The Mighty Margaret Skinnider

When you listen to or read accounts (including my own) of Margaret Skinnider’s life it’s immediately clear that she was a fighter and a warrior. She was brave and devoted to Irish freedom. She was gravely wounded in the Easter Rising but somehow survived her injuries to continue fighting for Ireland, for recognition and pensions for women, and for Irish workers for the next five decades or so. Her fierceness has inspired many and we’ve all rushed to applaud Skinnider’s fighting spirit, using it to highlight and recognize the important (and often atypical) roles that Irish women played throughout history.

It’s pretty common knowledge that Margaret Skinnider was a teacher, a revolutionary, a union boss, a devoted suffragist, a deadly sniper, a commanding officer, an explosives expert, a smuggler and so much more. We’re used to seeing her as a dedicated, cross-dressing, sharp shooting freedom fighter so it might be a little jarring to hear one of her best friends say that Skinnider was love and kindness incarnate and that she was gentle. Sure she was a soldier who spent most of her life fighting for one cause or another but she was also full of empathy and love, kindness and compassion – and many of the historical narratives (including my own) overlook those aspects of Skinnider’s life.

This is part of a bigger problem. In our rush to make sure that women are counted among the heroes of history, we often highlight only the fiercest and more traditionally “male” aspects of them. We tell tales of how they outsmarted others and how they aggressively fought for something and proved themselves worthy of remembrance and praise. We often ignore their traditionally “feminine” sides in favor of a glorious and heroic tale. The famous photo of Margaret dressed as a boy with a cigarette dangling out of her mouth is a perfect example of that. We remind people that that she was a female sniper and one of only two women who wore a soldier’s uniform during the Easter Rising, and we set her apart from the hundreds of other women who were there in their Easter skirts and dresses. There were many other brave women on active duty and they each brought their own fighting spirit and individual set of skills…some of them even saved Skinnider’s life after she’d been shot multiple times. These women are just as worthy of remembrance whether we know their names and stories yet or not, even if they had more traditional roles. Margaret’s exciting and unusual tale has become more popular in recent years but in telling it we’ve done her a disservice. We’ve all celebrated her deeds but most of us ignored the other aspects of her life. It’s less common knowledge that Skinnider was as gentle, loyal and loving as she was aggressive. She lived a long life full of love, music and long lasting friendships. Her favorite song about Ireland was a somewhat sappy love song called The Jackets Green. She was a lesbian in a committed and life long relationship in an era when that was not only frowned upon, but illegal. Mary McAuliffe’s newish book about Margaret Skinnider uncovers that love story and much more. It is an overdue biography that focuses on Skinnider’s life as a whole, rather than highlighting one or two of her legendary acts. It gives our inspiring hero her entire life back, long after she passed away.

Which brings us to the point, dear readers. On this day in 1971, the mighty Margaret Skinnider threw off this mortal coil. She is buried in the Republican 1916 plot at Glasnevin Cemetery, where she rests next to many of her dearest friends and comrades. To remember her today, why not listen to this interview with Mary McAuliffe where she talks about some of the lesser known aspects of Skinnider’s life or you can listen to Margaret tell her own story of Easter week right here. If you’re like me and you still haven’t been able to break up with the written word, you can find Skinnider’s own 1917 propaganda masterpiece, Doing My Bit For Ireland in various places on the web and in bookstores throughout Ireland. While you’re at it keep an eye out for Margaret Skinnider by Mary McAuliffe as well.

The Mighty Anne Devlin

There are so many important women in Irish history that I could work the rest of my life (which I probably will) and not get to them all. That said, Anne Devlin is the one who started it all. Without Anne I may never have had the jump start I needed to begin writing again. I may never have started a blog and certainly would not have written a book. But it’s not all about me – without Anne Devlin, numerous rebellions in Ireland could have been compromised. Important uprisings would not have happened. Patriots would most certainly have been jailed or killed. Her fortitude and silence against all odds and various forms of torture probably saved thousands of lives, though it cost her dearly.

On this day in herstory, Anne Devlin Campbell passed away – long after her incarceration in one of the most notorious dungeons and prisons in Ireland. It’s amazing that she lived so long given her brutal treatment there. She was an elderly, broke washerwoman living in relative obscurity when she died, but she was never broken. This is some of her tale that I wrote and continue to repost every year in remembrance of this powerful woman.

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The Poet of the Fenians

The remarkably short life of John Keegan Casey was full of lyrical rebellion and inspiring, seditious poetry. His pen was at least as dangerous as the sword, if not more so and it made him a warrior and a target at a remarkably young age. His best known work is “The Rising of the Moon“, which he reportedly penned at the tender age of just fifteen and it is still in heavy rotation to this day.

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Dolores O’Riordan

She could sing like no other. She wrote hushed hymns and wailing battle cries. She hiccuped her way into the hearts of music lovers world-wide and turned a defiant protest song about her homeland into an international hit. Dolores O’Riordan was a force to be reckoned with and one of the most well known voices of Irish music for more than twenty-five years.

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Happy New Year

Just a quick note to wish all of you well on this New Year’s Eve and send blessings to you and yours for 2019! It has been a long, tough year for me and I’m quite glad to shove it out the door – but I’m looking forward to next with the hope that it will be easier and full of joy for us all.

Traditionally, The Parting Glass was often sung on New Year’s Eve throughout Ireland and Scotland prior to being usurped by Auld Lang Syne. You’ll hear it still in my home to mark the new year. For me it is a song that is about having no regrets, even if you have to leave something or someone behind. It is one of my favorites and I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.

Happy New Year all. Safe home.

Dan Breen

Dan Breen was an integral and powerful man in Ireland’s long fight for independence. He was a husband and father, a gangster, a politician, a speakeasy operator, and an author, but first and foremost he was a self-described soldier who was dedicated to freedom.

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Political snowballs

Politics in the north of Ireland are a tricky thing. For generations words, weapons, petrol bombs and more have been tossed from one side of the divide (and the border) to the other in an ongoing struggle for power. On this day in 1967 a different sort of projectile was thrown into the mix (ahem) when Rev. Ian Paisley launched snowballs at Jack Lynch, the Taoiseach of Ireland.

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Tony Taylor to be released

Breaking news out of Derry – Republican Tony Taylor will be released! Taylor spent nearly a thousand days in Maghaberry prison for no discernible reason, despite having a special-needs child and no new criminal offences. Word has it that Mr. Taylor will be released tomorrow morning after 994 days in prison and his family is looking forward to a happier Christmas now that he’s being returned to them.

More about his homecoming here

 

Dublin’s Bloody Sunday

When one thinks of Bloody Sunday, what usually comes to mind is the 1972 civil rights march in Derry, where English soldiers opened fire on marchers and brutally murdered fourteen innocent people. This incident shocked the world and spilled over into pop culture leading to multiple songs, movies, documentaries and more – making it one of the most notorious moments in Irish history. It was not the first “Bloody Sunday” in Ireland, but (thankfully) it was the last. There have been four dreadful days known as Bloody Sunday in recent Irish history and the second (and most deadly) one occurred on this date, November 21st, 1920, in Dublin.

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Sweet Revenge, the burning of Cork

Whoever first said that revenge is best served cold did not live in Ireland in 1920. In Cork city, revenge was a burning hot firestorm and it left many homes, businesses, and lives in its disastrous wake.

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