“Scotland is my home, but Ireland my country.” –Margaret Skinnider
Margaret Skinnider was born to immigrant parents from Co Monaghan. She became a mathematics teacher in Scotland and was active in the women’s suffrage movement. She also joined the Glasgow branches of the Irish Volunteers and Cumann na mBan in 1914; she also joined the women’s rifle club, becoming a first class shot. She was invited to Dublin at Christmas 1915 by Countess Markievicz, who had become aware of her activities in Glasgow and smuggled detonators into Ireland by concealing them in her hat. She was encouraged to join the Irish Citizen Army (ICA) by Markievicz and used her mathematical skills to draw up detailed plans for weapon raids. She also participated in excursions organised by the Irish Boy Scout movement, Fianna Éireann, and her claim that she could pass for a boy ‘even if it came to wrestling or whistling’ is supported by her persuasive ability to disguise herself as a man.
Skinnider returned to Dublin at the commencement of the 1916 Easter Rising and served in the ICA’s St Stephen’s Green contingent under the command of Michael Mallin and Countess Markievicz. When Mallin rejected her plan to hurl a bomb from a passing bicycle into the British-occupied Shelbourne Hotel as being too dangerous for a woman, she argued that, as women we’re equal with men under the Irish Republic, they had an equal right to risk their lives. On Wednesday 26th April, she bravely led a sortie of five men in an effort to prevent the retreat of a British sniper party and was shot and critically wounded. Her life lay in the balance until the College of Surgeons was surrendered, from where she was taken to St Vincent’s Hospital. She slowly recovered and managed to evade arrest through the intervention of the hospital’s head doctor. She then deceived the authorities through her Scottish accent into allowing her to return to Glasgow. During the War of Independence, Skinnider returned to Ireland and trained Volunteer recruits. She was incarcerated during the Civil War. Notwithstanding her revolutionary activity, she secured a teaching post in Dublin and campaigned for many years for equal pay and status for women teachers.
She was denied a pension because the law was “applicable to soldiers as generally understood in the masculine sense”. She applied for a pension in 1925 but, despite her injuries and level of involvement, the legal adviser to the Army pensions office wrote he had “no doubt” her application “cannot be considered under the act” even though, he says, the words referring to masculine could be interpreted as feminine. After repeated rejections, her pension application was finally approved in 1938.
Margaret Skinnider died on 11 October 1971 and is buried in Glasnevin Cemetery, Dublin.
Image: Declan Kerr – Irish Art