A short play reenacting the last moments of Sean Heuston that was performed on Culture Night 2016 in The Mendicity Institution.

Sean Heuston played by Andrew Rankin

Brother Albert played by  John McCarthy

Mrs Heuston played by Fiona O’Connor

Soldier by played Charles Richards

The condemned cell, Kilmainham. Sean Heuston is seated at a table writing, he stops and reads over the letter he has written to his employer at the Great Western Railways at Kingsbridge Station.

Sean:     Dear Mr. Walsh,

Before this note reaches you I shall have said farewell to this vale of tears and have departed for what I trust will prove a much better world.  I take this last opportunity of thanking you and all my railway friends for the kindness of the past years.  I ask all to forgive me for my offences which I may have committed against them and I ask all to pray fervently for the repose of my soul.  Whatever I have done I have done as a soldier of Ireland in what I believe to be my country.  I have, thank God no vain regrets.  After all it is much better to be a corpse than a coward.

Won’t you as a last favor see that my mother gets whatever assistance you can give in obtaining whatever salary is due to me.  (then he has another thought and writes)and whatever is due form the superannuation fund?  (pause)  She will stand badly in need of it.

Gratefully Yours,

J J Heuston

He addresses the envelope.

Mr Walsh, Manager, Great Western Railways, Kingsbridge Statin, Dublin

Enter Father Albert, Sean stands.

Sean:                      Well…  

Father Albert:  There is no reprieve.

Sean:                     It is as I had expected, I have my letters written. I suppose I must have vexed them terribly, we held them back for so long and two officers killed.

Father Albert:    I tried…but. . Your mother’s here.  are you ready to see her? (he’s not ready, he has lost his composure a little). We’ll pray  (they both sit and pray fervently in Irish, the four line prayer over and over).

‘Sé do bheatha, a Mhuire, atá lán de ghrásta,
tá an Tiarna leat.
Is beannaithe thú idir mná
Agus is beannaithe toradh do bhroinne, íosa.
A Naomh-Mhuire, a Mháthair Dé,
guigh orainn na peacaigh,
Anois agus ar uair ár mbáis. Amen.

Sean:                     If only I’d burned the orders I had from Connolly.

Father Albert:    Sean..it’s (as in it’s pointless to speculate).

Sean:                     I’m not afraid, I am not afraid, so long as I pray.

Father A:              Your mother.

Sean:                     Oh yes, I ‘m fine (Father Albert gets up and nods to the soldier, the soldier goes out).

Father:                 Remember Sean, she gives you her blessing, for everything you have done (he goes out and comes in with Mrs Heuston, she goes to Sean, they hug).

Mrs:                       My poor boy, what have they done to you, you look thin? Are they feeding you?

Sean:                     Ah mother, it doesn’t really matter now… I’ve written to Mr Walsh at the office, to send in my pay and my superannuation money to you and there’s a rifle you can sell and pistols and number 30 ammunition under the canvas of the back eave..

Mother:               Sean, it’s gone, it’s all in the canal, sure didn’t they come and search the house, I knew they would so I…

Sean:                     But..and there’s my post office money, one thing you must promise me Mother, give 5 shillings to young Sullivan, it was his deposit for  towards the camp we were having next week.

Father:                 Sean, don’t worry about such things – the Cumann na mBan have a fund, your mother will be looked after, I’ll make sure of it (he withdraws a few paces).

Sean:                     Thank you, mother, for the life that you gave me and that I have given for Ireland, do I have your blessing for that

Mother:               Of course you do, you know that, I’m proud of you, I hate to lose you..but I’m proud, such a good son, such a good son, never gave me a moments pain, till now. Oh Sean, ever so proud of you.

Sean:                     Tell Michael (to Father Albert) my little brother  – that he’s to look after you, I’ve made my sacrifice for him, he’s to live and look after you and teach the history of our land and our language to his class and his pals and mother I bear no ill will to anyone and if anyone ever did anything against me , I forgive them.

Mother:               Will I get your body, I’d like to bury you with the rest of us in Glasnevin.

Sean:                     No we’ll all be buried up in Arbour Hill.

Mother:               I’d like bury you in consecrated ground.

Sean:                     Brother Albert said he’d bless it.

Father:                 I will, a thousand times.

Mother:               Thank you father, I’d like to bury you in a habit, the Dominican habit. Could it be done Father.

Father:                 I’m afraid not (she is upset, Sean distracts her with the letters).

Sean:                     There are my letters mother, for Aunt Brigid and Michael and for yourself too.  I say in my letter to Mr Walsh that ‘ it’s better to be a corpse than a coward ‘ I don’t mean that anyone is a coward, but I was called do you see, I was called to the flag, I could not have done otherwise – do you understand,  do you think Mr Walsh will understand what I mean.

Father:                 I know Walsh, I’ll talk to him.

Mother weeps quietly; the soldier comes in and nods at Sean, it is time for his mother to go – she is upset.

Sean:                     Ah now mother, I won’t be the first man that died for Ireland, sure think of all the Irish lads at Gallipoli, died for nothing and the people are coming round to us with all the executions, there will be a Republic and Michael and his sons can grow, strong, proud and free, don’t cry now mother and promise me mother, this one thing, you must remember the 5 shilling to be repaid to young O’Sullivan of Glengarry Parade, number 33, for the camp, his deposit.  I was looking forward to the camp and the trek to Lough Dan.  You mustn’t cry for me mother, you’ll pray hard for me, that is what you must do.

Mother:               I will, must I go now.

Sean:                     Yes, you must.

Mother:               No, please some little time more.

Sean;                     Mother please don’t vex the lad, he’s doing the duty and has been most kind to me.

Mother:               Let me look at you one last time, Father you’ll be with him to the end.

Father:                 Till the end Mrs Heuston.

Mother:               Thank you, I’ll stay close to the wall outside, I’ll be as near as I can be (final embrace, she goes, the men sit).

Father:                 Listen carefully, I have a great coat for you, it will be cold, wear it, lest you might shiver and they say you trembled with fear.  They will come soon, tie your hands,  – it’s the rules, they will blindfold you – it’s out of consideration for the poor lads who must do their duty by you,  but I will take your arm, we will go out that door, we will pray together every step of the way. We will walk across a courtyard 15 paces into a smaller courtyard, 10 paces.  You will be seated, I will present the crucifix to your lips for you to kiss, I will withdraw and that will be the end.

Sean:                     You’ll anoint me after.

Father:                 Yes.

Sean:                     And I will be with all the heroes of Ireland, with Willie and Patrick Pearse, McDonagh and Plunkett and Tom.

Father:                 An Irish Valhalla.

Sean:                     A Gaelic one telling tales of glory and the glory to come to our land in our native tongue. Ah but, Connolly won’t have the Irish will he!

Father:                 He will, he’ll have the Irish then.

Sean:                     Will he.

Father:                 He will, yes. Shall we pray.

Sean:                     Yes (they pray, the audience are led out down the dark as they approach Mother who is standing at the end of the landing, turns to them).

‘Sé do bheatha, a Mhuire, atá lán de ghrásta,
tá an Tiarna leat.
Is beannaithe thú idir mná
Agus is beannaithe toradh do bhroinne, íosa.
A Naomh-Mhuire, a Mháthair Dé,
guigh orainn na peacaigh,
Anois agus ar uair ár mbáis. Amen.

When the audience goes out they will meet Mother in the passageway, she will thank them for coming on the vigil, she will talk to the audience, I will arrange soundtrack, we will hear the sound of boots on gravel, the volley, mother weeps.

Mother:               Thank you for coming, thank you, thank you. My little boy, such a good boy always he was, dying for Ireland.  And us so excited in the house when we heard the news that blows were being struck for Ireland and then to come to this, to be shot – for being a soldier, he’s a soldier, they’ve no right to shoot him – and such a good son to me, such a good son. (weeping) Oh Jesus have mercy on him, oh Jesus and his sweet mother have mercy on us all (a volley rings out Mother is inconsolable).

The cell door opens, Father Albert comes through the audience.

Father Albert:

Mrs Heuston, Mrs Heuston, don’t weep, don’t weep for I tell you this, I walked with him every step of the way, into the yard and when he was seated, I lifted the crucifix to his lips for him to kiss – he was so calm, he kissed it and quietly said for the last time,

‘My Jesus mercy’  I’d scarcely moved off a few yards when a volley went off and this noble soldier of Irish freedom fell dead, I rushed over to anoint him.  His whole face seemed transformed and lit with a grandeur and brightness that I’d never noticed before.

To think that a man could fight so bravely, and die so beautifully and fearlessly – I would have given the world to have been in his place, he died in such a noble and sacred cause and went forth through fire to everlasting glory…….

Sean Heuston approaches, he carries a candle, he moves through the audience stands between his mother and Brother Albert turns and blows out the candle. A pause and the lights come up.

                                                         The End