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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Read This

I’m just popping on for a minute to link to an amazing article that was written a year ago, but I found only recently.  I’ve been struggling with a post that is similar for a few years, but this one says it more succinctly (and with less of a frustrated and horrified tone) than I have been able to. It’s worth a read no matter what side of the puddle you’re on regardless of when it was written, given that right-wing bigotry is still spreading throughout the world. Well done Ms. Markey.

WHAT THE HELL HAPPENED TO IRISH AMERICA?!?

Sorcha MacMahon is Born

Sorcha MacMahon was born on this day in 1888 and was one of seven children. Unlike many who had to learn the Irish Language later in life through private instruction or the Gaelic League, Sorcha was raised speaking it. Irish was the family’s first and preferred language and she was more than fluent in it at an early age. When she finished school, she left the family home in Monaghan and headed for Dublin where she began working as a bookkeeper. She also worked for the central branch of Cumann na mBan, a women’s organization dedicated to Irish independence. She was the group’s secretary and she was trained in nursing and first aid – skills that she passed on to many of the other women. Many said that she was one of the most efficient and devoted members of the group.

Sorcha MacMahon

Her dedication to Irish independence led Sorcha straight into the Easter Rising of 1916 and when it was over, she took a position that had her working directly with Michael Collins for years. For more about this brave woman, please CLICK HERE.

A Tale of Two Fenians

Stephen O’Donohoe was a poor law clerk in Dublin. He was a family man with four children who struggled to get ahead but only barely managed to scrape by. Like many, he blamed the English rule in Ireland for his woes. He was one of thousands of men who joined the Fenian Brotherhood, a group dedicated to overthrowing the government and getting the English out of his country.

Thomas Farrell was from Williamstown and was a confectioner by trade. He joined the Fenian Brotherhood as well, and while it’s not clear if these two men knew each other, what is certain is that they are now tied together for all of eternity.

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John O’Mahony

Many of Ireland’s great Fenians scattered to the wind to avoid prison when their various uprisings failed. More than few of them ended up on America’s shores and promptly set about creating organizations that furthered the Irish cause within the United States. One of those powerful men was John O’Mahony, the founding member of the Fenian Brotherhood in America.

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John Devoy

On this day in 1928, a great Irish warrior passed away. John Devoy lived a long life that was devoted to Irish freedom. For him, despite the many years he was in exile, Ireland was always home and its freedom was the only cause worth fighting for.

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Sorcha MacMahon

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.

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The rebel chanteuse

Many musicians and bands have sung traditional Irish rebel songs throughout the years and one of the most powerful females to do so was Kathleen McCready Largey. She was an amazing songstress and a strong voice both inside and outside of Ireland. Her voice even graced New York’s mighty Carnegie Hall once or twice and audiences on both sides of the ocean loved her.

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