Countess Markievicz was undoubtedly the female lead of the Easter Rising.

A charismatic revolutionary, politician, suffragette and socialist, she had a remarkable life before and after 1916.

While other nations were still fighting to secure voting rights for women, Markievicz had become one of the first women in the world to hold a cabinet position, as Minister for Labour in the Irish Republic from 1919-1922.

The Proclamation of Independence itself, read out on the steps of the GPO, was a radical endorsement of equal rights for women in Irish society.

Quoting his text, Padraig Pearse said: “The Irish Republic is entitled to, and hereby claims, the allegiance of every Irishman and Irishwoman. The Republic guarantees religious and civil liberty, equal rights and equal opportunities to all its citizens, and declares its resolve to pursue the happiness and prosperity of the whole nation and of all its parts, cherishing all the children of the nation equally…”

Countess Markievicz in a typically combative pose while, right, newspaper coverage of her antics
(Images courtesy of Kilmainham Gaol)

The right of Irish women (over 30) to vote was granted in 1918. American women won their 80-year campaign for the vote in 1920, a topic which featured in the HBO television drama Boardwalk Empire.

“You’ve caught up with Ireland at last!” Margaret Schroeder, played by Kelly Macdonald, told her Atlantic City boyfriend Nucky Thompson (Steve Buscemi) in the first season.

More than 100 women are said to have taken part directly in the Rising. Many were members of the republican organisation Cumann na mBan, which declared in its constitution an explicit commitment to the use of force by arms against crown forces in Ireland, alongside its equality agenda.

Doctors and nurses doubled as daring despatch riders. They made food for Irish Volunteers, treated the wounded and — like Markievicz who shot dead a policeman near St Stephen’s Green early during the Rising hostilities — fought side-by-side with the men.

Dr Kathleen Lynn

Dr Kathleen Lynn and, right, Molly Childers and Mary Spring Rice on board the Asgard — all three played huge roles in the Rising and the foundation of modern Ireland
(Images courtesy National Museum of Ireland/Collins Barracks and UCC Multitext Project)

In 1914, Mary Spring Rice and Molly Childers had served notice of the latent power women could bring to rebellion as part of a crew on board the Asgard yacht which landed arms in Howth after the daring gun-running mission from Germany.

During the Easter week insurrection, women insurgents would be present in all the rebel strongholds in Dublin, bar one.

Eamon de Valera apparently refused, in defiance of the orders of Pearse and Connolly, to allow women fighters into Boland’s Mill.

One Cumann na mBan member, Sighle Bean Ui Donnachadha, remarked: “De Valera refused absolutely to have Cumann na mBan girls in the posts. The result, I believe, was that the garrison there did not stand up to the siege as well as in other posts.”

Helena Molony, Madeleine ffrench-Mullen, Dr Kathleen Lynn, Rose McNamara and Elizabeth Farrell are among those whose life-changing decisions would help change the course of Irish history.

Among the last people to leave the GPO were Cumann na mBan members Winnie Carney, Julia Grenan and Elizabeth O’Farrell. Grenan was a dispatch carrier during Easter week and brought information from the GPO to garrisons around the city.

In the GPO, Pearse selected Farrell to present the surrender to the British authorities. She dodged sniper fire and dealt with belligerent British authorities while criss-crossing the city trying to convince Rising leaders that the decision to capitulate was genuine.

Elsewhere, Rose McNamara, the officer in command of the female battaliion at the Marrowbone Lane Distillery, presented herself and 21 other women to the British at the surrender.

An account of that event, held at Military Archives, Rathmines, records: “The women of the garrison could have evaded arrest but they marched down four deep in uniform along with the men. An attempt was made to get them to sign a statement recanting their stand but this failed. Miss McNamara who led the contingent went to the British OC (Officer Commanding) and explained they were part of the rebel contingent and were surrendering with the rest.”

Recalling the events before being brought to Richmond Barracks, McNamara said: “The men gave each of us their small arms to do as we liked with, thinking we were going to go home, but we were not going to leave the men we were with all the week to their fate; we decided to go along with them and be with them to the end, whatever our fate might be.”

Margaret Skinnider performed heroic deeds on her bicycle while, right, Rose McNamara was a Cumann na mBan leader (images National Museum of Ireland/Collins Barracks)

Margaret Skinnider, who was born in Ireland and grew up in Scotland, told her her Easter Rising experiences in the book Doing My Bit For Ireland (1917).

She served as a scout, despatch-rider, sniper and raider and told of hair-raising experiences as she served Commandant Michael Mallin near Grafton Street.

“As I rode along on my bicycle, I had my first taste of the risks of street-fighting. Soldiers on top of the Hotel Shelbourne aimed their machine-gun directly at me. Bullets struck the wooden rim of my bicycle wheels, puncturing it; others rattled on the metal rim or among the spokes. I knew one might strike me at any moment, so I rode as fast as I could. My speed saved my life, and I was soon out of range around a corner,” she wrote.

Helena Molony, an actress and journalist, had smuggled guns to Ireland from England for the Rising. In her witness statement, taken in 1950, told of her feelings on the seismic events of 1916.

“I had an Irish tweed costume, with a Sam Browne (belt). I had my own revolver and ammuntion,” she said.

Molony served alongside Dr Kathlenn Lynn at City Hall during Easter week and epitomised the revolutionary female nationalist of the Inghinidhe na hÉireann era.

“We thought that Sinn Fein was a movement to attract the “moderate” nationalists, and the Anglicised and peace-loving section of our people,” she said.

“The social ideals of Sinn Fein did not appeal to us. They wished to see Irish society (as their official organ once expressed it) “a progressive and enlightened aristocracy, a prosperous middle-class, and a happy and contented working-class”.

“It all sounded dull, and a little bit vulgar to us, and certainly a big come-down from the Gaelic Ireland of Maebh, Cuchullain, and the Red Branch Knights, which was the sort of society we wished to revive.”