“It was dark there, full of smoke and the din of firing, but it was good to be in action. I could see the British soldiers on the roof of the Shelbourne… More than once I saw the man I aimed at fall.”
– Extract from ‘Doing my bit for Ireland’ by Margaret Skinnider, describing being a sniper on St. Stephen’s Green, Dublin, during the Easter Rising.
A series by Mary Angland
Margaret Skinnider was yet another extraordinary woman involved in the struggle for Irish independence and women’s rights in the first half of the 20th century and is the subject of a fascinating biography by historian Dr. Mary McAuliffe.
Her parents were Irish emigrants who had settled in Lanarkshire in Scotland where Margaret was born in 1892. She trained as a maths teacher but was heavily involved in political activism and particularly in the Women’s Suffrage movement participating in many protests.
She visited Ireland regularly and like so many revolutionary women of the period, met and was influenced by Countess Markievicz.
She quickly joined the Glasgow branch of Cumann na mBan and was active in smuggling bomb-making equipment and detonators into Dublin in preparation for the Rising – in her hat! She later joined the Irish Citizen Army (ICA) and was very much involved in the Rising itself.
She performed a number of roles during that turbulent week – scout, message runner (where she often disguised herself as a boy), and her most famous role, that of sniper in the ICA Garrison under Michael Mallin and Markievicz in the College of Surgeons/St. Stephen’s Green area.
Mallin’s misgivings over a woman taking risks cut little ice with the indomitable Margaret who told him sharply that women had the same right as men had to risk their lives.
She was a superb marks-woman having trained in one of the rifle clubs in Scotland which had been set up to teach women to shoot so that they could defend the Empire if it proved necessary.
During the rebellion of 1916, her orders were never questioned by the four men under her command who recognised her courage and leadership skills.
The British had managed to set up a machine-gun on the roof of the Catholic University Church and Margaret and her small group tried to thwart their retreat by burning down a number of houses in Harcourt Street.