Joe Dolan has made a short film on Fr Joseph Mallin (102) son of the executed Michael Mallin

It is the 7th of May, 1916. A two-and-a-half-year-old boy, Joseph Mallin, together with his three siblings, is brought by his pregnant mother, Agnes, to Kilmainham Gaol. He is there to see his father for the last time. His father, Michael Mallin (pictured right), was second-in-command of the Irish Citizen Army under its leader, James Connolly, and was Commandant of the Stephen’s Green command during the 1916 Rising. He was executed at dawn on May 8th, 1916.
While waiting to visit his father, Joseph was together with his sister, Una, put sitting on the stairs of the prison. Una would later tell him that one of the soldiers told him that he was sorry for him. After a poignant farewell to his wife and family, Michael Mallin, in his cold candlelit cell, would write a letter that would change the young boy’s life forever.

In the letter, Michael Mallin tells his family how much he loves them. He asks the two elder boys, James and John, to be good strong men for their mother, and to remember Ireland. He asks his daughter, Una, to be a nun – this she later did – and asked Joseph “my little man” to “be a priest if you can”. He finishes the letter as follows, “Goodbye my wife and darling, may God protect you and our children. I must now prepare, these last few hours must be spent with God alone, your loving husband, Michael Mallin, Commandant Stephen’s Green Command.

Joseph Mallin entered the Jesuit novitiate and was ordained in Milltown, in 1946. When asked about his decision to enter the priesthood, he says that the decision was totally his own and no pressure was ever brought upon him by his family to fulfil his father’s last wishes. In 1948, he was sent to Canton province in China, where he experienced horrific scenes of deprivation and starvation.
A year later, in 1949, the Communist Revolution broke out, forcing him to retreat to Hong Kong where he was giving charge of setting up a school.
In Hong Kong, he also experienced dreadful scenes of hardship and poverty with people living and dying in the streets. Father Mallin would spend over sixty years working in the school he helped build -Wah Yan College – only returning very occasionally to Ireland.
He always maintained that being Irish was a huge benefit to him in running a fully Chinese school in what was a British colony.
Fr. Mallin was born during Larkin’s strike on the 13th of September 1913, and is alive and well, living in Hong Kong at the age of 102.
It is remarkable to think of all he has experienced over these years starting with the 1916 Rising, World War One, The War of Independence, The Civil War, World War Two, The Communist Revolution, The Cultural Revolution, Tiananmen Square and the handing over of Hong Kong. His father sacrificed his life to give freedom and justice to the Irish people, so they would not be suppressed by the powerful and he, Fr Mallin dedicated his life to the education of young Chinese people, thereby empowering them.

Speaking of his mother, Fr Mallin says, “She was very wise in her ways, and did not speak to me much of my father as she didn’t want to take away from my childhood. He talks about “how cool she was in an emergency when they were raided by the British Army”. Looking back now, he recalls that although she never showed it to her family, the pain and grief she suffered must at times have been unbearable.
When asked about the Ireland of today, he says, “A lot of people have become rich,” and quotes a Chinese proverb “we must share with others and it’s not for ourselves alone”. He think a lot of that has been lost.
When speaking of his father’s last hours, he says what was most uppermost in his mind was not execution but the fact that he was leaving his family to become destitute. He knew the problems the family would face from people who believed that the Rising had brought further trouble on the country. Michael Mallin did not blame these people. Neither did James Connolly, but both men, and others executed, firmly believed that this was the only way to achieve justice and freedom for the Irish people.

The Joe Dolan-directed short film ‘A Father’s Letter’ will be screened at the Chicago Irish Film Festival, Sunday March 6, Gallery Theater, Chicago, Sunday March 6; the Boston Irish Film Festival, Sunday March 13, Somerville Theater, Boston, Sunday March 13; and the Irish Film Festival, Roma, Casa Del Cinema, Rome, 7-10 April. More dates and broadcasts to be announced via producer, Niamh Heery, from Swansong Films throughout the year.
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