The “forgotten women” of Irish history who participated in the 1916 Rising were remembered at the weekend in a tribute outside Liberty Hall and the GPO General Post Office in Dublin, two of the strongholds for Irish fighters during the rising.
Relatives wore medals the women received for their roles in the rising and carried their photographs as a colour guard dressed in the uniforms of the Irish Citizen Army led a procession from Liberty Hall to lay two wreaths at the GPO.
One wreath was “in honour of all women fighting for Irish freedom 1916-23”. A second was for the men involved.
A number of women who participated in 1916 were recalled, including then 14-year-old Molly O’Brien. On Palm Sunday 1916 Molly raised the green flag with the gold harp of the Irish Citizen Army over Liberty Hall, then a two-storey building. In a re-enactment, her great-niece Grace Gallagher raised the Irish Citizen Army flag again at Liberty Hall yesterday.
Molly’s daughter, Constance Cooney, named after Countess Markievicz, said her mother marched with the citizen army to the GPO and acted as a messenger between the GPO and City Hall. She was subsequently arrested and imprisoned as a member of Cumann na mBan.
Participants have called for a memorial plaque to be erected on O’Connell Street for the 200 women who participated in the rising and the 800 who were jailed in 1921 as members of Cumann na mBan, because they refused to accept the Treaty.
omen participated in the Uprising were members of two groups: the Irish Citizen Army (ICA) and Cumann na mBan (Women’s Council). The members of the ICA trained alongside men and participated in all of the same activities as men. The women who were part of Cumann na mBan were generally segregated from the male troops and assigned to less militant tasks.
Women were utilized in many different ways throughout the revolution. Some acted as couriers and snipers for the ICA, while others tended to the wounded or managed provisions.
Many women used their gender as a military strategy, for they knew that they would be neither suspected nor searched by the British troops. One of the most memorable events of the Uprising included both women and men, all armed, who stormed Dublin Castle - the symbolic center of British power in Ireland.
When the time for surrender came it was a woman - Elizabeth O’Farrell - who handed over the official notice to the British. Seventy-seven women were arrested during the surrender. Of these only 5 were detained for any period of time, and only one - Constance Markievicz - was sentenced to death. Her sentence was later converted to life in prison because of her sex.
After the Uprising women’s role became even more crucial because all of the male leaders of the revolt had been either imprisoned or executed. Women worked to raise funds for the wives and families of these men, and also to publicize the movement. They kept the quest for Irish independence alive in the hearts of the people at a time when morale was low and the movement could have died.
Bernie English, an organiser and a member of the North Inner City Folklore Project, said the Easter ceremony, which she hopes will be an annual event, “is to give these women the recognition they justly deserve”.
Terry Fagan, director of the project and local historian, said every statue on O’Connell Street represented men. “We’re just looking for a small plaque directly opposite the GPO.”
Recalling the 800 women who were imprisoned in Kilmainham, Mountjoy and North Dublin Union, now Grangegorman, he said that in 1921 the government targeted the anti-Treaty side by arresting the women of Cumann na mBan and “knock out the intelligence system”. It was the women who gathered the information. Many went on hunger strike in an attempt to get released. Most could not get work afterwards. “They were treated like criminals,” said Mr Fagan.
“Women haven’t been airbrushed out of history - they have been savagely drawn out of it,” Kathleen O’Neill told the audience of about 500 at the GPO. Ms O’Neill, manager of the Kilbarrack Community Development Group, said the women of 1916 were “savagely dealt with by the men who they stood side by side with at the GPO.”