We were delighted to have a visit from Robert Gahan to Richmond Barracks recently. He told us stories of his extraordinary aunt, Mary Gahan and her involvement in the 1916 Rising and the War of Independence.
What is also very interesting is the story he tells of her life after the Civil War, the story of her emigration to New Zealand. Here’s a snippet of her activism in the 1916 Rising, but do listen to Robert’s short podcast, it’s well worth it.
“ By 1914 Mary Gahan was a member of the Inghinidhe branch of Cumann na mBan. During Easter Week, Gahan was attached to the Stephen’s Green/Royal College of Surgeons garrison. She served as a courier during the week, ultimately ending up in the GPO. James Connolly sent her to report to Frank Thornton who was stationed at the Imperial Hotel, Sackville Street. Her brothers Mattie and Joe both served with the Irish Volunteers in the GPO and North King Street area. After the Rising she was arrested in Marlborough Street and taken to Richmond Barracks and then to Kilmainham Gaol; she remembered being pelted by ‘bottles and horse dung as she walked to Kilmainham’.
Richmond Barracks 1916: We Were There – 77 Women Of The Easter Rising
Mary Gahan, with her husband and two of her children, Eileen and Robert (1926)
This podcast recorded at Richmond Barracks in May 2018, tells the story of Thomas and Denis Shelly, cabinet makers from Dublin, who were arrested and held in Richmond Barracks in the aftermath of the 1916 Rising.
Listen to a fascinating account given by Thomas Shelly’s son, Seamus (age 92), of his father’s involvement in the Rising, and of the time spent in prison at Richmond Barracks. Listen out for the complex history, present in so many families at that time, and see their family photo of Thomas and Mary Shelly and their sons, Denis and Seamus.
Listen to Josie McGowan’s nephew, Claude giving a very moving account of how he found his aunt’s grave and erected a head stone in her memory at Glasnevin cemetery. He also showed us the medals she was awarded posthumously for her service in the 1916 Rising and the War of Independence
Josephine ‘Josie’ McGowan
Born: Dublin, 1898
Organisation: Cumann na mBan (Inghinidhe branch)
Position during Easter Rising: Marrowbone Lane Distillery
As a member of the Inghinidhe branch, McGowan was attached to the Marrowbone Lane garrison during the Easter Rising and was among the twenty-two women from that garrison who were arrested and held in Richmond Barracks and Kilmainham Gaol after the surrender. After her release from prison she rejoined her comrades in Cumann na mBan and was involved in helping with their many activities at the time.
Josie McGowan died on 29 September 1918, the death certificate stated that she died of pneumonia, however, according to family history she was injured in a baton charge and on being taken to the Dublin Mountains to be treated she died. Both of these stories may actually reveal the truth behind her death. According to the pension application of Priscilla Kavanagh (née Quigley), who had served with McGowan in Marrowbone Lane Distillery during the Rising, members of Cumann na mBan, including the Inghinidhe branch, were involved in a protest meeting at Foster Place. The women were campaigning against the ill treatment of female prisoners Kathleen Clarke, Countess Markievicz, and Maud Gonne McBride, incarcerated in English Gaols and the manner in which republican prisoners in general were being treated in prison by the authorities. Speakers at the meeting included Helena Molony and Hanna Sheehy Skeffington. According to Kavanagh, the women were surrounded by the police who, while observing the situation, broke up the meeting with a violent baton charge. Some of the women were arrested. As a member of the Inghinidhe branch McGowan would have been present. According to her family she received severe blows to her head during the baton charge and was taken to the Inghinidhe branch first aid station in Ticknock, Co. Dublin. Newspapersat the time verify the story of the protest meeting and the rough treatment the women received.
Josie McGowan was only 20 years old at the time of her death. She was buried in a pauper’s grave in Glasnevin Cemetery. Her father Charles died seven days later and was buried with his daughter. Today their grave is marked with a headstone erected by their family. Josie McGowan received posthumous medals for her contribution in the Easter Rising and the War of Independence, the latter medal has the ‘Comhrac’ (Fighting or Active Service) bar.
(We Were There, The 77 Women of Richmond Barracks, Dublin 2016, Four Courts Press, Mc Auliffe, Gillis)