I have to hold my hands up, in the interests of honesty, I tend to read books I believe I will like, so I come at this review from a certain position. Even if it doesn't persuade you to read the book (I hope it does) the review might add a little information on Skinnider, who is one of my favourite Republicans.
Skinnider had a strong background in militant suffragette, socialist and Irish Nationalist organisations in Scotland and Ireland. In 1915 Margaret Skinnider visited the poorest area of Dublin and witnessed four families living in each room, one in each corner. When she was invited by Countess Markievicz to Dublin she travelled from Scotland with detonators and bomb wires concealed on her person. McAuliffe's description of this Dublin trip evokes a sense of idealism, extreme poverty and a bunch of like-minded people which are all ingredients less-commonly seen today.
A key yet understated figure in Irish history, Skinnider's C.V. is astonishing: a dedicated Camogie player and Gaeilgeoir; expert shot with the rifle; military instructor to the Fianna; member of the Irish Volunteers; fought with Irish Citizens Army under the command of Michael Mallin and Countess Markieviecz in the Easter Rising of 1916; colleague of Liam Mellows; in charge of Cumann na mBan operations in Dublin during the attack on the Four Courts; member of the guard of honour at Cathal Brugha's funeral; paymaster General of Anti-Treaty IRA; military instructor; sea and land smuggler of weapons and explosives; decades' long keeper of safe-houses, school teacher and head of the Irish National Teachers Organisation. They always say a wide-ranging C.V. will impress!
McAuliffe expertly places Skinnider's and other individuals' lives in the context of much more well-known moments in history, for example the Great Hunger, the Land League, Home Rule campaign, the formation of the U.V.F. etc.
Margaret Skinnider was a leading propagandist in the USA after the Rising, along with Nora Connolly O'Brien, Hanna Sheehy Skeffington, and other leading figures. It was this propaganda by Republican women, McAuliffe explains, that changed the views of Irish America forever.
Both pro- and anti-treaty Republicans suffered in the weak economy but because of the fascist misogynistic laws which (going against the letter of the Proclamation) were ushered in by the new state in league with the Catholic Church; women were treated abysmally, particularly those who, like Skinnider, were anti-treaty. Cumann na mBan as an organisation was anti-treaty. They and others who were anti-treaty were denied pensions.
The book quotes W.D. Cosgrove's statement that "the word "persons" refers to males" regarding pensions. This was state policy and illustrative of the virulent hatred of Republican women. McAuliffe deftly breaks down the nuance of the pension policy with the example of the only woman who got a pension, it was down to her being a Free-State army doctor between 1922-1924. Skinnider was unsurprisingly denied a pension - being anti-treaty was more of an unworthy attribute than being a woman. Now that is saying something considering how much women were despised in the new state.
Likewise, in 1932 there was a ban on married women becoming teachers or working in the Civil Service. This enraged Margaret Skinnider - equality and emancipation of women went to the heart of the Proclamation. The author, referring to Skinnider, notes this ban would have "enraged her feminist sensibilities." Skinnider lived for most of her life with a same sex partner, Nóra O'Keefe so the ban on married women would not have affected her directly but fighting for people's rights regardless of whether you are impacted directly is what human rights and a rights based Republicanism is all about. She was also passionate about pupils with intellectual or physical impairments getting an equal opportunity to others.
This book reinforces the message that we should proactively encourage women of whatever political stance to take part in politics. If you can't find it in your heart to encourage them, at least don't troll, stalk or harass them. We need to give ourselves the best opportunities for a successful society. A male dominated capitalist society hasn't worked.
This bite-sized book at 115 pages is an easy and comfortable read, part of the Historical Association of Ireland's Life and Times New Series aimed at students, with a sparsity of academic jargon. However, things as specific as Cumann na mBan convention minutes are discussed by the author. With this as with everything it is the detail that delights and fascinates. Full of interesting stories, deftly interwoven and described by the author Mary McAuliffe, it didn't disappoint. It has a useful notes section and bibliography along with a handy chronology of the subject's life. I would encourage people to read this book on the multi-faceted life of Margaret Skinnider.
Mary McAuliffe, 2020, Margaret Skinnider. Publisher: University College Dublin Press. ISBN-13: 978-1910820537
⏩ Simon Smyth is an avid reader and collector of books