One Woman’s War
When thinking about our War of Independence, most people think about the military campaign of the Irish Republican Army. They remember ambushes, killing members of the crown forces, burning of RIC barracks, sniping, drilling, and disrupting recruiting meetings. Allied to that were actions like disrupting communications, trenching roads, neutralising spies and informers, burning loyalists’ properties, and conducting Republican courts. They then think about the part played by An Chéad Dáil Éireann. Apart from the fact that some members of the IRA GHQ staff were also members of An Dáil, that body didn’t seem to many to be either relevant or helpful to the military campaign. But the members did represent the democratically expressed will of the people. In due course they would negotiate the Truce with the British in July 1921. Yet there were two other organisations that were vital to the IRA’s success. Firstly there was Na Fianna Éireann. They were the IRA equivalent of senior boy scouts. They played an active part in the war. They operated as spies, carried despatches, drilled, learned the use of firearms, and, as the years passed, graduated into the ranks of the IRA. The second overlooked group was Cumann na mBan. The women of the families of active IRA men were vital to the success of their menfolk. They hid and cared for Volunteers on the run. They cooked, cleaned and catered for them. They gathered intelligence, carried despatches, organised fund-raising events, stored weapons and explosives, assembled first-aid kits, tended the wounded, shared their plans and worries, and kept the activists sane. They also kept families together, managed businesses and farms, suffered harassment from crown forces in silence, struggled with the results of martial law, juggled meagre incomes, and encouraged their menfolk by their stoicism and silence in the face of endless adversity. They lived with the constant fear and danger of raids, thefts, physical and verbal assaults, and the nightmare of possibly being burned out of their homes. The womenfolk, especially the members of Cumann na mBan, were the unsung heroines of the fight for Irish freedom.
This is the story of one woman’s efforts to establish and defend the Republic during two wars. Bridget Heffernan was a native of Glenough, Rossmore, Goold’s Cross. She was born on the 1st February 1898, the youngest of six children born to Patrick Heffernan and his wife Johanna, nee White. The townland of Glenough, in the Catholic parish of Clonoulty – Rossmore and the barony of Kilnamanagh Lower, is a hilly, mountainous area. The people there proved themselves to be sterling patriots and active militants during the War of Independence. No sooner had the Irish Republic, proclaimed in April 1916, been defeated and extinguished and the leaders executed than young men all over Ireland began to plot ways to avenge them and renew the struggle for independence. A Volunteer Company was formed in the Rossmore area, and simultaneously a Branch of Cumann na mBan was established there too.
On 18 November 1938 Bridget applied to the Military Services Pension Commission for a Cumann na mBan pension under the terms of the 1934 Military Pensions Act. By that time she was living in Drumcondra, Dublin. She was married to her neighbour from Glenough, Phil Fitzgerald, and they were the parents of five children.
In due course her application was refused on 15 February 1940. The refusal form was signed off by no less a person than Séamus Robinson, former Commdt. Gen. of the Second Southern Division and prior to that OC of the Third Tipperary Brigade.
Bridget didn’t take “no” for an answer. So in October 1940 she appealed the refusal. This time she submitted a far more detailed description of her active service record to the MSPC. This was her statement.
5 Susanville Road,
Ref. no. B4/57309
Office of the Referee.
Re your communication of the 1st Inst. I beg to submit the following additional evidence.
On 16th Aug. 1917 I was given two boxes of detonators and revolver by P. Fitzgerald, Adjt. 3rd Battn. The detonators were seized at Molloy’s, Thurles, on previous night. Some of these detonators were called for occasionally by P. Fitzgerald. The revolver was under my care constantly except when P. Fitzgerald called for it to go on a job and was returned next day. I supplied food to assist Dances held monthly by local I.R.A. to purchase arms and helped catering at same.
I still had charge of detonators and revolver. Soon after shooting of Police and capture of large quantity of explosives at Soloheadbeg in Jan 1919 P. Fitzgerald gave me box of gelignite (about 1 cwt weight) to keep. This was in my possession about 6 months. Gave assistance to & catered at IRA dances held monthly.
Care of detonators and revolver. In Aug. 1919 P. Fitzgerald gave me two crude home made bombs and some hand grenades. These were in my possession until about Christmas 1919. P. Fitzgerald gave me some more hand grenades about the middle of Jan. 1920.
In Jan. 1920 I was elected Captain of branch attached to D. Coy. 3rd Battn. In March 1920 I supplied hand grenades and detonators to P. Deere for attack on Doon Bks. in May 1920 Hollyford Barracks (about 2 miles from my home) was attacked. The following morning P. Fitzgerald and R. Hanly gave me 2 rifles, 1 revolver and about 10 hand grenades. These remained in my possession until late in July when they were removed by some men to go to attack at Rearcross. I still had detonators and crude bombs. At this time E. O Reilly, J. Ryan (M) and P. Fitzgerald were “on the run” and stayed at my home several nights with revolvers under their pillows. All through 1920 I received about once a week and often kept for days Dispatches from Coy. Adjts. To Battn. Adjt. P. Fitzgerald. Gave assistance to & catered at I.R.A Dances held monthly.
In April1921 things were getting very hot for the boys. I had 5 rifles, 2 revolvers some hand grenades and detonators constantly in my possession. The rifles were sometimes taken out on a job but were returned next day. In April, May, June and July P. Fitzgerald Battn. Adjt slept at my house constantly. He received and sent out Dispatches through me all this time. Several of the boys “on the run” including Sean Treacy, Dan Breen, Tadg Dwyer, E. O Reilly, J. Ryan(M) called frequently and were catered for by me. During this time I had laundry work every week for E. O Reilly, J. Ryan & P. Fitzgerald.
For about 2 months after Truce (11th July 1921) I had some small arms, grenades & detonators still under my charge. They were then removed by D. Kelly (Asst Battn Q.M.) in Nov. and Dec 1921 I gave bedding and food to Battn and Coy. Training Camps and assisted at cooking and laundry work for 2 days. During all this time several small routine jobs kept me from home about 1 day in each week.
In Dec.1922 I carried Dispatches from W. B. O Dwyer Battn Comdt. To Brigade H. Q. at Glenagat. I walked to Goold’s Cross (4 miles) took train to Cashel (4 miles) and walked to Glenagat (9 miles) and did same coming back. This journey covered two whole days. In Feb 1923 I carried dispatches from Battn Comdt to Brigade H. Q. at Davens Rosegreen about 13 miles each way. I travelled on bike and was away one whole day.
In May 1923 I carried Dispatches from Battn Comdt to Brigade H. Q. at Lagganstown about 13 miles away. I travelled on bike and was away one whole day. During all this period W. B. O Dwyer Battn Comdt, T. Carroll Battn Adjt. Tom Crowe (machine gunner) Sparkie Breen Ben Hickey J Coffey (members of the Flying Column) slept at my house at least 1 night each week and kept revolvers rifles and Thompson Gun in the house with them. I got out of bed frequently at 2 o clock in the morning to get food for them.
Captain. Cumann na mBan Branch
attached to D. Coy. III Battn III Tipp. Brigade
Her statement was typed and a copy given to each of her testators. The MSPC archives contain these three signed agreements with her statement.
The foregoing statement of her activities by Mrs. Bridget Fitzgerald are correct in every detail, & her application for a Service Certificate in my opinion deserves favourable consideration.
(Signed) Annie M. Ryan
(Late) Commandant 3rd Battn. (O. C.)
3rd Tipp Brigade
C na mB.
The foregoing statements of activities by Mrs Bridget Fitzgerald are to my knowledge absolutely correct.
3rd Tipp. Bde.
Here-with is a correct account of the activities of Mrs Bridget Fitzgerald
5 Susanville Rd
(Formerly of Glenough, Rossmore, Gooldscross)
(ex) O. C. Battn III
Tipp III BDE
The Pension Board’s Referees then asserted that she wasn’t the captain of the Rossmore Cumann na mBan Branch. So once again she produced three witnesses who vouched for the veracity of her claim.
Military Pensions Board.
Bridget Fitzgerald – nee Heffernan – was Captain of Rossmore C – na – mBan, grouped in the 3rd Btn. D. C.
Annie M. Ryan
(one time) Commandment 3rd Btn. D. C.
3rd Tipp Brigade.
This is to certify that Mrs Bridget Fitzgerald was appointed Capt. of Rossmore branch of D Coy C na mBan in Jan 1920. I was a member of above branch at that time.
Mary O Brien.
24th Jan 1942
Statement by Mrs Maggie Ryan
This is to certify that Mrs Bridget Fitzgerald was elected Captain of Rossmore Cumann – na – mBan in 1920.
I being a member of the branch at time.
Signed Mrs Maggie Ryan.
On 09 May 1942 the Pensions Board awarded her a Cumann na mBan pension. The decision was signed by Séamus Robinson. She was allowed 2 years active service for pensionable purposes. She was rated as grade “E” – the lowest grade possible. The rate was £5 per year. So her pension was calculated as £10-11-1, p. a. with effect from 01 October 1934.
Phil Fitzgerald died in the autumn of 1964. By then his pension amounted to £157-7-1 p. a. Over the previous twenty two years hers had increased £23-6-1 p. a. She then qualified for the widows’ pension of 42/6 (£2-2-6) per week. In February 1965 she sought help from Dan Breen, T. D. to receive a special allowance because of Phil’s service in the War of Independence. Representations were also made on her behalf by her constituency T. D. – Charles J. Haughey, then the Minister for Agriculture. They were partially successful and at the end of the sixties her own pension and the allowance for Phil amounted to £105-10-0 p. a.
Towards the end of 1971 she developed cancer and spent eight months in St. Luke’s hospital. She then went to live with her daughter in Birr for a period. She died in Dublin on 11 June 1972 in her seventy fifth year.
The bean counters pursued her even in death. They carried out a detailed audit of her assets and all the income she had ever received from the state. It was determined that she’d been overpaid. On 16 July 1973 her son repaid the £391.09 overpayment in full. The Fitzgeralds were patriotic and honest from one generation to the next.
In his last speech to Dáil Éireann as Taoiseach on 11 February 1992, C. J. Haughey quoted from Shakespeare: “I have done the state some service, and they know’t: No more of that”. The jury is still out as to whether that statement rings true or not in Haughey’s case. Without doubt it was absolutely true in the Fitzgeralds’ case. Unfortunately, their service is mostly unknown, unappreciated and unacknowledged.
I measc Naomh na hÉireann go raibh Pilib agus Bríd agus a gcomhráidithe ar feadh na síoraíochta. Amen.
GO SÁBHÁLA DIA ÉIRE.
 01/04/17-31/03/18. She made no claim for Periods 1 & 2 – the 1916 Rising.
 He later became her husband.
 See J. Leahy’s statement to BMH, Witness Statement #1454, pg. 23 & T. Malone’s WS#0845, pg. 28.
 Vice OC 3rd Batt.
 “Jack the Master”, Vol. “D” Coy.
 Vice Brigadier, Third Tipperary Brigade. KIA , Dublin, 14/10/1920
 QM Third Tipperary Brigade. Later a strong advocate of Bridget Fitzgerald’s pension rights.
 Commandant. OC Third Batt., (Dundrum), Third Tipperary Brigade.
 Should be “Davin’s”.
 All anti-Treaty Vols. defending the Republic.
 The Cert was an absolute prerequisite for the awarding of a pension
 Annie M. Ryan (Martin) was commonly called “Nance” by her family. Two of her brothers were members of “B” Coy. (Anacarty), 3rd Batt. Following the arrest of the Coy. Capt. in January 1921, Lt. Michael Ryan (M) was appointed Acting Coy. Capt. On 13 May he was shot and mortally wounded by British troops near his home in Ballybrack while trying to escape. He died some hours later in the military hospital in Tipperary. Her other Vol. brother, Thomas, survived the war. On 09 April 1923 Annie the carried the last dispatches written by the Republican Chief of Staff, Gen. Liam Lynch. He was killed in action by Free State forces the following day.
 Othello, Act 5, Scene 2.