Irish Women Rising: Mollie Gill (1891–1977)

Photograph of Mollie Gill, 1911

Mollie Gill Portrait. Mitolsky, photographer, 1911. Loretta Clarke Murray Collection (MS2016.016), John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

Mollie (or Máire, in Irish) Gill is the first woman featured in our Irish Women Rising blog series who did not come from the well-to-do, Anglo-Irish class. Hailing from an Irish family, Mollie Gill’s life is representative  of thousands of young women in Ireland at turn of century—independent working girls, many of whom never married and many of whom struggled to support themselves throughout their lives. These women challenged the expectations of the nineteenth-century society’s worldview every bit as much as the wealthy women who participated in activism in this period.

Gill was employed at Dun Emer Industries, the arts and crafts cooperative founded by Evelyn Gleeson and worked under Elizabeth Corbett “Lolly” Yeats as a printer.  The stated aims of Dun Emer Industries were to find work for Irish hands in the making of beautiful things and to educate young Irish girls so they too could pass on their acquired skills.

In 1908, the year that Gill joined Dun Emer, Yeats and her sister, Susan, broke with Gleeson and formed Cuala Industries, where Gill would remain employed for the rest of her life. Cuala, pronounced COOL-a, is an early name for Dublin. The press “published living Irish writers at a critical time in the development of modern Irish culture.”

Photo of Mollie Gill

Mollie Gill with Camogie Cup. Loretta Clarke Murray Collection (MS2016.016), John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

Mollie Gill thus came into the Yeats’ family circle and became aware of William Butler Yeats and the Celtic Literary Revival.  Mollie studied the Irish language, and, as a member of Inghinidhe na hÉireann (Daughters of Ireland), engaged in an array of cultural activities. An active participant in the Irish Republican movement, she was a charter member of Cumann na mBann, or League of Women.  She was also an athlete who played Camogie, a stick and ball game similar to hurling, serving as President of Cumann Camógaíocht na nGael (Camogie Association of Ireland) for 18 years.

Different from many of the women of her day who worked in nursing or teaching positions, Gill played an important role in the actual mechanics of print communication: rolling inks, and operating the Albion handpress that Lolly Yeats had acquired for the printing side of Cúala Industries.

Gill marched with the Dublin Camogie group in the funeral procession of Fenian leader Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa, which provided an opportunity for nationalist groups to gather in a show of strength and circumvent laws against demonstrations.

It was at this event that Padraig Pearse gave a speech credited with inspiring the armed rebellion that would take place Easter Week, 1916.

Photo of Mollie Gill

Mollie Gill in breeches with pistol. Loretta Clarke Murray Collection (MS2016.016), John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

While no evidence exists of her direct involvement in the Easter Rising, Gill later became an executive member of the Irish Republican Prisoners Dependents’ Fund which supported prisoners’ families. Gill participated in the War of Independence and was awarded a medal for her efforts. On March 23, 1923, during the Civil War when the Irish Free State ruled, Gill was found in possession of a notice for a meeting of the Irish Republican Prisoners Dependents’ Fund and a copy of a Cumann na mBan magazine. She was arrested, and, much to the chagrin of Elizabeth Yeats, spent several months in Kilmainham Jail. After her release, Gill returned to her work as the main typesetter for Cuala Press, remaining active until 1969. Gill, while not as widely known as Maud Gonne MacBride or Countess Constance Markievicz, exemplifies their same commitment to Irish culture, nationalism and freedom.

  • Kathleen Williams, Senior Reference Librarian, Bibliographer for Irish Studies, John J. Burns Library
  • Michael Bailey,  Student Assistant to Kathleen Williams and Ph.D. candidate in the Department of History

Works Consulted:

Liam Miller, The Dun Emer Press, Later the Cuala Press (Dublin: Dolmen Press, 1973), p. 11

About John J. Burns Library of Rare Books and Special Collections at Boston College

The University’s special collections, including the University’s Archives, are housed in the Honorable John J. Burns Library, located in the Bapst Library Building, north entrance. Burns Library staff work with students and faculty to support learning and teaching at Boston College, offering access to unique primary sources through instruction sessions, exhibits, and programming. The Burns Library also serves the research needs of external scholars, hosting researchers from around the globe interested in using the collections. The Burns Library is home to more than 200,000 volumes and over 700 manuscript collections, including holdings of music, photographic materials, art and artifacts, and ephemera. Though its collections cover virtually the entire spectrum of human knowledge, the Burns Library has achieved international recognition in several specific areas of research, most notably: Irish studies; British Catholic authors; Jesuitica; Fine printing; Catholic liturgy and life in America, 1925-1975; Boston history; the Caribbean, especially Jamaica; Nursing; and Congressional archives.
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