Margaret Skinnider was born and raised in Coatsbridge, Glasgow, in an immigrant community to Irish Parents James Skinnider from Co. Monaghan and Jane Dowd from Co. Meath. Margaret was a qualified maths teacher and a passionate equal rights activist for women which lead to her becoming a member of Cumann na mBan in Glasgow under Anne Devlin. Ironically Margaret along with the other members of Cumann na mBan in Glasgow received military training in British rifle clubs where Margaret quickly became a formidable markswoman.
(1916 Societies 2017)
It seemed inevitable that once Margaret heard of the conflict in Ireland she felt compelled to “do her bit” (Skinnider, 1917) and fight for Ireland’s independence and the chance to endorse and promote equality. With a keen interest in politics and being an active member of Cumann na mBan it was not long before she encountered Countess Markievicz or Madam as she fondly referred to her. Margaret’s commitment was so absolute that she once smuggled materials for bomb assembly on her person while travelling to Ireland via boat to meet with countess Markievicz “In my hat I was carrying to Ireland detonators for bombs, and wires were wrapped around me under my coat.” (Skinnider, 1917).
Having received word from Countess Markievicz on the proposed date of the rising, Margaret arrived in Surrey House, Rathmines, residence of Countess Markievicz on Holy Thursday, just five days before the beginning of the rising on Easter Monday 24th April 1916 and joined the citizens army. During the rising Margaret assumed her position beside the Countess Markievicz and Michael Mallin. Dressed in ordinary clothing so not to arouse the suspicion of the British troops during her comings and goings on a bike that she had borrowed from Nora Connolly, James Connolly’s daughter. Margaret delivered military dispatches to and from Connolly, Pearse and Clarke, as well as updates on the movements of the British troops and ammunition.
That Monday night the revolutionaries camped out in St. Stephen’s Green, Margaret alongside some hundred men and fourteen women didn’t realise that the British troops had taken control of the Shelbourne hotel and with machine guns opened fire from the rooftop on the Irish men and women that had camped out in St. Stephen’s Green early Tuesday morning. Left with no alternative the Irish revolutionaries fled to the College of Surgeons for shelter from the hail of bullets where Margaret assumed a sniping position on the top floor and although Margaret never revealed how many British soldiers she shot she did indicate a few “I could look across the tops of trees and see the British soldiers on the roof of the Shelbourne. I could also hear their shot hailing against the roof and wall of our fortress, for in truth this building was just that. More than once I saw the man I aimed at fall.” (Skinnider, 1917).
During the course of her duties Margaret was shot three times “they found I had been shot in three places, my right side under the arm, my right arm, and in the back of my right side.” (Skinnider, 1917). Amazingly Margaret being a young woman of 23 years of age was less concerned about the bullets lodged in her body and more bothered that she did not manage to bomb the Shelbourne hotel “the probing did not hurt as much as I expected it would. My disappointment at not being able to bomb the Hotel Shelbourne was what made me unhappy.” (Skinnider, 1917).
For three days Margaret refused to leave the College of Surgeons and stayed on a cot until she was transferred to St. Vincent’s hospital where she remained for five weeks. Once released from hospital she fled to America. Upon her return she was captured and imprisoned. Margaret in an interview recorded in 1955 said “We did not win a military victory in 1916 but we roused the people and all over the country. Men joined in the fight for independence and rid at least part of our country of the foreign army that had held us in bondage for hundreds of years.” (Independent.ie 2016).
Upon her release from prison Margaret continued to fight for independence in the IRA and sided with the anti-treaty side during the civil war, after the war Margaret returned to teaching and became a spokesperson for women’s rights in the INTO campaigning for equal pay for women. She became president of the union in 1956.Margaret died in October 1971 at the age of 79. Margaret’s story is one that can be echoed through countless untold stories regarding the brave women that stood beside the men that fought and died for their country’s independence, her story is an inspirational one that highlights the cultural and social history from the perspective of a woman fighting for her adopted country and equality.
Martin is a student in the History Diploma, NUI Galway.
Independent.ie (2016) Margaret Skinnider dressed as a man [image online], available: http://www.independent.ie/irish-news/1916/audio-and-video/listen-to-stories-from-1916-margaret-skinnider-the-rebels-sniper-34540910.html [accessed 11 October 2017].
Independent.ie (2016) ‘Listen to Stories from 1916’, Margaret Skinnider, the Rebels’ sniper [podcast], 2016, available: http://www.independent.ie/irish-news/1916/audio-and-video/listen-to-stories-from-1916-margaret-skinnider-the-rebels-sniper-34540910.htmml [accessed 8 October 2017].
RTE Radio 1 (1971) ‘Documentary on one’, Women of the Revolution [podcast],2017, available: http://www.rte.ie/radio1/doconone/2014/0107/647597-radio-documentary-women-revolution-easter-rising-1916/ [accessed 8 October 2017].
RTE (2012) ‘Reabhloid episode 3’, Margaret Skinnider a woman of calibre , available: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2-zQbaGNAgU&t=580 [accessed 7 October 2017].
Skinnider, M., 1917. Doing My Bit For Ireland, New York: The Century Co.
Wikipedia (2017) Markievicz in uniform with a gun, 1915. [image online], available: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Constance_Markievicz [accessed 10 October 2017].
1916Societies.com (2017) Cumann na mBan. [image online], available: http://1916societies.com/2017/09/14/cumann-na-mban-women-in-struggle/ [accessed 10 October 2017].