Margaret Skinnider  (1892 - 1971)

Image result for margaret skinniderMargaret 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, Scotland.

 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 and smelters.

 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 propaganda.

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 activism. 

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 organizations.

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 Office.

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 with the Fianna 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 the "Aud" and its cargo of munitions essentially doomed the rising to failure.

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 plot.

 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 nest.

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 Dublin street.

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 Ireland.   

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 Markievicz.

 

Contributor:  Tomás Ó Coısdealha


 NOTES:

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

Name:        Glasnevin Cemetery                                      PHONE NO.      011 353 1 830-1133

ADDRESS:   Finglas Road, Glasnevin, Dublin 11, Ireland

LOCATION:  Republican Plot


REPUBLICAN PLOT

 

GRAVE MARKER


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