Metro Detroit Irish remember women of Easter Rising

Jennifer Chambers
The Detroit News

The last 100 years of Irish history were shaped by the 1916 Easter Rising.

On Saturday at the Gaelic League of Detroit, stories, music and workshops retold how the rebellion —considered the most significant uprising in the 20th Century — all began.

Larry Larson performs the Irish and American National Anthem during the opening welcome for The Gaelic League of Detroit as it commemorates Ireland's 1916 Easter Rising on Saturday.

More than 150 Irish and Irish Americans gathered at the hall on Michigan Avenue in Detroit’s Corktown District. Soda bread, beer and tea warmed the group of listeners that spanned two, three or more generations

Marilyn Madigan, a national Irish historian with the Ladies Ancient Order of Hibernians, said while many stories of Irish women in the uprising can be found in the Bureau of Military History, many more have been airbrushed out of history.

“I am going to tell you what the women did for our beloved Ireland. More than 200 women participated in the Rising. Seventy-seven women were imprisoned for their activities during Easter Week 1916. All have their own story worthy to be retold,” she said.

Among the women: Margaret Keough, a nurse working at the South Dublin Union who rushed to help the wounded at the time of her death on April 24, 1916. She was shot by a British soldier as she was attending to the patients.

Another was Mary Spring Rice, a member of Cumann na mBan (The Irish Women’s Council) who was centrally involved in the planning of the Howth Gun Running of July 26, 1914. She had suggested using private yachts to smuggle weapons into Ireland and also provided financial assistance for the weapons.

“Cumann na mBan always kept their goal of an independent Republic of Ireland. We as the Irish Diaspora own these women our gratitude,” Madigan said.

Shelia Nagle, joined the 1916 Easter Rising at the age of 14. She was arrested was arrested and thrown in jail during the civil war for giving food, arms and clothes to men in the rebellion, said her daugther Shelia O’Connell O’Grady O’Grady, of Brighton.

The rising was an armed insurrection in Ireland during Easter Week, April 1916. It was launched by Irish republicans to end British rule in Ireland and establish an independent Irish Republic while the United Kingdom was heavily engaged in World War I.

Along with the stories and music, there were multiple workshops that discussed the Easter Rising, including one that focused on Detroit’s reaction to the rising.

Shelia O’Connell O’Grady, who attended the event on Saturday, said her mother, Shelia Nagle, joined the uprising at the age of 14, said

Her mother was arrested and thrown in jail during the civil war for giving food, arms and clothes to men in the rebellion, said O’Grady, of Brighton.

Her mother came to Detroit in 1936 where she went to work as a cook in the home of the city’s auto barons, O’Grady said.

“My mother fought for two countries. She was a Rosie the Riveter. My father, Daniel O'Connell smuggled the Lord Mayor of Cork City to safety. He worked in the Detroit Tank Plant... and gave Irish dancing, as a teacher, to the City of Detroit,” she said.

“I think it’s good that they recognize what our ancestors and our previous generations did to free Ireland,” O’Grady said.