The Bulfin family has a very respectable presence in the historic fight for Irish freedom. Many generations of the family fought for Nationalist and Republican causes, both inside and outside of Ireland. One branch ended up in Argentina, which is where Catalina Bulfin and her brother Eamon were born.
South America seems like a long way from Ireland, but the ties that bound the family to the Emerald Isle were strong. William Bulfin took his family back from Argentina to Ireland, where they immediately got involved in Nationalist and Republican causes and intrigues. Eamon served under Patrick Pearse in the GPO headquarters during the Easter Rising – in fact, he raised the flags over the post office when the battle began. He was sentenced to death for his role in the conflict, but since he was born in Argentina, the English couldn’t execute him. The government settled for deporting him back to South America. His sister, Catalina, was also involved in the Republican cause. She served as secretary to Austin Stack, the Minister for Home Affairs in the Dáil Éireann. The Dáil, a Republican Parliament and court system, was eventually outlawed by the English authorities, who refused to recognize their Declaration of Independence. Eventually the War for Independence began and Catalina’s position gave her access to all kinds of intelligence. She was a courier who carried secret messages and dispatches, in addition to being an interpreter and the secretary to a famous Republican agitator. She also hid weapons and stockpiled ammunition for the Irish Republican Army Volunteers. She was adamantly against the Anglo-Irish Treaty and continued her active role in politics throughout the resulting conflicts and the Irish Civil war. She ended up serving six months in Kilmainham Gaol in 1923 for her dissident activities.
When the IRA took over Four Courts and other buildings in 1922, a week-long battle began throughout Dublin. The city was a war zone and eventually the Four Courts building was destroyed. The renegade fighters were arrested and immediately taken to prison. A different unit of Republican fighters in another part of town decided to flee Dublin for the south, but they needed weapons before they left. Annie Cooney (O’Brien) was sent by the commander to find Catalina Bulfin, because he knew she had a stockpile at her home. Catalina led Annie and another woman through the war-torn city on bicycles and sent them back to the Republican Army with all the boxes of rifles and ammunition that she had been hiding in her house.
Through her Republican contacts, Catalina met Sean MacBride, the son of Maud Gonne. They married on his birthday in 1926. They were both wanted by the government when they wed, so the ceremony took place in secret at six o’clock in the morning. Of course, “secret” is a relative term since both were well known and well liked, and each held high positions in Republican circles. Despite the secrecy, they had 200-300 guests in attendance. Maud approved of Catalina. She liked that the younger woman was involved in the Irish cause, like Maud herself had been. She told a friend that “Sean was the lucky boy when he got her to marry him.” The admiration was mutual and Catalina was fond of her mother-in-law as well.
Once Sean and Catalina were married, they moved to France since he was on the run. Her active role in Republicanism ended after their marriage. Sean’s did not. He was rising to power in the IRA and wanted by the government, so their marriage was not a relaxed or leisurely one. They stayed in France for a few years and moved back to Ireland when they thought it was safe. They had to regardless because Catalina was pregnant. If their son had been born in France, he would have likely been forced to serve in the French military, and neither parent wanted that.
Sean was on the run or in prison on many occasions in the earlier years of their marriage. Catalina was charged with keeping the family afloat while he was away. She was a full-time mother who also ran the Roebuck House and worked to raise money for local hospitals.
The couple had two children and they were married for fifty years, so it is more than a little odd that Catalina is almost entirely absent from Sean’s memoirs, or any other book about him. Not much is known about her, except that she was a very powerful man’s wife, but before that, she was a fighter herself. She passed away on this day in 1976 and she rests with her mother-in-law and the rest of her family in Glasnevin Cemetery.