Cumann na mBan – Sorcha MacMahon

Sorcha MacMahon was an early member of Cumann na mBan, being active as the national secretary in 1916.  Extremely efficient, she took on duties of training women in first aid and home nursing.  It was also her responsibility to find reliable ladies who supported the 1916 cause, and who were willing to deliver messages in those days leading up to the Rising, which included some traveling on her part.

When the Rising did occur on Easter Monday, it fell onto Sorcha to deliver mobilization orders to the Central Branch Cumann na mBan section leaders.  She carried messages and guns which were hidden in her bicycle basket.  Throughout the entire week, she continued to distribute messages from the GPO, ignoring the dangers she faced.  Records show that she left the GPO for various locations over 50 times that week.

Sorcha was never charged by the British for crimes committed during the Rising.  Later, during the War of Independence, Sorcha worked directly for Michael Collins.  When the Cumann na mBan announced they were anti-treaty, she resigned the group to continue Collin’s work until his death in 1922.

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The Spiritual Legacy

The event scheduled for Friday May 20 has been cancelled and will be rescheduled at a later date.

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Cumann na mBan

Meeting in Dublin in 1914, over 100 women organized and became known as Cumann na mBan;  Mary Colum, founding committee member said of the national aims, ‘We would collect money or arms, we would learn ambulance work, learn how to make haversacks and bandolier… we would practise the use of the rifle, we would make speeches, we would do everything that came in our way—for we are not the auxiliaries or the handmaidens or the camp followers of the Volunteers—we are their allies.’

These women became couriers (known as ‘basket girls’ or ‘pram women’) delivering dispatches to IRA commanders throughout Ireland.  They organized cultural productions, first aid classes, rifle training, and raised money for the guns smuggled during the Howth gun running.  During the Rising, they were active as they helped organize the evacuation of buildings at the time of surrender and to destroy incriminating papers.

The commitment of women before, during and after the Rising was instrumental in bringing the Irish nation to support the separatist movement, and helped fill the voids in leadership, ensuring that Irish independence did not die with their loved ones.

Cumann na mBan

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From May 2 – 16, 1916 there were 160 trials; 90 death sentences given (15 of those, including all seven signatories of the Proclamation had their sentences confirmed by Maxwell) and were executed by firing squad at Kilmainham Gaol. The bodies of those executed were never returned to their families as part of their punishment. Connolly was mortally injured from the fighting (a doctor said he had no more than a day or two to live, but the execution order was still given). As he was unable to stand before the firing squad; he was carried to a prison courtyard on a stretcher, and shot.

The actions of Maxwell had major repercussions. He ignored the shooting of civilians, when it was known that more civilians than combatants were killed. Over 3,500 people were arrested and prisoned, most of whom were not involved in the Rising. Nearly 2,000 men and women were deported to England. Maxwell tried the 15 leaders of the Rising by Field General Court Martial, a secret trial that did not allow a defense nor jury. All the leaders were sentenced to death and executed. The resulting outcry around the world caused British Prime Minister Asquith to halt the executions (in total 90 had been sentenced to death).

Before his death, Sean MacDiarmada wrote, “We bleed that the nation may live. I die that the nation may live. Damn your concessions England – we want our country.

In a letter to his mother, Padraig Pearse wrote, “You must not grieve for all this. We have preserved Ireland’s honour and our own. Our deeds of last week are the most splendid in Ireland’s history. People will say hard things of us now, but we shall be remembered by posterity and blessed by unborn generations.”

Upon his court martial sentence, Pearse exclaimed: “You cannot conquer Ireland. You cannot extinguish the Irish passion of freedom. If our deed has not been sufficient to win freedom, then our children will win it by a better deed.”

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