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Carlow County - Ireland Genealogical Projects (IGP TM)

Mrs. Mary Malone (nee Bolton)

An Appreciation by Michael Purcell.

The late Mrs. Mary Malone

There was no Guard of Honour from the Carlow / Laois Cumann na mBan at the burial of Mary Malone for she was the last survivor of that organisation which was founded in 1914 to involve women in the furtherance of the cause of Irish liberty.

The only tangible link was the Cumann na mBan Republican Flag that draped her coffin, embroidered with the motif of a rifle and interwoven with the initials C na mB. In its worn, torn and tattered state, it represented the generation of republicans who had died before her, some of whom had also been been laid to rest in Killeshin.

In use for the last time at a burial, the flag is itself a part of Irish history. It was made in Kilmainham Jail by women who in compliance with a Cumann na mBan directive opposed the Anglo-Irish Treaty of December 1921 and who were then in 1922 / 23 imprisoned by their former comrades.

It was fitting that this flag should cover Mary's coffin in tribute to a courageous Irishwoman and in memory of all who served with her.

In occupied Ireland Cumann na mBan members were active as auxiliaries to the Military Council of the Irish Republican Brotherhood, the Irish Citizen Army, the Irish Volunteers and later to the Irish Republican Army whose flying columns they assisted by providing information, food, shelter, clothing and medical assistance (all members were required to attend First Aid and Signalling classes ). They acted as couriers (known as "basket girls" or "pram women") delivering dispatches to IRA commanders. They helped to provide and smuggle arms, cartridges and equipment for the volunteers and later, at great danger to themselves and their families, concealed the same arms, ammunition and uniforms in their homes. They also assisted in distributing pamphlets, posting handbills and organising public meetings.

The members were also active in selling Dail Bonds and other fund raising activities such as organising ceilis and concerts and campaigning on behalf of political leaders.

They provided "safe-houses" for men on the run, opposed conscription, served on prison relief committees, visited prisons, provided practical assistance for the prisoners' families, collected petitions, protested and maintained a prayerful presence at executions.

They consoled families who had lost loved ones in the struggle and dressed in their homemade "Volunteer green" tweed uniforms, crossed with a Sam Browne belt and topped with a slouch hat, they formed Guard of Honour columns at their funerals.

Also during this period some members were encouraged to maintain or establish friendships with British army personal or sympathisers of British rule as a means of gathering intelligence for the IRA and the IRB.

When one considers that association with any Republican movement meant punishment for the individual and deprivation and persecution for their families it illustrates just how brave those women were.

They had to contend with the Royal Irish Constabulary, the British Army, the notorious Black and Tans, informers and with, what at times was, a generally disinterested if not hostile, population (certainly the Republican movement was not widely supported in the Carlow area). Later the women were treated badly by the "Free Staters" and because they had once served side-by-side the C. na mB. Members were more vulnerable, their names and roles easily identified by their former comrades.

Perhaps it was at the hands of the Irish Free State government that they suffered the greatest deprivation and suffering when several hundred members were arrested and detained without charge during, and for months following, the Civil War. Nevertheless, this brave group of women carried out their tasks with unrelenting determination and sacrifice for the republican movement.

Cumann na mBan were refused representation on the Irish Army Executive for discussions on the Treaty negotiations. Later they were the first national organisation to oppose the Anglo-Irish treaty. The executive committee of Cumann na mBan overwhelmingly passed a motion in February 1922 reaffirming their allegiance to The Republic and to de Valera (this despite the fact that he had disappointed the Cumann na mBan membership when he had refused to have them serve in his 3rd Battalion during the 1916 Rising, he was the only 1916 commander not to avail of their assistance).

Following the February meeting there was a fateful parting of the ways and one of the saddest chapters in the history of the Fight for Independence came about as former comrades fought, imprisoned, tortured and killed each other during the ensuing Civil War or as the Republicans called it - The Counter Revolution.

Young Mary Bolton who had already experienced personal hardship as a republican activist followed the Cumann. na mBan directive and took the anti-Treaty side. For the remainder of her long life she stood true to her belief in the inalienable right of Irish people to govern themselves in a country free and at peace.

The censure of republicans by the Roman Catholic Church did not affect Mary's commitment to the church of her birth. Her strong Christian values remained, her many acts of kindness to church, neighbour, friend and stranger were recalled by the many who attended the celebration of Mary's life on Saturday last in Killeshin. I am reminded of an entry in my mother's autograph book dating from her own imprisonment in Kilmainham Jail,

"Remember me is all I ask,
And if remembrance proves a task,
forget" ........................
(May Gibney, April 1923).
we will not forget..........
Michael Purcell. February, 1997.

Source: Michael Purcell 2010


The "Appreciation" ended up being a history of Cumann na mBan which I compiled from my own records, it was considered to be so definitive that I was asked to submit it to the the National Archives and also to the Kilmainham Museum where it is on display to this day. Michael Purcell


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2001 Ireland Genealogy Projects, IGP TM