Bridget ‘Brede’ Connolly, a Carlow woman who played a significant role in the 1916 Rising by dispatching messages for Proclamation signatory James Connolly in the GPO will be remembered in her native Grange as we prepare to mark the Easter Rising Centenary.
Born in Friarstown near Killerig in 1890, her parents were Peter Connolly and Elizabeth Gaynor, the daughter of a nearby farmer in Grange. By 1911, the Connollys were living in Artane, Dublin and, according to local tradition, they may have been evicted from their home and farm in Friarstown.
While no trace of the Connolly farmhouse remains, a field on the farm of Larry Byrne, incorporating the Connolly land, is still referred to as Connolly’s garden. Bridget qualified as a school teacher and became involved in Cumann na mBan, actively participating in the 1916 Rising. Two hundred women are estimated to have taken part in various roles such as couriers, dispatch riders and snipers, as well as providing medical care to the injured.
Brede Connolly may have been the only Carlow person at the centre of the action in the GPO during the Rising and was regarded as a key and trusted activist in the turbulent decade from 1914, including during the Civil War.
In the run-up to the 1916 Rising, she had been storing a dozen or more of the 900 Mauser rifles, landed during the Howth gun running of 1914. During Easter Week, her task was to carry dispatches from James Connolly in the GPO to Ned Daly in Church Street.
In a sworn statement to the advisory committee dealing with military pensions in 1936, this was Bridget Connolly’s testimony about her last day in the GPO during Easter Week; ‘On Friday, Pearse and Connolly realised the position and they decided that some of the girls would be got out of the GPO. Pearse asked me if I would take charge. I did not want to leave but he said it had been decided with Miss Gavan Duffy. I took out between 30 and 40 girls under a white flag. The whole of the contingent was arrested on the Friday at Summerhill but were released that evening.’
Sworn testimony in support of Bridget’s evidence was given by Kathleen Clarke, widow of Thomas Clarke. After the Rising, Bridget collected arms and equipment and stored arms again in 1919; she also engaged in securing safe houses for men on the run.
During the Civil War Bridget was detailed by Austin Stack to go to England and send cables to different people in America and to wait in Manchester and Liverpool for their replies. During the attack on the Four Courts, she was attached to the garrison in Barry’s Hotel, from where she was instructed by Oscar Traynor to mobilise men and move arms from north Dublin.
During Bridget’s imprisonment, minister for defence Richard Mulcahy ruled that her release would endanger public safety. She was eventually freed in late November 1923.
In 1941, the 25th anniversary of the Rising, 2,477 people were named as recipients of 1916 combatants’ medals, including Bridget Connolly for her role in the GPO.
Bridget died unmarried on 15 November 1981 and was interred in the family plot in Grange cemetery.