Lily Kempson

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Kempson photographed in 1914

Lily Kempson (January 17, 1897 – January 21, 1996) was born Elizabeth Anne Kempson in Co. Wicklow, Ireland. She is remembered as a trade union activist, as well as a rebel in the Irish Citizen Army. She was the last surviving member of the Easter Rising of 1916.[1]

Early life[edit]

Kempson was born into poverty.[2] Her family, including her mother and father, James Kempson, her 92-year-old grandmother and eight siblings, shared a two-room home.[3]

At age 14, she was arrested and jailed for two weeks for participating in a strike at Jacob's Biscuit Factory in Dublin.


By the age of 19, Kempson had become involved in the trade union movement. Like many of the most militant women sacked from Jacob's during the lockout, she joined James Connolly's Irish Citizen Army,[4] a small group of trained trade union volunteers from the Irish Transport and General Workers' Union (ITGWU) established in Dublin for the defence of worker's demonstrations from the police.[5] She eventually joined the rebel Irish Voluntary Army. During the Easter Rebellion, she was dispatched to help take over St. Stephen's Green She was given a gun and instructed "you’ve got to use this, but be careful who you hit." When one of her the rebels attempted to abandon the group, she pointed the firearm at him and explained that no one was leaving. During the siege of Dublin, which lasted a week, Kempson served as a courier for Padraic Pearse and the others rebels inside the General Post Office, risking her life as she dodged snipers. Frank Robbins, a fighter in the Irish Citizens Army, noted that Commandant Michael Mallin "had actually to avail of the services of members of the women's section of the Citizen Army...Constance Markievicz, Lily Kempson and Mary Hyland gave invaluable assistance." [6]

When the fighting ended, Kempson was marked for arrest and imprisonment, but left for the U.S. using a relative's passport. In recognition of her role in the 1916 Rising, Kempson received medals as well a monthly pension from the Irish government.[7]


After she arrived in the U.S. and settled in Seattle,[8] Kempson married Matthew McAlerney, who had just arrived from County Down.[9] The couple had seven children, Kathleen, Alice, Matthew, John, James, Betty and Peggy. She was a great-great-grandmother of 5 at the time of her death.


  1. ^ Lily Kempson, the longest surviving rebel of 1916, died 20 years ago today Irish Central, January 21, 2016
  2. ^ `Lily' Mcalerney, Irish Revolutionary Sun Sentinel, January 27, 1996
  3. ^ The story of Lily Kempson and her fight for freedom Republican News, April 16, 1998
  4. ^ List of women of the Irish Citizen Army Irish Volunteers, August 21, 2013
  5. ^ Republican News, Kempson
  6. ^ Frank Robbins, Under the Starry Plough (Dublin 1977), p.101.
  7. ^ Lily Kempson, the longest surviving rebel of 1916, died 20 years ago today Irish Central, January 21, 2016
  8. ^ Seattle’s Lily Kempson & Ireland’s Easter Rising of 1916 Capitol Hill Seattle, accessed January 22, 2016
  9. ^ John F. Keane, "Irish Seattle," Irish Heritage Club, 2007, pp. 42-43

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