The ladies of Cumann na mBan have always had very strong opinions about the state of Ireland and its politics. Since its inception, the majority of CnamB members have fought for a united Ireland. During the lead up to the Easter Rising of 1916, these women supported the Republican cause in many different ways. They raised funds for the uprising, trained in first aid in order to help wounded Volunteers, smuggled various weapons and explosives throughout Ireland, spread important news, and many learned to shoot and fight themselves. They became a force to be reckoned with.
In the aftermath of the Rising, CnamB was flooded with new members and big ideas. They were prominent in the Dáil Éireann, the Republican legislature set up to counter England’s rule. Many of the widows of the leaders of the Rising were some of the loudest voices and strongest supporters of a free Ireland, and almost all were members of the female Republican organization. Eamon De Valera called them the “most unmanageable revolutionaries.” Many others accused the organization of making decisions based on vengeance and emotion without thought or consequence, especially when they voted against the Anglo-Irish Treaty ninety-four years ago today.
The fiery members of Cumann na mBan tried to sway their fellow legislators to vote against the Treaty. Their speeches were passionate and eloquent. They invoked the slain leaders of the Easter rising and called out many misogynistic dismissals of their words and deeds. Ultimately it did no good and the majority of the Dáil voted to ratify the treaty. This put Cumann na mBan in the awkward position of either betraying their principles and joining them or splitting from the rest and jeopardizing all the political power they had gained. Nearly 500 women put the question to a vote on Feb. 5th, 1922.
They voted overwhelmingly to reject the treaty. Only sixty-three women were in favor of the agreement and those who were followed Jennie Wyse Power into a pro-treaty female organization called Cumann na Saoirse. The rest of the women stayed with Cumann na mBan and lent their support and their expertise to the Republicans during the Irish Civil War. By the end of that conflict, hundreds of women languished in jail cells all over Ireland. They remained stubbornly true to their Republican ideals participating in hunger strikes, prison protests, marches throughout the country, and hundreds of political debates.
The Irish government outlawed the organization in January of 1923 and to this day the U.K. officially links CnamB to terrorist activity. Soon after the Irish Civil War ended, enrollment in Cumann na mBan dwindled. Over the next few decades many of its members were absorbed directly into the Irish Republican Army, while others pledged allegiance to various political parties or left the fight altogether. However, Cumann na mBan has never officially disbanded or disappeared and they are about to celebrate their 102nd birthday, making them one of the longest-running Republican organizations in Irish history.