Irish Women Rising: Margaret Skinnider (1893-1971)

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Photograph of Margaret Skinnider from Doing My Bit for Ireland. NY: Century, 1921.

The New York Times called  Margaret Skinnider “the schoolteacher turned sniper,” which was both a testament and a slight to her remarkable life. Born to Irish parents in Scotland, she spent summers in the countryside of County Monaghan as a child , and it was there that she noticed the disparity between the wealthy Anglo-Irish, who held authority in most instances, and the poorer Irish living side by side with them. The need for radical action was very clear to Skinnider by the early 1900’s.

While she worked as a math teacher in Glasgow, Skinnider joined the Irish Volunteers and the Glasgow branch of Cumann na mBan (the Women’s Council). Skinnider was a feminist and nationalist who did not hesitate to embrace roles traditionally defined as masculine. Word of her skill as a markswoman and of her affiliation with radical nationalist organizations reached Constance Markievicz who invited Skinnider to visit her in Dublin. They became close friends, engaging in shooting practice in the Dublin Hills, and Skinnider always referred to the Countess as “Madam.”  

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Photograph of Margaret Skinnider from Doing My Bit for Ireland. NY: Century, 1921.

When Madam suggested visits to museums and galleries, Skinnider expressed her desire to see the very poorest part of the city instead. Upon visiting the Ash St. section of Dublin, Skinnider saw the once beautiful old mansions that had belonged to Dublin’s well-to-do.  These residences, where many families huddled together in one room, now stood as witnesses to and ugly evidence of the destitution that plagued many unskilled workers and the countless unemployed.

In support of the Rebellion, Skinnider used at least one of her frequent trips to Ireland to smuggle detonators and bomb-making material for nationalist causes:

In my hat I was carrying to Ireland detonators for bombs, and the wires were wrapped around me under my coat.”

Not surprisingly, Skinnider was one of the most active female participants in the Easter Rising. She served with the St. Stephen’s Green contingent under Michael Mallin and her friend, Madam Markievicz, who was second in command. According to the Proclamation published by the leaders of the rebellion, women were equal to men—fact Skinnider reminded Commander Mallin of when he stopped her from throwing a bomb. She argued that women have as much right to risk their lives as men. In fact, Skinnider did risk her life and suffered the worst injury of any woman during the conflict. She took three bullets, and spent seven weeks recovering in the hospital. Arrested for her actions, she spent no time in jail due to the intervention of the hospital’s head doctor.

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Photograph of Margaret Skinnider from Connolly, Thomas J. History of the Irish National Teachers’ Organization, 1868 – 1968. Dublin: Irish National Teachers’ Organization 1968

Skinnider continued her lifelong dedication to Ireland, labor, and feminism after the uprising. She taught in the Irish Sisters of Mercy school in Dublin until 1961. Active in the Irish National Schools Teachers Organization, she lobbied for equal pay and status for women teachers, and served as its president during the 1960s.

  • 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:

Sadibh Walshe, “The Sisterhood of the Easter Rising,” New York Times, March 16, 2016

Skinnider, Margaret, Doing My Bit for Ireland, New York: The Century Company, 1917

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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