Mary MacSwiney

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Mary MacSwiney
Teachta Dála
In office
December 1921 – June 1927
Constituency Cork Borough
Personal details
Born 27 March 1872
London, England
Died 8 March 1942
County Cork, Ireland
Nationality Irish
Occupation Politician and educationalist
Religion Roman Catholic

Mary MacSwiney (pronounced 'MacSweeney'; Irish: Máire Nic Suibhne; 27 March 1872 – 8 March 1942) was an Irish politician and educationalist.[1] In 1927 she became 'de facto' leader of Sinn Fein when de Valera resigned from the presidency of the party.[2]

Early life[edit]

Born in London, UK to an Irish father and English mother, she returned to Ireland with her family at the age of six and was educated at St Angela's Ursuline High School in Cork.

At the age of twenty, she obtained a teaching post at a private school in England. After receiving a loan from the Students' Aid Society in Ireland, she studied for a Teaching Diploma at Cambridge University,[3] which was normally reserved for men. She worked at Hillside Convent, Farnborough and considered being a nun beginning a one-year noviciate with the Oblates of St Benedict, Ventnor.

On the death of her mother in 1904 she returned to Cork to look after the younger members of her family and took a post at St Angela's where she had been a pupil. She attended the first meeting of the Munster Women's Franchise League becoming a committee member. She opposed militancy within the Irish suffrage movement and her nationalist views caused irritation to other members.[3]

Influenced by her younger brother, Terence MacSwiney's staunch Irish republicanism she joined the Gaelic League and Inghinidhe na hÉireann. She was a founder member of Cumann na mBan when it was formed in 1914 in Cork and became a National Vice-President of the organisation. She led the denunciation of British rule at the Convention of November 1914.[4] In 1916 she was arrested and imprisoned[5] following the Easter Rising and also was dismissed from her teaching position for her republican activities. Several months later, upon her release from prison, she and her sister Annie founded Scoil Íte, modelled on Patrick Pearse's St. Enda's School, and she remained involved with the school for the rest of her life.

Politics[edit]

Republican politics and Cumann na mBan[edit]

She supported the Irish War of Independence in 1919–21. After the death of her brother Terence in October 1920 on hunger strike during the height of the war, she was elected for Sinn Féin to the Cork Borough constituency (taking her seat in Dáil Éireann) in 1921.[6] Another brother Seán was also elected to the Dáil in a different Cork constituency. She gave evidence in Washington, D.C. before the American Commission on Conditions in Ireland. For nine months she and Terence's widow, Muriel, toured America lecturing and giving interviews.

MacSwiney was active in her friendship with Harry Boland and De Valera, whom she cultivated assiduously. In October 1921, a second delegation was to be sent to London, that for the first time included Michael Collins. MacSwiney, who remained implacably opposed pleaded with De Valera to be allowed to go. She was refused as Dev thought her "too extreme."[7] She strongly opposed the Anglo-Irish Treaty, debated in December 1921 – January 1922, preferring to resume the war: "This matter has been put to us as the Treaty or war. I say now if it were war, I would take it gladly and gleefully, not flippantly, but gladly, because I realise that there are evils worse than war, and no physical victory can compensate for a spiritual surrender." On 21 December she spoke for three hours, criticising the agreement from all angles.

Mary MacSwiney was arrested at Nell Ryan's home - a safe house - at 40 Herbert Park, Ballsbridge on 4 November 1922, when it was raided by Free State soldiers. She was taken to Mountjoy Jail, where she was interned. She immediately went on hunger strike. Dr O'Connor ordered a waterbed for her comfort. Cumann na mBan organized vigils outside the jail in protest of Mary's and the others internment. The Women's Prisoner's Defence League was formed in August 1922 to protect their rights. During the hunger strike she refused doctor's visits. She was resigned to her death, and the inmates signed a joint 'Message from Mountjoy'. Her condition was critical and she was given the Last Rites by a catholic priest. The Government were not prepared to allow strikers die, and she was released.[8] En route to Liam Lynch's funeral, she was arrested when the car she was in stopped, and she was recognized. She was taken with Kate O'Callaghan to Kilmainham Jail. She began another protest, fearless of death, being "ready for it". They continued to be interned (held without charge), but it was explained she was distributing anti-government propaganda. After nineteen days of hunger strike she was due to be released on 30 April 1923. The Governor allowed O'Callaghan to go, but stayed a decision on MacSwiney. Most of the women on hunger strike were sent to the North Dublin Union.[9]

She retained her seat at the 1923 general election and along with other Sinn Féin members she refused to enter the Dáil.

In March 1926 the party held its Ard Fheis. MacSwiney and Father Michael O'Flanagan led the section from which Éamon de Valera and Fianna Fáil broke away. De Valera had come to believe that abstentionism was not a workable tactic and now saw the need to become the elected government of the Dáil. The conference instructed a joint committee of representatives from the two sections to arrange a basis for co-operation. That day, it issued a statement declaring "the division within our ranks is a division of Republicans." The next day De Valera's motion to accept the Free State Constitution (contingent on the abolition of the Oath of Allegiance) narrowly failed by a vote of 223 to 218.[10] However De Valera took the great majority of Sinn Féin support with him when he founded Fianna Fáil.

MacSwiney continued to maintain a hard-line republican position until her death. By then she was vice-president of Sinn Féin and Cumann na mBan[3] but lost her seat at the June 1927 general election.[6] When lack of funds prevented Sinn Féin contesting the second election called that year, MacSwiney declared "no true Irish citizen can vote for any of the other parties".[11]

MacSwiney and republican legitimacy[edit]

In December 1938, MacSwiney was one of a group of seven people, who had been elected to the Second Dáil in 1921, who met with the IRA Army Council under Seán Russell. At this meeting, the seven signed over what they believed was the authority of the Government of Dáil Éireann to the Army Council. Henceforth, the IRA Army Council perceived itself to be the legitimate government of the Irish Republic.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Ms. Mary MacSwiney". Oireachtas Members Database. Retrieved 24 March 2012. 
  2. ^ The Times, Southern Irish Elections, 6 June 1927
  3. ^ a b c Maria Luddy, 'MacSwiney, Mary Margaret (1872–1942)', Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004
  4. ^ McCoole, "No Ordinary Women", p.30.
  5. ^ Letter from Gen. Maxwell to the Secretary of War, 30 May 1916. Class WO141/19/, PRO, (TNA).
  6. ^ a b "Mary MacSwiney". ElectionsIreland.org. Retrieved 24 March 2012. 
  7. ^ Harry Boland, ; Uinseann MacEoin, "The IRA in the Twilight Years 1923-1948", p.203
  8. ^ McCoole, p.97.
  9. ^ Lily O'Brennan Diary, 1 May 1923, O'Brennan Papers, UCDAD, P13/1.
  10. ^ The Times, Irish Republican Split: Search For Basis of Cooperation 13 March 1926
  11. ^ The Times, Mr. Cosgrave and the Oath, 30 August 1927

External links[edit]

Party political offices
Preceded by
P. J. Ruttledge
Vice-President of Sinn Féin
with John Madden
Succeeded by
Margaret Buckley