they had at the South Staffordshires as the raced to occupy the evacuated rebel position known as Reilly’s Fort. Once inside the British troops found themselves trapped. The Bridewell and Monk’s Bakery positions had them in their gun-sights – any attempt to leave was met with a heavy barrage of rifle fire. A follow up attack on Church St. was beaten back by Wilson’s men. In panic British troops broke into houses in North King Street and killed any male occupants they found claiming they were rebels or sympathisers.
To move through the streets the British constructed armoured cars from locomotive steam boilers on truck chassis supplied by Guinness brewery. However, by Saturday of Easter Week the rebel position was hopeless and it was decided to surrender. Ned Daly addressing those in the Four Courts informed them of the order to surrender. The men were stunned – surrender had never crossed their minds. They argued that they could hold out for a month. Daly, however, was adamant that they obey their orders.
Word was then sent to the men on the Bridewell roof to return to the Four Courts and prepare to surrender, but the men refused and continued to fire at the British soldiers in the North King Street area. Another order was then dispatched to them. They reluctantly complied and surrendered. The rebels were marched to Richmond Barracks where they were held for processing.
Mark Wilson was removed from Richmond Barracks, on 8 May 1916, and deported to England, where he was lodged in Stafford Detention Barracks. His home address was given as 48 North Great George’s Street (2 North King Street) Dublin.
Pat Colgan of Maynooth remarked, in his Witness Statement, that Mark Wilson kept up the men’s morale and when people shouted to them to keep their hearts up he answered they were never down. Mark Wilson was released on 18 July 1916 and returned to Dublin and active service in the War of Independence with the 1st Dublin Battalion. He took the pro-Treaty side in the Civil War and served as a captain in the National Army. Mark Wilson died in December 1971 aged 81.
Across the city when the Rising began, a handful of students who were on site locked the gates of Trinity College. Members of the Officer Training Corps (OTC) and soldiers on leave took to the roofs to defend the College, firing on nearby rebel positions. The College had 300 rifles in the OTC headquarters which would have been a great asset to the Volunteers.
OTCs were formed in 1908 at Universities and Public Schools to attract young men into the army and carry out training sufficient to allow the recruit to be commissioned. The OTCs played a key role in providing the raw material for selection as officers.
On the second day of the Rising the Irish Citizen Army volunteers from St Stephens Green retreated into the Royal College of Surgeons where they traded sniper fire with the crown forces in the Shelbourne Hotel and Trinity College. A temporary hospital in the campus treated wounded civilians and combatants, and some fatalities were temporarily buried in the grounds.
The Kildare Observer of 13 May 1915 carried a report about a ‘Mr. William Keegan, of Ballyroe, Athy and his part in the defence of Trinity College.’ Because he was at Trinity College the newspapers incorrectly assumed William Keegan was with the OTC. Again the Irish Times, which shortly after produced ‘The Handbook of the Rising’ recorded William Keegan as a ‘Cadet Corporal.’
It reported that each Cadet (102 in all) involved in the defense of Trinity College during the Rising received a commemorative cup. In a follow up list of the Cadets involved in the defense of Trinity College and their subsequent military careers the rank of ‘Cadet Corporal’ William Keegan, of the 7th Cadet Battalion, was given as 2nd Lieutenant, 4th Connaught Rangers. This was in September 1916. The unit diary of the Connaught Rangers recorded that ‘2nd Lieutenant W Keegan’ joined the 6th Battalion in France on 25 December 1916.
However, in the 1901 Census William was recorded as being twelve years old, which in 1916 would make him twenty-seven, a bit old for a cadet. In 1911 William Keegan, with his age recorded as twenty-five, gave his occupation as a farmer. He was a visitor in the home of his sister, Mary Farrell, in Maynooth.
In the Kildare Observer, of 10 April 1915, William and James Keegan are mentioned as mourners at the funeral of their father, Martin Keegan, of Ballyroe Lodge, Athy, who had died on 31 March 1915. Ballyroe Lodge was an eight room, second-class house and Martin Keegan was a reasonably well-off farmer, breeder of horses and an Athy No.1 District councillor.
William Keegan left the British army in 1920 and was sent by the Government to Hong Kong as Chief Engineer of the Public Works Department. William Keegan was killed instantly when he fell from the veranda of the Government Civil Hospital, Hong Kong, on 4 May 1929. His obituary in the Leinster Leader, of 25 May 1929, recorded that he was the second son of the late Martin Keegan, Ballyroe Lodge; was educated at Mount St. Joseph’s College, Roscrea and Queens University Galway in Civil Engineering and Architecture and had joined a Dublin firm of Architects. While with the firm the then Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, Lord Aberdeen, paid a high tribute to ‘one so young’ by selecting him to make a civic survey of Dublin for the Civic Exhibition in 1914. Shortly after the outbreak of the European war he joined the Royal Engineers and was sent to France where he served through the whole campaign without receiving a wound. The news of his death was sent by cable from the Governor of Hong Kong.