seamus dubhghaill

Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA


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Birth of Suffragist Winifred Carney

winifred-carneyMaria Winifred Carney, also known as Winnie Carney, suffragist, trade unionist and Irish independence activist, is born into a lower-middle class Catholic family in Bangor, County Down on December 4, 1887. Her father is a Protestant who leaves the family. Her mother and six siblings move to Falls Road in Belfast when she is a child.

Carney is educated at St. Patrick’s Christian Brothers School in Donegall Street in Belfast, later teaching at the school. She enrolls at Hughes Commercial Academy around 1910, where she qualifies as a secretary and shorthand typist, one of the first women in Belfast to do so. However, from the start she is looking towards doing more than just secretarial work.

In 1912 Carney is in charge of the women’s section of the Northern Ireland Textile Workers’ Union in Belfast, which she founds with Delia Larkin in 1912. During this period she meets James Connolly and becomes his personal secretary. She becomes Connolly’s friend and confidant as they work together to improve the conditions for female labourers in Belfast. Carney then joins Cumann na mBan, the women’s auxiliary of the Irish Volunteers, and attends its first meeting in 1914.

Carney is present with Connolly in Dublin‘s General Post Office (GPO) during the Easter Rising in 1916. She is the only woman present during the initial occupation of the building. While not a combatant, she is given the rank of adjutant and is among the final group to leave the GPO. After Connolly is wounded, she refuses to leave his side despite direct orders from Patrick Pearse and Connolly. She leaves the GPO with the rest of the rebels when the building becomes engulfed in flames. They make their new headquarters in nearby Moore Street before Pearse surrenders.

After her capture, Carney is held in Kilmainham Gaol before being moved to Mountjoy Prison and finally to an English prison. By August 1916 she is imprisoned in HM Prison Aylesbury alongside Nell Ryan and Helena Molony. The three request that their internee status be revoked so that they could be held as normal prisoners with Countess Markievicz. Their request is denied, however Carney and Molony are released two days before Christmas 1916.

Carney is a delegate at the 1917 Belfast Cumann na mBan convention. She stands for Parliament as a Sinn Féin candidate for Belfast Victoria in the 1918 General Election but loses to the Labour Unionists. Following her defeat, she decides to continue her work at the Irish Transport and General Workers’ Union until 1928. By 1924 she has become a member of the Labour Party. In the 1930s she joins the Socialist Party of Northern Ireland.

Following the Irish Civil War, Carney becomes much more disillusioned with politics. She is very critical and outspoken of Éamon de Valera and his governments.

In 1928 she marries George McBride, a Protestant Orangeman and former member of the Ulster Volunteers. Ironically, the formation of the Ulster Volunteers prompts the formation of the Irish Volunteers, of which Carney was a member. She alienates anyone in her life that does not support her marriage to McBride.

A number of serious health problems limit Carney’s political activities in the late 1930s. She dies in Belfast on November 21, 1943, and is buried in Milltown Cemetery. Her resting place is located years later and a headstone is erected by the National Graves Association, Belfast. Because she married a Protestant and former Orangeman, she is not allowed to have his name on her gravestone due to the religious differences.

In 2013, the Seventieth Anniversary of Carney’s death is remembered by the Socialist Republican Party. Almost one hundred people attend as a short parade follows, marking and commemorating the work she did for the cause. She is placed in high esteem among the other hundreds of radical women, who stand up for what they believe in, regardless of the consequences they face.


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The Founding of Saor Éire

saor-eire

Saor Éire, a left-wing political organisation, is established on September 26, 1931 by communist-leaning members of the Irish Republican Army, with the backing of the IRA leadership. Notable among its founders is Peadar O’Donnell, former editor of An Phoblacht and a leading left-wing figure in the IRA. Saor Éire describes itself as “an organization of workers and working farmers.”

It is believed that the support of the then IRA chief of staff Moss (Maurice) Twomey is instrumental in the organisation’s establishment. However, Tim Pat Coogan claims that Twomey is doubtful about the organisation, worrying about involvement in electoral politics and possible communist influence.

During its short existence Saor Éire uses the republican publication An Phoblacht, under the editorship of Frank Ryan, to report on its progress and to promote its radical, left-wing republican views.

On the weekend of September 26-27, 1931, Saor Éire holds its first conference in Dublin at Iona Hall. One hundred and fifty delegates from both the Irish Free State and Northern Ireland attend the conference against a background of police raids on the houses and offices connected with Saor Éire and An Phoblacht. Seán Hayes is chairman, while David Fitzgerald acts as secretary.

The conference elects an executive of Hayes, Fitzgerald, Sean McGuinness, May Laverty, Helena Molony, Sheila Dowling, Sheila Humphreys, D. McGinley, Mick Fitzpatrick, Seán MacBride, Michael Price, Peadar O’Donnell, Mick Hallissey, M. O’Donnell, Patrick McCormack, Tom Kenny, L. Brady, Nicholas Boran, John Mulgrew and Tom Maguire. George Gilmore and Frank Ryan are also involved.

The constitution elaborates upon the aims by describing a two-phase programme. The first phase is described as being one of organisation and propagandising in order to organise a solid front for mass resistance to the oppressors. This is to build upon the day-to-day resistance and activity towards “rents, annuities, evictions, seizures, bank sales, lock-outs, strikes and wage-cuts.” This challenge, it is believed, would lead to power passing from the hands of the imperialists to the masses. The second phase is one of consolidation of power through the organisation of the economy and a workers’ and working farmers’ republic.

Ideologically Saor Éire adheres to the Irish socialist republicanism developed by James Connolly and Peadar O’Donnell. As a consequence of the heavy influence of O’Donnell, Saor Éire strongly advocates the revival of Gaelic culture and the involvement of the poorer rural working communities in any rise against the Irish capitalist institutions and British imperialism.

The organisation is attacked by the centre-right press and the Catholic Church as a dangerous communist group, and is quickly banned by the Free State government. The strength of reaction against it prevents it from becoming an effective political organisation. O’Donnell and his supporters attempt a similar initiative two years later with the establishment of the Republican Congress in 1933.