War is Women’s Business
The singer sings a rebel song and everyone sings along.
Just one thing I’ll never understand:
Every damn rebel seems to be aman.
For he sings of the Bold FenianMen and
the Boys of the Old Brigade.
What about the women who stood there too
When history was made....?
Ireland, Mother Ireland, with your freedom loving sons,
did your daughters run and hide at the sound of guns?
Or did they have some part in the fight
and why does everybody try to keep themout of sight?
For they sing of theMen of theWest and the Boys of Wexford too.
Were there no women living round those parts?
Tell me, what did they do...?
Early in 1917 Cumann
na mBan was declared
illegal by the British
authorities. At a meeting
Mary McSwiney put
a vote to membership
to determine if they
would continue with
the danger of arrest and
imprisonment. The vast
majority decided to continue as Cumann na
mBan, Craobh Corcaigh.
There was a split when Mary McSwiney wanted
to hold a ceilí on the eve of Passion Sunday.
The group voted her down and, with permission
from Dublin, she set up Craobh Poblachtach na
In 1917 Clann na nGael was set up in Cork by
May Kelly as a junior auxiliary to Cumann na
Also in 1917 the Misses Wallace of Brunswick
Street (later 4 St. Augustine St.) set up the Cork
branch of the Women’s Citizen Army.
James Connolly visited the Wallace sisters on
his visit to Cork when he spoke about military
tactics at a meeting organised by Tadhg Barry
in January 1916. They were friendly with
Constance Markievicz of the Irish Citizen Army
and both the sisters were members of the I.C.A.
During the inaugural meeting of Cumann na mBan, held in Wynn’s
Hotel on 5 April 1914, the group’s objectives made this support role
very clear: to advance the cause of Irish liberty; to organise Irishwomen
in furtherance of this object; to assist in arming and equipping a body
of Irish men for the defence of Ireland; and to form a fund for these
purposes, to be called the ‘defence of Ireland fund’.
While the majority of members of Cumann na mBan and Clann na
nGael were middle class a significant proportion were working class.
In the immediate aftermath, some of the provincial press blamed the
Citizen Army alone for the Rising, arguing that the destruction of
property was typical of ‘Larkinism’ and ‘syndicalism‘. Cumann na mBan
activist Mary MacSwiney in Cork similarly bemoaned the fact that
Volunteers had apparently been led by the nose by ‘Larkin’s crowd’.
Each of these organizations had their own uniforms (Cumann na mBan: ‘a coat and skirt of Volunteer
tweed and hat of same.
Four pockets in coat, skirt at least seven inches off the ground, tweed or leather
belt, haversack with first aid outfit. A grey or green felt hat and a haversack are recommended where
uniform is not possible. Members of Cumann na mBan are in honour bound to give preference, when
purchasing, to goods of Irish manufacture’;
Clann na nGael: the girls wore a distinctive uniform
comprising a green blouse and green woollen kilt, a brown brath with a Tara brooch attached and the
Women’s Citizen Army members wore a uniform like that of Cumann na mBan with the exception
that they wore a blue brath.)
The great majority of the workers were girls. The wage
for women workers was 15 shillings a week when many
employers in Dublin were paying only 6 shillings a week.
In the factory in Dublin there was a canteen which served
wholesome food which many of the working girls were
not accustomed to. The ladies’ committee presiding
over the canteen was chaired by the Marchioness of
11 March 1916
Business thrived at
the Lambkin Snuff and
on Merchant’s Quay in Cork during
the war years as the mainly female
staff worked on mixtures and plug
tobaccos from the war office to send
to various expeditionary forces.
It is said that the women often put
love notes inside the tobacco tins.