It was said of Sorcha by her contemporaries that there was no ‘woman of that period whose efficiency, selflessness and enthusiasm was greater’.
Born Sarah Teresa MacMahon at Coas, Co Monaghan. Born in 1888, she was called after her mother; as well as using her given name, she also used the Irish form, Sorcha.
Her family spoke Irish as their first language. She was educated in Laggan National School and St Louis School in Monaghan. After school she went to Dublin and took a commercial course. She then worked as a bookkeeper for Taggart’s Garage. An early member of Cumann na mBan, in 1914 MacMahon was the local secretary of the Central Branch and was secretary nationally in 1916.
She trained the women in first aid, home nursing, and branch duties. She was a member of the Cumann na mBan executive from the convention in 1915 to 1919. She was also on the O’Donovan Rossa Funeral Committee, which organised a mass demonstration when the body of the exiled Fenian was returned from America to Ireland for burial in 1915.
MacMahon was selected by Kathleen Clarke to deliver and compile a list of reliable girls to deliver messages around Ireland in the days leading up to the 1916 Rising. Sorcha went to Dundalk and Monaghan.
When the Rising went ahead on Easter Monday, Sorcha delivered mobilisation orders to all the Cumann na mBan section leaders attached to Central Branch. She had guns and messages hidden in her bicycle basket. Throughout Easter Week, she continued to distribute messages from the GPO. Moving between the outposts at great risk to her life, she went to the Four Courts and elsewhere; she recorded that she left the GPO 50 or 60 times. As she described in her military pension record, she brought messages to the families of the Provisional Government of the Irish Republic.
Following the Rising, Sorcha gave up her job and lived off her own means. She postponed her wedding to assist Kathleen Clarke, who had set up the Irish Republican Prisoners’ Dependants’ Fund. While Kathleen Clarke recovered from a miscarriage, Sorcha was the only one in Dublin who she trusted to continue the work.
Later, Sorcha worked directly for Michael Collins, when Kathleen appointed him to administer the relief funds following his release from Frongoch. Sorcha continued to work directly for Collins throughout the War of Independence, and she stayed with him on the pro-Treaty side after the split.
She had resigned her role in Cumann na mBan some years previously on his instructions — Cumann na mBan voted to reject the Articles of Agreement that laid down the terms for the formation of the Irish Free State. Sorcha left politics after the Treaty was signed on 6 December 1921.
Image by Declan Kerr – Irish Art