“Wasn’t It A Full Life Lillie And Isn’t This A Good End”

Nora Connolly O'Brien was born in Edinburgh in 1893, the second child to James and Lillie Connolly. In this interview she talks about the visits she and her mother made to the hospital in Dublin Castle to see her father while awaiting the outcome of his court martial which had taken place.

During the Easter Rising, James Connolly was hit in the ankle by a ricochet bullet. Despite the best efforts of James Ryan, a medical student and member of the GPO garrison, the wound became gangrenous. By the time they surrendered it was clear he did not have long to live.

Despite this Connolly was taken to the Red Cross military hospital at Dublin Castle and placed under guard. Describing their first visit to the Castle Nora says that there were soldiers everywhere, outside and inside the room where her father was held. They were only allowed to speak of personal matters. They managed to hold up until Connolly gave Nora some of his writings that she was to give to Francis Sheehy Skeffington to publish.

That was the last straw. I tried to keep by the rule until then but I said "Skeffington's gone."

Nora and her mother believed that because her father was so badly wounded, the authorities would not execute him, but Connolly knew that would not be the case. He told them stories of the bravery of the men and women who had fought. In particular how one young boy who was his stretcher bearer tried to shield him from the gunfire during the evacuation of the GPO.

Anytime a bullet seemed to come near he would move his body so he'd get it instead of my father.  

Nora states that her father had no regrets.

He thanked God that he had allowed him to live to see the day when thousands of Irishmen and boys and hundreds of Irishwomen and girls would rise. 

The next time Nora saw her father was in the early hours of 12 May. Describing their journey to the Castle Nora remembers that 'it was an awfully queer, eerie trip'. They thought this was another routine visit but when they entered his room Connolly told his wife and daughter that he was to be executed. Nora remembers how her father tried to remain strong for the family. 

When no one was looking he slipped her a copy of the statement he made at his court martial which she was to have published. Finally word came that they had to leave.

Then they told us time was up and we would have to go he was to be shot at dawn.

James Connolly was executed in Kilmainham Gaol on 12 May 1916. Unable to stand due to his injuries, he was tied to a chair and shot. His execution helped turn the tide of public opinion in favour of the Volunteers. 

Nora recalls that some time after her father's execution, her mother was visited by a soldier who had been a member of the firing squad.

He felt he couldn't go on living unless she forgave him for being on it... Mama said "Don't worry. You only did your duty and he said he would do a prayer for all men who do their duty".  

Nora Connolly O'Brien was Chief Officer, ‘Betsy Gray’ Sluagh, Na Fianna Éireann and O/C Cumann na mBan, Belfast. After the Easter Rising Nora went on a lecture tour of America telling of the events that had happened during Easter Week. Nora fought on the anti-Treaty side during the Irish Civil War. In 1922 she married Seamus O'Brien. She devoted the rest of her life to campaigning for the cause of Labour and Irish independence. Nora Connolly O'Brien died in 1981. She was eighty-eight years old. 

Nora Connolly O'Brien was interviewed for the RTÉ Television project 'Portraits 1916' on 30 October 1965.