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