This is the final part of Eithne Ni Chumhaill’s History of Cumann na MBan, the Women’s supporting brigade for the IRA (shortened)
Published in 1933 (first part already sent out), reprinted in Saoirse, Dec. 2014
“In 1921, England’s murdering Black-and-Tan policy in Ireland became a byword in many lands, and her commercial enterprises were met with determined hostility by the lovers of liberty in America and elsewhere. She was eventually compelled to call a truce and signified her willingness to negotiate with the leaders of the Irish Movement, but unfortunately our plenipotentiaries were mere children at the game of politics compared with the wily English politicians, and when Lloyd George threatened that on their individual heads would rest the responsibility of renewing immediate and terrible war upon the Irish nation, Arthur Griffith was like wax in the hands of the bully.
He and his associates, in a weak moment, signed this infamous treaty of surrender with partition and all the other evils in its trail, and for the first time in 750 years, Irishmen and women were to give willing allegiance to the English monarch.
Truly, this land of ours fell on evil days when our people had to bend a submissive knee to that symbol of oppression which was responsible for the Flight of the Earls in the 17th century, for the murder and torture of our people in ’98, 1803, 1807, 1916 and again in 1921, which was responsible for the Famine of 1847, when the emigrant ships were crowded from bow to stern with famine-stricken and plague victims who were carried away from their native shore, away from the heart-rending scenes of mothers dead in dozens on the wayside, their mouths green from eating grass and watercress, their dead babies clasped to their breasts, and their glazed, pitiful eyes turned upwards beseeching the Ruler of all Things to take them to Himself and to release them from their sufferings.
Before the Dáil (Irish Parliament) met to discuss either the acceptance or the rejection of the Articles of Agreement, Cumann na mBan, at a memorable convention convened for the purpose of discussing the situation, decided by an overwhelming majority to reject the Treaty and all that it stood for.
In June 1922, shortly after the elections which were fought under England’s unashamed threats to exterminate the whole people of Ireland, the domestic enemies of the Irish Republic – acting on orders from Downing Street and supplied from that quarter with cannon, armoured cars and thousands of brand new rifles wherewith to shoot down their brother Irishmen – launched an attack on the Irish Republican Army.
Well indeed did these weak-minded men play into the hands of the British politicians who declared gleefully and shamelessly in the British House of Commons that it was better and cheaper for the already-shattered prestige of the Empire to allow the Irish to rule this country in the interests of England.
The troublesome ‘Irish question’ was at last disposed of: ‘Free State’ soldiers were now carrying out the work of the army of occupation, and so the Wizard (British Prime Minister Lloyd George, nicknamed ‘The Welsh Wizard’) could afford to smile at us from his luxurious armchair. But let Lloyd George and his associates remember that we in Ireland will rise again.
Cumann na mBan once more stood in the breach and helped the IRA to prevent the auctioning of our national honour. Hundreds of our members were thrown into prison. Their work was faithfully carried out outside by those who escaped arrest.
Petty tyranny was frequently employed by their jailers, firing at the prisoners, want of proper food, long and numerous hunger strikes for political status, was the lot of those women who were arrested for their fidelity to the Republic, while the elements of the ordinary rudiments of decency and humanity were sadly lacking.
Some of our members got into bad health and, unfortunately, many of them have since died as a result of their prison hardships….
….After a while certain ‘republicans’ began to waver in their allegiance to Ireland and eventually they persuaded themselves that in order to save the country, they must accept the Treaty position… and take the Oath of Allegiance to the King of England. Vainly did they try to convince themselves and their followers that this oath was not an oath. Ah, late in the day was this discovery made when so many of our people had been murdered in cold blood, when the most constructive and creative minds of Liam Mellows, Cathal Brugha, Erskine Childers and many other soldiers of freedom were lying rotting in the earth into which they were flung by their brother Irishmen at England’s instigation.
Even the bleached bones of Noel Lemass on the Dublin Mountains, the massacre of Ballyseedy and Countess Bridge, all the wayside crosses which I painfully witnessed recently n County Kerry, were all forgotten, and well may we, members of Cumann na mBan, feel ashamed when our comrades of yesterday tried to convince us that all these brave and unselfish men had given up their promising young lives for the sake of an empty formula.
This insane reasoning was aided by the Irish newspapers which clamoured for the blood of Comdt. Connolly and his comrades in 1916 and which again advised Cosgrave and his associates to use a firm hand when dealing with Erskine Childers and his companions before their ruthless murders in 1922.
The duty of Cumann na mBan was again perfectly clear: They made up their minds that they could not recognize the Constitution of the ‘Free’ State or its laws. For them the Republic proclaimed in 1916, ratified by the overwhelming masses of the people in 1919 and sanctified by the blood of all the dead generations, was a living reality. They could not then and they cannot now, recognize the Free State Constitution, with or without the Oath of Allegiance to the English King. Consequently, members of Cumann na mBan could not and cannot give any moral or practical support to the Fianna Fáil policy or help their departure from the high road of principle in any way whatsoever.
Be always true to that glorious tradition, be true to your country, to your old comrades, who were responsible for bringing Cumann na mBan safely through the stormy seas which the organization had to encounter since its inception 19 years ago. Be true to the language of your country, take pride in its beauty and unequalled culture and civilization. Do not waver for one instant in your allegiance to the Republic. Above all, do not support any policy which may be detrimental to the republican position.
Copied from Saoirse, December 2014 edition. Recommended reading on the History of Cumann na mBan: Lita Ni Chathmhaoil/Dieter Reinisch, ‘Cumann na mBan, 100 years Defending the Republic, Dublin 2014, 130 pages, £12, from Cló Saoirse, 223 Parnell Street, Dublin and firstname.lastname@example.org