By Frances Browner
Lily was born in County Wicklow, in 1897, and as a young girl moved with her family to Dublin where eight of them shared two rooms. Rosanna had been born in 1893, in a tenement building on Bolton Street where she lived with her widowed mother and five family members. They met in Jacobs’ Biscuit Factory where conditions were so appalling, according to Jim Larkin, employees “were sent from this earth twenty years before their time”. Lily and Rose would fight for the rights of this workforce, and for Ireland’s freedom.
When the Irish Transport and General Workers Union was organised in 1909, the two girls joined.
In 1911, they supported the striking menfolk in Jacob’s, by withdrawing fellow females, eventually securing for them better conditions and a pay rise. They helped found the Irish Women’s Workers Union who supported the Tram Workers strike in 1913. During the lockout, they helped Countess Markievitz set up a soup kitchen in Liberty Hall. As a result, they lost their jobs in Jacob’s.
Lily was sent to Kilmainham Jail and avoided reform school by giving her age as 17, when in fact she was a year younger. In a 1914 picture of the delegates at the Irish Trade Union Congress in Dublin, Lily is standing next to James Connolly. She lived with the Connolly family in Belfast for a few months, where she took an Oath of Allegiance to the Irish Republic. After she died, a snapshot of the event was found among her possessions, inscribed with the words, “I still remember.”