8th March – Skerries Women of Cumann na mBan

by Marie Bashford Synnott

Marie from SHS

(Skerries Historical Society Meeting – March 2016)

Skerries Women of Cumann na mBan

Wonderful Women…

It was highly appropriate that Marie Bashford Synnott’s paper for Skerries Historical Society, ‘Cumann na mBan and the Women of Skerries’ should have been delivered on March 8th, International Women’s Day. The 1916 Proclamation announced that all the citizens of Ireland would be granted equal rights and equal opportunities. This was one of the ideals that spurred women to join Cumann na MBan and it is to our shame that 100 years after the Proclamation, women and minority groups are still struggling to achieve equality.

It was a time of great change for women. In England the suffragettes were demanding votes for women. Here in Ireland they believed in the words of the Proclamation, thought their rights to equality were guaranteed once independence was gained and so were happy to pour their energies into the struggle for freedom. They certainly showed equal courage and determination with their male counterparts with one IRA commander stating ‘the more dangerous the work, the more willing [the women are] to do it’.

One of the really striking facts about these women was their extreme youth. We do not have data about the Skerries women in Cumann na mBan during the Rising but we know that there were 29 members in Skerries in 1921 including seventeen year old Caitlin McGowan, sister to Jack McGowan who was to become one of the first casualties in the civil war. Caitlin was with her brother on the day he lost his life, travelling with him into Dublin on the train and carrying Jack’s gun for him. She was clearly a young woman of great courage who was respected enough, despite her youth, to be Captain of the Skerries branch at that time.

Another Skerries member in 1921 was nineteen year old Adjutant Nellie Sherlock, sister of John (Terry) Sherlock who, only the year before, had been taken from his home and murdered by the Black and Tans – his body being found afterwards in a nearby field. The Quartermaster of the Skerries branch in 1921 was Bridget Bissett whose brother, Matthew Bissett, was commanding officer of the Fingal Brigade at the time that Terry Sherlock was murdered. She was seventeen in 1916 and so might have been old enough to have a role in the Rising but we can’t be certain what that role would have been.
Report by Oona Roycroft