Francis Skeffington, writer and pacifist, was born in Bailieborough, Co Cavan on the 23 December 1878 to Joseph Bartholomew Skeffington and his wife Rose née Magorian. The family moved to Co Down shortly after his birth. He was educated by his father, a schools inspector and enrolled in University College Dublin (UCD) in 1896. While he studied at UCD he became close friends with James Joyce and Tom Kettle. He earned his BA in 1900 and his MA in 1902.
Skeffington believed in equality for women, going as far as to leave a position at UCD due to their unfair practices in admitting women. It is through this activism that he met Hanna Sheehy, the daughter of a Limerick parliamentarian. They married on 27 June 1903 and Skeffington took Hanna’s surname, being known for the rest of his life as Francis Sheehy-Skeffington. They had one son, Oscar, in May 1909.
After graduation Sheehy-Skeffington worked as a free-lance journalist while his wife worked as a teacher. They were both involved in the women’s suffragist movement, joining the Irish Womens’ Suffrage and Local Government Association. In 1908 they co-foundered the Irish Women’s Franchise League.
During the Dublin Lockout in 1913 Sheehy-Skeffington was a member of the peace committee that attempted to reconcile the two sides. He became vice-chairman of the Irish Citizen Army that was organised by James Connolly to protect strikers. He was also in favour of sending the children of strikers to foster families in Liverpool during the strike, an action which was not supported by the Catholic Church. He left the Citizen Army when it became a military faction.
During the Easter Rising in 1916 Sheehy-Skeffington did not directly support the rebels, but was sympathetic to their aims. On the 25th April 1916 Sheehy-Skeffington left his home in Rathmines and travelled into Dublin city centre. His aim was to attempt to organise a civilian defence force to protect local businesses from looters. On his way back to Rathmines he was stopped by British forces at Portobello bridge and arrested for no other reason than he was sympathetic with the rebels. Later that evening an officer of the 3rd battalion Royal Irish Rifles, Captain J.C. Bowen-Colthurst sent out a raiding party with Sheehy-Skeffington accompanying them as a hostage. He witnessed two murders before being murdered the following morning. His wife was not notified of his death for four days.
In an attempt to cover up the illegal arrest and execution of Sheehy-Skeffington Captain Bowen-Colthurst ordered that Sheehy-Skeffington’s home be searched for anything that could link him to the rebels. Nothing was found and after the Rising an enquiry was held by the Simon Commision. They found that Captain Bowen-Colthurst was guilty of murder but that he was criminally insane. He was incarcerated in an insane asylum for eighteen months. He then retired to Canada with a full pension. Sheehy-Skeffington was originally buried in Portobello Barracks. His remains were interred at Glasnevin Cemetery on 8 May 1916.
Photo courtesy Glesnevin Trust