The latest issue of Red Banner has an article on women in the 1916 rising, written by Dr. Ann Matthews. The article focuses in on the three women who remained with the GPO garrison to the end: Elizabeth O’Farrell, Julia Grennan, and Winifred Carney. It’s an excellent piece, and well worth the â‚¬2 cover price. The journal is available in Connolly Books, Temple Bar.
Elizabeth O’Farrell was born in Dublin in 1884. Although she is usually referred to as “nurse O’Farrell”, she was not a trained nurse at the time of the rising. Julia Grennan, who was a life-long friend of O’Farrell, was also born around this time. The third woman, Winifred Carney, was born in 1887, in Bangor, co, Down. According to Dr. Matthews:
In 1912 [Carney] was secretary of the Textile Workers’ Union, which was effectively the women’s section of the Irish Transport and General Workers’ Union Belfast branch, and affiliated to the Irish Women Workers’ Union. In 1913 she was actively involved in fundraising for the lock-out Dublin workers. As a result of her involvement in trade unionism, she came in contact with James Connolly, who was then living in Belfast. when Cumann na mBan was founded, Carney joined its Belfast branch. She travelled to Dublin on 14 April 1916 to assist Connolly in the final preparations for the rebellion. She typed the first round of mobilisation orders, and after the confusion caused by the cancellation by Eoin McNeill, she typed the second round of mobilisation orders on Easter Sunday.”
The rebellion, which began on Easter Monday, 24 April 1916, lasted for one week. Its principal headquarters was the General Post Office (GPO), but this was abandoned after several days of heavy fighting. The final headquarters of the Irish republic was no.16 Moore Street, its area of sovereignty no bigger now than a handball court.
This is 16 Moore Street today (14 July 2007). A preservation order was placed on the building in 2006, by the Department of the Environment.
The only sign that the building carries such historical significance is a small memorial beside the first floor window.
The decision to surrender was taken by the rebel leaders, and conveyed to the British forces by Elizabeth O’Farrell. General Lowe made it clear that he would accept only unconditional surrender. O’Farrell brought this message back to Pearse, who had little option but to agree. O’Farrell accompanied Pearse to the British barricade, which was at the corner of Moore Street and Parnell Street. At 2.30pm, Saturday, 29 April, General Lowe met Pearse and accepted his unconditional surrender. Amazingly, a photograph was taken of this historic moment.
Elizabeth O’Farrell was at Pearse’s right-hand side when he surrendered. Her feet and part of her coat can be seen in the photograph.
The photograph was used recently by the publishers of Tim Pat Coogan’s Ireland in the Twentieth Century.
However, in the picture used on the book’s cover, Elizabeth O’Farrell’s legs are gone. Someone took the notion to “clean up” the photo, and as a result, she has disappeared from history. All that remains is the outline of her coat, which makes Pearse look like he is wearing a triangle.
I suppose this is what happens when aesthetics dictates history. Tim Pat Coogan may have set out to write an old-style nationalist history of Ireland, and as such the cover sits perfectly with his attempt. All except “the boys” are left out of Coogan’s view of the past - in some cases, as with O’Farrell, with a “pro-active” Photoshop editor as the gleeful assistant.
For a photoshop-free account of the women in the 1916 rising, however, you could do worse than check out Dr. Matthew’s article in Red Banner. Available at all good Irish communist party bookshops.
Below, contemporary footage of Dublin in the aftermath of the rising.