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Michael O' Hanrahan

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Michael O’Hanrahan

Photo Michael O'Hanrahan

Photo: Michael O'Hanrahan

Aged 24 at the time of the 1901 Census

Born: 17 March 1877 
Executed: 4 May 1916

Census 1901: The return for the O’Hanrahan family

Address: 21, Tullow Street (Carlow, Carlow)1

The 1901 Census return for the O’Hanrahan family recorded Michael O’Hanrahan aged 24 and described his occupation as a cork-cutter. The head of household was his father Richard (55) whose occupation was a master cork manufacturer. It also records his mother Mary (50), his brother Henry (26), also a cork-cutter, his brother Edward (22), a post office sorting clerk and telegraphist and his sister Anna (17), a stationer. Michael's youngest sisters Mary (14) and Eileen (12) were both scholars. The household was Roman Catholic and all members could read and write. All of the siblings were proficient in both Irish and English languages.

There were two boarders, Dominic Dillon (26), a carpenter and James Dillon (19), a wheeler.

Census 1911: The return for the O’Hanrahan family

Aged 34 at the time of the 1911 Census

Address: 67, Connaught Street (Glasnevin, Dublin)1

The 1911 Census return for the O’Hanrahan family recorded a change not only in address, (the family had moved to Dublin), but also in circumstances. The head of the household in 1911 was Mary O’Hanrahan (61), recorded as a widow. The ages recorded for Mary's children on the 1911 Census do not tally with the ages recorded for them on the 1901 Census. Henry, the oldest son, was an insurance agent, and was aged 30, (he appears to have lost 6 years). Michael was an unemployed rooder (reader) for the Press and was aged 28, (he appears to have lost 6 years also). Anna was a tobacconist’s assistant, and was aged 23 (she appears to have lost 4 years), Mary Margaret is unemployed, she was 21, (she appears to have lost 3 years), and Eileen was an art student and was aged aged 20, (she appears to have lost only 2 years). Interestingly this later Census was filled in by Mary herself whereas the 1901 Census was filled out by her late husband Richard.

Michael O’Hanrahan was born in Co. Wexford, on the feast day of St. Patrick, to Mary and Richard O’Hanrahan, a veteran of the 1867 Fenian Rising. The family moved to Carlow, where O’Hanrahan was educated at Carlow Christian Brothers National School and after that attended secondary school.  When he left school he worked with his father in a cork-cuttings business as we can see in the 1901 Census. He joined the Gaelic League in 1898 and within a year became secretary of its Carlow Branch.  

The whole family subsequently moved to Dublin where they started a cork-cutting business south of the river. Shortly after this they moved to the north side of Dublin where Henry went into the bill-poster business, calling his company “Express Advertising Company”2.

Richard O’Hanrahan died in 1903 and Michael found work as a proof-reader for a Gaelic League publisher. We can however see that the work was not always steady, as he was unemployed in the 1911 Census.  He wrote several articles for various nationalist newspapers which brought him to the attention of Maud Gonne and Arthur Griffith and he became involved with them in the campaign against the visit of King Edward VII to Ireland. He joined the newly formed Sinn Féin party in 1905.

In 1914 Michael published an historical novel for children, “A Swordsman of the Brigade”, about the adventures of the Irish Brigade in France in the eighteenth century; his other novel “When the Normans Came” was published in 1918 posthumously.

According to his sister Eily in her Witness Statement,” Micheál had an unusually nice character. He was gentle, quiet and unassuming. He was devoted to his home and loved home life, although he was so active in the Gaelic League movement and the Volunteers that he spent a lot of his time away from home”3.

Michael and his brother Henry were founding members of the Irish Volunteers in 1914 and they encouraged their sisters to join the women’s wing of the group. In 1915, O’Hanrahan became an administrator on the Volunteers headquarters staff and was made quartermaster-general of the 2nd Battalion. He and the 2nd Battalion Commandant, Thomas MacDonagh became close friends, having a shared interest in literature and writing. The family home in Glasnevin was often used to store arms and ammunition.  Two Volunteers, Con Keating and Charlie Monaghan, stayed in the O’Hanrahan house before travelling to Kerry on Holy Thursday to collect arms from the German ship, the Aud. However their car, with Dan Sheehan also inside, ran over the pier into the River Laune at Killorglin4.

Michael fought at Jacob's Biscuit Factory as second in command of Dublin’s 2nd Battalion, under Commandant MacDonagh, and later third in command, under Major John MacBride, throughout Easter week. (Major MacBride had no advance warning of the Rising and was a last minute arrival). Henry O’Hanrahan was also based at Jacob’s Factory. Michael's sister Eily took dispatches from McDermott and MacDonagh to Wexford.  The battalion saw little action other than intense sniping throughout Easter week.

At Jacob’s factory, Thomas MacDonagh arrived with the news that Pearse has surrendered and had issued an order that all units were also to surrender. Though some at Jacobs’s factory were in favour of fighting on, “O'Hanrahan in his slow, calm and reasoned tone advised surrender5”. By fighting on, the factory and the densely populated surrounding area would be shelled by British troops. To avoid this, the order was given to surrender. The Volunteers lined up with their officers at the head and marched to Richmond Barracks.

O’Hanrahan’s court-martial took place on 3rd May.  It was recorded at the court-martial that Michael O'Hanrahan met Thomas McDonagh in Grafton St. three months before the Rising and had a conversation for some time. That did not appear to be an important item to be recorded but it was seen as additional proof, apart from his participation in the rising, of his general anti-British activities6. Michael O’Hanrahan was found guilty and sentenced to death by firing squad. 

His mother and sisters were called to see him before he was executed, however they were afraid that they might be arrested and so only his sisters Eily and Cis went to see him. His cell was sparse and did not have even a table or chair. O’Hanrahan was advised to make out his will, which he did, leaving everything to his mother and sisters.  O’Hanrahan requested to see Father Augustine and Father Albert. His sister later praised those priests, who she felt saved the sanity of a lot of families of those executed.  Father Augustine in his Witness Statement regarding Michael O’Hanrahan stated that,

"He was one of the truest and noblest characters that it has ever been my privilege to meet. His last message to me before he went out into the dark corridor that led to the yard where he was shot was: Father, I'd like it if you saw my mother and sisters and consoled them'. I promised him I would, and whispering something in his ear, I grasped the hands that were tied behind his back. In his right he pressed mine most warmly; we exchanged a look, and he went forth to die.7"

Michael O’Hanrahan was executed on 4th May 1916. Father Augustine broke the news of the execution to O’Hanrahan’s mother. His brother Henry was also sentenced to death but his sentence was commuted to life imprisonment and he was sent to Portland Jail in England. 

Sentence of death on Pearse, O'Hanrahan, Plunkett, Daly

Photo: British Army notice on the executions of William Pearse, Michael O'Hanrahan, Joseph Plunkett and Edward Daly on 4 May 1916


  1. National Archives of Ireland
  2. Bureau of Military History: Witness Statement Harry C. Phibbs pg. 11
  3. Bureau of Military History: Witness Statement Mrs. Eily O'Hanrahan O'Reilly, pg. 2
  4. Bureau of Military History: Witness Statement Colonel Eamon Broy, I.R.A. Intelligence Agent, Dublin Castle (later escort and private secretary to Michael Collins) pg. 45
  5. Bureau of Military History: Witness Statement Major General Eamon price, pg. 9
  6. Bureau of Military History: Witness Statement Colonel Eamon Broy, I.R.A. Intelligence Agent, Dublin Castle (later escort and private secretary to Michael Collins) pg. 50
  7. Bureau of Military History: Witness Statement  Rev. Father Augustine pg. 21


National Library of Ireland

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