The rebel Scots woman wounded in the Easter Rising

By Louise Yeoman
BBC Scotland


Margaret Skinnider was the only female combatant to be seriously wounded in the Easter Rising of 1916 in Dublin.

She was a rebel, fighting in the socialist and feminist Irish Citizen Army against British rule but she was not born in Ireland.

She came from Coatbridge in Lanarkshire and she had an exciting apprenticeship in Scottish radicalism before becoming part of Irish history.

Margaret was born in 1892 at 116 Main Street, Coatbridge, now a busy pedestrian shopping precinct that still mixes religion and politics in a way she would have appreciated.

A few yards from the local Catholic Church, a St Patrick's Festival shop hosts a signpost giving the miles to Belfast and Dublin, and there's a well-staffed street stall for an independent socialist party.

The parish priest at St Patrick's, Father Eamonn Sweeney, has the baptismal record for Margaret's elder sister Mary Charlotte, but not for Margaret herself.

Baptismal records were not always complete in those days.

Crack shot

Soon after she was born, her family were on their way up in the world.

Her parents moved in the 1900s to the west end of Glasgow where they ran second-hand goods shops and educated their daughters as teachers.

The boys in the family travelled abroad for work, leaving Margaret to grow up in a highly-educated and female-dominated household.

She became a school teacher and a militant suffragette.

New research by Kirsty Lusk of Glasgow University has shown that Margaret was involved in the pickets at Perth Prison where hunger-striking suffragists were force-fed.

She was happy to take a shift picketing at the prison gates during the royal visit to Perth in 1914 for she "cared not for Kings and Queens".

Nevertheless, when war broke out she joined a rifle club for the "defence of the British empire", probably the City of Glasgow Women's Rifle Club.

This club practised not far from the school where she taught in Maryhill, the idea being for women to defend themselves against atrocities in the event of a German invasion.

She became a crack shot, a skill she'd employ later in ways that would have caused her feather-hatted instructors to reach for the smelling salts.

Image source, National Library of Ireland
Image caption,
The Irish Citizen Army, a socialist militia, led by James Connolly also played an important role in the rising

According to Kirsty Lusk, it was around this time that Margaret joined the Glasgow-based Ann Devlin branch of Cumann na mBan, the women's section of the Irish Volunteers, and helped their efforts to steal weapons and explosives.

Soon she became a smuggler, crossing the Irish Sea with detonators hidden in her hat.

Rifle and machine gun fire

This was dangerous stuff, and not just from the risk of getting caught - one false move could have set them off.

From this it was a short step to joining her heroine Countess Markievicz in the Irish Citizen Army, under fellow-Scot James Connolly, and taking part in the rising on Easter Monday 1916.

Margaret served initially with the group positioned around St Stephen's Green, first of all cycling around Dublin braving rifle and machine gun fire to carry dispatches to the occupied GPO, then as a sniper herself in the Royal College of Surgeons.

She recorded that several times she shot at men and saw them fall.

By Wednesday of Easter Week, she was arguing with male commanders that she should be involved in the riskiest missions.

Image caption,
Kirsty Lusk in front of the current St Patrick's church (rebuilt since Margaret Skinnider's day)

The proclamation of the Irish Republic guaranteed equal rights to women and Margaret was willing to face equal dangers.

However while on a fire-raising mission, a member of her group tried to force open the door of a house with his loaded gun.

It went off, betraying their position and they drew fire from British troops.

Margaret was hit three times.

She was carried back to the College of Surgeons where her comrades dug the bullets out of her back and tried to disinfect her wounds with "corrosive sublimate" (mercuric chloride).

Only they got it wrong and badly burned her skin.

'Loyal Scots accent'

After the surrender, in agony from her wounds and suffering from pneumonia, she was taken to St Vincent's Hospital. She lived, but it was close.

Her severe injuries spared her a prison sentence and her "loyal Scots accent" helped her get a permit to go home to Scotland.

But by December she was in New York.

Here she joined the PR effort for the Irish Republican cause with her book Doing My Bit for Ireland.

Eventually she moved back to Ireland.

Here, according to Kirsty Lusk, in 1925 her pension application was rejected because she was told that the Army Pensions Act was "only applicable to soldiers as generally understood in the masculine sense".

It must have been a galling piece of sexism for the veteran suffragette and republican, but she persevered and in 1938 was finally awarded her pension. She died on 10 October, 1971.

Although she is buried in Glasnevin Cemetery in Dublin, near Countess Markievicz, her name is still remembered today in her native Coatbridge.

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