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Daniel V. Murphy was born on 17 June 1881 in Cork. His parents were James and Sarah Murphy (née Flynn).

A student of the Capuchin College, Rochestown, he applied for entrance to the Capuchin Novitiate in Aug. 1898.

In 1916, Fr Columbus was assigned to the Capuchin Friary on Church Street, and during the Rising he played an important role in bringing about a cessation of hostilities.

Like the other Capuchin Friars who ministered to the Volunteers during the Rising, and to the leaders as they were held prior to their executions, Fr. Columbus wrote a diary recording his experiences.  It was later discovered in the Capuchin Archives in Church Street, and quoted extensively as “Echoes of the Rising’s Final Shots” by Dr. Benedict Cullen, a retired Oxford professor and Capuchin Archivist.

The day after the surrender of the Four Courts garrison on 29 April there was still confusion in North King Street and in other locations as to whether this was a truce or a complete surrender.

To clarify the situation for those Volunteers still fighting and who had not received proper notice of the Irish surrender, Fr. Columbus went to the Four Courts in an effort to retrieve Padraig Pearse’s note which had led to the surrender of Cmdt. Ned Daly.

Failing in this effort, Fr. Columbus crossed the river to Dublin Castle to see if someone there had the note.

He met a British officer and explained to him that he needed the document to convince the Volunteers in the North King Street area that the Rising was over. The officer suggested he should go in person to Pearse at Arbour Hill detention barracks and ask him to rewrite the surrender note.

Gen Maxwell received him courteously and, when Fr. Columbus asked to be allowed to see Pearse and the others held there, his request was granted.

Fr Columbus wrote that Maxwell expressed his horror at the loss of life and destruction of property, but said “Oh, but we will make those beggars pay for it”.

Fr Columbus replied, “the blood of martyrs is the seed of martyrs”.

“Are you backing them up then?” asked Maxwell.

Concluding that prudence was the better part of valour, Columbus said nothing.

Fr Columbus was taken to Arbour Hill barracks to see Pearse. He found him seated in  his cell with his head bowed and sunk deep into his arms, resting on a little table. He looked a sad, forlorn, exhausted figure.

Disturbed by the opening of the cell door, he slowly raised his head. He had the vacant, dazed look of someone waking from sleep. Then, recognising the Capuchin habit, he got up quickly, stretched out his hand and said: “Oh, Father, the loss of life, the destruction! But, please God, it won’t be in vain”.

Fr. Columbus explained briefly why he had come, and asked Pearse to rewrite the surrender order. He agreed, saying his one wish was to prevent further loss of life and property.

In the governor’s office, Pearse wrote:
"In order to prevent the further slaughter of Dublin citizens, and in the hope of saving the lives of our followers, now surrounded and hopelessly outnumbered, the members of the Provisional Government at present at Headquarters have agreed to an unconditional surrender, and the Commandants of the various districts in the City and County will order their commands to lay down arms".

Shaking hands with the priest, Pearse said: “Hurry, Father, as time is precious and perhaps there are lives depending on it”.

The next time Father Columbus saw Pearse was shortly before his execution.

Between 30 April and 4 May Fr. Columbus was called on to minister to the prisoners in Kilmainham Gaol prior to their execution.

On Tuesday, May 2nd, a car drove up to the friary in Church Street carrying two soldiers who told Fr. Columbus that Fr. Aloysius was required at Kilmainham Gaol. Within minutes the car drove off with Fr Aloysius.

Later Fr Columbus answered the door again. Two policemen handed him a written message that had just been phoned through to the Bridewell. The note read: “Please tell the Franciscan Fathers at Church Street that the two men they wish to see at Kilmainham Detention Prison should be seen by them tonight”.

Fr Columbus consulted his superior, who agreed that Columbus should go. On his way, he met the car carrying Fr Aloysius and they travelled together to Kilmainham Gaol. When they arrived, they were shown into a little room. There, Fr. Columbus was informed that three men were to be shot at daybreak.

Fr Aloysius went to see Thomas MacDonagh, and Fr. Columbus went into Thomas Clarke’s cell, where he remained for about an hour. 

Clarke told him that the three men had been court-martialled early that morning, but that sentence had not been passed on them until after 5 p.m. He also said that he had received no food since breakfast-time and that he would like something to eat.

At Father Columbus’s request, one of the soldiers went to get a couple of biscuits and a tin of water. Grateful for the biscuits, Fr. Columbus wrote Clarke gave his Volunteer badge to the priest as a souvenir.

However, Clarke later told his wife, Kathleen, that Fr Columbus told him he had to “admit that he had done a great wrong” in order to get absolution. 

In her book "Revolutionary Woman" Kathleen wrote that Clarke said he threw Fr. Columbus out:  “I’m not a bit sorry for what I did.  I glory in it. And if that means I’m not entitled to absolution, then I’ll have to go to the next world without it.  To say I’m sorry would be a lie and I am not going to face my God with a lie on my tongue”.

The governor told Fr. Columbus that Tom Clarke’s wife and Willie Pearse were on their way, but that the visit of MacDonagh’s sister, a nun, was out of the question because of practical difficulties.

When MacDonagh was told this he was so disappointed and upset that Fr. Columbus promised that he, himself, would bring her to the prison if at all possible.

Later he was given a car to get MacDonagh’s sister and he was able to return to the prison with  Sister Francesca (
MacDonagh’s sister) and the Mistress of Novices. He conducted Sister Francesca to her brother’s cell with only the flickering of a candle to light the way, then left to get the holy oils for anointing the men.    

When he returned to the prison he found that the governor was anxious to get the nuns to leave, as time was almost up.

Sister Francesca was numbed and dazed with grief. To gain more time she asked for a lock of her brother’s hair as a keepsake. But there were no scissors.

The governor then produced a penknife with a small scissors attached. It was given to the nun but she could not use it, as her shaking fingers refused to work. A soldier took it from her, and, cutting a lock of her brother’s hair, handed it to her.

Finally, after she had hung her rosary beads around her brother’s neck, Fr. Columbus led her away and supported her down the stairs to the military car outside.

Sister Francesca also wrote a Witness Statement (number 717) and she wrote that she received the rosary back the next day from Fr. Aloysius, though six beads had been shot off.

When Fr Columbus re-entered the prison the governor informed him that both priests would have to leave immediately as it was now 3.20 a.m.

“We have not finished giving the rites of the church to the men” said Columbus, and he explained that the anointings could only be given after the shootings.

(Below) The note from the Dublin Metropolitan Police which Fr. Columbus received on the night of May 2, 1916. (Courtesy Capuchin Archives)
“Well, in that case” said the governor, “it cannot be done at all as it is written in the regulations that all except officials have to leave the prison”.

The priests were surprised and indignant, but were unable to change the governor’s mind.

Having administered the Sacraments of Confession and Holy Communion, the priests accepted the ruling, but lodged a formal complaint. Then they said a last farewell to the three prisoners without telling them that they would not be present at the shootings.

Less than twenty four hours later, Fr. Columbus was awakened shortly before 3 a.m. and told that he was wanted again at Kilmainham. As he came downstairs he saw Fathers Augustine, Albert, and Sebastian waiting for him.

At Kilmainham, an excited governor told them that four men were to be shot at 3.25 a.m., and that there was only a short time left for the priests to exercise their ministry. He asked that one priest go to each man, but their protest from the night before had had its effect as he  added: “Of course this time you will remain for the executions and do all that is necessary for them”.

As Fr. Columbus knew Edward Daly, he went to his cell. Fr. Albert attended to Michael O'Hanrahan, Fr. Augustine to Willie Pearse and Fr. Sebastian to Joseph Mary Plunkett.

When he entered Daly’s cell, Fr. Columbus saw a look of relief and gladness appear on his face.

When it was realised that that Holy Communion had not been brought to Plunkett, who was in a different wing, Fr. Columbus went there and literally gave him the Sacrament as he was being led from his cell.

Anxious to see Daly for the last time, Columbus rushed back, only to discover that he had been led out already to be executed. As he proceeded to follow him, the shots rang out.

Fr. Columbus went back to where the other prisoners stood chatting with each other, with the priests and with the soldiers. He later wrote that the whole process was callously informal. “The governor said a name and gave a signal. The prisoner shook hands all round. His hands were then tied behind his back, and a bandage placed over his eyes.

Two soldiers took up their places, one on either side to guide the prisoner, and the priest went in front”.

Columbus wrote of the actual executions: “When the prisoner reached the outer door another soldier pinned a piece of white paper over his heart.

The procession went along one yard, then through a gate leading to the next. Here the firing squad of 12 soldiers was waiting, rifles loaded. An officer stood to the left, a little in advance; on the right were the governor and the doctor. 

The prisoner was led in front of the firing squad and was turned to face it. The two soldiers guiding him withdrew quickly to one side. There was a silent signal from the officer; then a deafening volley. The prisoner fell on a heap on the ground – dead”.

Fr. Columbus later acted as President of Fr. Mathew Hall, Church Street, from 1925-28. He died on 20 February 1952

(c) 2014 Joe Connell

This is the fourth of a series of articles devoted to the activities of the priests who ministered to the Irish in the Rising and thereafter.  Go here to start the series.

These articles are abbreviated from "Rebels' Priests - ministering to Republicans, 1916-23" by Joe Connell, published by Kilmainham Tales Teo. Further details here 

To see the other articles in this series go to the
'Priests and Friars' homepage here

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