Margaret Skinnider was a woman who should have died long before she did, but like a cat with nine lives she nearly always landed on her feet. She did not die while learning to shoot weapons and build bombs in her home town of Glasgow. She did not have a fatal accident while smuggling explosives under her hat and detonators under her dress from Scotland to Ireland in 1915. She did not blow herself up while spending many afternoons testing dynamite in the hills around Dublin and she was not killed while acting as a courier between rebel outposts during the Easter Rising of 1916. On the contrary, between delivery missions on her bicycle, she joined the men on a roof over Stephen’s Green with a rifle and took her own deadly aim. She was proud of her sniper abilities and famously said, “More than once I saw the man I aimed at fall.”
There may be no other woman that risked her life as many times as she did during the Rising. When a message needed delivering, Margaret would leave the roof and her rifle behind, change out of her handmade military uniform, put on a dress and a hat, and bicycle through the war zone of Dublin to deliver it. Upon her return, the uniform went back on and she went back to the roof to take aim at her advancing enemies. The woman was indomitable and beat the odds on every excursion into the streets…until she volunteered for an impossible mission.
Her company was losing ground. In an attempt to dislodge their enemies, Margaret wanted to throw a bomb into the Shelbourne, setting off a blaze that would keep the British soldiers from escaping. This would lead to their defeat and demise. Though her plan was sound, her commander would not allow it because she would likely be killed or hurt on the mission, and he was uncomfortable with sending a woman on a mission where she would likely die. She retorted that “women had the same right to risk our lives as the men; that in the constitution of the Irish Republic, women were on an equality with men for the first time in history“. She used her experience as a bicycle courier to convince him that she had the speed to make the idea work. She was shot three times in her attempt and the mission failed.
She definitely should have died then but didn’t even lose consciousness. When her partner got her back to the rebels, her precious uniform was cut off of her. That made her cry when the gunshots had not and the loss of the uniform and the mission made her nearly inconsolable. In contrast, when the makeshift nurses removed 3 bullets from her body and patched her up with no strong painkillers, Margaret did not utter a sound or a whimper. There are no fewer than three dispatches from leaders during that time that commend her skill and her bravery. She earned each one, along with the immense respect of her male counterparts and fellow marksmen. She is also the only woman on record who was so gravely wounded in the battle.
She survived the gunshots and escaped during the chaos of the surrender at the end of the Rising, despite her injuries. She obeyed orders to go to a hospital though, and was arrested after seeking further treatment for her wounds. She was in the hospital for several weeks under the watchful eyes of the British soldiers before she made her escape and returned to her native Scotland.
From there she went on to America where she tirelessly raised funds for Irish freedom and published her biography, “Doing my Bit for Ireland.” She returned to Dublin to make use of her deadly skills once more in the war for Independence and again in the Civil war until she was imprisoned in 1923. While incarcerated she became the Director of Training for the Republican prisoners.
At any given point in her history, it is clear that this courageous and capable woman had already lived a very full and very dangerous life. It is amazing that she lived to be nearly 79 years old before she finally died on this day, Oct. 10th in 1971. Her death came more than 55 years after she was gunned down during the Easter Rising and after she had fought in 3 wars and traveled the world extensively. Margaret Skinnider was an amazing woman and a soldier by every definition of that word and has been remembered as both. She is buried beside many others who fought in 1916 and beyond in the Republican plot at Glasnevin Cemetery.
Her favorite song as a young girl was called the Jackets Green. It’s a tale of a woman who falls in love with a man in British Red, who then chooses the Irish Green. It’s pretty clear that she was profoundly affected by the love song but she didn’t need the man beside her to choose the green. She did that and much, much more herself.