Margaret Skinnider (1892 -
Skinnider, the youngest of five children, was born to
James Skinnider and Jane Dowd on May 28, 1892 in Coatbridge on
the outskirts of Glasgow in Scotland.
Her father was born in Cornagilta in Co.
Monaghan and her mother in Barrhead in East Renfrewshire,
In the latter half on 19th century Coatbridge was a booming town owing
to the discovery of large deposits of coal and iron ore and,
consequently, a choice locations for many of the Irish fleeing the “Great
Hunger” of 1845 through 1850. By 1851 the Irish constituted 35% of
the of the town’s population. By the turn of the 20th century that had
dropped to 15% owing to the depletion of the coal and iron ore deposits
and the consequent reduction in the work force needed to man the mines
Coatbridge was, and sometimes still is referred to as “little Ireland”,
a not so unique distinction in that it was applied to other towns and
areas in Scotland including the Cowgate in Edinburgh, the birthplace of
James Connolly. During Skinnider’s childhood it had an abundance of
Irish social, cultural and political organizations frequented and
supported by exiled Irish immigrants. The influence exerted by these
organizations on the attitudes and loyalties of the children growing up
in places like Coatbridge, particularly, with respect to Ireland and its
people, was the real deal as opposed to what they were taught in school
which, to them, was unbelievable and, generally, dismissed as
During her childhood she spent many of her summer vacations in
Monaghan with her father’s family. It was during these visits that she
witnessed, first-hand, the disparity in living conditions between the “Planter
class"(1) and the native Irish. That insight lent
credence to what she later read in a book titled “An Irish History of Ireland”. Comparing what she read
in that book to the British version taught in school, compounded the
resentment she first felt in Monaghan towards the British establishment
and, overtime, formed the basis for her lifelong militant political
After completing her primary and secondary education Margaret enrolled
in a teachers training college. On receiving her certification she
started her teaching carrier as a mathematics teacher at St Agnes’s
Catholic School in Lambhill on the north side of Glasgow.
By the time Margaret turned twenty she was deeply involved with the
militant suffragette movement in Glasgow. She was on the authorities
watch list of militant women who were quite capable and unafraid to
engage in militant activities in furtherance of their cause.
At the onset of WWI the British government set up rifle practice clubs for young
women who, if needed, would have the skills to help defend the British
Empire. Margaret joined one of the clubs, and unlike many of the other
young women who joined, pressed on with her training until she became an
excellent markswoman. Also, unlike many of the other young women, her
motivation was not to defend the Empire but, rather, to help break its
hold on Ireland, the country she considered to be hers.
Radicalized by her experiences as a militant suffragette, coupled with
empathy for the oppressed and
exploited working class and Ireland’s quest for freedom,
Margaret joined Cumann na mBan and the Irish Volunteers in the summer of
1915 after branches of both organizations were established in Glasgow.
She believed her suffragette related experiences and newly acquired
shooting skills would be useful assets in furthering the aims of both
By 1915 Ireland was at a crossroads of history. Dormant revolutionary
forces, buoyed by the nationalistic fervor generated by the Gaelic
League and other nationalistic and labor organizations, were once again
preparing for war. A series of triggering events including the British
Empire at war, the abandonment of the third Home
Rule bill for Ireland and the high-jacking of the Irish Volunteers by
John Redmond set the stage for the ensuing Easter Rising of 1916.
Students of Irish history such as Margaret knew that the ‘Empire at
war’ was a trigger for an Irish rising.
Margaret zeal and hard work for Cumann na mBan in Glasgow came to the
attention of Countess Markievicz (2) who invited her to visit Dublin
during the Christmas season of 1915.
During the months leading up to the Easter Rising members of the Glasgow
branches of Cumann na mBan and the Irish Volunteers who travelled to
Ireland carried, hidden on their person, weapons on various description
including guns, ammunition and bomb detonators. Margaret, who smuggled a
quantity of bomb detonators with attached wires wrapped around her body,
was no exception.
It is worth noting here that as many as 50 active participants in the
Easter Rising came from Scotland including James Connolly who was
executed for his leadership role and Charles Carrigan from Denny in
Stirlingshire who was killed during the evacuation of the General Post
Countess Markievicz and Margaret were kindred spirits. Both were
courageous, excellent markswomen and fiercely dedicated to women’s
rights, the welfare of the downtrodden and Ireland’s inalienable right
to nationhood. From that perspective they understood and trusted each
other and in no time were planning, practicing and preparing for the
rising they were confident was inevitable.
To that end Margaret made use of her short visit to Dublin. Under Markievicz’s tutelage
she tried out various disguises that would be
useful during the rising including walking through the streets of Dublin
Eireann boys dressed as one of them -- singing anti-recruitment
songs to discourage young Irishmen from joining the British army. With
her mathematical background she was tasked by Markievicz to produce
detailed sketches of the Beggar’s Bush barracks for use in dynamiting
the barracks if the need arose during the rising. The sketches she
produced that included the placement of explosives, were reviewed and
approved by James Connolly who was familiar with layout of the barracks.
She also took part in raids for arms and ammunition and practiced
setting off explosives in the foothills of the Dublin mountains. By the
time her visit to Dublin ended she had gained the trust and confidence
of Markievicz and Connolly and others in leadership positions. She
promised Markievicz that she would return to Dublin when sent for,
probably before Easter 1916.
When summonsed, Margaret returned to Dublin, as promised, on Holy
Thursday. On arriving there she went to Liberty Hall, the headquarters
of the Citizens Army, where she joined other young women in assembling
and transporting munitions to hiding places and carrying dispatches to
outlying commanders. The orders issued by the Army Council to the Irish
Volunteers to assemble for drill on Easter Sunday morning was
countermanded by Eoin McNeill, Commander-in-chief of the Irish
Volunteers when he learned that the order to assemble was the signal for
the start of the rising.
O’Neill’s countermanding order, born of fear, coupled with the loss of
"Aud" and its cargo of munitions essentially doomed the rising to
With no options left due to the advanced stages of implementation and
the real possibility that the British would be alerted the Army Council
decided to reschedule the rising for Monday. They sent couriers around
the country to inform the Volunteer commanders that the rising was
proceed as planned a day later on Monday the 24th. Despite their best
efforts most of the Volunteer battalions, who were used to O’Neill’s
signature on orders, were hesitant to reverse course, fearing a British
At the onset of the rising on Monday morning, Margaret was sent out on
her bicycle to scout the barracks around Dublin to see if the British
army was on the move. On reporting back that all was quite she was sent
out again by Michael Mallin to Stephens Green with instructions to
return if she observed any unusual movement by the police or military
personnel, otherwise remain there until she was joined by the contingent
assigned to Stephens Green.
From Sunday through Wednesday Margaret carried numerous dispatches on
her bicycle between the Stephen’s Green garrison and headquarters in the
General Post Office. On many of these trips she came under fire. On one
occasion her bicycle tire was punctured by a bullet. On another occasion
she rode up behind a carriage occupied by Markievicz and another
volunteer who had come face-to-face with a contingent of British
soldiers. Markievicz and her companion, without hesitation, raised their
weapons and shot two of the soldiers leading the contingent. The rest
of the soldiers retreated.
By Wednesday British troops were pouring into Ireland. The College
Green garrison of 100 or so men and women, who were about to be
surrounded took over the nearby College of Surgeons building were they
remained until the surrender on Saturday the 29th. Between running
dispatches Margaret donned a Citizen Army uniform and joined the squad
nestled in the rafters firing at soldiers manning a machinegun across
the green on the roof of the Shelbourne hotel. According to her own
account she saw more than one soldier she had aimed fall.
On Wednesday Margaret presented Mallin with a plan, based on her
observation from the many dispatch runs she had undertaken, to dislodge
the British soldiers from the roof of the Shelbourne Hotel. At first
Mallin was reluctant to put her in charge of such a dangerous mission,
but, after Margaret argued that the Proclamation put men and women on
even footing reluctantly agreed. However, before allowing her to
undertaking that task he put her in charge of a group of men dispatched
to silence another machine gun nest setup on the nearby University
Church. The plan was to set fire to adjacent structures to dislodge the
In reaching the structure one of the men used his rifle butt to
breakdown a door to gain access. Unfortunately the rifle discharged
alerting nearby soldiers who opened fire, killing 17 years old, Fred
Ryan and wounding Margaret with three bullets in her back. She was
carried back to the College of Surgeons where she remained until the
Sunday morning. Shortly after arriving back at the College, Markievicz,
who had disappeared for a short time, informed Margaret on her return
that Fred’s killing and her wounding had been avenged. The two British
soldiers who had killed Fred Ryan and wounded Margaret lay dead on a
After the surrender, Margaret was transferred to St. Vincent’s hospital
where she recuperated for five weeks after which she was taken to
Brideswell prison for questioning. After several hours of questioning
she was taken back to St. Vincent’s at the behest of the head doctor at
St. Vincent’s who had contacted the prison authorities insisting that
she was too ill to be jailed.
Shortly after been released from the hospital she, somehow, managed to
obtain a permit from the military authorities to visit Glasgow without
raising suspicion of her combatant role in the rising. During her stay
in Glasgow she went to England to visit prisoners-of-war who were
interned to English prisons after the rising.
In early August of 1916 Margaret, together with
Nora Connolly, left
Glasgow for the United States. After arriving there they embarked on a
fundraising lecture tour on behalf of the Irish National Aid Association
and Volunteer Dependants' Fund (INAAVDF).
In December of 1916
Hanna Sheehy Skeffington arrived in the United
States and took up residence with Margaret in Brooklyn. Hanna joined
Margaret and Nora on the fundraising lecture tour garnering substantial
sums of money for the INAAVDF and raising awareness of the dire
situation in Ireland in the aftermath of the rising.
In 1917 Margaret published a book while living in New York 'Doing my bit
for Ireland' that chronicled her involvement in the activities leading
up to and during the rising.
Towards the end of 1917 when the INAAVDF ceased its fundraising
activities Margaret, Nora Connolly and Hanna Sheehy Skeffington sought
permission to return to Ireland. At first their request was opposed by
the British Military authorities in Ireland fearing that they would
engage in activities detrimental to British interests in Ireland. After
numerous protests and adverse publicity, the British relented, and by
July of 1918 allowed the women to return to Liverpool, but not to
In short order all three of the women made their way back to Ireland.
Leading up to and during the War of Independence, Margaret, trained
Volunteers recruits in the use of firearms and explosives. She opposed
the so-called Anglo-Irish Treaty that brought an end to the war, as did
the vast majority of the women of Cumann na mBan.
Core provisions of that treaty included 1) the partition of Ireland, 2)
Irish people would continue to be subjects of the British Empire (not
Irish citizens) and 3) anyone seeking employment with the government or
any of its agencies as well as members of the Dail would be required to
swear an oath of allegiance to the English monarch.
Amongst other nefarious provisions of the treaty, the above three
provisions were the most repugnant to a majority of the fighting men and
women who, in good conscience could not abide by. The treaty was a
recipe for war.
At the onset of the ensuing Treaty War, Margaret was appointed Paymaster
General of the Republican forces. In December of 1922 she was arrested
by the pro-treaty British-backed Free State forces and incarcerated for
11 months in the North Dublin Union and Mountjoy jail under unsanitary
and atrocious conditions.
After she was released in late 1923 she went to work as a primary
teacher at the Sisters of Charity school in King’s Inn Street, Dublin
where she remained until she retired in 1961. She was also a prominent
member of the Irish National School Teachers’ Association serving as its
president in 1956/7. She also served on the Irish Congress of
Trade Unions executive council until 1963.
Margaret Skinnider died in October of 1971. She is buried in the
Republican plot in Glasnevin Cemetery in Dublin alongside Countess
Tomás Ó Coısdealha
1, The "Planter class" the term used by the native Irish
in referring to the Protestant Ascendancy — known simply as
the Ascendancy — was the political, economic and social domination
of Ireland by a minority of landowners, Protestant clergy and members of
the professions, all members of the Established Church (the Church of
Ireland and Church of England) between the 17th century and the early
20th century. The Ascendancy excluded other groups from politics and
high society – widely seen as primarily Roman Catholics, but also
members of the Presbyterian and other Protestant denominations, along
with non-Christians such as Jews. Until the Reform Acts (1832–1928) even
the majority of Irish Protestants were effectively excluded from the
Ascendancy, being too poor to vote. In general, the privileges of the
Ascendancy were resented by Irish Catholics, who made up the majority of
the population (from Wikipedia)
2, Countess Markievicz, born Constance Gore-Booth, was a
product of the Anglo-Irish Ascendancy. She was a suffragette, a
socialist and a fervent Irish nationalist. She was a founding member of
Fianna Eireann, a member of Cumann na mBan and an officer in James
Connolly’s Irish Citizen Army. She was second in command to Michael
Mallin at the Stephens Green/College of Surgeons garrison during the
Rising. She was sentenced to death for her role in the Rising that
commuted to life imprisonment because of her gender.
cemetery AND grave location
Cemetery PHONE NO.
353 1 830-1133
Road, Glasnevin, Dublin 11, Ireland
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