Easter 1916 : Women of the Rising

This year will mark the centenary of the Easter Rising in Ireland. For Irish nationalists, Easter 1916 signalled the renaissance of the Irish nation, an iconic event which helped to trigger the landslide victory of Sinn Fein in the 1918 general election, the war of independence against Britain and the birth of the Irish Free State.
On Easter Monday, April 24, 1916, a group of Irish nationalists proclaimed the establishment of the Irish Republic and, along with some 1,600 followers, staged a rebellion against the British government in Ireland. The rebels seized prominent buildings in Dublin and clashed with British troops. Within a week, the insurrection had been suppressed and more than 2,000 people were dead or injured. The leaders of the rebellion soon were executed. Initially, there was little support from the Irish people for the Easter Rising; however, public opinion later shifted and the executed leaders were hailed as martyrs. In 1921, a treaty was signed that in 1922 established the Irish Free State, which eventually became the modern-day Republic of Ireland.
Most of the women who took part in the 1916 insurrection never found their way into the history books. In recent decades, several historians, mostly women, have worked to change that.
Here are some of the women who chose to fight for an Irish republic and a fairer society.

Mary Josephine (Min) Ryan

Mary Josephine (Min) Ryan
Mary Josephine (Min) Ryan was from a prosperous family who farmed at Tomcoole, near Taghmon, Co Wexford. A founder member of Cumann na mBan, she and several of her 11 brothers and sisters were active in the Rising and the conflicts that followed.
During the Rising Min and Phyllis acted as couriers to the GPO garrison.
She met Seán Mac Diarmada, the man who became one of the leaders of the Easter Rising, while she was in college but after her graduation she moved to London to attend the London University and gain her teachers certification. In 1914 she founded the local Cumann na mBan branch there. In 1915 she returned to Dublin to teach German at the Rathmines Technical School. Mac Diarmada asked her to go to Germany because of her facilitation with the language but on her sisters advice she didn’t go. Joseph Plunkett was sent instead.
Ryan was engaged to Seán Mac Diarmada, he described her as the woman he would have married had he lived. She was one of the last people to visit him before he was executed by the British after the Rising.
In 1919 Min married Richard Mulcahy, who took command of the pro-Treaty forces in the Civil War after the killing of Michael Collins. He was leader of Fine Gael 1944-48.
Her elder sister Kit – a lecturer in French at UCD – married another 1916 veteran and future President of Ireland, Seán T O’Kelly who, after her death in 1934, wed her sister, Phyllis. Yet another, Agnes, married Denis McCullough, President of the IRB. Their brother, James was a minister for almost 30 years.
Min Ryan died, aged 92, in 1977.

Kathleen Clarke 

Kathleen Clarke
Kathleen Clarke, née Daly (Irish: Caitlín Uí Chléirigh) – was a member of Cumann na mBan. She was the wife of Tom Clarke and sister to Ned Daly, both of whom would be executed for their part in the Easter Uprising in 1916.
Kathleen Daly born in Limerick on 11 April 1878.
Tom Clarke had met her uncle, John Daly, while in prison, and married Kathleen, 21 years his junior, on his release in 1898. He went to New York with Kathleen; they married and stayed in America for the next seven years. After her marriage she became active in politics was a founder of Cumann na mBan in 1914.
She did not take part in the Rising as she had been selected by the Irish Republican Brotherhood to coordinate the distribution of support for the families of activists. Afterwards she was a key organizer in the aid distributed to prisoners’ dependants, which was vital to establishing a network of sympathisers in the years of guerrilla war that followed.
When the Proclamation of the IrishRepublic had been written just before the 1916 Easter Rising and was ready for signing he was asked by the other signatories to be the first to do so. The leaders of the Easter Rising believed he deserved this honour.
During her long widowhood of over 50 years she accomplished much. She was the first Lady Mayoress of Dublin, a TD, and a Senator but there is no mention of these facts on her gravestone. Yet her contribution was important enough to warrant a State funeral, which was recorded on film.
Following her failure to be elected to the Dáil in 1927 she was elected to Seanad Éireann in 1928 and retained her seat in two subsequent elections until it was abolished in 1936.
A founder member of Fianna Fáil, between 1928-1936 she served in the Senate.
She was Dublin’s first female Lord Mayor, 1939-1943. In 1948, at the age of 70, she stood unsuccessfully for the Clann na Poblachta party.
She died in Liverpool on the 29 September 1972 aged ninety-four.

Rosie Hackett

Rosie Hackett
Rosie Hackett, was born in Dublin in 1892, in a tenement building in Bolton Street.  Her father died when she was young, her mother remarried in 1911 and moved to Abbey Street.  At the time of the 1911 census Rosie live in Abbey Street with her mother, stepfather, sister, stepsister and a lodger.
In 1909 the Irish Transport and General Workers Union was founded two weeks after the famous Jacobs strike. Rosie co founded the Irish Women Workers Union (IWWU), along with Delia Larkin.
In 1913 when the tram workers went on strike against their employers which was the start of the Dublin Lockout, she helped to organise the women in Jacobs to strike in solidarity.  At that time in Dublin poverty and hunger was widespread, Rosie worked with the women of the IWWU in setting up soup kitchens at Liberty Hall and provided basic food parcels to assist the needy of Dublin.
For Rosie’s part in the Lockout in 1914 she lost her job at Jacobs Biscuit factory, she then worked alongside Delia Larkin at the IWWU as a clerk in Liberty Hall.  While working at Liberty Hall she became involved in the Irish Citizen Army.   Rosie was with Constance Markievicz and Michael Mallon when they occupied the Royal College of Surgeons Stephen’s Green during the Easter Rising.  She was captured and brought to Kilmainham Jail were she was held for ten days and then freed on general release.
Rosie was also involved in the printing the original 1916 Proclamation when she handed it to James Connolly it was wet off the press.   She later recounted how the men with Connolly on that occasion complained that a woman had been let into the room.
After the Rising, Rosie re-founded the IWWU with Louie Bennett and Helen Chenevix.  The union grew to have 70,000 women members and was very successful in gaining an extra week paid holiday leave per year.  Rosie continued her work in Liberty Hall for over 40 years.
In 1970, she was awarded a gold medal for giving 60 years of her life to the trade union movement, in 1976 Rosie Hackett passed away aged of 82 years.

Winifred Carney

Winifred Carney
Winifred Carney was born in Larne in 1887, but moved to Belfast at an early age. Educated in Christian Brothers School in Donegall Street, Carney later became a teacher there. Around 1910 she enrolled at HughesCommercial Academy and qualified as a secretary and shorthand typist, one of the first women in Belfast to do so.
She met James Connolly in 1912, when the socialist leader was organising trade union activity in the city. Carney, who was also involved in Gaelic League and the suffragette movement, became secretary of the Textile Workers Union, for whom she drafted a manifesto, containing these words:
Many Belfast mills are slaughterhouses for the women and penitentiaries for the children. But while the world is deploring your conditions, they also unite in deploring your slavish and servile nature in submitting to them: they unite in wondering what material these Belfast women are made, who refuse to unite together and fight to better their conditions.
Carney became Connolly’s friend and secretary, and joined him in the newly-formed Irish Citizens Army. After the suppression of the 1916 Easter Rising, where Carney fought with Connolly, she stood as a Sinn Fein candidate in Belfast, but lost at the polls. Continuing to work in Belfast with the Transport and General Workers Union, she also became involved with the Northern Ireland Labour Party. In 1928, she surprised many in her circle by marrying George McBride, a UVF veteran and Orangeman. They were linked by their common socialism however, and lived together for many years in Carlisle Circus.
Winifred Carney, ‘the typist with a Webley’ as she was characterised in stories of the Rising, died in Belfast in 1943, having continued to fight for her socialist beliefs throughout her life. She is buried in Milltown Cemetery.

Constance Markievicz

Constance Markievicz
Constance Markievicz was born in London. Her Protestant ascendancy family, the Gore-Booths, owned Lissadell, an extensive estate in Co. Sligo. She was presented at court to Queen Victoria in the monarch’s Jubilee year, 1887. The unpredictable pattern of her subsequent career began when she married a Polish Count, Casimir Markievicz; with little in common, they separated amicably at the outbreak of World War One when he went off to the Balkans as a war reporter. In 1909, she first became known to British intelligence for her role in helping found Na Fianna Éireann, a nationalist scouts organisation whose purpose was to train boys for participation in a war of liberation. She was also active in the Irish suffragette movement and focussed much energy into Inghinidhe na hÉireann, a militant women’s organisation founded by Maud Gonne. She co-operated closely with the labour leaders, James Larkin and James Connolly. Her compassion for the poor was evident during the 1913 Dublin Lockout when she worked tirelessly to provide food for the workers’ families. Two years later she helped organise and train the Irish Citizen Army.
During the Easter Rising Markievicz was second-in-command to Michael Mallin at St. Stephen’s Green/College of Surgeons and was active in a fighting capacity throughout the week. Afterwards, she was the only woman to be court-martialled (4 May 1916). It was later alleged by the Prosecution Counsel that she ‘crumpled up’ at her trial but the official records indicate that she acted throughout with courage, dignity and defiance, declaring: “I did what I thought was right, and I stand by it”. The verdict reached by the court in her case was unique: ‘Guilty. Death by being shot’, but with a recommendation to mercy ‘solely and only on account of her sex’. The sentence was commuted to penal servitude for life.
Markievicz served 13 months in gaol, in Ireland and in England, claiming subsequently that her inspiration during her imprisonment had been Thomas Clarke – a signatory of the Proclamation – who was executed with Pearse and MacDonagh on 3 May 1916. Afterwards she was unforgiving in her attitude towards the Irish Volunteer Chief of Staff, Eoin MacNeill, who had opposed and tried to prevent the insurrection. In the General Election, December 1918, she became the first woman ever returned to the Commons at Westminster but as a member for Sinn Féin she did not take her seat. Instead she served as Minister of Labour (April 1919-21) in the first Dail. As the then leader of Cumann na mBan, she bitterly opposed the Anglo-Irish Treaty (December 1921) and supported the anti-Treaty forces in the civil war. She later joined de Valera`s party, Fianna Fail. She died in a Dublin hospital in 1927; the working class people of the city lined the streets for her funeral.
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