Over the last few years interest in the roles that women played throughout Irish history has finally picked up. We now know that there were far more women who took part in the Easter Rising than previously thought. Estimates have put their numbers anywhere from seventy-seven to several hundred and many are finally getting the recognition that they have deserved for so long. Sorcha MacMahon was one of those women and without her, the 1916 uprising may have been very different indeed.
On this day sixty-nine years ago, Ireland said goodbye to one of its fierce daughters. Elizabeth “Lily” O’Brennan was one of three revolutionary sisters in the O’Brennan clan, and was a true believer in the cause of Irish freedom. She fought for it even when it cost her her own.
Kathleen O’Brennan is one of three revolutionary sisters whose lives were totally changed by the Easter Rising of 1916. Her sister Lily was heavily involved in the Rising and the cause of Irish freedom and her other sister Aine, became an Easter Rising widow when her husband was executed for his role in the revolt. Kathleen wasn’t in Ireland at the time of the Rising – but this didn’t stop her. She fought for Ireland from the United States earning a difficult reputation and a spot in the history books of her own.
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, 101 years ago today.
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.
Last year on International Women’s Day I was in Derry, exploring the murals that were off the beaten path. I found many honoring the women of the area – including one that was painted in honor of International Women’s day itself. I find that looking through my pictures of them now is just as inspiring as it was then, and I think sharing my favorites on both sides of the puddle is especially powerful on today of all days.
Women have been fighting for equality and recognition for centuries. In Irish history, women have always been seen as supporting cast members, fundraisers, nurses, etc. and safely put in the appropriate roles for their gender, whether they could do more or not. This has been the case for years and years and only now is that idea starting to be debunked by historians…but the historians devoting themselves to elevating the roles of women are mostly female. Myself included. Continue reading →