The involvement of women in the rebellion of 1916 was, of course, a culmination of many factors – notably their involvement in most nationalist, socialist and feminist movements in existence from the late 19th and early 20th centuries.  During the Rising of 1916, women rose in rebellion within two organisations, the Irish Citizen Army and Cumann na mBan.  In 1913 an armed militia organisation, The Irish Citizen Army, was formed to defend the workers of Dublin. From the beginning women joined and were welcome in the ICA, organising themselves into the women’s section of that organisation. Women who were involved in political activism during the 1913 Lockout joined the ICA from its formation.

In April 1914, a new nationalist organisation for the women of Ireland was formed.  Its founders hoped that it would build upon what Inghinidhe na hEireann and other female nationalist organisations had started.  On April 2nd, Cumann na mBan was founded in Wynn’s Hotel in Dublin at a meeting led by Agnes O’Farrelly.  Cumann na mBan’s  purpose was to work in conjunction with the recently formed Irish Volunteers.

So serious were these women about the cause for Irish freedom, that the constitution of Cumann na mBan explicitly references the use of force by arms if necessary to “advance the cause of Irish liberty and to organise Irish women in the furtherance of this object,” and to “assist in arming and equipping a body of Irish men for the defence of Ireland,” and to “form a fund for these purposes, to be called ‘The Defence of Ireland Fund.’” Inghinidhe na hEireann became a branch of Cumann na mBan later in 1914 and many of its members played leading roles in Cumann na mBan and in the Easter Rising.

On 23 April 1916, the Military Council of the Irish Republican Brotherhood completed its plans for the 1916 Easter Rising, Cumann na mBan was included with the Irish Volunteers and the Irish Citizen Army into the “Army of the Irish Republic.”

The women of the Easter Rising were not relegated to the rear of combat.  For example, Winifred Carney was living in Belfast when James Connolly personally requested she come to Dublin just before the Easter Rising began.  She obliged, and armed with a Webley revolver and a typewriter, arrived at the GPO on O’Connell Street in Dublin where she served as his secretary for the entirety of Easter Week.  Arrested after the surrender, she was held in Kilmainham Gaol, Mountjoy Prison, and Aylesbury Prison in England – and wasn’t released until 8 months later in December 1916.

In fact by the end of 24 April 1916, women were involved at all major strongholds throughout the city except two, Boland’s Mill held by Eamon de Valera and the South Dublin Union held by Eamonn Ceannt. During Easter week Cumann na mBan and Irish Citizen Army women performed as couriers, carrying messages and arms from the GPO to other outposts; they also served as nurses and provided first aid for the wounded.  At the GPO, before the Cumann na mBan women left, Pearse called them together to praise their bravery, heroism and devotion in the face of danger.” A few women, including Winifred Carney, Elizabeth O’Farrell and Julia Grenan, remained behind there.  At Marrowbone Lane 22 women under the command of Rose McNamara refused to leave as defeat became inevitable.  In all 77 women were arrested after the Rising and taken under guard to Richmond Barracks.

Cumann na mBan agus Éirí Amach na Cásca 1916

Bhí a lán cúinsí taobh thiar den bhaint a bhí ag mná le hÉirí Amach 1916, go háirithe an bhaint a bhí acu le formhór na ngluaiseachtaí náisiúnacha, sóisialacha agus feimineacha a bhí ann ag deireadh an 19ú haois agus ag tús an 20ú haois.  I gcaitheamh Éirí Amach 1916, d’éirigh mná amach taobh istigh de dhá eagraíocht, Arm Cathartha na hÉireann agus Cumann na mBan.  Sa bhliain 1913 bunaíodh eagraíocht mhílíste armtha, Arm Cathartha na hÉireann, chun oibrithe Bhaile Átha Cliath a chosaint. Liostáil mná in Arm Cathartha na hÉireann ón tús agus bhí fáilte rompu ann. Chuir siad eagar orthu féin agus bhunaigh siad rannóg na mban den eagraíocht. Mná a raibh baint acu le gníomhaíochas polaitiúil i gcaitheamh Fhrithdhúnadh 1913, liostáil siad in Arm Cathartha na hÉireann ón uair a bunaíodh é.

I mí Aibreáin 1914, bunaíodh eagraíocht nua náisiúnach do mhná na hÉireann.  Bhí a bunaitheoirí ag súil go dtógfadh sí ar an méid a thosaigh Inghinidhe na hÉireann agus eagraíochtaí náisiúnacha ban eile.  An 2 Aibreán, bunaíodh Cumann na mBan in Óstán Wynn i mBaile Átha Cliath ag cruinniú a bhí faoi stiúir Agnes O’Farrelly.  Ba é cuspóir Chumann na mBan oibriú i gcomhpháirt le hÓglaigh na hÉireann a bunaíodh go luath roimhe sin.

Bhí na mná seo chomh diongbháilte sin faoi shaoirse na hÉireann go ndéantar tagairt fhollasach i mbunreacht Chumann na mBan don lámh láidir a úsáid dá mba ghá chun “saoirse na hÉireann a chur chun cinn agus chun mná na hÉireann a eagrú chun an aidhm sin a bhaint amach,” agus chun “cuidiú chun buíon d’fhir na hÉireann a armáil agus a réiteach chun Éire a chosaint,” agus chun “ciste a chruthú do na cuspóirí sin, dar teideal ‘Ciste um Chosaint na hÉireann’”. Rinneadh craobh de Chumann na mBan d’Inghinidhe na hÉireann níos déanaí sa bhliain 1914 agus ghlac a lán dá gcuid ball príomhpháirt i gCumann na mBan agus in Éirí Amach na Cásca.

An 23 Aibreán 1916, chuir Comhairle Mhíleata Bhráithreachas Phoblacht na hÉireann a cuid pleananna i gcrích le haghaidh Éirí Amach na Cásca 1916, agus bhí Cumann na mBan san áireamh le hÓglaigh na hÉireann agus Arm Cathartha na hÉireann in “Arm Phoblacht na hÉireann”.

Níor cuireadh mná Éirí Amach na Cásca siar go cúl an chomhraic.  Mar shampla, bhí Winifred Carney ina cónaí i mBéal Feirste nuair a d’iarr James Connolly go pearsanta go dtiocfadh sí go Baile Átha Cliath díreach sular thosaigh Éirí Amach na Cásca.  Rinne sí amhlaidh, agus shroich sí Ardoifig an Phoist ar Shráid Uí Chonaill i mBaile Átha Cliath le gunnán Webley agus clóscríobhán, áit ar oibrigh sí mar rúnaí dó le linn Sheachtain na Cásca ar fad.  Gabhadh í i ndiaidh dóibh géilleadh, agus coinníodh í i bPríosún Chill Mhaighneann, i bPríosún Mhuinseo agus i bPríosún Aylesbury i Sasana – agus níor scaoileadh saor í go ceann ocht mí eile i mí na Nollag 1916.

Go deimhin féin, faoi dheireadh an 24 Aibreán 1916, bhí mná páirteach ag gach daingean mór ar fud na cathrach, seachas péire díobh – Muileann Boland faoi cheannaireacht Éamoin de Valera agus Ceardchumann Bhaile Átha Cliath Theas faoi cheannaireacht Éamoinn Cheannt. I gcaitheamh sheachtain na Cásca bhí mná ó Chumann na mBan agus ó Arm Cathartha na hÉireann ag iompar teachtaireachtaí agus arm ó Ard-Oifig an Phoist go dtí láithreacha eile. Bhí cuid eile acu ina mbanaltraí agus iad ag cur cóir leighis orthu siúd a bhí gortaithe.  Ag Ard-Oifig an Phoist, sular imigh mná Chumann na mBan, ghlaoigh Mac Piarais le chéile iad chun moladh a thabhairt ‘dá gcrógacht, dá laochas agus dá ndílseacht sa bhearna bhaoil’ (aistrithe ón mBéarla). Fanann cúpla bean, Winifred Carney, Elizabeth O’Farrell agus Julia Grenan ina measc, siar ann.  22 bhean a bhí faoi cheannas Rose McNamara ag Lána Mhuire Mhaith, dhiúltaigh siad imeacht in ainneoin gur léir faoin am sin go raibh buaite orthu.  Gabhadh 77 mbean ar fad tar éis an Éirí Amach, agus tógadh faoi gharda iad go dtí Dún Richmond.