Cumann na mBan was famously founded in Wynn’s Hotel on Lower Abbey Street, Dublin, in 1914, just months after the formation of the Irish Volunteers. Its members took part in the 1916 Rising alongside the Volunteers and the Irish Citizen Army, and continued its involvement in the nationalist cause throughout the War of Independence, the Civil War and beyond.
Many women dedicated their lives to the cause. One such woman is Bridie O’Mullane, pictured here at about age 25 or 26.
This photograph shows Bridie in full Cumann na mBan uniform, including a small brooch based on the Tara brooch. She was a member of the Executive Committee, an official organizer during the War of Independence and the Director of Publicity and Propaganda during the Civil War. The photograph was donated to the museum by Hanna Sheehy-Skeffington in 1937.
Sinead McCoole, in her book No Ordinary Women, gives a good account of Bridie’s activities during the period. O’Mullane joined Cumann na mBan in 1918 after meeting Countess Plunkett, who persuaded her to establish a branch in her home town of Sligo. She was made Secretary, and was soon requested by the Cumann na mBan headquarters to set up more branches around the county. By the end of the year she had been elected onto the Executive Committee, and made an official organizer.
Despite serving a prison sentence in 1919, she continued her recruitment activities and went on to establish branches throughout the country, often with her life in great danger.
She opposed the Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1921, and was appointed Director of Propaganda for Republican Sinn Fein in Dublin in early 1922. She founded the Cumann na mBan journal, and probably came to know Hanna Sheehy-Skeffington in this context, as she regularly contributed to the paper. She acted as a courier during the Civil War, and in July she was charged with the role of setting up a publicity department. Bridie, Maire McKee and Nellie Hoyne established an office in Clare Street, publishing a weekly paper called The War Bulletin. In November 1922 she was arrested by Free State Troops and imprisoned. In Kilmainham Jail she continued her political life, and became a member of the Prisoners’ Council and Commanding Officer of A Wing. She was released in late 1923, but arrested again in 1926 while campaigning against the treatment of prisoners in Maryborough Jail. She resigned her place on the Cumann na mBan Executive in 1927, later dedicating herself to compiling the history of the organization, assisting others in their applications for military pensions, the Women’s Prisoner’s Defence League, and was a founding member of the Irish Red Cross. She died at the age of 74, and is buried in the Republican Plot in Glasnevin Cemetery.
For more stories on the role women such as Bridie played in the fight for Irish independence, see the further reading section on this site for a few of the titles available. There are also a number of biographies available which are well worth reading.