Sheila Humphreys was born in Limerick into a wealthy family and raised at Quinsborough House, County Clare. She was the only daughter of Dr David Humphreys and Mary Ellen O’Rahilly. Her father suffered from tuberculosis and died when she was four years old. Her mother was the sister of Michael Joseph 'The O'Rahilly' who was killed during the Easter Rising. Her two brothers, Emmet and Dick, attended Pearse's St Enda's School and Dick served alongside The O'Rahilly in the G.P.O. in 1916. The family moved to Dublin in 1909 where Sheila attended Mount Anville Secondary School.
Humphreys joined Cumann na mBan at an early age and served variously as secretary, director of publicity and national vice-president. She was on the committee of the Irish Volunteer Dependants' Fund after the Rising. The family home at 36 Ailesbury Road was used as an IRA safe house throughout the War of Independence.
The Ailesbury Road Raid
The family took the anti-Treaty position during the Civil War and the house on Ailesbury Road was the object of regular raids by Free State forces. The most significant raid took place on 4 November 1922 when IRA Assistant Chief of Staff Ernie O'Malley was wounded and arrested in a protracted shoot-out with Free State soldiers. At the time only Humphreys, her mother and aunt were staying in the house with O'Malley. Humphreys is known to have played an active part in resisting the raid, though she always denied reports that she had been responsible for shooting a Free State soldier who died in the fighting.
The incident is described in detail in O'Malley's memoir of the Civil War, The Singing Flame. In 2003 the raid was the subject of an hour-long docudrama entitled The Struggle. The film was directed and scripted by Humphrey's grandsons Manchán Magan and Ruán Magan and produced by RTE.
Humphreys, her mother and aunt were arrested in the aftermath of the raid and imprisoned for the remainder of the Civil War. Sheila was put in solitary confinement and she went on hunger strike in protest. She went on a further hunger-strike, this time for 31 days, when she was among the prisoners confined after the end of the Civil War in May 1923. She was released in late 1923.
Humphreys continued her involvement with Cumann na mBan after the Civil War, contributing significantly to the republican movement throughout the 1920s and 1930s. She was arrested and jailed at least three times in this period. Despite her affluent background, Humphreys was active in the socialist republican organisation Saor Éire, serving as the group's co-treasurer. In 1941 she briefly served as Cumann na mBan's president.
She married an IRA veteran, Donal O’Donoghue, in 1935 and had two children. O'Donoghue became actively involved with Clann na Poblachta on its foundation, and stood as a Clann candidate in the 1948 general election. He died in 1957. Sheila continued to live at their home in Donnybrook, for many years. She died, aged 95 years, at Our Lady's Hospice, Harold's Cross on 14 March 1994. She is buried in Glasnevin Cemetery.