Ninety-nine years ago this month the famous last charge of the 1916 rebellion took place when Michael Joseph O'Rahilly (22 April 1875 –29 April 1916), known as The O'Rahilly, led an assault on Moore Street against entrenched British gunners in order to allow Pádraig Pearse and the 1916 leadership to escape the General Post Office (GPO) building.
Arriving at the GPO in his De Dion-Bouton motorcar, The O'Rahilly gave the most quoted lines of the Rising: "Well, I've helped to wind up the clock – I might as well hear it strike!" Another famous, if less quoted line, was his comment to Countess Markievicz "It is madness, but it is glorious madness."
O'Rahilly was an Irish republican and nationalist. He was a founding member of the Irish Volunteers in 1913 and served as Director of Arms. Despite opposing the action, he took part in the Easter Rising in Dublin and was killed in a heroic charge on the British machine-gun post covering the retreat from the GPO during the fighting.
Born in Ballylongford, County Kerry, O'Rahilly was educated in Clongowes Wood College. As an adult, he became a republican and a language enthusiast.
O'Rahilly was a founding member of the Irish Volunteers in 1913, who organized to work for Irish independence and resist the proposed Home Rule. He served as the Volunteers' Director of Arms. He personally directed the first major arming of the Irish Volunteers, the landing of 900 German Mausers during the gun-running at Howth on July 26, 1914
The O'Rahilly was a wealthy man; the Weekly Irish Times reported after the Easter Rising that he "enjoyed a private income of £900" per annum, plenty of which went to "the cause he espoused."
O'Rahilly was not party to the plans for the Easter Rising nor was he a member of the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB), but he was one of the main people who trained the Irish Volunteers for the coming fight. He was kept out of the loop because he opposed plans for a Rising. The planners of the Rising went to great lengths to keep him in the dark.
O'Rahilly took instructions from fellow leader Eoin MacNeill, who also opposed the Rising and spent the weekend before the Rising driving throughout the country, informing Volunteer leaders in Cork, Kerry,Tipperary, and Limerick that they were not to mobilise their forces for planned maneuvers on Easter Sunday.
When he arrived home he learned that the Rising was about to begin in Dublin the following day, Easter Monday, April 24, 1916. Despite his efforts to prevent such action (which he felt could only lead to defeat), he set out to Liberty Hall to join Padraig Pearse, James Connolly, Thomas MacDonagh,Tom Clarke, Joseph Plunkett, Countess Markievicz, Sean Mac Diarmada, Eamonn Ceannt, and their Irish Volunteers and Irish Citizen Army troops.
He fought with the GPO garrison during Easter Week. On Friday, April 28, with the GPO on fire, O'Rahilly volunteered to lead a party of men along a route to Williams and Woods, a factory on Great Britain Street (now Parnell Street). A British machine-gun at the intersection of Great Britain and Moore Streets cut him and several of the others down. O'Rahilly slumped into a doorway on Moore Street, wounded and bleeding badly but, hearing the English marking his position, made a dash across the road to find shelter in Sackville Lane (now O'Rahilly Parade). He was wounded diagonally from shoulder to hip by sustained fire from the machine-gunner.
O'Rahilly wrote a message to his wife on the back of a letter from his son which he had received in the GPO. Shane Cullen etched this last message to Nannie O'Rahilly into his limestone and bronze memorial sculpture to The O'Rahilly. The text reads:
"Written after I was shot. Darling Nancy I was shot leading a rush up Moore Street and took refuge in a doorway. While I was there I heard the men pointing out where I was and made a bolt for the laneway I am in now. I got more [than] one bullet I think. Tons and tons of love dearie to you and the boys and to Nell and Anna. It was a good fight anyhow. Please deliver this to Nannie O' Rahilly, 40 Herbert Park, Dublin. Goodbye Darling."
A reenactment of O’Rahilly’s last charge took place during 2015 Easter Week: