Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Fearless Female: Anne Mary 'Annie' Magee Geraghty & The Cumann na mBan

Today, on this 26th day of March, I remember my paternal grandmother Anne Mary 'Annie' Magee Geraghty on the sixty-first anniversary of her death. With deep gratitude to Lisa Alzo, who created the series Fearless Females, in honour of Women's History Month, I am once again posting the remarkable history of my grandmother Annie as a member of Cumann na mBan — the Council of Women — a history I first shared in 2010.

Anne Mary 'Annie' Magee Geraghty, 1900-1953.
When I think about all of the women on 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, grandmother Annie 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 either of her grandmothers, 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 Annie'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 what might be viewed as unfeminine activity, for others it was not a point of pride until long after the hostilities had ended.

When I was a young child, during a gathering my parents had with their fellow immigrant Irish friends, the topic turned to Irish politics. Although I was long supposed to have been in bed, I sat at the top of the stairs listening to the conversation, and heard my father say that his mother had been in the IRA. My mother quickly countered, saying that his claim was untrue, and turning the conversation to something more benign.

A couple of days later I asked my mother about my grandmother and the IRA, and she said 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 asked again, was the claim about my grandmother true? Mom's answer was to scold me for eavesdropping on adult conversation, and to warn me not to do it again.

Over the years of my growing up little glimpses of grandmother Annie's history revealed themselves. There was the story about my grand-aunt Mollie marching in a Dublin parade bearing the service medals of Annie and their brother Michael. There was more talk about Ireland and politics in which the subject of my grandmother was still not openly discussed, but there was the encouragement of my father when I was in university, bidding me to learn more about Irish history.

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 Aunt Kathleen and my dad confirmed that yes it was true, long ago their mother Annie, my grandmother, 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. Beyond that, they knew very little. As my dad said, their mom did not discuss her history with them; theirs was not that sort of family. It was then that I began the search in earnest for the history of Dad's mother, my grandmother, Annie Magee Geraghty, a history within Ireland's history of revolution.

Armed with evidence of my status as next-of-kin to Anne Magee Geraghty, I applied to the Military Pensions branch of the Irish government for access to Annie's file. Almost a full year later, I received a copy of most of the file 1. Before I received these documents, which would detail Annie's history in Cumann na mBan, I had made a habit of searching through the indexes of the texts I 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
Annie & the Cumann na mBan

Life would change in a marked way for Annie early in September of 1917 when, at the age of sixteen, she joined the women’s organization Cumann na mBan. Although in her later life she did not tell her children exactly why she joined, it is clear from her pension record that she worked in support of her older brother Michael, who had been a member of the Irish Volunteers since 1913.

After the 1916 Easter Rising, Michael was incarcerated in Stafford Prison in England and in Frongoch Internment camp in Wales for the part he played as a Section Commander with the First Battalion, Dublin Brigade, under the command of Commandant Edward 'Ned' Daly in North King Street and the Four Courts, Dublin.

Perhaps, like her brother, Annie 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 'Annie' Magee remained in the service of the Colmcille branch of Cumann na mBan until the Truce of July 1921. According to her military pension record, Annie was a member of 'A' Company, 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 sort of work her brother did. 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 Annie describes her service quite simply as “anything I was required to do”. On page after page Annie outlines her duties as a girl in the Cumann na mBan. Of her activity during the period from 1917 to 1918 she writes,

"I attended all the parades of the Cumann. During that period I helped in such activities as the preparing and dispatching of comforts to the 1916 prisoners then incarcerated in various prisons in Britain. I marched with the Cumann on orders at the funerals of the late Thomas Ashe and the late Frank Cullen."

Annie 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 the conscription of Irish men for service in World War I. Annie 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, Annie 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 Annie remained with the Colmcille Branch of Cumann na mBan. Annie’s assigned duties included carrying ammunition to and from the dumps in St. Michan’s Park and Halston Street. (‘Dump’ is the name which was given to a place where guns and ammunition were stored so that they could be easily accessed for use by members of the IRA.) Annie 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 said she had been told by Annie's sister Mollie that during this period her mother Annie wore a shawl and the sort of very long and full skirts you might see on a Connemara woman, not her usual style. Apparently Annie did this so 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.”.

In the fall of 1920 and into 1921 the violence of the guerrilla war escalated exponentially, and of this time Annie 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, Annie 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 until his death in January of 1921, and afterward until the truce in July. Of this she writes,

“My late brother being a member of the ASU, any operation undertaken by me on his behalf was of necessity deemed active service”.

 Annie 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."

Annie & her brother Michael c. 1919/20
Annie'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 he sustained in the abortive ambush at Drumcondra, 21 January 1921. Despite the loss of her brother, Annie 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”.

Annie 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”. In their own household Annie and her family learned what it was to be raided when, after the shooting and capture of her brother Michael, British soldiers turned up to search and ransack their little cottage on Ostman Place, on the afternoon of 21 January 1921.

Annie engaged in a particularly dangerous and remarkable action in March of 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 Annie transported the 40 rounds of ammunition was a considerable distance from Colmcille Hall. Annie was travelling on foot, and would have been in great danger. British soldiers were on duty throughout the city, and ordinary citizens were regularly being stopped and searched. Given the proclamation of Martial law of 12 December 1920 — which stated that it was a crime punishable by death for any unauthorized person caught with arms or ammunition — I cannot imagine what might have become of her had she been caught on her way to Anne Street.

At no time was Annie Magee ever absent from duty. Annie’s service to Cumann na mBan ended with the Truce of July 1921. There is no information in her pension record about any activity by her during the Irish Civil War, so initially I did not know on what side of that conflict her loyalties lay. However, in the pension application for her brother Michael — submitted by their father Patrick Magee — Patrick indicates that Annie "will continue to do all in her power to help on the good work of upholding the policy we all believe in and will vote to maintain, that's the Free State government which my son Michael died to bring about."2

*********************

On 15 February 1928, at the age of twenty-seven, Annie 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. Annie and her husband John had seven children together, all of whom survived to adulthood.

In 1944 Annie applied for the Service Medal (1917-1921) in respect of her duties in 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', Annie's application was unsuccessful.

In 1950, Annie made a petition under the Military Service Pensions Act 1949 for a re-investigation of her application. Subsequently Annie 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 3.

After the passage of five years, numerous letters, and witness testimony on her behalf, in November of 1950 Annie 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 Annie Magee Geraghty 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 Mary 'Annie' Magee Geraghty died 26 March 1953 at Sir Patrick Dun Hospital, Dublin. Annie is interred with her elder brother Michael and their parents Mary and Patrick, 'with her own people', as my mom used to say.

During her short life of 52 years Annie 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 Annie 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 4. I remember them and keep them alive in my heart, my Máthair Chríona and her kin.

Copyright©irisheyesjg2007-2015.

Footnotes:

1. The government of the Republic of Ireland redacts some of the content of those military pension application records which have not yet been released. Next-of-kin are not given access to referee's notes and affidavits, nor to other materials attached to the file. Exceptions to this policy have been made, but only for a privileged few, such as American actor Martin Sheen.

2. from letter written by Patrick Magee to General Richard Mulcahy, 8 August 1923, Military Pension Record of Michael Magee, Register #1/D/73, PB 21, Bureau of Military History Archives.

3. The denial of a pension application, and the veteran asking for a review of such a denial was not unusual in the period. Although initially it might appear that such an application should be a straight forward matter, the pension application process was very complex, subject to strict and sometimes evolving standards, which must be understood within the context of the social and political history of the period in which pensions were awarded. See Military Service Pensions Collection on the Bureau of Military History Archives website.

4. Consideration of the participation of Annie and her brother Michael in the independence movement also brings me to the service of their maternal uncle William Dunne, who was killed on the battlefield in Belgium 20 November 1914. William had served with the Royal Dublin Fusiliers for 14 years prior to his death. During his time with the RDF William lived with Anne and Michael and their parents and siblings whenever he was on leave from duty. This sort of blurring of the lines — some members of a family fighting for the British while others fought against them — is very much a part of the history of many Irish families. (see The big guns are coughing...

References:

McCoole, Sinéad. No Ordinary Women: Irish Female Activists in the Revolutionary Years, Dublin, 2003.
Military Pensions Records: Mrs. Anne Magee Geraghty (Held Privately).

All images are from a private family archive and may not be reproduced by anyone in any format without prior written permission.

2 comments:

  1. Nice bit of history. Your grandmother was a brave patriot.

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    Replies
    1. Hello Pierce and welcome,

      Thanks very much for your comments. My grandmother Annie was indeed a brave patriot, as you have said. I dearly wish I had had the opportunity to know her.

      Cheers,
      Jennifer

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Cheers, Jennifer

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