Civil War rape which led to pregnancy recalled in new TV documentary

Dublin archbishop answered woman’s plea for money so her son could be adopted

Cogadh Ar Mhná will air on TG4

Cogadh Ar Mhná will air on TG4


A woman who was raped and became pregnant by anti-Treaty forces during the Civil War sought help from the then archbishop of Dublin to arrange her son’s adoption, new research reveals.

The letter written by the woman, known as Mary M, to archbishop Edward Byrne has been discovered in the archives of the Archdiocese of Dublin by the UCD historian Dr Lindsey Earner-Byrne.

It will feature in a documentary to be broadcast on TG4 on Wednesday entitled Cogadh Ar Mhná (the women’s war) which tells the story of sexual violence carried out against women during the revolutionary period.

The woman was raped in January 1923 by a party of men who entered her home in Moate, Co Westmeath which she shared with her blind aunt and uncle, both of her parents being dead.

In the letter sent in July 1924, she recalled:“During the political trouble when looting and robbing and raiding were carried on to such an extent in our country district, my trouble began.

“In January 1923, a party of men, armed to the teeth and calling themselves republicans, forced their entrance into our house.

“The object of their visit was money or lives and they were furious when they did not get money. One brute satisfied his duty passion on me.

“I was then in a dangerous stage of health and through his conduct I became pregnant. Could any pen describe what I have gone through?”

Mary M went on to state that she intended to take her own life but was talked out of it by a Franciscan priest.

In October 1923 she gave birth to a baby boy in the National Maternity Hospital in Holles Street.

When she was told that she would have to look after the baby by herself, she asked that it be taken to heaven “but my prayers fell on deaf ears”.

The woman told the archbishop she was stealing from her elderly aunt to pay a Mrs Cruise from a rescue agency 25 shillings a week to mind her child.

She asked the archbishop for twenty pounds to pay the agency to arrange the private adoption of her son as otherwise the child would be returned to her and she would be exposed as an unmarried mother.

The archbishop clearly paid the money as a priest who advocated on her behalf, Father Cyprian, wrote to the archbishop on July 19th to thank him for his “very gracious & generous charity.” Father Cyprian was sure that “the girl herself will write to thank his Grace for his great kindness towards her”.

Dr Earner-Byrne said it was the first time she came across a primary source that showed there had been a rape in the Civil War.

Violence against women was carried out by both Crown forces and the IRA in the War of Independence and by pro and anti-Treaty forces in the Civil War.

In another incident during the Civil War, Eileen Biggs, a Protestant woman in Co Tipperary, was “outraged” on seven or eight different occasions by anti-Treaty forces who entered her home while her husband Samuel was locked in a different room.

Dr Earner-Byrne told the documentary that cases were not pursued after independence and were forgotten about

“If we look at these cars and we explore them, we can learn something about the status of women and how they re going to be treated by the new State.”

The historian Dr Ann Matthew told the documentary that “until such time as we discuss the reality rather than the romance, we haven’t matured”.

Former army officer Dr Tom Clonan said it was an “indefensible notion” that the War of Independence and the Civil War would be unique among wars in having no aspect of sexual violence. That would be a “singular anomaly in the history of warfare”, he remarked.

Cogadh ar Mhná is broadcast on TG4 Wednesday September 23rd at 9.30pm