The only surviving son of an executed 1916 Rising leader celebrates his 103rd birthday today in Hong Kong.

Father Joseph Mallin was just two and a half years old when his father was executed in Kilmainham Gaol for his role in the rebellion. Born on September 13, 1913, Fr Mallin is the son of Commandant Michael Mallin, who was second-in-command of the Irish Citizen Army during the Rising, serving just below James Connolly. 

Born in Dublin to carpenter John Mallin, Michael Mallin worked as as silk weaver and co-founded the Irish Socialist Party with Francis Sheehy-Skeffington. On the 102nd anniversary of his son’s birth last year, Michael and Joseph were remembered by artist Declan Kerr in a stunning image (featured below) of 102-year old Joseph sitting beside his father holding him as a young child.

Before his execution on May 8, 1916, Commandant Mallin summoned his family to his jail cell, handing his wife, who was pregnant at the time with their fifth child, a note in which he told his young son Joseph to try to become a priest in his future.

“Joseph, my little man, be a priest if you can,” the note is believed to have said.

And that is exactly what Joseph did. Fr Mallin has spent over sixty years as a Jesuit missionary in China, working at the Wah Yan College – a Roman Catholic secondary school for boys run by the Society of Jesus.

Fr Mallin has lived in China since 1948 and was unfortunatley unable to return to Ireland for the Rising's 100-year commemoration this year due to reduced mobility. Regardless, he was granted the Freedom of Dublin earlier as part of the official events to mark the centennial. On March 21, 2016, Fr Mallin was awarded the freedom of the City of Dublin not only for his status as a child of a 1916 Rising leader but for his work serving the people of Hong Kong for the past six decades. 

Fr Mallin last visited Ireland to celebrate his 90th birthday and he has long considered Hong Kong to be his home. However, Fr Mallin still keeps in touch with his homeland.

His niece Una O’Callanáin told the Irish Times last year that Fr Mallin keeps up-to-date with the goings-on in Ireland. O’Callanáin’s own father, Séamus, was 12 years old when her grandfather was executed.

A socialist who had also previously served in the British Army, Michael Mallin was 41 when he became one of the 15 leaders to be executed during May 1916. He left behind a wife and five children – three boys and two girls, the youngest of whom, Úna, was born four months after his death.

In recent years, Fr Mallin admitted he rarely heard his mother speak about their father after his death, although he does remember her crying one time on the anniversary of his execution.

Paul Horan, a lecturer in nursing studies in Trinity College Dublin who has previously carried out intensive research on the 1916 leaders, stresses how important it is to tell the story of the Rising families to give us a greater understanding of the individuals who took part, by looking at where they came from.

“I believe it's as important to remember those people who took part in the Rising and their families equally,” he told IrishCentral.

“Without our parents we would not be. Without our families we would not flourish, as surely we are nourished by each of our family's unconditional love.

“Put simply, without family there would be no revolutionaries. In many ways, developing an understanding of the family context in which the Rising participants lived gives us a greater sense of the individuals who took part in the Rising which is often very different from our received history at school or in books.”

It is believed that Mallin claimed he was not one of the leaders of the Rising during his court martial and that he told the British Army he did not have a commission in the Irish Citizen Army (ICA) but had been told to take over Stephen's Green on his arrival by Countess Markievicz. Unfortunately for Mallin, however, the British refused to execute Markievicz because she was a woman, and Mallin was then executed as next in line (although in reality, she had been his second in command).

Fr Mallin was born during “Larkin’s Lockout” in 1913 and he says that some of his first memories are of 1916, seeing Michael Collins marching through the ruins of O’Connell Street and visiting his father in Kilmainham. You can see Joseph speaking about his remarkable family history in the video below, including the final words of his father to their family.

Although Joseph was not able to attend the 2016 events, the memory of his family’s story will help to shape the narrative around our country’s own memories of 1916.

“In speaking with families and descendants of Rising participants, wounded, killed and executed, I have uncovered an often far richer, different and conveniently untold stories of what occurred which make much better and far harsher reading sometimes than the sanitized accounts that have traveled to the public psyche through time, laden with all sorts of biases,” believes Horan.

“Researching and remembering the individuals who participated, lived through, died, witnessed, were wounded, executed or imprisoned in 1916 and their families can offer a much more human view of what occurred away from the glare of the propaganda that much of the censored and biased historical accounts have offered since the events of Easter Week 1916.”