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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Anne Devlin

There are many, many women in Irish history who never get the recognition they deserve for their contributions to it. Anne Devlin may be the most egregious example of that. Her strength and dedication to the Irish cause was truly like no other.

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The mighty Margaret Skinnider

On the third day of Ireland’s Easter Rising, a woman got off her bicycle at St. Stephen’s Green and delivered the message she’d been hiding to the rebel leaders inside. Then she took off her skirts, put on a homemade uniform, picked up a rifle and headed to the roof of the building to take her turn as a deadly sniper. In between shots, Margaret Skinnider formed a plan for a bombing mission that would make the area safer for her comrades and fellow rebels.

Attempting to execute that plan nearly killed her when Ms. Skinnider was shot three times on this day in 1916. Her grave wounds earned her the distinction of being the only woman who was so seriously wounded in the rebellion and it cemented her place in Irish history. You cannot have a project that involves women in the Easter Rising without including Margaret’s near death experience so today belongs to her.

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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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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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Gerry Conlon R.I.P.

Gerry Conlon may be the single most influential person when it comes to who got me into studying Irish politics. The Guildford Four case was riveting for me and it showed just how cruel and scared absolutely everyone was in the heart of the conflict known colloquially as the Troubles. His case was a close second to the Easter Rising of 1916 in my favorite stories of tragic Irish triumph.

On June 21st, 2014 at 4AM California time, I found out that Gerry Conlon had passed away and I actually shed a tear. This marked the first time I  cried over a celebrity passing away since Johnny Cash, and I am pretty sure that it only happened those two times. I was heartbroken and I almost got up then to write about it but I wasn’t awake enough  to articulate the utter sadness of this news.

For those that may not know his story, early in 1975, Gerry Conlon and three other young adults were arrested in connection to the IRA bombing of the Guildford Pub. Despite having nothing to do with the IRA or the bombings, they were convicted and sentenced to life in prison…thankfully, since if they’d been sentenced to death, they all would have been dead before their convictions were quashed. Before they were eventually released, another seven innocent people were convicted of aiding them in this incident – including many of Conlon’s family members and his father, Giuseppe Conlon. Guiseppe never strayed from proclaiming his innocence and he remained hopeful that the miscarriage of justice would be overturned, but Gerry did not. Gerry did not have the fortitude of belief of his father.

Guiseppe Conlon died in prison an innocent man. Years and years later, his son – who found the fighter in himself shortly after the tragic death of his dad, eventually walked out of the courthouse through the front door over fifteen years later when his conviction was quashed, proving to the world that the Guildford Four and the Maguire Seven had been wrongly convicted. The blockbuster movie “In the Name of the Father” was based on these real life events and is an amazing film. If you haven’t seen it, go find it now. Seriously. It took over fifteen years for the police to admit they had made mistakes and purposefully suppressed evidence in order to convict these men and women…none of whom fit any profile or had any paramilitary or political ties.

I was sixteen when they released Gerry and I remember seeing the footage of him leaving the courthouse. It was one of my first forays into Irish politics – and it was a story that led to another, to another, and to another. More than twenty-five years later, I can point to Gerry Conlon as one of the reasons that I fell in love with Irish history. His story had a profound effect on my psyche. Unfortunately his story does not have the Hollywood ending that he so deserved. He struggled with depression, suicide, and addiction since the day he was finally released – and really, who wouldn’t? I cannot find fault in the need to try to erase what has happened to you and your family in whatever way you can. Still, Conlon made it to sixty years of age and was a published author and an activist in other cases that he felt were rigged or unfair. He died on this day in 2014 in Belfast and even now I am still a little teary as I write those words. I wish I had met him – it actually was a thing I had hoped to do someday – just to tell him what a profound impact his story had on shaping who I am and what my interests are. Sixty is too young for many but for Gerry Conlon it was a pretty amazing feat, given that he spent over 15 of them wrongly convicted in the harshest prisons.

His family says it better than anyone else could. In a statement issued through his lawyer Gareth Peirce, they said: “He brought life, love, intelligence, wit and strength to our family through its darkest hours. He helped us to survive what we were not meant to survive. We thank him for his life and we thank all his many friends for their love.”

Rest in Peace Mr. Conlon. Your story and your fight will forever be inspiring and triumphant. I am sorry you lived it and I am thankful for the impact it had on me.  I hope you see your father again.