Saturday, February 28, 2015

Sepia Saturday #268: 'Annie' Magee & the parades of the Cumann na mBan

Inspired by the image for today's Sepia Saturday post, I decided to go with the theme of parades and marches, since it seems a perfect fit to feature some of those cavalcades which are most significant in the history of my family. The parades which I have in mind are those in which my paternal grandmother Anne Mary 'Annie' Magee Geraghty marched with Cumann na mBan — The Irishwomen's Council — the women's wing of the Irish independence movement.

Unfortunately, I did not have the privilege of knowing my grandmother Annie, since she died long before I was ever thought of, nevertheless, I have celebrated her life many times, and commemorated her work as a member of the independence movement in Ireland. If you do not know her remarkable story, I hope you will take the time to read it here: Fearless Females: Anne Mary 'Annie' Magee Geraghty & The Cumann na mBan.

Annie served in Cumann na mBan from the age of sixteen — signing up in the summer of 1917 — and she remained on active duty until at least July of 1921. Annie was a member of 'A' Company, First Division, IRA Brigade, Colmcille Hall, Blackhall Street, Dublin. Her Cumann na mBan company mirrored that of her brother’s IRA company, and through her service she would become intimately acquainted with the sort of work done by her brother Michael.

In her military pension records, mention is made of the fact that, in addition to her other Cumann na mBan duties, Annie carried Michael's .45 calibre gun and/or Lee Enfield rifle to him when she was called upon to do so. As well, Annie transported guns and ammunition belonging to others to various destinations around Dublin, sometimes spiriting weapons away just before a home was raided by British soldiers. As a member of Cumann na mBan, Annie was also required to participate in public marches. Under the orders of their commanding officers, Annie marched in step with other women in the parades of Cumann na mBan, including some of those pictured below.

For Cumann na mBan, in addition to training marches, there were many different kinds of parades, including marches of defiance — in 1918 the British government had outlawed them as a group — which might find them striding in step along the quays of the river Liffey. There were also parades of sorrow, in memory of innocent civilians killed, and processions of prayer, in which recitation of the rosary was offered up for the release of prisoners bound for execution.

Up until the time when she joined Cumann na mBan, Annie's life had been very small. She had been taken out of school at the age of 10 years in order to stay at home and provide care for her mother, who suffered from severe asthma. Subsequently, Annie became responsible for running the household. As Sinéad McCoole has observed, for many young women like Annie, joining Cumann na mBan meant stepping into the larger world away from the rules of a restrictive home life. Driven by the idealism of what the future might bring for her family in an Ireland free from British rule, there must have a combination of both excitement and trepidation for my grandmother Annie in making the choice to join Cumann na mBan.

Be sure to stop by the Sepia Saturday blog to connect with others and see how they have interpreted today's theme.

The Cumann na mBan logo, created in 1914.
[RTÉ Stills]
Cumann na mBan in the funeral procession for hunger striker Thomas Ashe, 1917.
This is the first public march in which my grandmother participated as a member of Cumann na mBan.
Cumann na mBan members marching in a Red Cross first aid exercise.
On 10 August 1914 Cumann na mBan took part in the first meeting to establish Red Cross work in Dublin.
[RTÉ Stills]
A Cumann na mBan prayer procession outside of Mountjoy Gaol, April 1921.
[National Library of Ireland]
The Cumann na mBan centenary stamp, created in 2014 by An Post, the Irish Post Office.
The image features members of Cumann na mBan leading the funeral procession
for three unarmed civilians who were shot to death at Bachelor's Walk, Dublin City, on 27 July 1914.
[An Post & Kilmainham Gaol Archives]
One of the ways in which a 'well read' Cumann na mBan gun-runner girl secreted a handgun for transport.
For further reading:

McCarthy, Cal. Cumann na mBan and the Irish Revolution, The Collins Press, 2007
McCoole, Sinéad. No Ordinary Women: Irish Female Activists in the Revolutionary Years, 1900-1923, The O'Brien Press, 2003. 

Ward, Margaret. Unmanageable Revolutionaries, Brandon, 1983.


Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Wordless Wednesday, almost: Through the Mourne Mountains to Belfast

The Mourne mountains bear a mantle of the most wonderful amalgam of colours: tawny gold and burnt umber, ivory white and slate gray, and layers of every imaginable shade and shadow of green. Rubble stone fences weave through the natural spaces, and hedges mark out the fallow fields as they wait for spring. Ancient bridges arch over icy streams and rivers. Sheep graze on lower hills, their heavy woollen coats protecting them from the frosty weather. Smudges of white clouds speed across a smoky sky, coaxed by the same wind that gently rocks the train as it rumbles on the tracks toward Belfast.

My paternal 2nd great-grandfather Francis Magee may have travelled this same route on the Dublin and Belfast Junction Railway, as it was then known, moving from Drogheda to Belfast for work. With him in the move was his wife Elizabeth McNally and their two small children, Mary and Michael. It was in Belfast that my great-grandfather Patrick Magee was born in 1866. The family later returned south, moving to Dublin by at least October of 1870, when their son Francis Joseph was born. As I travel this route I wonder what such a trip was like for the family. Did they see the same beauty in the mountains that I see? Was it a trip of joy and anticipation, or one of trepidation?

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