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Centenary of founding of Cumann na mBan to be celebrated at commemoration event

Cumann na mBann member Alice Milligan, left, with Anna Johnson. (1804MM20)

Cumann na mBann member Alice Milligan, left, with Anna Johnson. (1804MM20)

Republicans from across the north west will gather in Derry this Sunday to mark the 98th anniversary of the Easter Rising.

This year’s commemorations will also focus on the centenary of the founding of Cumann na mBan, the women’s republican revolutionary movement, which was set up in April 1914.

To mark the anniversaries, a march will be held from the Bogside to the republican plot in the City Cemetery where a commemoration will be held.

Sinn Féin vice-president, Mary Lou McDonald TD, will be the main speaker at the commemoration.

Derry has long associations with Cumann na mBan and many local women were involved from the time of its formation.

One of the most prominent cultural and political figures of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Alice Milligan, who was also Cumann na mBann member, developed her nationalist and republican principles while studying in Derry.

Born in Gortmore near Omagh into a large Methodist family, she was educated at Methodist College, Belfast, and then trained as a teacher.

Her father, Seaton Milligan, was a noted antiquarian and instilled in her a love for all things Irish at an early age. The rest of her family, however, were politically unionist and one of her brothers served with the British army in Dublin during the Easter Rising.

It was in Derry that Alice Milligan developed her own radical politics while teaching Latin at the McKillip’s Ladies Collegiate School from 1888 to 1890.

During her time in Derry she first began to learn Irish. As she later recalled; “In Derry I think I was nearer to something on the lines of the Gaelic League Branch. I advertised in a local paper for an Irish teacher, and in response to an advert went to an address which I found to be a neat little tobacconist’s shop kept by a Donegal man, He offered, as well as I remember, without any fee to give me as much Irish as I wanted, if I could come on Sunday afternoons to the sitting room of his house, where they had a weekly assembly of Irish speakers, singing and talk and any amount of fun. They had no books and he could not read a line of Irish.

“I had gone through the first two primers of the Irish Preservation Society, and was armed with Joyce’s Grammar, O’Curry’s MSS. Materials, O’Reilly’s Dictionary, and Irish copybooks. I said that if I could teach him spelling and writing and his party taught me conversation and pronunciation, we would have an excellent class.”

She was an early exponent of the power of drama and realised its propaganda value. She regular staged tableaux with strong nationalist messages around the country, including in Derry.

In April 1899 she staged a drama in St Columb’s hall in Derry involving scenes from history which was described in the local press at the time as “an impressive tableau” that took “a music character, embracing song and recitation in Gaelic.”

She was also involved in the Gaelic League branch in Derry and praised its work. “The Gaelic League has done good work in keeping alive the spirit of Nationality amongst the people,” she said.

Sunday’s Easter commemoration march in Derry will celebrate the role of women republican activists like Alice Milligan. It will be led by 100 women dressed in white shirts and black ties and ten in blue, the colour most associated with Cumann na mBan. The platform party will also be entirely made up of women.

Foyle Sinn Féin MLA Raymond McCartney encouraged local people to take part. “Easter is a very important date in the annual Republican calendar; a time when we not only gather in Derry, but across Ireland and throughout the world to remember those who have died in pursuit of Irish freedom and liberty and to stand in continued solidarity with their families, but also a time when we recommit ourselves to the pursuance of our Republican objectives.

“I would encourage people not only to take part in their local events but also to come along with their families to be part of the main commemoration this Sunday at 2.00pm, assembling at Westland Street,” he said.

Local area commemorations will take place on Sunday at lunchtime at the Republican monuments in Shantallow and Rose Court, Waterside at 1pm and Creggan and Bogside at 1.30pm.

 

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