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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...?

Brian Moore,

Invisible Women

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



Irish Times

11 March 1916

Business thrived at

the Lambkin Snuff and

Tobacco Factory

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.