Margaret Skinnider described the Easter Rising like this. “Every shot we fired was a declaration to the world that Ireland, a small country but large in our hearts, was demanding her independence.” Her words might not have had the same certainty and grand bravado if she had been writing while the bullets were flying…but then again, I am quoting Margaret Skinnider so maybe they would have. That utter devotion to Ireland nearly did her in on this day in 1916.
Margaret Skinnider had various missions during the Rising. Like many other women she was a courier who took messages from outpost to outpost, but unlike most of the others she was also a sniper. She would change into skirts or dresses to pass through the streets, but she always had a revolver hidden in them and when she returned to the College of Surgeons, she’d put on a homemade uniform before heading to the roof where she took her position among the other snipers.
Her unique perspective gave her an idea for a mission. She wanted to throw a bomb into the Shelbourne, where English soldiers were holed up. The action made sense but would likely have been a suicide mission and Michael Mallin, her commander, refused to entertain the idea. She argued repeatedly, using her skills and her speed as examples of why she should be allowed to go and she accused Mallin of being chauvinistic for not wanting to risk a woman. She used the newly printed Proclamation and the equality it promised as a weapon. He finally acquiesced and gave her his approval, though he changed the original objective of the mission. Margaret was thrilled.
“It’s all over,” she muttered just a few moments later as she fell in a hail of bullets. Margaret Skinnider was shot three times, in her arm, her back, and her side. She was carried back to the College of Surgeons and her memoir says that she only cried when they cut off her uniform and when she realized that the mission had failed – not when they struggled to remove the bullets. She refused to leave when they tried to get her to a hospital, reassuring those around her that the strange noises she made whenever she took a breath were “no death rattle.”
Skinnider’s account is hazy on the next few days. It turned out that the brave woman had pneumonia in addition to her injuries. She lost a lot of skin when too much corrosive material was used to clean the bullet wounds, but no one could convince her to leave for treatment. Constance Markievicz, her friend and mentor, nursed her until the end of the Rising. Skinnider was the first to leave the outpost when the order to surrender was given, but she did so under duress and in an ambulance.
Margaret was confined to her hospital bed for many weeks. She found out that many of her fellow soldiers had been given hefty prison sentences and that the leaders of the Rising had been executed, including her own Michael Mallin. His widow and many others came by to visit, bringing news and mementos. Five weeks into her recovery, she was taken to prison but was immediately sent back when her doctor demanded her return. She spent another two weeks in hospital before finally being released. She fled to the United States, fearing imprisonment.
“Doing My Bit For Ireland” was first published in New York a year later. She described herself on the inside cover as a “School-teacher, suffragist, nationalist: wounded while fighting in the uniform of the Irish Volunteers.” She regarded the Rising as the most important thing she ever did despite being hindered by her injuries for the rest of her life.
Margaret Skinnider returned to Dublin and continued her work in the cause of Irish freedom. She fought for Ireland in the War of Independence and took an anti-treaty stance during the Irish Civil War. It took over three decades for her to finally get a pension for her many years of service because the word “soldier” was defined as male and therefore, pensions were off limits to women. Her applications were repeatedly denied, but Margaret kept filing them and fought for it as fiercely as she had fought for Ireland. Her application was finally approved in 1938.
Ms. Skinnider lived a long life, despite her nearly fatal injuries during the Rising. She was laid to rest in the Republican plot of Glasnevin cemetery next to her friend, fellow soldier, and mentor, Madame Markievicz. Over a century later, they are both remembered and recognized as two of the most devoted and fiercest female warriors in Irish history.