News Politics

Wednesday 24 September 2014

Cumann na mBan finally honoured for role in 1916 Rising

Published 03/04/2014 | 02:30

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President Higgins was greeted at Glasnevin Cemetery by a Captains Courtesy guard of honour composed entirely of female members of the Irish Defence Forces. Picture: Fennell Photography
The An Post Cumann na mBan commemoration stamp. Picture: Fennell Photography
President Michael D.Higgins marked the centenary year of the foundation of Cumann na mBan by laying a wreath at the Sigerson Memorial. He was joined by Jimmy Deenihan T.D. Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht who laid a wreath at the grave of Elizabeth O' Farrell and Julia Grennan, both founding members of Cumann na mBan. They were greeted by a Captains Courtesy Guard of Honor which contained female members of the Irish Defence Forces. Pictured at the ceremony was Maura Deegan.

NEGLECTED by the history books, the stories of the heroic women of Cumann na mBan remained proudly undimmed within their families as generations after them cherished their bravery.

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Now, a century later, their efforts to achieve national freedom have received due recognition from the State, as President Michael D Higgins laid a wreath in their honour at the Sigerson Memorial, which honours the dead of 1916 at Glasnevin Cemetery.

The date marked 100 years since the very first meeting of the Cumann na mBan at Wynne's hotel in Dublin on April 2, 1914.

And today An Post will issue a stamp, designed by Ger Garland, that features Cumann na mBan members driving at the head of the funeral of citizens shot during the Howth arms landing.

A limited-edition first-day cover envelope shows the membership booklet of Cumann na mBan member Sighle Humphreys.

Relatives of those women were amongst the crowd who attended two separate ceremonies to honour the women amid a steady downpour of rain yesterday at the cemetery.

A guard of honour made up completely of female personnel from the Defence Forces also took centre stage in the formal ceremony.

President Higgins said the women of Cumann na mBan "rose up to vindicate the unfulfilled hopes and aspirations for liberty of previous generations".

But national independence did not yield "all the fruits" they had hoped for, he said.

While Constance Markievicz – former president of the organisation – was elected Ireland's first female member of parliament in 1918, it took six more decades for Ireland to see a woman – Maire Geoghegan Quinn – appointed as cabinet minister, in 1979, said the President.

Much remains to be done in many areas of Irish society to achieve genuine equality between men and women – not least in terms of representation levels within our parliament, he added.

The President was joined by Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht Minister Jimmy Deenihan – who, in an earlier ceremony, had laid a wreath in honour of nurse Elizabeth O'Farrell, the last woman standing in the GPO and who carried the white flag of surrender to British forces, risking her own life to do so.

Asked by the British who she represented, Elizabeth replied: "The Irish Republican Army." It was the first time the British had heard this term, revealed her grand-nephew Ian Kelly.

He told how Elizabeth had urged the 1916 leaders to allow her to fight in the Rising, but they refused because she was a woman and so she, alongside fellow volunteers Julia Grennan and Winnifred Carney, signed up as a nurse and was permitted entry to the GPO.

Poignantly, he revealed how the former nurse, who died in the late 1960s, had spoken with regret on her death bed, asking: "What have I achieved in life?" Her sister, Bridget O'Farrell, Ian's grandmother, replied: "You have done everything for Ireland."

"Her story was handed down through my mother's family and we have always been very proud of what she did for Ireland," he said.

Muriel McAuley, whose grandmother was Muriel McDonagh – wife of 1916 leader Thomas McDonagh and also one of the Gifford sisters, key members of Cumann na nBan – also told the Irish Independent she was delighted that the women of the Rising were finally getting recognition.

Irish Independent

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