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Posts Tagged ‘Cumann na mBan’

In the Dublin of the revolutionary period, ‘G Men’ would have been a familiar sight on street corners, never quite as inconspicuous as they sought to be. G Division of the Dublin Metropolitan Police served as the eyes and ears of the intelligence community, tasked with observing political subversives in the city. Their ‘Movement of Extremists’ files record the whereabouts of republicans, socialists and other radicals in the city, noting where they loitered and who they talked to.

One business they would have come to know quite well was found at 21 Henry Street, the location of the Irish Farm Produce Company, a shop and restaurant (specialising in vegetarian cuisine) run by veteran nationalist campaigner Jennie Wyse Power. It was popular with Dublin’s small Indian community (and perhaps even smaller vegetarian community) but owing to its proprietor it also became a rendezvous point for advanced nationalists. A plaque on the site today marks the fact that the drafted 1916 proclamation was signed on the premises days before insurrection.

Amidst the wave of cultural nationalism of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, an ‘Irish Ireland’ movement emerged which sought to promote the native language, native games and native culture over that of the neighbouring island; Archbishop Croke (he of Croke Park fame) complained that the Irish were importing from England, “her fashions, her accents, her vicious literature, her music, her dances, and her manifold mannerisms, her games also and her pastimes” among other corrupting influences. But what about what was on our tables? The Irish Farm Produce Company boasted of its “all-Irish produce”, a reminder that even dinner could be a political choice.

Jennie Wyse Power, born in Baltinglass in 1858, moved through the ranks of many important political movements in her lifetime, and had earned the respect of the men and women who frequented her business. Active in the Ladies Land League of the 1880s, which sought to advance the rights of Ireland’s tenant farmers, she was later a founding member of the Sinn Féin political party and close to Countess Markievicz.  While serious about her politics, Wyse Power was also regarded as one of the friendliest faces in Irish nationalism. Sinn Féin Executive member Seamus ua Caomhanaigh remembered that “she always left out the Wyse part of her name. She said there was nothing ‘wise’ about her. She was a remarkably able woman, very brainy, full of fun and a great teller of humorous stories.”

Some of the most watched individuals in the city frequented her restaurant in the years before the Rising, including Major John MacBride, who had fought in the Second Boer War alongside his Irish Brigade. Seán T. O’Kelly, later President of Ireland, remembered holding court there most days in the company of MacBride and Arthur Griffith. Wyse Power’s business remained popular after the Rising too, though unsurprisingly the authorities were still vigilant. P.J Paul, a prominent republican in Waterford, remembered visiting the restaurant while in Dublin, as “most of the Volunteer and Irish-Ireland people went there.” On one occasion during the War of Independence, he was having a meal “when suddenly a number of Auxiliaries rushed into the shop and began turning the place upside down.”

Dublin’s small Indian community, primarily formed from medical students in the city, would be drawn towards Wyse Power’s restaurant too, at a time when there was little in the line of vegetarian offerings in the city. Dublin’s first vegetarian restaurant, The Sunshine (advertised as ‘vegetarian dining rooms’), had opened its doors in the 1860s on Grafton Street, though such endeavours tended to be short-lived. Indian students in the capital during the revolutionary period included V.V Giri, later President of India, who studied under the poet and revolutionary separatist Thomas MacDonagh. As historian Conor Mulvagh has suggested, “in searching for routes of entry for Indian students into Irish radical politics, it is perhaps the dinner table as much as the lecture theatre that provided them with introductions.” The cause of the Indian people received sympathetic coverage in Irish nationalist newspapers, including Arthur Griffith’s Sinn Féin and The Irish Volunteer.

While the female republican body Cumann na mBán flatly rejected the Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1921, Jennie Wyse Power came to support it, which created friction between her and many former comrades. In 1923, her business premises was entered by young men who at first appeared to be ordinary customers, but “as the tea was about to be served the raiders suddenly took petrol bottles from their pockets and announced their intention of setting the house on fire.” Her other business premises, located on Camden Street, had already been attacked by republicans, with “bombs being hurled through the plate glass window.”

Despite her support for the Treaty, Wyse Power later joined the Fianna Fáil party, and elected for the party in the 1934 Seanad elections.  She died in January 1941, and was buried in Glasnevin Cemetery. The plaque on Henry Street today honours the signing of the proclamation on the premises, but in truth there was much more to the story of the Irish Farm Produce Company, and its place in Dublin’s political and culinary history should be noted.

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Shortly after escaping. Mae Burke, Eithne Coyle and Linda Kearns, Carlow 1921. Notice that they are standing on the Union Jack flag.

It’s been a good week for me as far as documentaries go. Along with the fantastic Seamus Ennis effort from RTE linked to below, TG4 has been on the ball too, with Ealú, a brilliant effort revolving around Nurse Linda Kearns.

Link to documentary online, at TG4 Beo.

Only two days into the 1916 Rising, Nurse Kearns set up a temporary hospital at North Great George’s Street. This hospital was designed to provide medical aid to both British and Irish wounded. This temporary hospital was closed by military orders. Linda was to become a more active part of the republican movement after the Rising.

Interesting information on her activity on behalf of the IRA can be found in Sinead McCoole’s No Ordinary Women. Linda was never a member of Cumann na mBan for example, though did provide lectures to the women of the movement, as Doctor Kathleen Lynn had before the insurrection. The nursing home Linda ran in Gardiner Place also functioned as a sort of hiding spot for republican men on the run.

Cal McCarthy’s excellent study of Cumann na mBan (Cumann na mBan and the Irish Revolution) quotes the report of the Sligo County Inspector following the arrest of Linda Kearns in November 1920.

“On 20-11-20 a police and military patrol stopped a motor car driven by nurse Belinda Kearns of 29 Gardiner Palace Dublin and found therein ten service rifles, four revolvers, 403 rounds of service rifle ammunition, 23 rounds of revolver ammunition and a quantity of equipment.”

Linda Kearns

The report went on to state that three male suspects were arrested in the motor car, and that crown intelligence ascertained that “…Miss Kearns has for the past two years been the medium of communication between Head Quarters IRA Dublin and County Sligo”

Linda did time in a number of Irish prisons before being sent to Walton Prison in Liverpool, where she went on hungerstrike. From here she was sent to Mountjoy Prison.

In The Jangle of the Keys, her highly regarded personal history of her time in a variety of British and Free State run Irish prisons, Margaret Buckley wrote at length about the 1921 escape from Mountjoy.

Linda Kearns was largely responsible for the planning of the sensational Mountjoy escape, and entered with great glee into organising it”

A sympathetic wardress had seen to it that the girls were able to get their hands on a wax-mold of the key needed for their escape.

“It was Hallowe’en. Word was sent out; signals agreed on; and time and place fixed…”

The female prisoners were participating in a football match, Cork versus the Rest of Ireland. The Rest of Ireland won, but that was irrelevant. The prisoners created plenty of noise, and the four female prisoners plotting their escape seized the moment. Linda Kearns, Eithne Coyle, Mae Burke and Eileen Keogh made their move. Throwing a small perfume bottle over the wall at the agreed spot, a rope ladder was returned. Linda went first, due to ill-health, followed by Eileen Keogh, Mae Burke and lastly Eithne Coyle. Linda Kearns would find shelter at an IRA training camp in Carlow until the signing of the Anglo Irish Treaty.

Amazingly, Linda Kearns was to play a role in the Civil War too, ensuring she earned all her republican stripes! Having failed to gain entry to the Four Courts, she found herself in a variety of locations throughout Dublin tending to the wounded. When the focus of the battle in Dublin shifted entirely to O’ Connell Street, the stretch from the Hammond to the Gresham Hotel was occupied by something in the region of 100 republican combatants.

Margaret Ward noted in her study of the role of women in Irish nationalist history (Unmanageable Revolutionaries) that Cathal Brugha himself had to appeal strongly to the 30 women to leave, as the fight looked doomed. Three remained. Alongside Kathleen Barry and Muriel MacSwiney (The widow of Terence, The Lord Mayor of Cork who died on hunger strike) was Linda Kearns.

Free State armoured car, photographed during the Civil War in Dublin.

Linda Kearns witnessed the wounding of Cathal Brugha, who had refused to surrender to the forces of the new state. She held his severed artery between her fingers as he was driven to hospital, but he would die two days later. Cumann na mBan activists stood guard over Brugha when his body lay in state.

Her story is an amazing one, and by no means ends there. Nor does it start on North Great George’s Street.

In his wonderful biography of Kevin Barry (Kevin Barry And His Time), Donal O’ Donovan wrote that “Linda Kearns of Sligo, a trained nurse, is one of those people who was in everything during the War of Independence and the Civil War, but has not yet got her due meed of praise”

This fantastic effort from TG4 is most worthy of your time, and finally sees to it that Linda Kearns gets some of the attention she deserves.

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Just a quick post, two fantastic images from an Irish History Workshop/ Saotharlann Staire Éireann workshop report dealing with a Dublin History Workshop at Liberty Hall between the tenth and the twelfth of March, 1978. The workshop report was found hiding in the wrong section at the recent Trinity College Dublin booksale. It includes the text of varied reports given at the conference such as Dr O’ Connor Lysaght’s talk on ‘The Munster Soviet Creameries’ and Margaret Ward’s presentation on ‘The Ladies Land League’

(l-r: Miriam Daly, Matt Merrigan, Nora Connolly O’ Brien, Jack Gannon)

The inside page notes that Miriam Daly was “the victim of a sectarian assasination” between the time of the conference and the time of publication, and that Nora Connolly O’ Brien, daughter of James Connolly, had passed away since the conference.

From the symposium ‘The Relevance of Connolly’

Chair:
Matt Merrigan (Dist. Sec. ATGWU, Socialist Labour Party)
Speakers:
Dr. Noel Browne T.D
Miriam Daly (Queens University and Irish Republican Socialist Party)
Nora Connolly O’ Brien
Michael O’ Riordan (Gen. Sec. Communist Party of Ireland)

An interesting photo this, from page 54 of the report.

4/5.11.1978 Dublin. Dublin History Workshop

(l-r: Michael McInerney, Sheila Humphries (Sighle Bean Ui Dhonnchada), Babs O’ Donoghue, George Gilmore)

Snapped outside Liberty Hall, this is just a great shot.

Sheila Humphries of course was a key member of Cumann na mBán at the time of (and long before) the Republican Congess who, along with Eithne Coyle, had become involved with the new venture before leaving due to unease within CnamB with their involvement.

George Gilmore was a key player in the foundation of the Republican Congress, who resigned from the IRA at the same time as Frank Ryan and Peadar O’ Donnell.

I would welcome information on Michael and Babs, who complete this fantastic shot.

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