James Connolly, one of the seven signatories of the proclamation of the Irish Republic and commander of the armed forces in Dublin during the Easter Rising of 1916, was a Scot born to Irish parents in Edinburgh who grew up in the slums of the Cowgate. But Connolly was by no means the only Scot who took part in the 1916 Easter Rising.
It is estimated that between 50 and 60 participants in the Rising were Scottish. Glasgow and Dundee in particular had very large populations of Irish immigrants whose children also identified as Irish. Like Muslims today, Irish Catholics in Britain at that time suffered from widespread prejudice and discrimination.
In January 1916 conscription was introduced for the first time in the British army. But because of the massive anti-conscription campaign in Ireland the government was too afraid to introduce it there. Young men such as Charles Carrigan and Seamus Robinson left Scotland to avoid serving in the British army. Carrigan was killed in the charge on the British barricade in Moore Street on Friday 28 April. It was his 34th birthday.
Many members of the Glasgow Irish Volunteer companies worked in mining, munitions factories and shipyards where they could easily come across materials for bomb making. There was also a large number of workers from an Irish background on the docks, which made smuggling equipment easier.
One of those involved in this smuggling was a remarkable women called Margaret Skinnider, who was the only woman to be wounded in action in the Rising. Born in Coatbridge near Glasgow, she was a militant suffragette known to the police and had a long association with Ireland from family holidays — her parents were both Irish. She joined the Glasgow branch of Cumann na mBan, the Irish Volunteers’ women’s section, in 1915 at the age of 22.
She was a crack shot with a rifle. Ironically she got her training from one of the rifle clubs that the British government had set up at the start of the First World War to enable a woman to “defend not only herself, but also those dear to her”. She began smuggling detonators and bomb-making equipment into Dublin (sometimes under her hat) in preparation for the Rising.
When Skinnider was shown “the poorest part of Dublin” she wrote, “I do not believe there is a worse place in the world.” The street was “a hollow full of sewage and refuse”, and the buildings “as full of holes as if it had been under shellfire…the fallen houses look like corpses, the others like cripples leaning upon crutches. These houses are symbolic of the downfall of Ireland. They were built by rich Irishmen for their homes. Today they are tenements for the poorest Irish people — the poor among the ruins of grandeur.”
She operated as a scout and dispatch rider and, at St Stephens Green under General Michael Mallin, the Citizens Army second in command, worked as a sniper up in the roof of the Royal College of Surgeons. She recalled:
“I slipped into the uniform, climbed up astride the rafters, and was assigned a loophole through which to shoot. It was dark there, full of smoke and the din of firing, but it was good to be in action. I could look across the tops of trees and see the British soldiers on the roof of the Shelbourne Hotel. I could also hear their shots hailing against the roof and wall of our fortress, for in truth this building was just that. More than once I saw the man I aimed at fall.”
She argued with Michael Mallin about taking part in more dangerous action:
“Commandant Mallin…finally agreed, though not at all willingly, for he did not want to let a woman run this sort of risk. My answer to this argument was that we had the same right to risk our lives as the men; that in the constitution of the Irish Republic, women were on an equality with men. For the first time in history, indeed, a constitution had been written that incorporated the principle of equal suffrage.”
As a result of an accidental shot let off by one of her party they were discovered and fired upon. Margaret was hit three times and severely wounded. After the surrender she was imprisoned for several weeks in hospital but managed to escape and make her way back to Scotland. She returned to fight in the War of Independence and was again imprisoned during the civil war for her activity with the anti-treaty forces.