Remembering Mary O’Dwyer

Mary O’Dwyer (née Breen) was not a typical Irish Republican woman. She did not have the support of a politically powerful family, in fact they actively discouraged her from joining any political group. She defied them, her parish priest, and others when she began canvassing in County Tipperary for Sinn Fein at age sixteen. Two years later, Mary joined (and eventually commanded) her local branch of Cumann na mBan.

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The Unknown Heroine of Bloody Sunday

On January 30th, 1972, thirteen innocent people were murdered and twenty-eight were shot during an anti-internment march through the Bogside area of Derry.  Another innocent victim died later as a result of his injuries, bringing the total number of fatalities to fourteen. That bleak day became known as Bloody Sunday. At first the soldiers and the English government tried to claim that all who had been shot or killed were armed, dangerous, and/or members of the Irish Republican Army. Witness statements backed up with photographic evidence, forensics, and videos helped disprove their lies but it took nearly forty years and the most expensive inquiry in English history to finally exonerate the victims.

An anonymous teenage girl who would now probably be in her mid-to-late sixties made a quick and pivotal choice on Bloody Sunday that helped set those things in motion and has affected millions of people since. As she and her friends wandered through the aftermath of the Bogside Massacre, a stranger approached them. He quickly explained that authorities had begun searching people nearby and he had some rolls of film he needed to hide. This young girl quickly put the film in her underwear, assuming that her undergarments would not be searched if she were stopped. She was either not stopped or was correct in that assumption because later she met the man, Gilles Peress, at a hotel where she handed over his rolls of film and then promptly vanished. Peress drove straight out of Derry that night with his precious cargo and never saw the blonde girl again.

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And we’ll all go together

The last few years have not been kind to many of my musical idols. To be fair, many were older already and had lived full and wild lives so their passing was not necessarily a surprise but when you lose childhood heroes like David Bowie, Prince, and Leonard Cohen it still hurts. This week Dolores O’Riordan of the Cranberries has joined them, which was shocking. O’Riordan was young and she had three children. She was just starting to record again and get back on her feet. I was looking forward to hearing what she was going to do next, as were many others and this terrible news means that we’ll never know.

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Helena Molony is born

On this day in 1883, Helena Molony was born in Dublin. She was orphaned when she was young and didn’t have the happiest of childhoods but this made her strong-willed and a survivor. She dreamt of a better life and soon that dream came to include a free Ireland. When she was older, she looked back at that time saying,  “I was a young girl dreaming about Ireland when I saw and heard Maud Gonne speaking by the Custom House in Dublin one August evening in 1903 . . . She electrified me and filled me with some of her own spirit.”

Whether it was Maud Gonne’s spirit that energized Helena or not, one thing is certain – she was immediately and completely devoted to Ireland. She and Maud became fast friends and together they were prominent members of both of Ireland’s Nationalist groups for women, Inghinidhe na hÉireann and Cumann na mBan. Helena founded the first political newspaper specifically for women in 1908 and she started a movement aimed at keeping girls away from English soldiers. She was heavily involved in nearly every suffrage or labor campaign and was assigned to the City Hall garrison during the Easter Rising of 1916. When the authorities came to interview her after she was arrested for her role in the uprising, they found her with torn and bleeding hands and the lock halfway off the door. Similarly, while Molony was imprisoned in Kilmainham Gaol her captors discovered that she was trying to dig her way through the massive stone walls with a rusty spoon. She was indomitable and unapologetic.

These traits carried over into every aspect of her life. Helena fought again in the War of Independence, ferrying messages for Micheal Collins and Liam Mellows and was fiercely opposed to the Anglo-Irish Treaty that partitioned Ireland. She was active in the resulting civil war on the Republican side. She remained loyal to her friends, even when her reputation and political career suffered for it. Molony was unwilling to compromise in nearly every way, including her personal life. She was linked romantically to both males and females in a time when that was considered not only a sin, but illegal- and she refused to be labeled or cornered. All of these things cost her and eventually, Helena was forced out of politics and public life.

Even then, Helena maintained strong friendships, often depending on friends for shelter and care. When she died after a long and full life, she was buried next to many of them in the Republican plot at Glasnevin Cemetery, where she is remembered to this day.

Helena

Addendum: For more about Helena please click here. If you’re looking for even more or other fierce women like her, why don’t you grab a copy of my book? “Petticoats, Patriots, and Partition” is available world-wide in bookstores, on Blurb, and all Amazon markets. (Sorry, it’s been awhile since I indulged in some shameless self-promotion.)

 

Remembering Jennie Wyse Power

Jennie Wyse Power

 

On this day in Irish history, Jennie Wyse Power passed away in Dublin. Prior to her death was a mother of four, a restaurant owner, a senator, a rebel, a suffragist, the first president of Cumann na mBan, and a founding member of both Cumann na Saoirse and Sinn Fein.

For more about this super capable woman and her full and crazy life, please click here.

PapalGate

It was the tear heard around the world. In one split (ahem) second Sinead O’Connor defiantly threw her figurative middle fingers in the air, lost a record amount of fans, and got banned from Saturday Night Live with her protest of the Catholic church. Many of the flock still haven’t forgiven her even now, twenty-five years later.

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The Rising’s Last Child

Ireland’s Easter Rising took place over 100 years ago, so one could be forgiven for assuming that all those who lived through it are now long gone. Interestingly enough that assumption is wrong. Father Joseph Mallin was only two when his father was executed by the English for being one of the leaders of the insurrection. Today he is 104, and as of this writing he is not only still alive, but he is also still fighting to set the records straight about his father.

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