Tuesday 25 October 2016

'I was given a revolver and told to use it if required'

It's the eye-witness testimonies from the archives that really bring history to life

Published 03/01/2016 | 02:30

CEREMONY: President Michael D Higgins at the flag raising ceremony at the opening of the State Commemorative Programme for 2016 at Dublin Castle. Photo: Steve Humphreys
CEREMONY: President Michael D Higgins at the flag raising ceremony at the opening of the State Commemorative Programme for 2016 at Dublin Castle. Photo: Steve Humphreys

On the Tuesday of Easter Week, 1916, Margaret Rose Grealy from Rocklawn in Galway cycled her new bike to Clarenbridge. She had waited since Easter Sunday for instructions and early that morning they finally came. She trained as a nurse and signed up for Cumann na mBan.

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Commanding Officer in Galway, Liam Mellowes wanted her with his company of volunteers to treat the wounded.

"When operations ceased in Clarenbridge we marched to Oranmore where two attacks took place on the police barracks," she later wrote. "Several shots were exchanged but no one was injured except two police who were wounded in the fight.

"We brought them along as prisoners and I was ordered to attend to their wounds by Liam Mellowes. This I did willingly for the whole week, washed their wounds and bandaged them."

From Oranmore, she went with the volunteers to Athenry "to take part in the taking over of the agricultural college".

There, they met with troops from other areas. "The troops were flagged out and they were ordered to kill a few fat cattle and I helped with the cooking. Here the troops rested as best they could until a few bombs from the war ships were fired from the Galway Port. Providentially, the bomb exploded within half a mile of us."

The company moved to Lime Park. A Brigadier Newell took her new bicycle to go on a dispatch. She was sent by car with armed volunteers to Loughrea Abbey and later on to Esker with a message for the local priests, asking them to give the sacraments to the volunteers. Armed men travelled with her and as Mary later wrote: "I was also given a revolver and told to use it if required."

On the way to Loughrea, they passed a police ambush: "They came out of their hiding places and opened fire on us. Our men continued to fire on them but we had no bad result on either side. We went our way."

Margaret delivered the message at Loughrea Abbey. Back at Lime Park, the priests arrived and administered the sacraments to the troops. She stayed with Mellowes and his company for five nights, cooking, sending messages and treating the wounded.

Then she writes with understatement: "On Saturday night we were disbanded and they all went home."

Margaret was arrested a few days after she returned to her family home and was held at Eglinton police station in Galway.

"My new bicycle and a good top coat were taken from me. I could never get them back. After the Black and Tans arrived in this country my nephew Patrick Cloonan was taken from his house at dawn, brought out on the sea shore and shot."

Many years later, in 1938, in ill-health and with "nothing to live on but on friends", she applied for the military pension. She was aware that many men had received the pension by then, but few women.

In a letter to her local TD, she wrote: "What are they waiting for?... I often heard it was ladies first and gentlemen afterwards but now it is reversed."

On September 25, 1941, Margaret's application was refused. She was finally awarded her pension after the Second World War. Margaret's account is one of scores of first-hand testimonies from many ordinary people during that historic Easter week in 1916 as part of her application for a military pension and documented in the military pensions archive that first went online in 2014.

Sunday Independent

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