Cumann Na Bhan

Cumann na mBan


Cumann na mBan.
(source: unknown)

Besides the Irish Volunteer Force (IVF) and the Irish Citizen Army (ICA) a third organisation, the Cumann na mBan, meaning League of Women, secured a substantial influence and considerable support in the build-up to the Easter Rising. In contrast with the other organisations the Cumann na mBan preserved its position after the Rebellion of 1916 and it is probably because of the existence of the League of Women that the struggle for independence continued after the disastrous revolt.

It is incorrect to assume that Irish women were not involved in the republican movement prior to the founding of the Cumann na mBan in 1914 by Countess Constance Markievicz, Agnes O’Farrelly and Mary MacSwiney. In the contrary, women provided shelter to rebels on the run, nursed the wounded and proved to be very suitable couriers of weapons and manifests. In the course of the years these tasks passed from mother to daughter. Irish women literally learned these tasks at their mother’s knee. Despite their important role the activities of women took place in the background, far off the front stage where men occupied the traditional male areas such as politics and physical combat. The Cumann na mBan claimed a more prominent role for women in the republican movement.
Initially the Cumann na mBan was subservient to the Irish Volunteer Force (IVF), but soon the organisation gained more independence. Nevertheless at top level the Irish Volunteer Force (IVF), and at a later stage the Irish Republican Army (IRA), remained superior over the top of the Cumann na mBan.
At the same time James Connolly, who is described as a thorough feminist in every respect, attracted women and members of Cumann na mBan also joined the Irish Citizen Army (ICA) or were involved in the trade unions.

Easter Rising

The Easter Lily


In 1926 the Cumann Na mBan introduced the Easter Lily as symbol of remembrance for those
who died during or were executed after the Easter Rising. The
Easter Lily, used asseasonal decoration in churches, is said to sprung up
where drops of Christ's sweat fell to the ground in his final hours of sorrow and
deep distress. After the schism in the Irish Republican Army (IRA), which led
to the founding of the Provisional Irish Republican Army (pIRA), at the end
of the 1960's the Easter Lily was used by both organisations, but with a
slightly different denotation.
The Official Irish Republican Army (oIRA) preserved the original meaning and
attached the Easter Lily with a self-adhesive backing. Hence their nickname:
The Provo's on the other hand used the traditional pin and expanded the meaning
of the flower. These Pinheads used the Easter Lily to commemorate all those who
died in the struggle for an independent Ireland.
In time the Easter Lily became more and more associated with the Provisional
Irish Republican Army (pIRA) and the practise to wear a lily fell into disuse
in the 1970's. While doing some research on this subject we noticed something
weird. Images with the Easter Lily as symbol actually showed the Arum Lily.
Maybe the  Arum Lily, which is a quite common garden plant in Ireland,
simple replaced the exotic, and therewith more expensive, Easter Lily.

The Cumann na mBan made its first public statement in September 1914 when an overwhelming majority voted against John Redmond’s appeal to enlist in the British army. This clear statement triggered the attention of the Military Council of the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB).
Like James Connelly most other future members of the Military Council were advocates of equal rights and opportunities to all citizens, male or female. These ideas were not always welcomed or supported. While Connolly for example worked hard for participation of women into employment he met resistance from male labourers who were afraid to lose their jobs and Saint Ita’s, the girls’ school founded by Pádraic Pearse, almost dragged his family in bankruptcy while his boys’ school, Saint Enda’s, was successful.
Others took the relation between Cumann na mBan and the Military Council to a personal level. Joseph Plunkett got engaged to Grace Gifford who was Thomas MacDonagh’s sister-in-law. Thomas Clarke was married with Kathleen Clarke, née Daly, one of the founders of the League of Women and Edward Daly’s sister.
The profound relations between the Military Council and the Cumann na mBan are illustrated by the exceptional position of Kathleen Clarke. She was the only outsider with access to all the meeting reports and plans of the Easter Rising. If all members of the Military Council were arrested before the rising she was appointed to mobilise everyone and virtually to led the rising.

Including the Cumann na mBan in the Easter Rising was most obvious. The women were deployed at every hotspot in Dublin with the exception of the Boland’s Flour Mill and the South Dublin Union, two strongholds were fierce fighting was expected.
Sometimes under severe fire the women of the Cumann na mBan performed their mainly non-combatant duties. Besides taking care of the wounded and preparing meals they also gathered intelligence, transferred arms and ammunition throughout the city and organised the evacuation of buildings.
In the completion of the surrender process the women acted as go-betweens. Under guidance of British soldiers they spread the order to surrender over Dublin.

Women IRA

About 70 women were arrested for their share in the Easter Rising, but most of them were released in the first week of May. Once released the women reorganised and under the impassioned leadership of Countess Constance Markievicz the Cumann na mBan became the principal vehicle of republican spirit. In the years following the Cumann na mBan made overtures to Sinn Féin and in the General Elections of 1918 Countess Markievicz was elected as member of the Dáil.
During the War of Independence the women resumed their active role and edited the Irish Bulletin, a republican newspaper. The women were seemingly determined to prove their qualities and accepted virtually every task no matter how dangerous.
In 1922 the Cumann na mBan fiercely opposed the Anglo-Irish Treaty and followed the Irregulars. Besides rejecting the division of Ireland, they also feared to lose their hard-won liberated position.
The organisation, by then also known as Women IRA, continued to exist until its members were integrated in the “normal” Irish Republican Army (IRA) in the early 1980’s.

The commitment of the Daughters of Ireland is commemorated in the song Soldiers of Cumann na mBan.

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