Margaret Skinnider: from maths teacher to Easter 1916 sharpshooter

Posted By: May 19, 2019


RTE. DUBLIN. Thursday, 16 May 2019

Report: the Scottish revolutionary feminist was the only woman combatant wounded in action during the Easter Rising

Margaret Skinnider was a revolutionary feminist and maths teacher who came to Dublin from Scotland at the age of 23 to take part in the 1916 Easter Rising. Born in 1892 in Coatbridge, near Glasgow, her mother was from Scotland and her father was from Tydavnet, Co Monaghan where she spent several summer holidays as a child. Skinnider qualified as a maths teacher and taught in Saint Agnes School in Lambhill, Glasgow. In 1914, she learned how to shoot when she took part in classes with a rifle club set up to train women to defend Britain during the First World War.

She had been a member of the Gaelic League and Cumann na mBan in Scotland, the latter a women’s organization established to “advance the cause of Irish liberty”. She became active in smuggling detonators and bomb-making equipment, guns and ammunition into Dublin from Glasgow in preparation for 1916.

On a visit to Glasgow, Countess Markievicz first heard about Skinnider and had invited her to visit her in Dublin. Skinnider knew of the Rising before she came to Dublin – she had been told the date though not the exact time – and she arrived a week before the rebellion to lodge with Countess Markievicz. She also spent time in Dublin testing dynamite, along with her friend Madeline Ffrench-Mullen.

From RTÉ Archives, Margaret Skinnider talks about experiences during the Easter Rising

Through Markievicz and another friend Helena Molony, Skinnider came in contact with James Connolly, a radical socialist and one of the leaders of the Rising. As a sharpshooter, she attached herself to the Irish Citizen Army, the only organization to have men and women fight equally side by side so that she could engage in combat.

During the Rising, she was stationed in the Stephen’s Green battalion and later the Royal College of Surgeons under Commandant Michael Mallin and Countess Markievcz who was second in command. She had traveled to Ireland to join the struggle on the basis that it promised equal status for women under the new Republican proclamation.

She also worked as a scout and despatch rider and, when her outfit moved from Stephen’s Green to the College of Surgeons, she operated as a sniper. According to her own testimony recorded in an interview in 1955, “on Wednesday, we spent most of our time sniping at the British from the roof of the College of Surgeons”. In her autobiography, Doing My Bit for Ireland, Margaret notes “more than once, I saw the man I aimed at fall”.

From RTÉ Archives, Margaret Skinnider recalls for Donncha’s Sunday Women of the 1916 Rising about being shot in the spine during the Rising

On the Thursday of Easter Week, Mallin put Skinnider in charge of a mission leading five men out from the College of Surgeons to burn down two buildings in order to cut of the retreat of the British forces. During the mission, she was shot three times. “She was taken back to the College and then to St. Vincent’s Hospital”, where she spent seven weeks recuperating before returning to Scotland. She was the only woman combatant wounded in action during the Rising.

On her return to Scotland, she was unable to teach because of her injuries. In December 1916, she traveled by boat to New York where she spoke at hundreds of rallies to raise support for the Republican movement. She spent 1917 and 1918 touring the US on behalf of Cumann na Ban and was in contact with other Irish women in America including Nora Connolly and Hanna Sheehy-Skeffington.

Skinnider returned to Dublin in April 1919 where she worked for Cumann na mBan and with the IRA, organizing first aid training,  distributing monies for prisoner dependents, going on raids for firearms and sheltering people on the run. She was disillusioned by the signing of the Anglo-Irish Treaty in 1921 according to Mackie Rooney’s Margaret Skinnider – 1916 Heroine – and the Monaghan Connection. “She involved herself whole-heartedly with the anti-Treaty side in the bitter civil war. She was a courier for some of the top-ranking Irish Republican Army (IRA) members during the attack on the Four Courts including Liam Mellows and Cathal Brugha.

Margaret Skinnider

“Following the death of Harry Boland, Skinnider took over his job as quartermaster general of the IRA, the only women to hold such a rank in the organization. She was arrested in possession of a revolver on Christmas Day 1922 and imprisoned in Mountjoy Jail. As the numbers of Republican women in Mountjoy increased, conditions deteriorated and twelve of them, including  Margaret Skinnider, went on hunger strike in protest. The impasse was resolved when the women were transferred to the North Dublin Union internment camp. They had been fasting for twelve days”.

She was released from prison in November 1923 and stayed in Ireland despite the increasing oppression experienced by women. In 1925, Skinnider applied for a pension on “account of wounds received in 1916” and as a member of the Irish Citizen Army, but was refused one by the Government because she was a woman! She was eventually granted the pension in 1938 and her success was followed by the granting of pensions to many other women.

Skinnider worked as a teacher at the King’s Inn Street School in Dublin until her retirement in 1961 and became an active trade unionist with the Irish National Teachers Organisation (INTO) campaigning for women’s rights and equal wages.  She served as a member of the INTO central executive from 1949 to 1961 and became president in 1956. She also served on the Irish Congress of Trade Unions executive council until 1963. She died in 1971 and is buried in the Republican Plot beside her close friend Countess Markievicz in Glasnevin Cemetery.

The views expressed here are those of the author and do not represent or reflect the views of RTÉ