When Máirín Cregan was born on this day in 1891, her mother made a very important decision. She insisted that her daughter would grow up learning history and the Irish language. As a young adult, this eventually led Máirín right into the Gaelic League where she developed a sort of nationalist fervor. She was also quite a talented vocalist so she ended up moving to Dublin to study at the Leinster School of Music. When she arrived in the city in 1914, she socialized with the Ryan family, a strong Nationalist clan. Máirín was quickly rubbing shoulders with some of the most prominent Nationalists in Dublin including Min Ryan and her fiance, Seán Mac Diarmada, who was one of the future leaders of the Easter Rising.
In 1916, Máirín had plans to travel home to County Kerry over the Easter holiday and this made her the perfect courier. On the day before she planned to leave, she received a message that Seán Mac Diarmada wanted to see her before she left Dublin. Later that day a man dropped off some guns and ammunition at her place with instructions to take them to Tralee. Later Seán arrived with more information, a list of contacts, and a few letters to deliver. Máirín accepted the mission without argument.
She left Dublin on the train carrying a violin case full of contraband and weaponry. Máirín didn’t know many of the details of what she was carrying, but she had been told that one of the letters instructed the Quinlan family to retrieve some weapons that were coming into Ireland on a vessel called The Aud. The family agreed to help but the operation failed. The Navy intercepted the boat and all members of the ship’s crew were arrested. Later that night Máirín was smuggled quickly out of town to avoid the local authorities who were questioning strangers in the area. She went back to her hometown of Killorglin to spend the long holiday with her family before returning to Dublin to give Seán a full report of her mission. This proved to be impossible because the Rising had begun and trains weren’t entering Dublin at all. Máirín found herself stranded in Mallow and by the time she returned to Dublin, the Rising was over and the executions of its leaders had begun.
Min Ryan went to see Seán Mac Diarmada, the man who would have been her husband, on the night before he was executed. During their last visit, he carved his initials into a penny for Máirín, as a token of his appreciation for her continuing work in the cause of a free Ireland. Min delivered it as promised and Máirín took it with her when she left the city a few months later.
Miss Cregan spent some time in Ballyshannon where support for the Rising was strong but she eventually landed a teaching position in Portstewart which was a very unionist community. She campaigned for Irish candidates in the region, but had to do so very carefully, given her environment. A few years later Máirín married into the Ryan clan and settled in Wexford with her husband James. They were heavily involved in the struggle during the Irish War of Independence, and were active in local politics as well, despite having a very young son. Their home was frequently raided and was targeted by the authorities many times. Once they came to visit after the IRA ambushed some soldiers on the outskirts of town. The police wanted to force the most prominent Nationalist households to put up martial law posters in their windows that said ‘God Save the King.’ Máirín refused to post them, or to even touch the paper. She was arrested, despite having an eight month old son and a husband who was already in jail. When she was court-martialed two weeks later she refused to recognize the courts or to pay any fine. She put the house up for auction and went on the run.
Máirín ended up back in Dublin, staying in the Ryan family home and working as a courier in the Dail’s Department of Foreign Affairs. She remained with them until 1922 when her anti-treaty stance made her an outlaw again, along with many other Republicans. The Irish Civil War raged on around her, tearing apart her husband’s once formidable and united clan. Some were anti-treaty like Máirín and her husband and some were not. When the Irish Free State was created and the war was done, she and James moved to Delgany where they settled down and raised their three children. Like her mother before her, Máirín was determined to teach her kids the history of Ireland and its language. She also began to write using the Irish spelling of her maiden name, Máirín Ní Chriagáin.
She wrote plenty of political newspaper articles, but it was her books for children that were the most successful. This segued into writing plays for both children and adults. Some of her work aired on television and one of her books, Rathina, won the Downey Award in the United States. She was working on a dramatized account of the Rising and the War of Independence when she passed away in 1975.
Máirín‘s entire life was devoted to Ireland and its struggles. Throughout the years she collected tokens of gratitude like the penny from Seán Mac Diarmada and medals of honor for her service during the Easter Rising and the War of Independence, however she is glaringly absent from most accounts of these conflicts. Since today is her birthday, I thought I’d try to remedy that and give her just a fraction of the recognition she’s due.
Lá Breithe Sona Máirín.