The Easter Rising, the rebellion which took place over the course of five days in Dublin in 1916, forever changed the course of Irish history and led to the execution of its leaders. Here, Dermot McEvoy takes an in-depth look at the life of Edward Daly and his contribution to Irish history

Edward (Ned) Daly was born in Limerick City in 1891 into the fiercely nationalist Daly family. His father had taken part in the Rising of 1867 and his uncle, John Daly, was one of the most relentless Fenians of his generation. He was the only boy in a household of nine sisters, one of whom was Kathleen Daly Clarke, which made him the brother-in-law of Tom Clarke

Daly moved to Dublin in 1912 and moved in with the Clarkes. In 1913, he joined the Irish Volunteers and quickly rose to the rank of Commandant of the First Battalion of the Dublin Brigade. He was intimately involved in the landing of guns at Howth in 1914 and in the planning of Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa's funeral in 1915.

Daly had 260 men under his command and on Easter Monday 1916, his target was the capture of the Four Courts on the Liffey, which he accomplished by noon that day. It was an important position because it was placed strategically between two military bases and the center of Dublin: Royal (now Collins) Barracks to the west and Marlborough Cavalry (now McKee) Barracks to the northwest.

His command also extended into North King Street which was to become notorious for the murder of 15 innocent civilians by the British Army during Easter Week. Barricades tightly cordoned off the streets making it a nightmare for the British. The Four Courts also served as a safe haven for Volunteers who were scattered throughout the area.

Daly’s men burnt the Linenhall Barracks to the ground and captured 25 Dublin Metropolitan Policemen who were hiding in the basement of the Bridewell Police Station near the Four Courts. He assured his prisoners that they would be treated with “the rules of civilized warfare.”

By Wednesday, one Volunteer observed that Daly was “beginning to look very tired and haggard. His tunic was torn at the sleeve. I believe that he had not closed his eyes since the outbreak on Monday. He cared nothing for himself or any hardship he endured…[and was]…at all times solicitous for each and every one of his men.”

The British officer in charge of the area said, “This whole neighborhood was strongly held by the rebels, who had elaborately prepared and fortified it against the military with barricades across the street, and by taking out house windows and sandbagging them, etc.”

In the North King Street area, the British suffered losses of 16 dead and 31 wounded. Their frustration with the rebel’s guerrilla street warfare might have been the reason they turned vicious against the innocent civilians of North King Street or as General Maxwell was to say later, the soldiers “saw red.”

“Possibly unfortunate incidents,” stated General Maxwell after the rebellion, “which we should regret now, may have occurred. It did not, perhaps, always follow where shots were fired from a particular house the inmates were always necessarily aware of it or guilty, but how were the soldiers to discriminate? They saw their comrades killed beside them by hidden and treacherous assailants, and it is even possible that under the horrors of this peculiar attack some of them ‘saw red.’”

Translated, this means shoot first, ask questions later.

When Elizabeth O’Farrell arrived with the surrender orders from Pearse, she found “Daly was very cut up about it, but accepted it as a soldier should.”

A Cumann na mBan woman inside the Four Courts described the scene: “It was a terrible, shattering moment. They cried and they wept and they protested and they did their best to destroy their guns. I could see them hacking away at them. But there was no escape for them then.”

History facebook
IrishCentral History

Love Irish history? Share your favorite stories with other history buffs in the IrishCentral History Facebook group.

At Richmond Barracks Daly was sorted out by DMP detectives. His crimes, put bluntly, was that he was 1) the brother-in-law of Tom Clarke and 2) his superb defense of the Four Courts and the surrounding neighborhood streets had caused the British much damage. Along with Éamon de Valera and Seán Heuston, Daly had caused the most direct casualties on the British forces.

At his court-martial, Daly stated: “The reason I pleaded ‘Not guilty’ was because I had no dealings with any outside forces. I had no knowledge of the insurrection until Monday morning April 24. The officers including myself when we heard the news held a meeting and decided that the whole thing was foolish but that being under orders we had no option but to obey.”

His penalty would be death. General Maxwell told Prime Minister Asquith: “This man was one of the most prominent extremists in the Sinn Féin organization.”

Daly’s statement that he didn’t know about the Rising until Easter Monday seems to conflict with what his sister, Kathleen Clarke, wrote in her autobiography, "Revolutionary Woman." Apparently, Pearse was to alert all the commandants of their duties on Easter Sunday, but Ned Daly hadn’t heard anything. This alarmed Kathleen and she told her husband: “Tom was very annoyed when I told him. He believed Pearse had issued instructions to all Commandants as it had been agreed he should. He could not understand how it was Ned had not received them. He then had a long talk with Ned and explained matters to him. I could see Ned got a bit of a shock. Even though he knew the Rising would take place someday, this was very short notice.”

As he prepared for his execution, Daly said of his men: “Such heroes never lived.” He added that he was “glad and proud to die for his country and that he knew the week’s work would bring new life to Ireland.”

History facebook
IrishCentral History

Love Irish history? Share your favorite stories with other history buffs in the IrishCentral History Facebook group.

Kathleen Clarke in her autobiography described the last meeting between her, Ned, and their sisters Madge and Laura: “Ned jumped up from the floor where he had been lying without covering. He was in his uniform and looked about eighteen years of age, his figure was so slim and boyish Madge and Laura entered the cell first. I stopped just inside the door, deliberately, to prevent the officers crowing in as they seemed inclined to do. This would give Ned an opportunity to say anything to Madge or Laura he would not wish the officers to hear.

"The officers remained outside the door; to get in they would have had to push me aside, or further into the cell…Only about fifteen minutes had passed when the officers outside said, ‘Time up,’ and so far I had not had a word with Ned. I protested, saying that I had got much longer with a prisoner [her husband, Tom] the previous night…My protest was unheeded; the officers insisted we must go. I had only time to kiss Ned goodbye. He whispered to me. ‘Have you got Tom’s body?’ I said, ‘No, but I have made a request for it and have told Madge to make the same request for yours.’ I thought it strange he should ask that question. He got no time to say more.”

Ned Daly was shot on May 4 between 4:00 am and 4:30 am. Fittingly, he was buried next to his brother-in-law, Tom Clarke, in the patriots’ ditch in Arbour Hill.

*Dermot McEvoy is the author of "The 13th Apostle: A Novel of a Dublin Family, Michael Collins, and the Irish Uprising and Irish Miscellany" (Skyhorse Publishing). He may be reached at Follow him at his website and Facebook page.

* Originally published in 2016. Last updated in May 2023.