There was more than one amazing Gifford girl. Grace has been immortalized in the annals of Irish History and song, but her sisters were just as political, in fact more so, than the tragic bride of 1916. Sidney was one of the first Gifford sisters to get involved in politics, even though she did it quietly and under the assumed name of John Brennan. In a world where women weren’t listened to, Sidney made her voice and her opinions heard.
Sidney’s political journey and writing career began in her teens when a music teacher gave her a copy of “The Leader,” an Irish Nationalist newspaper. She devoured the publication every week and also started reading other nationalist papers. She began writing her own articles under the pen name of John Brennan, and she submitted them through the mail. This kept her identity and her gender under wraps, and aided in getting her articles published. She also joined Inghinidhe na hÉireann, a women’s activist group founded by Maud Gonne. When Sidney wrote for their women’s publication, Bean na hEireann, she still used John Brennan as a byline and she added another pen name – Sorcha Ní hAnlúan.
With so many identities, it may seem as though Sidney was trying to hide her patriotism. This was not the case. She joined many activist groups and was openly against English rule. She even tried to join a rifle club so she could learn to shoot and fight for Ireland but was flatly refused due to her sex. She was proud and devoted and did not hide it but she was also smart. Sidney knew first-hand that women were second class citizens with very few options, and that making a living in journalism during that time was easier for men than women. She found a way to eke out a living despite her gender with her male nom de guerre.
Sidney Gifford left Ireland to continue to pursue her career in America, just a few years before the Easter Rising turned both of her sisters into famous widows. She became one of the founding members of the American branch of Cumann na mBan. She was disappointed by Irish American women because she was used to the active fundraising of her strong-willed friends like Maud Gonne, Constance Markievicz, and Helena Molony. Sidney found that the Americans were too timid and too concerned with what their community leaders thought when it came to activism and support for Ireland. She eventually left the organization. She also married a Hungarian Count and had a son.
Sidney Czira and her son returned to Ireland in 1922. She continued to pursue her writing, but was shunned by the mainstream media and hampered by her anti-treaty stance and long-standing Republican ideals. Still, Ms. Czira didn’t give up. She joined the Women’s Prisoners Defence League and remained active in other various political organizations. Eventually her memoirs were published by the Irish Times and she returned to work as a broadcaster where she presented and produced historical programs.
Sidney Czira nee Gifford, John Brennan, and Sorcha Ní hAnlúan died forty-two years ago today. They are buried together in Deans Grange Cemetery in Dublin but Sidney’s work, her writing, her devotion to Ireland, and her indomitable spirit continue to inspire activists and writers to this day. Her sister may be more well known, but Sidney deserves her own spotlight too.