Today at The Rising, we’re looking at the role of women during Easter Week. More than 120 women participated in the 1916 Rising as members of both Cumann na mBan and the Irish Citizen Army. Cumann na mBan, a separate organization from the Irish Volunteers, served as a women’s’ auxiliary with members acting as couriers, nurses, and cooks. Most women were unarmed but their participation in the Rising demanded immense commitment. Unlike the Volunteers, the Citizen Army actively promoted women officers. Countess Markievicz was second-in-command to Michael Mallin at Stephen’s Green, while Dr Kathleen Lynn fought at City Hall.
Lynn and Markievicz were exceptional characters, widely admired by other women and men alike. The active women were mainly young and unmarried and consequently their male colleagues frequently referred to them as ‘the girls’. Many subsequently married Irish Volunteers, and nationalist families, with multiple male and females members involved in politics, the Gaelic League, the GAA and other overlapping cultural organizations, were a feature of this period.
The Bureau of Military History collected statements from veterans of Cumann na mBan, but most of these concern the period after the Rising. While many participants discussed the activities of their counterparts in the Irish Volunteers, many insights can be gained from this collection.
Sidney Czira (Gifford) was an active member of a group of younger energetic girls who injected a tone of irreverance into the movement’s activities. She recalled that during demonstrations against a royal visit to Dublin, Arthur Griffith warned the girls against unruly protests: ‘We must stand on our dignity’. The O’Rahilly retorted ‘We’ll soon have nothing else to stand on’. The cultural milieu from which leading nationalist women emerged was documented by Sidney Gifford Czira (1889–1974) in The years flew by: the recollections of Madame Sidney Gifford Czira. (Dublin, 1974). A sister of Muriel (who married Thomas MacDonagh), and Grace (who married Joseph Plunkett), Sidney Gifford was a member of the Sinn Féin executive and Inghinidhe na hÉireann (The Daughters of Eireann, an organization founded by Maude Gonne in 1900.) She contributed to their respective newspapers and participated in social and political work in impoverished sections of inner city Dublin. She contributed articles to the Fenian newspaper Irish Freedom and was best known under her pen name ‘John Brennan’. In June 1914, she departed for America and was active in Irish-American support groups, founding the first American branch of Cumann na mBan. While there she married Hungarian emigrant Arpad Czira. Her papers are held at the National Library of Ireland.
Mary ‘Cissee’ Cremin, nee Sheehan, was involved in the foundation of Cumann na mBan in London. The movement attracted emigrant families and English-born girls of Irish descent. Initially involved in first aid training and cultural and historical lectures, the group almost collapsed following the split in the Volunteers in September 1914.  After the outbreak of the War, the activities of the unit changed, with more emphasis on fundraising and helping Irish republicans escape conscription.
Annie and Lily Cooney were members of Cumann na mBan. Their home was a centre of activity for F company of the Fourth battalion Irish Volunteers in south Dublin and they often participated in route marches alongside the Volunteers. Both women served in Marrowbone Lane during Easter Week:
‘We all knew a fight was coming off and, when we saw the amount of stuff that was being accumulated in our house, we realised that it was coming very soon’.