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                                               20th Century Ireland - Margaret Skinnider (1893-1971)


Margaret Skinnider was born in Coatbridge, North Lanarkshire. She trained as a mathematics teacher and joined Cumann na mBan in Glasgow. In the winter of 1915, at the request of Constance Markievicz, she smuggled detonators and bomb-making equipment from Scotland to Dublin. A week prior to the 1916 Easter Rising she journeyed again to Dublin where she lodged with Constance Markievicz. During the Rising they partook in the fighting in in the College of Surgeons, St. Stephen's Green under the Command of General Mallin. Several days into the fighting Skinnider, an excellent markswoman, was wounded. She was arrested by the British Army in St. Vincent's Hospital and imprisoned in the Bridewell Police Station where she was interrogated until a surgeon from St. Vincent's Hospital contacted the Dublin Castle authorities to say she was unfit for imprisonment. Soon after she was released and promptly went to the Castle where an unsuspecting British Army Officer gave her a permit to travel to Scotland.
Skinnider remained in Glasgow until August, 1916 when she returned to Dublin but she had to flee to America in fear of internment. Skinnider returned to Ireland and took up a teaching post in North Dublin in 1917. She was arrested and imprisoned during the War of Independence and was Paymaster General of the IRA during the Civil War. Skinnider was a prominent member of the Irish National School Teachers' Association for many years. This extract is from Skinnider's Doing My Bit for Ireland (1917) which was first published in America.©
Margaret Skinnider (1893-1971)
Margaret Skinnider (1893-1971)
Madam [de Markievicz] had had a fine uniform of green moleskin made for me. With her usual generosity, she had mine made of better material than her own. It consisted of kneebreeches, belted coat, and puttees. I slipped into this uniform, climbed up astride the rafters, and was assigned a loophole through which to shoot. It was dark there, full of smoke and the din of firing, but it was good to be in action. I could look across the tops of the trees and see the British soldiers on the roof of the Shelbourne. I could also hear their shot hailing against the roof and wall of our fortress, for in truth this building was just that. More than once I saw the man I aimed at fall. To those who have been following the Great War, reading of thousands and hundreds of thousands attacking one another in open battle or in mile-long trench-warfare, this exchange of shots between two buildings across a Dublin green may seem petty. But to us there could be nothing greater. Every shot we fired was a declaration to the world that Ireland, a small country but large in our hearts, was demanding her independence. We knew that all over Dublin, perhaps by this time all over Ireland, other groups like ours were filled with the same intensity, the same determination, to make the Irish Republic, no matter how short-lived, a reality of which history would have to take account. Besides, the longer we could keep our tricolour flying over the College of Surgeons, the greater chance that Irish courage would respond and we should gain recruits...
On Wednesday evening I was up-stairs, studying a map of our surroundings and trying to find a way by which we could dislodge the soldiers from the roof of the Shelbourne. When Commandant Mallin came in, I asked him if he would let me go out with one man and try to throw a bomb attached to an eight-second fuse through the hotel window. I knew there was a bow-window on the side fartherest from us, which was not likely to be guarded. We could use our bicycles and get away before the bomb exploded, - that is, if we were quick enough. At any rate, it was worth trying, whatever the risk. Commandant Mallin agreed the plan was a good one, but much too dangerous. I pointed out to him that it had been my speed which had saved me so far from machine-gun fire on the hotel roof. It was not that the British were doing us any real harm in the college, but it was high time to take the aggressive, for success would hearten the men in other 'forts' who were not having as safe a time of it. He finally agreed, though not at all willingly, for he did not want to let a woman run this sort of risk. My answer to this argument was that we had the same right to risk our lives as the men; that in the constitution of the Irish Republic, women were on a equality with men. For the first time in history, indeed, a constitution had been written that incorporated the principle of equal suffrage. But the Commandant told me there was another task to be accomplished before the hotel could be bombed. That was to cut off the retreat of a British force which had planted a machine-gun on the flat roof of University Church. It was against our rules to use any church, Protestant or Catholic, in our defense, no matter what advantage it might give us. But this church, close at hand, had been occupied by the British and was cutting us off from another command with whom it was necessary to keep in communication. In order to cut off the retreat of these soldiers, it would be necessary to burn two buildings. I asked the Commandant to let me help in this undertaking. He consented, and gave me four men to help fire one building, while another party went out to fire the other...
It took only a few moments to reach the building we were to set afire. Councillor [William] Partridge smashed the glass door in the front of a shop that occupied the ground floor. He did it with the butt of his rifle and a flash followed. It had been discharged! I rushed past him into the doorway of the shop, calling to the others to come on. Behind me came the sound of a volley and I fell. It was as I had on the instant divined. The flash had revealed us to the enemy. 'It's all over,' I muttered, as I felt myself falling. But a moment later, when I knew I was not dead, I was sure I should pull through...
They laid me on a large table and cut away the coat of my fine, new uniform. I cried over that. Then they found I had been shot in three places, my right side under my arm, my right arm, and in the back of my right side... They had to probe several times to get the bullets, and all the while Madam held my hand. But the probing did not hurt as much as she expected it would. My disappointment at not being able to bomb the Shelbourne Hotel was what made me unhappy... Soon after I was brought in, the Countess and Councillor Partridge disappeared. When she returned to me, she said very quietly: 'You are avenged, my dear.' It seems they had gone out to where Fred Ryan lay, and Partridge, to attract the fire of the soldiers across the street in the Sinn Fein Bank, had stooped over the dead boy to lift him. There were only two soldiers and they both fired. That gave Madam a chance to sight them. She fired twice and killed both.
Searc's Web Guide 1997-2008

20th Century Ireland (1917-1923)
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