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The Heroic Women of 1916

Easter is just around the corner, and in Ireland we have two holidays at Easter. Of course there is the religious holiday celebrated by a bunny delivering chocolate, and there is also the anniversary of the 1916 Easter Uprising – the event that sparked the last stage of the fight for an independent Irish republic.  Next year will be the 100th anniversary of one of the most pivotal events in all of Irish history, and as that approaches, more and more people are becoming aware of the women who played critical roles in the Easter Uprising.  Here are a few names to know of Ireland’s female freedom fighters.

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  • Countess Markievicz – Constance Georgine Gore-Booth gained her title and her more well-known surname from her husband, and she is probably the woman most associated with the 1916 Easter Uprising. Markievicz was second in command at St. Stephen’s Green during the uprising.  She was jailed for her role, and sentenced to be executed.  Her sentence was commuted to life in prison because she was a woman, and she was released as part of a general amnesty the following year.  Markievicz was elected to the British House of Commons (but did not take her seat as part of her opposition to British rule of Ireland) and later to the Dáil (the Irish parliament).
  • Elizabeth Farrell – A nurse, Farrell played a key but often overlooked role at the General Post Office where she served. Five members of the provisional government were stationed at the GPO for the uprising, and Farrell was one of three women there at the end when the rebels left and took shelter in a neighboring house.  It was Farrell who braved British fire and left the house, white flag in hand, to relay messages between the British military leader and the five members of the provisional government – Padraig Pearse, James Connolly, Thomas Clarke, Sean MacDiarmada and Joseph Mary Plunkett – negotiating the surrender.
  • Kathleen Lynch – A relative of Countess Markievicz and member of the Irish Citizens Army, Dr. Lynch was the chief medical officer stationed at City Hall and Dublin Castle for the uprising. City Hall was captured in the morning, but held for less than a day.  The commander at the site, Sean Connolly, was killed by a sniper in the afternoon, and the surviving troops could not hold out more than a few hours after that.
  • Margaret Skinnider – Before the Uprising, Skinnider gave orders as a teacher in a primary school. She may have found leading soldiers easier, and she was leading five men on Harcourt Street when she was shot by British troops.  She survived three bullet wounds.  Skinnider also served as a scout and a sniper during the Uprising.

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These are only a few of the 100 or more women who served in the 1916 Uprising.  While many were nurses and some doctors, their roles were not limited to medical care.  Women took up arms alongside men and served in many capacities in the fight for Irish freedom and independence, a fact that should be noted by anyone at risk of annoying an Irishwoman.  Yes, the Irish mother is stereotypically affectionate and dotes on her young.  But don’t cross her or you’ll see exactly what she has inherited from her fighting foremothers.

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