Monday 20 May 2019

'I realise fully that for several months past I have been very irritable' - Seán MacDiarmada's letters to his sweetheart

Richard Mulcahy and Min Ryan, Mac Diarmada’s former partner.
Richard Mulcahy and Min Ryan, Mac Diarmada’s former partner.

Allison Bray

Intimate letters from revolutionary leader Sean McDermott to his sweetheart – including his last one sent on the eve of the Easter Rising – are among a fascinating collection of correspondence that has been donated to the National Museum of Ireland.

The collection of 22 hand-written letters from McDermott, also known as Seán MacDiarmada, to Josephine ‘Min’ Ryan between March 1915 and April 1916, was unveiled at the Decorative Arts and History museum at the Collins Barracks last night by her descendants.

Richard Mulcahy, the grandson of iconic Irish revolutionary and politician Richard James Mulcahy who married Miss Ryan following McDermott’s execution -  donated the letters to the museum along with three notes of minutes taken during key meetings of Sinn Fein between 1912 and 1913, 1918 to 1919 and 1919 to 1922.

“We felt this was such a valuable collection,” he said. “We felt as a family that Min deserved recognition,” he added.

The Mulcahy collection letters include the last letter written by McDermott before he was executed by firing squad at Kilmainham Gaol on May 12, 1916 for his role in the Rising.

Dated April 22, 1916 ‘somewhere in Dublin’ two days before the Rising began on April 24,  it reads:

“My Dear Mairin:  A wee note – I don’t know exactly what I have to say but no matter. You seemed to be in bad humour yestdy. (sic) at dinner. I suppose you & all my friends think I am very rude lately,” he wrote.

“I realise fully that for several months past I have been very irritable. My attempts at being light-hearted once in a while have been a poor attempt at acting – though I enjoyed myself now & again in those attempts.

“Soon I hope to be my natural self again, then, I suppose my friends will realise to some extent, the reason why I have been so morose lately,” he added.

“I cannot see you tonight, though I had hoped to & cannot promise for tomorrow night, but I hope to see you early in the week for a certainty. Till then. Love as ever, from your Seáinín.

“PS. Give my love to Kate Phyllis & all the ‘crowd.’


“I’m in a little bit of a hurry – just a little rushed, so I hope you will pardon the note.”

The poignant apology – which would be later explained by history – gives an insight into his relationship with the Co Wexford woman whom McDermott wrote “in all probability, had I lived, would have been my wife.”

The collection also includes a letter to Miss Ryan from Major William Lennon at Kilmainham Gaol, informing her that she and her sister Phyllis would be allowed to visit McDermott on the eve of his execution.

It read: “Madam. I beg to inform you that John McDermott a prisoner here desires to see you & your sister if you wish to bring her. I am sending a motor car for your conveyance.”

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