Constance Markievicz on Some Women in Easter Week
SOME WOMEN IN EASTER WEEK
by Constance Markievicz (can’t find the original source of this; it was in my old MA papers; I assume it originally comes from the early-mid 1920s – it’s certainly after the formation of the Free State – but I’m not sure who the “you” refers to – PF)
You ask me to write you an account of my experiences and of the activities of the women of Easter Week. I am afraid that I can only give you a little account of those who were enrolled with me in the Irish Citizen Army, and those who were with me or whom I met during the week. Some were members of Cumann na mBan, and others, just women who were prepared to die for Ireland.
My activities were confined to a very limited area. I was mobilised for Liberty Hall and was sent from there via the City Hall to St Stephen’s Green, where I remained.
On Easter Monday morning there was a great hosting of disciplined and armed men at Liberty Hall.
Padraic Pearse and James Connolly addressed us and told us that from now on the Volunteers and Irish Citizen Army were not two forces, but the wings of the Irish Republican Army.
There were a considerable number of Irish Citizen Army women. These were absolutely on the same footing as the men. They took part in all marches, and even in the manoeuvres which lasted all night. Moreover, Connolly made it quite clear to us that unless we took our share in the drudgery of training and preparing, we should not be allowed to take any share at all in the fight. You may judge how fit we were when I tell you that sixteen miles was the length of our last route march. Connolly had appointed two staff officers – Commandant Mallin and myself. I held a commission, giving me the rank of Staff Lieutenant. I was accepted by Tom Clarke and the members of the provisional Government as the second of Connolly’s “ghosts”. “Ghosts” was the name we gave to those who stood secretly behind the leaders and were entrusted with enough of the plans of the Rising to enable them to carry on that leader’s work should anything happen to himself. Commandant Mallin was over me and next in command to Connolly. Dr Kathleen Lynn was our medical officer, holding the rank of Captain.
We watched the little bodies of men and women march off, Pearse and Connolly to the GPO, Sean Connolly to the City Hall. I went off with the doctor in her car. We carried a large store of first aid necessities and drove off through quiet dusty streets and across the river, reaching the City Hall just at the very moment that Commandant Sean Connolly and his little troop of men and women swung around the corner and he raised his gun and shot the policeman who barred the way. A wild excitement ensued, people running from every side to see what was up. The doctor got out, and I remember Mrs Barrett – sister of Sean Connolly – and others helping to carry in the doctor’s bundles. I did not meet Dr Lynn again until my release when her car met me and she welcomed me to her house, where she cared for me and fed me up and looked after me till I had recovered from the evil effects of the English prison system.
When I reported with the car to Commandant Mallin in Stephen’s Green, he told me that he must keep me. He said that owing to MacNeill’s calling off the Volunteers a lot of the men who should have been under him had had to be distributed around other posts, and that few of those left him were trained to shoot, so I must stay and be ready to take up the work of a sniper. He took me round the Green and showed me how the barricading of the gates and digging trenches had begun, and he left me in charge of this work while he went to superintend the erection of barricades in the streets and arrange other work. About two hours later he definitely promoted me to be his second-in-command. This work was very exciting when the fighting began. I continued round and round the Green, reporting back if anything was wanted, or tackling any sniper who was particularly objectionable.
Madeleine ffrench-Mullen was in charge of the Red Cross and the Commissariat in the Green. Some of the girls had revolvers, and with these they sallied forth and held up bread vans.
This was necessary because the first prisoner we took was a British officer, and Commandant Mallin treated him as such. He took his parole “as an officer and a gentleman” not to escape, and he left him at large in the Green before the gates were shut. This English gentleman walked around and found out all he could and then “bunked”.
We had a couple of sick men and prisoners in the bandstand, the Red Cross flag flying to protect them. The English in the Shelbourne turned a machine-gun on to them. A big group of our girls were attending to the sick, making tea for the prisoners or resting themselves. I never saw anything like their courage. Madeleine ffrench-Mullen brought them, with the sick and the prisoners, out and into a safer place.
It was all done slowly and in perfect order. More than one young girl said to me, “What is there to be afraid of? Won’t I go straight to heaven if I die for Ireland?” However it was, they came out unscathed from a shower of shrapnel. On Tuesday we began to be short of food. There were no bread carts on the streets. We retired into the College of Surgeons that evening and were joined by some of our men who had been in other places and by quite a large squad of Volunteers, and with this increase in our numbers the problem of food became very serious.
Nellie Gifford was put in charge of one large classroom with a big grate, but alas, there was nothing to cook. When we were all starving she produced a quantity of oatmeal from somewhere and made pot after pot of the most delicious porridge, which kept us going. But all the same, on Tuesday and Wednesday we absolutely starved. There seemed to be no bread in the town.
Later on, Mary Hyland was given charge of a little kitchen, somewhere down through the houses, near where the Eithne workroom now is.
We had only one woman casualty – Margaret Skinnider. She, like my-self, was in uniform and carried an army rifle. She had enlisted as a private in the Irish Citizen Army. She was one of the party who went out to set fire to a house just behind Russell’s Hotel. The English opened fire on them from the ground floor of a house just opposite. Poor Freddy Ryan was killed and Margaret was very badly wounded. She owes her life to William Partridge. He carried her away under fire and back to the Col-lege. God rest his noble soul. Brilliant orator and labour leader, comrade and friend of Connolly’s, he was content to serve as a private in the Irish Citizen Army. He was never strong and the privations he suffered in an English jail left him a dying man.
Margaret’s only regret was her bad luck in being disabled so early in the day (Wednesday of Easter Week) though she must have suffered terribly, but the end was nearer than we thought, for it was only a few days later that we carried her over to Vincent’s Hospital, so that she would not fall wounded into the hands of the English.
The memory of Easter Week with its heroic dead is sacred to us who survived. Many of us could almost wish that we had died in the moment of ecstasy when, with the tricolour over our heads, we went out and pro-claimed the Irish Republic and, with guns in our hands, tried to establish it.
We failed, but not until we had seen regiment after regiment run from our few guns. Our effort will inspire the people who come after us, and will give them hope and courage. If we failed to win, so did the English. They slaughtered and imprisoned, only to arouse the nation to a passion of love and loyalty, loyalty to Ireland and hatred of foreign rule. Once they see clearly that the English rule us still, only with a new personnel of traitors and new uniforms, they will finish the work begun by the men and women of Easter Week.
Posted on September 9, 2011, in Constance Markievicz, Historiography and historical texts, James Connolly, Republicanism post-1900, The road to the Easter Rising, Women in republican history. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.