Josephine McGowan was one of the many women who participated in Ireland’s struggle for freedom. She was a member of the Inghinidhe na hEireann branch of Cumann na mBan and was stationed at the Marrowbone Lane garrison during the 1916 Easter Rising. She was one of twenty-five women who reported for duty and according to one witness statement, Marrowbone seemed to have more women than men at the beginning of the fight. Some of the women vanished throughout the week but Josephine stayed until the very end.
“Josie” as she was called by those who knew her, may have been one of the ladies who commandeered cattle to feed the Marrowbone garrison toward the end of the Rising but we cannot know for sure. Witness statements do not name the women who took part in that mission, they only state that it happened. Few accounts mention the women’s names at all but Josie was credited for bringing food and additional weapons to the men throughout the battle and for staying as long as the fight lasted. When the conflict came to a close and the surrender order was given, Miss McGowan refused to slip out and make her escape. She marched proudly with the men and women she had been stationed with all week, knowing that she’d be arrested for her role in the insurrection. The women of Marrowbone Lane sang as they headed toward their enemies to keep their spirits up despite the certainty of arrest and reprisal.
Ms. McGowan was arrested and held in Kilmainham Gaol where she heard the leaders of the Rising being executed from her cell. The firing squads didn’t intimidate her and when she was released, she immediately went back into the fray. Josie remained active in Cumann na mBan in the lead up to the Irish War of Independence. She likely would have been directly involved in that conflict too if she had not passed away before the major fighting began.
Josephine McGowan died of pneumonia 98 years ago today. She was buried with her father in one of the paupers’ plots in Glasnevin cemetery. She passed before she could give any personal witness statements and before women received any real recognition for their roles in the fight for Irish freedom. She was awarded medals of service posthumously and is now remembered by many modern Republicans. Not enough is known about this brave woman, but at least now her name appears on all the honor rolls and her grave is well-tended.
Her proper resting place should have been in the Republican plot but like thousands of others, Josie isn’t remembered there. (It’s only so big after all.) Her grave is in a rundown section of Glasnevin where many of the stones are unreadable or missing but not Josephine’s. Someone takes care of Josephine McGowan and over the Easter holiday, her plot was adorned with fresh flowers, flags, and wreaths setting it apart from the others nearby. A note credits her with changing the course of Irish history – a remembrance that I’m sure Josie would approve of.