In this month of March, on the 26th day, I will remember my paternal grandmother Anne 'Annie' Magee Geraghty on the fifty-ninth anniversary of her death. Today, with deep gratitude to Liza Alzo for creating the series Fearless Females, in honour of National Women's History Month, I am again posting the story of my grandmother Annie, with some updates, a story I first wrote in 2010.
When I think about all of the women in my family tree, I would describe each and every one of them as courageous, but Annie's courage revealed itself in a way which was quite different from many of my other female ancestors. Annie first revealed herself to be a fearless female when she was only a teenager, aged sixteen.
To me Anne Magee is máthair Chríona (MAW her KHREE un na), a very old Irish name for grandmother which translated means 'mother of my heart'. My grandmother died long before I was ever thought of, and for a child who has never known her grandmother, it is only within the heart and on the pages of history that grandmother Annie can exist. Like so many ordinary Irish women of her generation much of her story went with her to her grave.
As is the case in many families whose daughters were in the ranks of what Eamon DeValera referred to as the 'unmanageable revolutionaries', in my family the story of Anne's connection with the Irish women's military organization Cumann na mBan was one not easily shared. For some families it was a mark of shame that their daughters should engage in such unfeminine activity, for others it was not a point of pride until long after the hostilities had ended.
When I was a child my parents had a dinner party with a group of ex-patriot Irish friends, and although I was long supposed to have been in bed, I sat at the top of the stairs listening to their conversation. When the topic turned to politics my father announced that his mother had been in the IRA. My mother quickly countered, saying that his claim was untrue, then she turned the conversation to something more benign. A couple of days later I asked her about it, and she said that talking about Ireland's political past makes some people very uncomfortable, so you have to be careful about what you say. I pushed the matter, and again asked if the claim about my grandmother was true. Mom answered by scolding me for eavesdropping on adult conversation, and warned me to not do it again.
In March of 2000, with the death of my father imminent, his sister Kathleen travelled from England to visit with him and say goodbye. During her visit we talked about their family. Both Kathleen and my dad confirmed that it was true, that long ago their mother, my grandmother Anne, had been a member of Cumann na mBan, the women's wing of the IRA, and had in fact earned a small pension for her service during the Irish War of Independence. It was then that I began a search in earnest for this particular history of his mother, my grandmother, Annie Magee, a history of revolution.
Armed with evidence of my status as next-of-kin to Anne Magee, I applied to the Military Pensions branch of the Irish government for access to Anne's file. Almost a full year later, I received a copy of the file. Before I received these documents, which would detail Anne's history in Cumann na mBan, I had made a habit of searching through the indexes of the texts I have studied which detail Irish history in the early twentieth century. Time and again I hoped to find the name Anne Magee in those books, but never did it appear.
|Replica Cumann na mBan Brooch|
Life would change in a marked way for Anne early in September of 1917 when, at the age of sixteen, she joined the women’s organization Cumann na mBan. I do not know exactly why she joined, but it is clear from the documents that she worked in support of her older brother Michael who had been a member of the Irish Volunteers since 1913, when he was just fifteen years old.
After the 1916 Easter Rising, Michael was incarcerated in Stafford Prison in England and Frongoch Internment camp in Wales for the role he played under the command of Edward Daly in North King Street and the Four Courts, Dublin.
Perhaps, like her brother, Anne believed that their lives would really improve if Ireland were not under British rule, or maybe it was just an adventure. In No Ordinary Women, Sinéad McCoole writes, “Young women found independence and adventure in their work, and the sense of freedom in an era when women’s social life was highly restricted.”
Anne Magee remained in the service of the Colmcille branch of Cumann na mBan until the Truce of July 1921. She was a member of Company A, First Division, IRA Brigade, Colmcille Hall, Division No. 5, Blackhall Street. Her Cumann na mBan company mirrored that of her brother’s IRA company, and through her membership she would become intimately acquainted with the work he was to do. Annie's Brigade commanding officers were Captains Sally and Josie Neary; her Battalion commander was Bridie O’Reilly, and her company Commandant was a woman named Kennedy.
|Cumann na mBan companies marching on the north side of the quays.|
On her medal application Anne describes her service quite simply as “anything I was required to do”. On page after page Anne outlines her duties as a girl in the Cumann na mBan. Of her activity during the period from 1917 to 1918 she writes,
Anne also took "an active part in election work which secured the return of Mr. Michael Staines" in the 1918 election. With the defeat of John D. Nugent, Staines became Sinn Féin MP for the Dublin North constituency of St. Michan’s.
Cumann na mBan women were active in the campaign against the British enactment of conscription of Irish men for service in World War I. Anne describes her duties in this campaign as,
“I helped in making first aid outfits in view of the fact that Britain declared her intention of enforcing the Act and grave danger of hostilities existed.”
As many rank and file members of Cumann na mBan did during this period, Anne Magee was ordered to conduct a campaign of house to house collections of monies to “augment the funds of the IRA”.
Throughout 1919 and 1920 Anne remained with the Colmcille Branch of Cumann na mBan. Anne’s assigned duties included carrying ammunition to and from the dumps in St. Michan’s Park and Halston Street. (‘Dump’ was the name given to a place where guns and ammunition were stored so that they could be easily accessed for use by members of the IRA.) Anne writes,
“All of these activities were undertaken on orders from the c o of the branch, then Mrs. Josephine Flood, a sister of the late Mrs. Sally Henderson”.
In a letter written to me after the death of my father, my Aunt Kathleen told me that apparently during this period her mother Anne wore very long and full skirts, not her usual style. Anne did this so that she could more easily conceal guns and ammunition within the folds of her clothing, to ensure ease of transport to and from the dumps. In No Ordinary Women Sinéad McCoole writes, “[The women] acted as lookouts and scouts, hid weapons and documentation, and when the need arose, they formed guards of honour at funeral processions.”.
|'Short' Lee Enfield Rifle like the one Anne transported for her brother.|
In the fall of 1920 and into 1921 the violence of the guerrilla war escalated exponentially, and of this time Anne writes,
“About this period ambushes were of frequent occurence [sic] and my brother, the late Michael Magee was under constant observation due to his many activities. On instructions from him I carried his short Lee Enfield rifle from 20 Ostman where we resided to a dump in St. Michan’s Park Green Street. I left the rifle there for safe keeping and called for the rifle when occasion demanded.”
From April of 1920 until the Truce of July 1921, Anne continued to serve as a member of Cumann na mBan at the Colmcille Branch, then under the command of Mrs Brigid O’Reilly. During this time her duties became ever more dangerous, as she continued to aid her brother in his actions. Of this she writes,
Anne describes what was to be the last meeting with her brother on 15 January 1921:
"On the Saturday previous to my brother’s death in action...I carried his .45 automatic by appointment to him leaving him at Findlater Lane. This action was done under instructions from my late brother who at this period was a member of the ASU and in constant danger."
|Anne Magee and her elder brother Michael Magee, c. 1917|
Anne's brother Michael, or Mick as he was better known in the Dublin Active Service Unit, died 22 January 1921, as a result of gunshot wounds sustained in the abortive ambush at Drumcondra 21 January 1921. Despite the loss of her brother, Anne continued her service to Cumann na mBan, at great personal risk. She notes,
“Owing to my brother’s activities and subsequent death in action, all of my service at this period was dangerous for me”.
Anne continued to carry arms and ammunition to the arms dump in St. Michan’s Park for safe keeping. She often carried ammunition from the home of Mr. Michael Kelly of 6 Manor Street, “as Mr. Kelly’s house was being constantly raided at this particular time”.
Anne engaged in a particularly dangerous and remarkable action in March 1921. She describes it as follows,
"During a raid by British forces of the 1st Battalion H.Q. at Colmcille Hall on or about the 14th March 1921, I succeeded in obtaining about 40 rounds of ammunition from members of A company 1st Battalion which I transferred to a house in Anne Street."
The house to which Anne transported the 40 rounds of ammunition was a considerable distance from Colmcille Hall. Anne would have been travelling on foot, and would have been in great danger. With British soldiers on duty throughout the city, and ordinary citizens regularly being stopped and searched, I cannot imagine what would have become of her had she been caught.
At no time was Anne Magee ever absent from duty. Anne’s service to Cumann na mBan ended with the Truce of July 1921. There is no information about any activity by her during the Irish Civil War, and although I have my suspicions, I do not know on exactly which side of that conflict her loyalty lay.
On 15 February 1928, at the age of twenty-seven, Anne married John Geraghty, a man eleven years her senior. By all accounts it was not a happy marriage, but perhaps the only way in which to reign in the spirit of a revolutionary. Anne and her husband John had seven children together, all of whom survived to adulthood.
In 1944 Anne applied for the Service Medal (1917-1921) in respect of her duties for Cumann na mBan, Dublin. The Medal was awarded and issued to her on 11 May 1945. On 22 May 1945, she applied for a pension under the provisions of the Military Service Pensions Act 1934. Despite the fact that each and every claim in her application was supported by affidavits from her own commanding officers, as well as other high ranking officials, including Joe Dolan, a member of Michael Collins' notorious 'Squad', Anne's application was unsuccessful.
In 1950, she made a petition under the Military Service Pensions Act 1949 for a re-investigation of her application. Subsequently Anne was awarded a pension under this act; however, despite the fact that she served in Cumann na mBan for approximately 4 years, she was only allowed 2 years service for pension purposes.
After the passage of five years, numerous letters, and witness testimony on her behalf, in November of 1950 she finally received a pension. She was given £10 per year for her service in Cumann na mBan. During the years she fought to receive this paltry pension Anne Magee lost much of her eyesight, and was almost totally blind by the time it was awarded to her. By the time of her death she had received £20 in total.
Anne Magee Geraghty died 26 March 1953 at Sir Patrick Dun Hospital Dublin, and is buried in Glasnevin Cemetery, together with her elder brother Michael and their parents Mary and Patrick.
During her short life of 52 years Anne not only supported the fight for Ireland, but she was also a daughter and a sister, a wife, and a mother. Each and every morning as I sit down at my desk to work, I look at the photograph of my grandmother Anne which hangs above my desk. I think about her and her brother Michael, and the sacrifices their family made in the fight to free Ireland from British rule. I remember them and keep them alive in my heart, my Máthair Chríona and her kin.
McCoole, Sinéad. No Ordinary Women: Irish Female Activists in the Revolutionary Years, Dublin, 2003.
Military Pensions Records: Anne Magee (Held Privately).