SHOT AT DAWN
THE mood in the prison was of tempered optimism. The establishment of the Free State, releasing their minds from the fetters of false hope, forced Republicans into the future. Popular disillusionment could not be far off. Mellows stayed up till well after midnight as a stream of visitors came to his cell. At 3 a.m. he was wakened. He was ordered to collect his property and move to another cell. He was not alarmed. He assumed that he was to be transferred to another prison, or perhaps to a concentration camp. He gathered up his belongings. After arrival at the new cell he was told he would be shot at dawn.
He asked for a priest. The prison chaplain came to see him. From the first it was clear that the bishops’ pastoral hung between him and absolution. The chaplain stood by the letter of the pronouncement, and asked for a recantation. This Mellows indignantly refused to give, and told the priest he preferred to die without the sacraments. It was in the next few hours that he wrote his two letters, one to his mother, the other to the Hearns in Westfield. The letters are simple and dignified, and show a self-control that is quite astonishing. For a devout Catholic to face death without intermediary is to stake eternity on the judgment of one moment. It is the bravest thing he can do.
He wrote first to his mother.
My dearest mother,
The time is short and much that I would like to say must go unsaid.
But you will understand; in such moments heart speaks to heart.
At 3.30 this morning we (Dick Barrett, Rory O’Connor, Joe
McKelvie and I) were informed that we were to be executed as
“reprisal”. Welcome be the will of God, for Ireland is in his keeping
despite foreign monarchs and treaties. Though unworthy of the
greatest human honour that can be paid an Irishman or woman, I
go to join Tone and Emmet, the Fenians, Tom Clarke, Connolly,
Pearse, Kevin Barry and Childers. My last thoughts will be on God
and Ireland and you.
You must not grieve, mother darling. Once before you thought
you had given me to Ireland. The reality has come now. You will