Women of Easter Rising Part II

I had a lot of fun researching Irish women who took part in Easter Rising for this episode, but I couldn’t cover them all in one sitting, so here is a thread of the other women who contributed to the Rising one or another. #WomensHistoryMonth

Margaret Skinnider was a Scottish schoolteacher and suffragist who left home to fight in Dublin. A member of the Irish Volunteers and Cumann na mBan, she became an expert marksman. While traveling to Dublin, she smuggled detonators for bombs in her hat and wire around her person and greatly impressed boy Constance Markievicz and James Connolly. After escorting Connolly’s family from Belfast to Dublin, she was sent to St. Stephens Green (where the Irish Citizen Army would entrench during the Rising) to scout the position. During the Rising, she, like Constance, took an active part in the fighting, becoming a sniper for the Irish Citizen army. She also led the assault on Russell Hotel where she would be wounded shot three times. The assault was a failure and she was dragged into the College of Royal Surgeons, where she lay until Pearse finally surrendered.

Because of the severity of her wound, she was released by the British and was allowed to return to Scotland. She did a brief tour of America, talking about her experiences, before returning to Dublin to help train recruits. During the civil war, she was anti-treaty and the Paymaster General of the Irish Republican Army. After the civil war, she became a teacher in Ireland and fought for equal pay and women’s rights. She would apply a Wounded Pension from the Army Pensions department, but her request would be denied because she was a woman, until after DeValera took over in 1938.

 

Elizabeth O’Farrell was an Irish nurse, a suffragist, and a member of Cumann na mBan. She was best friends with Julia Grenan and the women were either lovers or queer platonic partners (or both). They reported the GPO the day of the rising and spent the week serving as couriers and nurses, carrying ammunition and medicine in their skirts while braving the British bombardment. On Friday morning, all the women were sent out of the GPO, except for Winifred Carney (who I talked about in the episode), and Elizabeth and Julia. Instead, all three would stay by Connolly’s and Pearse’s side up the surrender. Pearse asked Elizabeth to take the surrender to the British, giving her a white flag and a Red Cross armband. In total, Elizabeth would make three trips, back and forth from Pearse to British HQ, under fire and bombardment. She would stand by Pearse’s side as he formally surrendered to Brigadier General Lowe. She then took copies of the surrender to the various commands stretched across Dublin, again risking death or injury. Apparently, DeValera thought she was a spy and the order false, until someone recognized her.

Elizabeth would be briefly incarnated before being released. She united with Julia and they fought together during the Anglo-Irish War and were anti-treatyites together during the Civil War. They would create a fund for the families of anti-Treatyite prisoners. They lived together for 30 years and they are buried next to each other.

 

Helena Molony was an actress for Abbey Theater and loyal nationalist. She was close friends with Constance Markievicz and Kathleen Lynn, recruiting them to the Irish cause. She became an editor of the Woman of Ireland, a monthly periodical, help found Fianna Eireen with Constance and Bulmer Hobson, and became secretary of the Irish Women’s Worker’s Union after the 1913 Lockout. She was arrested for smashing a portrait of King George and arrested again for denouncing him as a scoundrel.

During the Rising, she took part in the failed attempt to storm Dublin Castle, where they managed to kill one police officer before they were arrested. She would be sent to Aylyesbury prison in England before being released in December 1916 to take part in the Anglo-Irish War. While she fought for Irish nationalism, she remained dedicated to her labor roots, continuing her involvement with the Irish Citizen Army and the Irish Women’s Worker’s Union. She was anti-treaty during the war.

In the 1930s, she urged for the reorganization of the trade unions along industrial lines to soothe fraying relations within the labor movement but could not prevent the split between the Irish Labour Party and the Irish Trade Union Congress. Along with Maud Gonne, she would be involved with the Women’s Prisoner Defense League, the People’s Rights Association, and the Anti-Partition League.

As organizing secretary of the Irish Women Worker’s Union, she would grow the union to more than 5,000 members, about a quarter of the country’s women trade unionists. She would become president of the Irish Trade Union Congress but was forced to resign because of poor health and alleged IRA connections. She would also struggle with bouts of depression and alcoholism which may have contributed to the calls for her resignation.

Helena had a life partner (potentially a Queer Platonic Partner?) named Evelyn O’Brien. She was a psychiatric doctor and they would live together from 1930-1967, when Helena died. There are stories that Helena may have had relations with Bulmer Hobson as well, but it’s hard to decipher if that was created to hide her sexuality or genuine. So, she is either a bisexual icon or a lesbian icon, but either way she is an important figure in Irish’s labor history.

 

Kathleen Lynn was a Sinn Fein politician and a medical doctor. Inspired to become a doctor and an activist for the downtrodden, after growing up in a community hard hit by the Great Famine and struggling to recover, she graduated from the Royal University of Ireland in 1899 and became the first woman appointed as a resident doctor at Dublin’s Adelaide Hospital, but she never took the position because of staff opposition. She would complete her postgraduate work in the United States before returning to Dublin and became a clinical assistant in the Royal Victoria Eye and Ear Hospital.

Her activism was greatly inspired by Constance Markievicz (who she was distantly related to), Helena Molony, and James Connolly. He asked her to teach basic first aid to all members of the Irish Citizen Army and her car was even used to transport arms. During the Rising, she was the Irish Citizen Army’s chief medical officer and spent the week treating the wounded and dying. She would be arrested and spend time in Kilmainham jail.

After the war, she became the vice-president of the Sinn Fein executive, honorary vice-president of the Irish Women Workers’ Union, and was essential in Ireland’s attempts to combat the Spanish flu between 1918 and 1919. She, along with her lover (or Queer platonic partner?) Madeleine ffrench-Mullen, established St. Ultan’s Hospital for Infants and Children, maybe her proudest achievement. She would serve in south Tipperary during the Anglo-Irish War and was elected as a Sinn Fein candidate during the Civil War (she was anti-treaty) but never took her seat.

Her focus after the war, however, was on social reform and healthcare and she and ffrench-Mullen traveled to America to learn about the latest procedures in medicine. She brought back her knowledge to Ireland and did her best to ensure that those who needed care, received it. Tuberculosis, for example, was partially eradicated because of her efforts. When she died, she was buried with full military honors.

References:

The Republic: the Fight for Irish Independence by Charles Townshend, 2014, Penguin Group

Fatal Path: British Government and Irish Revolution 1910-1922 by Ronan Fanning, 2013, Faber & Faber

Easter 1916: The Irish Rebellion by Charles Townshend, 2015, Penguin Group

Richard Mulcahy: From the Politics of War to the Politics of Peace, 1913-1924 by Padraig O Caoimh, 2018, Irish Academic Press

A Nation and Not a Rabble: the Irish Revolution 1913-1923 by Diarmaid Ferriter, 2015, Profile Books

Green Against Green: the Irish Civil War by Michael Hopkinson, 2004, Gill Books

Michael Collins and the Anglo-Irish War: Britain’s Counterinsurgency Failure by J. B. E. Hitte, 2011, Potomac Books

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