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Though seventy-seven women were taken prisoner after the 1916 Easter Rising, most were soon released.  

However some, including: Winifred Carney (above), Annie Cooney, Brigid Davis O’Duffy, Brigid Foley, Nellie Gifford, Brigid Martin, Madeleine ffrench Mullen, May Gahan, Maura (May) Gibney O’Neill, Ellen Humphreys, Dr. Kathleen Lynn (pictured below), Rose MacNamara, Josie McGowan, Kitty Maher, Helena Molony, Countess Markievicz, Nora O’Daly, Countess Plunkett, Marie Perolz, Nell Ryan, and Brigid Lyons Thornton, were imprisoned in Kilmainham Gaol for some period of their incarceration.

Nellie Gifford was a prisoner in the Gaol when her sister, Grace, married Joseph Plunkett.(see here) 

Poignantly, Nellie remembered hearing the shots on the morning of Joe’s execution, but did not know it was he who was executed – nor did she know her sister had married Joe during the night. (See story here) 

May Gahan, Ellen Humphreys and Kitty Maher returned to Kilmainham as prisoners during the Civil War, and Brigid Lyons Thornton served there as the first female medical officer in the Free State Army.

Some women were members

of both Cumann na mBan and the Irish Citizen Army, but there were many who had not belonged to any organisation and simply turned out to fight for their country’s freedom. 

For example, May Gibney (Below) wrote of her involvement: 

"On Easter Monday 1916 I volunteered for service at the GPO.

I was not a member of a Republican organisation at the time but as a reference I mentioned the name of a Volunteer whom I knew was on duty at one of the points.

I asked to be allowed to remain at the GPO and was lucky enough to be accepted as a member of the garrison".

May Gahan also served in the GPO and she remembered people pelting the women with bottles as they walked from Richmond Prison to imprisonment in Kilmainham Gaol.

(During the War of Independence, she and her husband opened a pub and she often bought weapons from British soldiers.  She was an avid republican and even bought a machine gun and had it lowered out of Ship Street Barracks).

While prison was hard for any prisoner, it was especially harsh for all the women. 

Nora O’Daly (top. next column) served as a Cumann na mBan nurse in St Stephen’s Green. When the garrison relocated to the College of Surgeons, Nora set up a first-aid department and treated all of the wounded there.

Following the surrender, like some of the women she initially was sent to Richmond Prison, and then was held at Kilmainham. 

She recalled: "The order was given to lodge us in Kilmainham Jail and 

(Below) Grave marker of Brigid Lyons Thornton in Toomore Cemetery, Foxford, Co. Mayo, Ireland. 

hither we were finally marched, arriving after dusk and being received by the light of candles, which only served to intensify the gloom. 

Finally our quarters were allotted, one cell to each four prisoners, and one blanket and one “biscuit” doled out to us. 

Our cell doors were banged shut and we were left to make the best we could of the means at our disposal".

All of the women held in the Gaol told of hearing the shots of the executions ringing out early in the mornings, and that they were tormented by not knowing which of the leaders had been executed. 

Rumours abounded, of course, and it seemed to the prisoners that the executions had to stop, but they continued until 12 May when Seán MacDermott and James Connolly were the last to be killed.

Helena Molony, who was stationed at City Hall was always surprised that others could  not understand how the women got involved in the Citizen Army, and then the Rising. She wrote: “it is part of our military duty to knit and darn, but also to march and shoot, to obey orders in common with our brothers in arms”. 

While imprisoned in Kilmainham after the Rising, she attempted to escape using a spoon to dig a tunnel. She failed, and as a result for a while the female prisoners were no longer allowed to eat with utensils.

Dr Kathleen Lynn was a Captain in the Irish Citizen Army. She began the Rising driving in her car with Countess Markievicz, delivering medical supplies and weapons to the various garrisons. 

She joined the City Hall garrison, and one of her first duties was to attend to the O/C, Cpt Seán Connolly, who had been shot while on the roof.  

Connolly died in her arms and Lynn wrapped him in the green flag from the play Under Which Flag in which he starred only a week before. As she did, she recalled his final speech from the play: “Under this flag only will I serve.  Under this flag, if need be, I will die”.  

Connolly was the first Irish casualty of the Rising. 

Later that Monday afternoon, Lt Seán O’Reilly, who succeeded Connolly in command, was killed, and Dr Lynn took command of the garrison.

Dr Lynn remained in command until the garrison surrendered, and when she did so she was found to have a revolver and 50 rounds of ammunition in her apron.

Rose MacNamara was in command of the women in the Marrowbone Lane garrison. 

In addition to providing first-aid to the men, Rose and the women loaded the rifles for the men and acted as spotters for snipers – many times in full view of the British.  

Then Rose led several women and appropriated a cow with her two calves, and made bread and butter for the entire garrison with the milk.  

When the garrison surrendered, the women could have evaded capture, but Rose would have none of it. She went to a British officer and curtly informed him that the women were part of the garrison. Then they proudly marched along with the men, and were imprisoned in Kilmainham.

While conditions were harsh, the women commented on the behaviour of the British soldiers.  

Brigid Davis had been in the City Hall garrison with Dr Lynn, and was with her in Kilmainham.  Brigid said one of the soldiers sensed the anxiety of the women and told her “you have nothing to worry about, we have sisters of our own”.

After the Rising, women were kept at Kilmainham for about ten days, and then most were either released or moved to Mountjoy Jail.  

Most were released  the first week in June, and only a few were sent on to jails in England until they were finally released.

Click here to return to the Prisoners front page 

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