1916 Rebel Back Story: Seán Mac Diarmada, Roger Casement & Éamonn Ceannt.

“Six years ago I created a series of portraits to remember the faces of the 1916 Easter Rising and mark the then imminent centenary. The revolt was largely centered around the British power base in Dublin but also involved flash points country wide. It spelt the beginning of the end of British rule in Ireland’s south.

The photos available to me were of varied quality, range from to professional portraits to rushed mug shots. I sought to impose a consistent style throughout the collection. I fused both contemporary and classical painting styles to draw together the vastly diverse photographic sources. The unity of style was an attempt underline the diverse nature of the Risings’ protagonists and how they bound together in common purpose.

Before starting I researched each subject’s background to understand better who was looking back at me from each reference photo. The stories I dug up fascinated me on a human level. Most importantly they informed my artistic relationship with the “sitter”, granting me a sliver of insight to their inner workings and motivations.

Here are those back stories now, along with videos from 2016 and links to the finished portraits.” – Rod Coyne.

Seán Mac Diarmada 1883–1916

Seán Mac Diarmada (English: John MacDermott; 27 January 1883 – 12 May 1916), also known as Seán Mac Dermott, was an Irish political activist and revolutionary leader. He was one of the seven leaders of the Easter Rising of 1916, which he helped to organise as a member of the Military Committee of the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB) and was a signatory of the Proclamation of the Irish Republic.

Seán Mac Diarmada photographic portrait
Seán Mac Dermott was an Irish political activist and revolutionary leader.

Seán Mac Diarmada – Early Years

Born in Leitrim, Seán Mac Diarmada emigrated to Glasgow in 1900 where he worked as a tram conductor, and from there came back to Belfast in 1902. A member of the Gaelic League, Mac Diarmada was sworn into the IRB by Denis McCullough, and transferred to Dublin in 1908 where he managed the IRB newspaper Irish Freedom in 1910. Although afflicted with polio in 1911 and needing a walking stick, together with Tom Clarke, McCullough and Bulmer Hobson, Mac Diarmada is credited with revitalising the IRB and becoming a popular leader.

Seán Mac Diarmada – Road to Revolution

After the outbreak of the First World War in August 1914, he campaigned against Irishmen joining the British army, and was jailed under the Defence of the Realm Act. In a speech at Tralee, Co Kerry he claimed: “The Irish patriotic spirit will die forever unless a blood sacrifice is made in the next few years.” Mac Diarmada was said to be obsessively secretive in his planning, excluding many of his fellow IRB men from the Rising conspiracy. A signatory of the Proclamation and a member of the Provisional Government, he spent
the Rising in the GPO. Before his execution, Mac Diarmada wrote: “I feel happiness the like of which I have never experienced. I die that the Irish nation might live!” He was executed by firing squad at Kilmainham on May 12. Mac Diarmada was unmarried.

Seán Mac Diarmada – Remembered

Sean McDermott Street in Dublin is named in his honour as is Mac Diarmada rail station in Sligo, and Páirc Seán Mac Diarmada, the GAA ground in Carrick-on-Shannon. Sean MacDermott tower in Ballymun, which was demolished in 2005, was also named after him.

View Seán Mac Diarmada’s finished portrait here.

In a amusing interview with the mischievous broadcaster Declan Meehan where Rod Coyne gets under the skin of his Easter Rising 1916 Exhibition.


Sir Roger Casement 1864-1916

Sir Roger Casement (1864-1916), the British traitor and Irish nationalist hero, was hanged by the British in mid-1916 for his part in working with Germany and Irish nationalists in planning the Dublin Easter Rising of 1916.

Sir Roger Casement
Sir Roger Casement was a convicted British traitor but is celebrated as a Irish nationalist hero.

Sir Roger Casement: Empire Critic

Born in Dublin on 1 September 1864 Roger Casement was the son of a Protestant father and Catholic mother, he served for many years as a distinguished British Consul in Mozambique, Angola, the Congo Free State and Brazil.
He gained international renown for his Consular reports criticising the treatment of native workers in the Congo and Amazon. As a consequence of his reports Belgium notably overhauled its administration of the Congo in 1908. Casement himself was rewarded with a knighthood in 1911, the same year he retired from the diplomatic service in ill-health and established himself in Dublin.

Sir Roger Casement: Dublin – New York – Berlin

Casement helped to form in 1913 the Irish National Volunteers, a nationalist organisation. The following year, in July 1914, the former diplomat successfully landed 1,500 rifles at Howth, Co. Dublin for the Volunteers.  Soon afterwards Casement visited New York in an attempt to garner support for the organisation. With the outbreak of war the following month Casement similarly hoped for German assistance in gaining Irish independence from Britain.
With this in mind Casement travelled to Berlin in November 1914; once there however he found the Germans reluctant to undertake the risk of sending forces to Ireland. He was also disappointed in his hopes of recruiting to his cause Irish prisoners taken to Germany.
While in Germany Casement strove in particular to effectively borrow a number of German officers to assist with a planned Easter rising in Dublin; again, he was disappointed. Believing the planned rising unlikely to succeed at that stage Casement arranged to be taken by German submarine to Ireland where he hoped to dissuade nationalist leaders from undertaking rebellion for the present.
Consequently he was landed near Tralee in County Kerry on 12 April 1916. Twelve days later he was arrested by the British, taken to London, and charged with treason.

Sir Roger Casement: Character Assignation

At about this time copies of a diary (the ‘Black Diary’) reputed to be written by Casement were circulated among government officials, detailing alleged homosexual practices. Although clearly an attempt by the British to discredit Casement the diaries’ authenticity was verified by an independent panel of scholars in 1959 and, more recently, in 2002. With an appeal dismissed Casement was taken to Pentonville Prison in London where he was hanged on 3 August 1916.

“The great paradox in Casement’s life is that he is both a traitor and a hero. He continues to live in this no man’s land of history, claimed by no one” – Angus Mitchell.

View Roger Casement’s finished portrait here.


Éamonn Ceannt 1881-1916

Éamonn Ceannt photographic portrait.
Éamonn Ceannt was a founder member of the Irish Volunteers and a signatory of the Proclamation of Independence.

Son of a RIC officer, Éamonn Ceannt was born in the police barracks at Ballymoe, Co Galway. He was in command of the 4th Battalion of Irish Volunteers at the South Dublin Union in 1916, which is now the site of St James’s Hospital.

Éamonn Ceannt – Early Years

He attended the O’Connell Schools on North Richmond Street run by the Christian Brothers, and University College Dublin. Éamonn Ceannt joined the Gaelic League in 1900 where he met Patrick Pearse and Eoin MacNeill, adopted the Irish form of his name, and founded the Dublin Pipers’ Club.

Éamonn Ceannt – Road to Revolution

A fluent Irish speaker, he worked as an accountant with a reported salary of £300 a year in the City Treasurer’s Office, Dublin Corporation. Ceannt joined Sinn Fein in 1907 and was sworn into the Irish Republican Brotherhood in 1912. On the foundation of the Irish Volunteers in November 1913, he was elected to the provisional committee, becoming involved in fundraising for arms. It is said that during the fighting in the South Dublin Union Éamonn Ceannt remained calm and brave at a position his men held until learning of the surrender on Sunday. He faced the firing-squad at Kilmainham Gaol on May 8, 1916.

Éamonn Ceannt – Remembered

Married to Áine O’Brennan, they had a son Rónán. Ceannt’s brother William, was a sergeant-major in the Royal Dublin Fusiliers (British army) stationed in Fermoy, Co Cork. Áine Ceannt later founded the White Cross to help families impoverished by war. Galway City’s Ceannt Station in his native Galway, as well as Éamonn Ceannt Park in Dublin and Éamonn Ceannt Tower in Ballymun were named after him.

View Éamonn Ceannt’s finished portrait here.

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