About Michael Joseph Rahilly
Returning from emigration to America, he was a founder - member of the Irish Volunteers in 1913. Originally in favor of cancelling the Easter Rising of 1916, he took part of the fighting in Dublin and was killed in a charge of the Volunteers from the Post Office. Yeats wrote a poem "The O'Rahilly" in which Rahilly says, "Because I helped to wind the clock / I come to hear it strike.".
Ballylongford, Co. Kerry, Ireland
Late in the evening of Friday 28th April 1916, Michael Joseph O'Rahilly, aka The O'Rahilly, dragged his bullet-riddled body into a doorway off Dublin’s Moore Street and lay down to die.
Before he died, the 41-year-old Kerryman managed a short letter ‘written after I was shot’ to his ‘Darling Nancy’. He explained his predicament and sent ‘tons & tons of love dea rie to you & the boys & to Nell & Anna.'
'It was a good fight anyhow,' he concluded. 'Goodbye Darling.’
The O’Rahilly was the only leader of the Easter Rising to die in action. As he prepared to meet his executioners the following week, Padraig Pearse said ‘I envy O'Rahilly - that is the way I wanted to die’. If they make a movie of 1916, the actor who gets the O’Rahilly’s part can be sure of a dramatic finale.
The O’Rahilly was born in Ballylongford on the most westerly banks of the River Shannon back in 1875. The family connection to the small north Kerry town ran back to at least 1809 when his great-grandfather Michael O’Rahilly built a two-storey pub, now owned and run by Michael Finucane.
By 1861, The O’Rahilly’s entrepreneurial father Richard had expanded the business to such an extent that he was variously described as baker, draper, grocer, fish curer, miller, farmer, landowner, importer, inventor, post office, shipping agent, general merchant and, perhaps most importantly, publican. If you go to the pub today, you can still see the yardstick used by the in-house tailors to measure arm lengths. Customers would sit at the bar and drink a pint or two, while their tailor proposed different colours and cloths.
Richard was undoubtedly the wealthiest man in the area. He is even said to have had the first refrigerator in Ireland. When he perished from pneumonia in 1896, he left his estate to his wife Ellen and his business to his son Michael. However, where Richard was a prudent investor, loyal to the Crown, Michael was a deeply compulsive man whose opinions were increasingly at odds with the British establishment in Ireland.
In 1898, Michael sold his father’s businesses in Ballylongford and sailed for New York with an engagement ring in his pocket. In April the following year, he married his ‘darling Nancy’. She was a daughter of a Philadelphia businessman and from 1905 to 1908 the couple lived in Philadelphia’s fashionable Drexel Hill suburb.
In 1913, Michael became a co-founder and Treasurer of the Irish Volunteers. In April 1914, he was on the pier in Howth to greet Erskine Childers when the yacht Asgard sailed in with a cargo of Germans guns for the Irish Volunteers.
A life-size portrait of The O’Rahilly’s hangs today on the wall of the public house in Ballylongford which he briefly owned. It is surrounded by photographs of his De Dion-Bouton car (subseuqently buried under Hill 16 in Croke Park), the Proclamation of 1916 and a copy of the letter he wrote to Nancy.
Yeats immortalized The O’Rahilly in poetry, the first verse reading:
SING of The O'Rahilly, Do not deny his right; Sing a "The" before his name; Allow that he, despite All those learned historians, Established it for good; He wrote out that word himself, He christened himself with blood. How goes the weather?
The attached image comes courtesy of www.richardhumphreys.ie and anyone interested in The O’Rahilly’s family generally should visit O'Rahilly