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2 December 2021

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Máire Comerford - inspiring revolutionary

Book review

‘On Dangerous Ground - a Memoir of the Irish Revolution’ 

By Máire Comerford. Published by Lilliput Press

I can’t remember the last time I read a book so quickly or enjoyed one so much as this. The words of Máire Comerford’s revolutionary memoirs leap off the page and in its vivid recollection and emotional charge this book ranks with the writings of Ernie O’Malley and Tom Barry.

“For many years her name has been famous as that of probably the most daring woman working for the Republican cause.” So said the Daily Mail in January 1923. Daring she certainly was in all her many activities in unswerving pursuit of her goal - the Irish Republic of 1916 and the fulfilment of its promise politically, economically, socially and culturally.

Very few people were in the position of Máire Comerford as both activist and witness with a front seat for the great political and military events 1916-23 and fewer still could write so well. For much of that period she worked as secretary to the historian Alice Stopford Green and lived in her house on Dublin’s St Stephen’s Green. She attended most of the crucial meetings and rallies in the nearby Mansion House, including the first meeting of the First Dáil Éireann.

She set out from Stephen’s Green on her trusty bicycle on Cumann na mBan work, IRA intelligence, publicity, White Cross, and many other tasks. She travelled the country and catalogued British atrocities at the height of the Black and Tan war.

Rita O'Hare and Máire Comerford

• Rita O'Hare and Máire Comerford

Paying tribute to civilians who contributed so much to the fight, she writes:

“No one begrudges the Volunteers the credit and glory they earned by their bravery in the War of Independence, or the inadequate pensions that were later awarded to them. But let one small voice, my own, be raised now to claim for all the silent services provided by Irish women and men in those revolutionary times some proportionate share of recognition. The number of people who lost their lives while engaged on civilian duties has never, to my knowledge, been reckoned, or honoured.”

Máire was appalled at the Treaty signed in London 100 years ago. She saw it as a betrayal of the Republic for which so many had sacrificed so much. She writes movingly of the emotional turmoil experienced by Republicans as they tried desperately to save the Republic but saw it undermined and overthrown by the British government and its Free State allies. When the attack on the Four Courts with British guns came she was there. When the Courts fell she went to the Republicans in the Hammam Hotel. When the Civil War ended she single-handedly ran the Sinn Féin 1923 general election campaign in County Cork.

She recalls the price Republicans paid for their commitment in the 1920s - blacklisting from jobs, poverty, exile, harassment and imprisonment. She had no hesitation in calling the Free State government the agents of the counter-revolution.

Máire was always with the ordinary people who sustained the revolution, many of whom were abandoned by those who gained power:

“The Easter revolution of 1916 gave great joy and hope to the poor; afterwards, when there was no longer any need to stop for assistance, men in big motor cars went past those doors, except, perhaps, at election time.”

Máire remained committed to the Republic and never wavered in her opposition to Partition and inequality. She writes:

“The partition of our island has made it impossible for our nation to grow and mature, as modern democratic states should be free to do. My earnest wish, that the partition of Ireland will end, remains intact. Everything I have observed in Ireland since 1923, north and south, only strengthens this belief.”

Máire Comerford funeral

• 1982 - Danny Morrison delivers Máire's funeral oration 

She remained fully committed to the struggle to end Partition and to build a new Ireland. In the 1970s many Republicans - including men and women on the run - visited Máire in her Dublin home. She died in 1982 and her funeral oration was delivered by Danny Morrison, then Sinn Féin Director of Publicity.

Máire Comerford’s words are truly inspiring and no Republican home should be without this book.

Available from Sinn Féin Bookshop >

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