civil war

Mary Kane / Revolutionary / Possibly the youngest member of Cumann na mBan

1907-1974

Mary Kane was born on 22 May 1907 to Sean Kane and Margaret Reynolds in Ballyshannon, Donegal. The third of six children, Mary and her family occupied a 2nd class, five-bedroom house in East Port, Ballyshannon. Mary’s father, who was born in Glasgow, Scotland, was a general dealer, and later specialized in marine dealing.

Tragedy struck the family in January 1908 when the eldest Kane child, Margaret, died of whooping cough at just four years old. She had been suffering from the highly contagious illness for over a month but had finally succumbed to it following ten days of pneumonia and five days of a serious infection in her lungs. No doubt the atmosphere in the house during this time was one of fear for the health not only of Margaret, but also for the toddlers Daniel and Mary, whose immune systems would have been delicate at such a young age.

In 1917, when Mary was just ten years old and attending school, she joined her local Cumann na mBan with her mother (who had just given birth to the youngest Kane child, Winifred, in January 1917). Her father was Captain of the local Ballyshannon Company. One of Mary’s earliest memories of her involvement in the campaign for Ireland’s independence was being attacked at Finner Camp by British forces after she and her parents had come from a republican meeting in Bundoran, around this time. It would not be the last time she was roughed up by hostile opposition.

In January 1919, Ireland’s war of independence began against British forces in Ireland. By this time, Mary and her mother had attended first aid training and lectures on numerous occasions, organised within their branch of Cumann na mBan, and Mary was already the principal dispatch carrier for the local Company.

Their home in East Port quickly became the dumping place for the Company arms and Mary, now twelve years old, was often tasked with carrying guns and ammunition from her home, past the Barracks, to the outskirts of town where she would meet the local Volunteers, whenever they needed arms. She did this almost every night of the week for some time, and the guns she carried included the bulky (at least for a small girl) Mauser rifle.

Mary and her mother were continuously attending parades, demonstrations and training days with their fellow Cumann na mBan comrades, as well as raising funds and further equipping Cumann na mBan by crafting First Aid equipment. Not only did they hide guns in their home, but they also opened it to any IRA man who needed a place to stay, or who was passing through the district and needed food. It became regarded as the connecting centre between Sligo and the rest of Donegal county, and Derry. Mary attended to these men with her mother, cooking meals and preparing make-shift beds almost every other night.

The following winter was particularly gruelling for Mary. For several months toward the end of 1920 and into 1921, three IRA men – Maguire, Kilfeather and Munday – were hiding out in a hay loft near her home. They had previously been given 24 hours to leave the country, or risk being ‘shot on sight.’ Almost every night, for several months, Mary waded across the Erne river in order to bring food to these men. On one occasion, while engaged in this errand, she was shot at by Black and Tans. The bullet splintered a brick and the flying fragments hit Mary in the face, causing serious damage to her eye, but still, she managed to successfully reach the boys to give them their food and various messages that night.

In the early hours of 5 December 1920, a man named Thomas Rooney, was shot by British Forces. It was reported that a large number of people had come into Ballyshannon that night to witness an eviction that was happening, causing some commotion in their wake. When the British Forces arrived, they cautioned those present to put their hands in the air. Tommy Rooney allegedly ignored this warning and began to run away. He was told to halt and was subsequently shot through the groin just after midnight, when he continued to run. He then staggered into Mary’s house where both Mary and her mother tried to save him. Mary left the house on her own to find the necessary First Aid supplies and Tommy’s brother Patrick would later state that ‘Mary and her mother […] done all they could to comfort him in every way’ but despite their efforts, Tommy died of his wounds at about 2am. According to Margaret, his body then lay in the hall of her house for two days pending an inquest. The inquest found that ‘the bullet which caused his death was fired by the military in the execution of their duty; that no blame is attached to any individual other than the deceased for his death.'(i) Tommy was twenty-six.

The hardships continued for Mary and her family into 1921 when the raids on her home became more numerous and frequent. For nine months, they had no panes of glass on their house windows, after they had been smashed by British Forces from Finner Camp during one particular raid. Due to these raids, Mary’s father could no longer stay in the home, and so Margaret was forced to provide for five young children on her own for months at a time. Mary was, on several occasions, bribed by British officers in an attempt to get information on the whereabouts of her her father. Every time this happened, Mary – then fourteen – ‘refused flatly’ to cooperate, and this was met with ‘rough treatment at the hands of the British.’

The War of Independence came to an end in July 1921. Like many women across Ireland, Mary and her mother probably attended a Cumann na mBan meeting to discuss what stance they would take regarding the Treaty.

They remained anti-Treaty, and so in the minority in Donegal.

Things didn’t stop with the ceasefire however, and during the Truce period, Mary was engaged constantly with taking messages and ammunition to and from Cliff House in Beleek, where republican forces were stationed for three months, to the Battery in Belleek, where fighting was in progress. In May and June 1922, the Battery was under shell fire from British Military forces, in what has become known as the Battle of Belleek. Local historian Liam O Duibhir has highlighted the significance of this period in the struggle for Ireland’s independence as ‘the only place in Ireland where the IRA engaged with British forces in a stand-up fight with a defined battle line.’ (ii) It was to be the last time that Anti- and Pro-Treaty forces fought alongside each other before the outbreak of Civil War.

When Civil War broke out in June 1922, their home was subjected to further raids, only this time the raiding was being done, no doubt, by people they knew. President of the Ballyshannon branch of Cumann na mBan, N. Rogers, would later state that Mary ‘was frequently questioned and threatened but refused to disclose any information even on peril of her own life.’

In September 1922, the Provisional Government decided to crack down on Cumann na mBan activities across the country.

Eithne Coyle, a well-known Donegal Cumann na mBan woman, was arrested and kept in Ballyshannon. It must have been here that Mary got in touch with Eithne and hence began protesting her internment. Others would later say that Mary was ‘prominent among those who put up posters protesting the detention of Miss Coyle’ and both she and her mother attended prisoner protest meetings and began to send parcels of food to prisoners in jail.

Mary herself was forced to go on the run during this time. She had become so well known, and the information she would have had was so important (by now, Mary was travelling up to 40 miles to give messages), that she would have been a valuable person to target, even at fifteen years old. Mary would later claim that ‘the whole town was on the run’ during which time she was unable to do anything but ‘save her neck from jail.’ When she could, she continued to carry arms to Tullaghan Camp which she procured in Ballyshannon, Belleek and other such places from Volunteers.

Mary’s last act as a republican at this time was to carry one last dispatch in February of 1923. The Civil War came to an end in May 1923, with the Anti-Treaty side losing.

Mary was just ten years old when she joined Cumann na mBan, and two days after her sixteenth birthday, the fighting came to an end. In 1935, at twenty-eight, she applied for a Military Pension. The man who interviewed her during this time was skeptical that ‘a girl of twelve should be engaged almost every night in carrying arms’ and wrote that ‘a lot of what she states about her early service may be taken with a grain of salt.’ However, the personal testimonies from those who knew Mary, and those who worked alongside her, would lead one to believe that everything she said she did was true. The president of her branch of Cumann na mBan would go on to state that despite the frequent raids on Mary’s home, the raids, ‘instead of deterring her, increased her zeal for patriotic work.’ Edward Munday – one of the men Mary brought food to in the hay loft – said that Mary ‘was very active throughout the whole period of the trouble and assisted the local Coy of the volunteers in every way possible.’ E. Harkin, captain of the G Coy stated that she ‘was always known as an ardent worker in the movement and ever ready to do a girls’ part.’ Michael Loughlin, 1st Lieut. of the Bundoran Company, was of the opinion that ‘there is no worthier applicant for a [Military] Pension in county Donegal’ than Mary. Bernard Brady, 3rd Batt. I officer, even went so far as to say that Mary ‘is deserving of the full amount available.’

Mary was eventually awarded 2 1/4 years of service in 1942. Both her mother and father were also granted pensions. She married PJ Gallagher on St. Patrick’s Day – 17 March – 1929 and lived her later years in Bundoran. She died on 3 March 1974, aged sixty-seven.

Herstory by Katelyn Hanna.

 

Sources:

Mary Gallagher, file MSP34REF34890, online at Military Archives, http://mspcsearch.militaryarchives.ie/detail.aspx?parentpriref=

(i) Londonderry Sentinel, 9 Dec. 1920.

(ii) Irish Independent, 3 June 2012.

Helena Hegarty / Revolutionary / Captain of Schull Cumann na mBan

1879-1962

Although her birth certificate would suggest that Ellen (or as she came to be called, ‘Helena’) Hegarty was born on 3 December 1879, as her baptismal cert is dated 13 November 1879, it is much more likely that she was born in early November of that year. The seventh of eight children born to Jeremiah Hegarty and Honora Sullivan in Schull, Co. Cork, Helena was still just a young child when four of her eldest siblings, Mary Anne, Bridget, Kate and Timothy, emigrated to the U.S.A in 1887.

By 1901, Helena was twenty years old and working as a seamstress. She was living with her retired parents, her brother Patrick, and his young family. Following a scandal in 1908 among the employees of the local workhouse, Helena became the head matron in about 1909, possibly helped or encouraged by her brother who was a member of the Board of Guardians and Rural District council. For £36 per year, it was Helena’s job to act as the deputy to the Master of the house, as well as oversee matters relating to the women, children and domestic arrangements of the house.

It is unknown when exactly Helena began getting involved in the fight for Ireland’s independence, or how she came to be involved, but she was made the captain of the Schull branch of Cumann na mBan and remained in that position until after the Civil war. In January 1921, the local IRA arrested a man named Robert Lenehan who they suspected was a British spy (they found envelopes addressed to the auxiliaries on his person), and asked Helena to keep him in one of the rooms of the workhouse until further notice. The windows and doors to the room were barricaded and he remained there for six to eight weeks under the sole charge of Helena herself, who used to push a plate of her own food under the door to him. This was an extremely risky job to pull off as there were inmates of the workhouse in the premises at the time, and if caught, Helena would have faced jail time and certain dismissal from her position. It was for a similar reason – allowing other than inmates to remain inside the workhouse for periods of time – that had seen the last matron fired, but what Helena was doing – keeping a British spy barricaded against his will – would have been dealt with far more severely.

After a few weeks, Lenehan was blindfolded and removed from the workhouse by the IRA and transferred to the Calves Islands, five miles away from Schull. However, he managed to escape and ‘judging from the confined area he had travelled in the interval’ and ‘being there so long listening to the bells etc’ suspicion fell on the workhouse as the place in which he had been imprisoned. He returned to the workhouse as a Black and Tan (according to Helena, he ‘returned in their uniform’) with 15-20 lorries of Black and Tans and a female searcher. Helena was then told by the officer in charge that she was to be arrested for keeping Lenehan imprisoned but she ‘knew the spy immediately and what he had come for,’ and she could think quick on her feet. She proceeded to take the spy to the wrong part of the building until the spy said that it was there that he had been held. Through ‘luck and coolness’ Helena succeeded in ‘making the spy contradict himself and finally got him so confused that the O/C really believed that the spy was mistaken.’

She was not arrested.

Throughout this time, Helena also supplied the IRA with £30 worth of blankets ‘knowing full well that if ever the auditor audited the books again, the shortage in [her] stock would be instant dismissal besides being responsible for the value through [her] own securities.’ With other members of the Schull branch, Helena raised £60 through money collections for the cause and in order to buy first aid equipment. Due to ‘things getting very hot’ at this time, and because military were often coming and going from a close by Marine station, many of the Cumann na mBan meetings were held ‘out along the country roads.’ At these meetings, among other things such as crafting haversacks and knitting socks and scarves, Helena had a fellow member who happened to be a nurse, teach the other girls how to administer first aid. She then had that nurse travel to other branches around the locality to instruct the officers there so that they, in turn, could teach their own members. Helena appointed two girls to attend each local hospital house (of which there were three in Schull) as well as supply them with sheets, shirts, socks, towels and a supply of first aid equipment.

Helena states that the workhouse infirmary was also a place in which she allowed convalescing and injured IRA men to stay, some for as long as six months. One man, suspected to be Frank Neville, stayed in the hospital wing under an assumed name and was taken away again by his men after only one night as there was a fear that he would be arrested. Indeed, it was not uncommon for the workhouse to be raided by the British military from time to time.

In June 1921, it was rumored that  the military were to be billeted into the workhouse. To prevent this from happening, the IRA decided to burn it to the ground. Helena was made aware of their plan the night prior so that she could ‘get things in readiness … as much as possible without creating suspicion.’ She did this by ‘removing clothes etc. for the inmates use whilst they were being sheltered in a neighbouring farmer’s outhouse where [she] assisted in removing them’ the night of the burning. The marine station was attacked at the same time so as to act as a distraction. Helena remained awake the entire night so as ‘to be ready for anything that could be done’ and was, towards the end, ‘under rifle or machine fire.’

During the Truce period, usual Cumann na mBan meetings were held, and members were appointed to attend the convention in Dublin to discuss the Treaty. They decided ‘on our representatives working against it.’ Helena also attended a Division meeting upon the request of the District officer which was held in the IRA military barracks in Skibbereen. Amongst matters discussed was ‘the attitude of Cumann na mBan in case of Civil War, where it was decided to go on as heretofore.’

With the burning of the workhouse, Helena was left homeless and without a job. She moved to a house on the main street of Schull and started her own business there, probably as a seamstress, which she said was badly affected by her ‘well known activities on the Republican side’ during the years which followed.

On 28 June 1922, civil war broke out and Helena remained on the Republican side. Sometime later, Free State troops were billeted in the house of a man named Alfred Cocks, right next door to Helena. He used to provide her with any information he could gather regarding raids and it was her opinion that because he was Protestant, they never suspected that he was the one giving her the information. At one point, he told her that a raid was due to take place on her own brother’s house where the troops had learned three IRA men were staying. As he was giving her this information, her nephew Jerome (son of said brother) walked through the door and told her that her father was dying. Helena immediately sent Jerome back home to warn the men of the impending raid while she prepared to make the trip herself to see her dad. Whilst cycling there, she was stopped by the military who were marching and searching the countryside ahead of her and was not allowed to proceed because the officer in charge feared that she ‘was going to give word of their movements.’ She explained to them the situation with her father but still, they would not let her go. Fortunately, her father lived for another few months, and the three IRA men made their escape.

Helena often sent messages of warning to various members of the Active Service Units (ASU) during this time, saving them from arrest. On one particular night she cycled to Ballydehob (8.2km outside Schull) to give word of Free State troops’ movements. On her return trip, the troops ‘held [her] up’ and ‘told [her] not to come into Ballydehob anymore and threatened to seize [her] bicycle.’ Helena took no heed to this warning and continued to carry out her business in Ballydehob when she needed to but left her bike outside the town before re-entry each time.

Helena’s work in the Schull Cumann na mBan cannot be understated. The level of trust she must have had from the IRA around her to be given the task of imprisoning a British spy for over a month was obviously very great. She was clearly a very intelligent and practical woman who could think on her feet and get things done. Her commitment to the cause, to sacrifice her home and job in one night, is admirable. She was one who knew her worth and voiced her disappointment at being granted less than she deserved by the Military Pensions Board.

Helena knew the risks, and she took the risks, for an independent Ireland.

She died on 22 March 1962 at the age of eighty.

 

 Herstory by Katelyn Hanna.

 

Sources:

Military Service Pensions Collection, Helena Hegarty MSP34REF28143 online at http://www.militaryarchives.ie/en/collections/online-collections/military-service-pensions-collection-1916-1923/search-the-collection

Agnes Gallagher / Revolutionary / Musician / Teacher

1863-1946

… I gladly testify to the wholehearted and devoted service of Miss Agnes Gallagher and her two sisters […] from 1915 onwards. They organised concerts, carried out National Aid work, assisted in organising activities and at a later stage rendered the greatest service to the West Mayo flying column through the provision of clothing and supplies, the maintenance of communications and supplying information. […] Miss Gallagher’s enthusiasm, devotion and unselfishness were always a fountain of inspiration and encouragement for the young men and women of the Westport district. The moral support given to us at all times by herself and her family was of the greatest value and must be reckoned with the financial aid and the practical assistance which they gave in a wide range of cultural, and political, as well as military, activities over a long period of years. Miss Gallagher’s services in the national movement cannot be sufficiently appreciated by those who had not personal knowledge of her work and of the intimate relations of trust which existed between her family and the local Volunteer and IRA organisations.’

-Thomas Derrig (Commandent of the West Mayo Brigade of the Irish Volunteers)

Early Life

Agnes Gallagher was born on 19 November 1863 in Westport, Mayo to Patrick Gallagher and Margaret Gill. She was the sixth of ten children born to the couple and had a further two older half siblings through her father. One of these, Martin Gallagher was a ‘conspicuous figure in Irish national affairs’ as a fenian and had to flee the country for America in the late 1860s after being labelled a ‘marked man’, when Agnes was still a small child. (i) Likewise, the Gill branch of her family tree were highly active in seeking Ireland’s independence. Her first cousin Major John MacBride would end up as one of the leaders shot in 1916 and his brother Joseph would be elected to represent south Mayo in 1918.

The Gallagher family were quite well-off and both Agnes and her sister Kathleen were trained instrumental musicians on the violin. By 1880 Agnes was playing at local concerts.

Involvement in the Gaelic Revival

Both Agnes and her sister are recorded as ‘music teachers’ in the 1901 census. It is understood that the women taught from home, in what Agnes called an ‘academy’, with young female students attending their house for lessons.

In 1904 Agnes was on the instrumental music judging panel at the Mayo Feis which ran for three days and proved that the Gaelic movement had taken ‘great hold’ in the West (i). The feis promoted Irish singing, dancing and story-telling, as well as Irish crafts and agriculture. President of the Gaelic League (and later, the first president of Ireland) Douglas Hyde was also in attendance representing the League, as well as Patrick Pearse and Agnes O’Farrelly, who would be one of the founding members of Cumann na mBan in 1914.

Early Activity

In 1915, at the age of fifty-two, Agnes helped to found the Mayo branch of Cumann na mBan. Little is known of her early activities but on 24 April 1916 (Easter Monday), she organised a concert to help raise funds for the Volunteers.

She organised concerts frequently in order to raise money for both the Volunteers and Fianna Eireann, as she had an orchestra of her own, of twenty-four people whom she taught. She stated in her pension application file that during this particular concert they heard of ‘this thing in Dublin’ and that all the artists were then taken away and the police arrived. (ii) In the months that followed, Agnes would on occasion hire artists from Dublin to come to Mayo to play at these concerts in order to draw in a bigger crowd, and she would pay them out of her own pocket.

Agnes was also involved in organising financial support for dependents of volunteers in prison, as well as anti-recruiting against British Forces.

In September 1917 she was sent as a delegate to Thomas Ashe’s funeral in Dublin. Ashe had been a member of the IRB, Gaelic League and a founding member of the Irish Volunteers. Upon being arrested and refused ‘prisoner of war’ status, he went on hunger strike and died after being force fed. 30,000 attended the procession to Glasnevin cemetery where Michael Collins gave a eulogy. The event is seen by many as a turning point in the attitudes of the Irish public towards the ideal of an Irish Republic.

In 1918, while continuing her fund raising, Agnes campaigned heavily for the election of her cousin Joseph MacBride as Sinn Fein MP for the Mayo West constituency. No doubt she spearheaded a lot of his campaign for him, as he was imprisoned at the time, having been arrested in May of that year. She herself referred to it as an ‘intensive canvas’ and stated that by that time, she was organising concerts to take place every Sunday. (ii) The two cousins appear to have been very close, as Agnes even acted as his seconder when it came to candidate nominations in early December 1918.

Sinn Fein won 73 out of 105 possible Irish seats, Joseph taking one of them, by mid-December. Just one month later, on 21 January 1919, Sinn Fein MP’s refused to recognise the UK Parliament and instead established a revolutionary parliament they named Dail Eireann in the Mansion House, Dublin, on the exact same day that the Irish War of Independence began.

War of Independence (1919-1921)

From April of that year, Agnes began to provide accommodation for the Courts of Dail Eireann, which was declared illegal by the British in September 1919. Her house on Bridge Street, Westport had already been established as a meeting place for the IRB before Easter Week 1916, so it was no surprise that she hosted the likes of Arthur Griffith, Thomas Derrig and Michael Kilroy during the War of Independence. She also canvassed for, and collected, subscriptions for the Internal loan of the Dail Eireann at this time.

Between 1919 and 1920, searches were constantly being carried out on Agnes’ young female students to the extent that her Academy had to be closed because ‘the children were afraid to come in.’ (ii) The British forces also conducted many raids on her house, one in particular was in search of a gun they believed to be hidden there. In fact, a Thompson machine gun was in the house at the time, but Agnes managed to conceal it well enough that it was never found. On another occasion, she got word that her house was to be burned out, so she cleared the building of almost all the furniture. The house was saved when the Black and Tans ran out of petrol a few doors down from her home.

Of these raids, Agnes said:

…They would come in the middle of the night too and raid us. Nothing but r…. and raids. That was the Tan time. They wanted to take over our house from us. The Auxiliaries came and demanded the house.

Sometime in autumn 1920, ‘strangers’ to the locality came to Agnes’ front door. They were Tans ‘with revolvers in their hands’ and they ‘inquired for Miss Agnes Gallagher.’ (ii) In order to evade arrest, she was forced to leave her house and go on the run. She went to Islandmore and Clew Bay and ‘organised the girls’ there. She trained them to conduct scouting work ‘to see when the boats were coming.’ (ii)

Returning to her house by Christmas, Agnes and her two sisters, Nora and Kathleen, set up a communication station and received despatches from Newport and Louisburg and from other surrounding areas. Rarely trusting anyone else to deliver the messages to the boys, Agnes often went herself, two or three times a week.

On 19 May 1921, six IRA men were killed and seven wounded in what is now known as the Kilmeena Ambush. In her pension application, Agnes states that she forwarded information she got regarding the attack on Kilmeena, which turned out to be correct. Her information would have been vital, for it has been said that ‘it was a crucial week in the survival of the column because they were attacked from the rear at Kilmeena and could have been wiped out during this action.’ (iii)

Truce period

On 11 July 1921, a truce was called. From 12 July, Agnes began to give her house up again for conferences and billeting of senior officers of the IRA. It was also used as a liaison office to debate over the terms of the Truce being offered.  This must have been a very difficult time for Agnes, who remained fiercely anti-Treaty and republican, as among everything else, her close ally and cousin, Joseph MacBride, went pro-Treaty. Of the split in their party, Agnes said ‘I  could not prevent them. I did my best to keep them back.’ (ii) In spite of the turmoil in her own home, Agnes continued to raise funds for the IRA and actively campaigned for them during the Truce period with her grand-niece Eileen Dineen (daughter of Francis Dineen, fourth president of the GAA) who she seemed to have raised with her sisters.

Civil War (1922-1923)

On 28 June 1922, civil war broke out. The anti-Treaty Irish Republicans were on one side, and the pro-Treaty Irish nationalists on the other. About this time, Agnes began to procure rifles and ammunition for the IRA. She did this by having another person negotiate with Free State forces over the Barracks walls. These men were selling boots, clothes and ammunition which Agnes took advantage of through her negotiator. She got about eight or nine rifles this way and then would leave them in a prearranged place for the IRA to pick up, or else transport them through the bread van. She also purchased leggings and other small items from a shopkeeper in Westport who had refused to sell the stuff to the IRA members. They did however, sell it to Agnes, who was forced to pay the bills accumulated herself.

On two occasions, Agnes traveled to Dublin for Cumann na mBan related business. She attended a meeting at 6 Harcourt Street where she liaised with Nancy ‘Nannie’ O’Rahilly and Mrs Mary Kate O’Kelly (successful academic in her own right and first wife of Sean T. O’Kelly, second President of Ireland).  She had planned the trips in order to get more equipment for the IRA in her locality, but as they didn’t have enough for themselves in Dublin, she failed to attain anything of any use.

Agnes helped to re-organise an Intelligence service in Westport around this time in order to forward warnings of impending attacks to the local boys. This was done through a network of Cumann na mBan women stationed in different parts of the surrounding areas, as well as information obtained from Free State soldiers or their friends. In late October, her house was fired on by Free State troops, she being nearly shot herself. Of the terrifying experience, she had the following to say:

They shot a very valuable dog on us. The house was raided three times that night. We never went to bed. It was the night they were coming back from the raid on Clifden. They expected the boys would be coming back from there and kept raiding all night.

On 22 November 1922, Agnes got word of an ambush organised for the next day in north Mayo, where she knew Michael Kilroy and his column where. She said that she got this information from a friend of hers, Joseph Ruddy, who she had known from her time in the Sinn Fein club, and who was now a captain in the national forces. He had visited her that morning and of the visit she said:

… they were getting ready in the barracks, for a raid. I sent them word there was a detachment going down. I could infer they were going from what he said.

Agnes went personally to give this information to Michael Kilroy. Of the night she said:

I was walking – you could not cycle on the road; it was patrolled. One would be held up. They had outposts everywhere. It was about nine o clock at night. I had to go across the fields – I dare not go on the road. I passed the outpost, and they followed me. I got in under the railway bridge, and they kept firing but did not know where I was. I knew all the cross-cuts and I got out on the Newport road. I got a girl out there to go down with the dispatch to Kilroy. I knew there was a Brigade meeting on. They were surrounded the next morning.

Michael Kilroy was wounded and captured the next day. Agnes’ friend, Joseph Ruddy, was killed.

Prison Time and Hunger Strikes

On 21 April 1923, at fifty-nine years old, Agnes was arrested by Claremorris troops and sent to Galway prison without trial. Her arrest was not unusual in the area, where it was reported in March of that year that ‘it is almost an every-day sight to see prisoners being marched by a strong military guard to the station on the way to internment.’ (iv) Upon arrival she was described as a 5ft 5 3/4in woman with grey hair, blue eyes and fresh complexion.

On 21 May she was transferred to Kilmainham jail in Dublin, and despite the Civil War coming to an end three days later on 24 May, Agnes remained incarcerated. Here, she would have lived in poor conditions. One Minnie Lenihan, a Galway girl who spent time in Kilmainham, said that thirty women were expected to live in a dormitory no bigger than 30 by 20 feet. (v) During her time here, Agnes went on two hunger strikes, one which resulted in her losing her sight. After striking for ten days in one instance, Agnes said:

…we were pretty weak and were not able to go out in the air for recreation, and we opened one of the windows to get fresh air. There was a soldier in the Crows Nest, and he always shot at the prisoners when he saw them at the windows. I did not know this. They shouted to me that he was going to fire. I stumbled back and fell, and broke two ribs, and my eye came against the table with the result I was never able to teach music since I came home or take up any position.

Even with the injuries she sustained, Agnes was not released from prison. Instead, on 28 September she was transferred again, this time to North Dublin Union. One woman described the NDU as follows:

… the condition of the place was filthy beyond description, the treatment was worse, the diet was worse, and altogether, in every respect, it was the worst period of [her] confinement.

On 13 October, with no release in sight and under worsening conditions in the prisons, a mass hunger strike was announced by Michael Kilroy. Within days, there were over 7,000 Republicans in prisons around the country on hunger strike, and fifty of those were women in the North Dublin Union, including Agnes.

Later Life

Eventually, on 27 October 1923, Agnes was released from prison and sent back to Mayo. At almost sixty years old, and suffering from spending four months in terrible conditions in prison, during which time she underwent three separate hunger strikes, Agnes’ health was very poor. Now blind, Agnes was unable to resume her music teaching and could not take up a new position. She was primarily supported financially by her brother Edward. In September 1934 she began the process of applying for a military pension, but it wasn’t until 1942 that she would finally be granted one of Grade E status, £17 10s per annum. She appealed the decision as she felt that she deserved a higher grade than one of the lowest possible, however, her appeal was denied. One of those who wrote her a reference in her favour, was cousin, Joseph MacBride.

Agnes died at her home on 19 June 1946, after a ten-day illness, at the age of 82. Talented musician, teacher and revolutionary, Agnes was a brave and determined woman whose efforts were colossal in fighting for Ireland’s independence.

Herstory by Katelyn Hanna, Researcher and Project Manager, Herstory.

 

Sources:

(i) Connaught Telegraph, 3 Aug. 1901.

(ii) Military Service Pensions Collection (MSPC), MSP34REF3344: Agnes Gallagher, online at Military Archives, http://mspcsearch.militaryarchives.ie/detail.aspx?parentpriref= (accessed 20 Mar. 2018).

(iii) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Michael_Kilroy

(iv) Connacht Tribune, 10 Mar. 1923.

(v) Connacht Tribune, 15 Sept. 1923.