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My ancestors - Humphrys - Contents

Sighle Humphreys

Sighle, shortly before the 1916 Rising.
From here.

Sighle Humphreys (see here),
lifelong Irish republican revolutionary,
born 26th Feb 1899, Limerick,
see Childhood in Quinsborough,
family moved to Dublin 1909,
educ Mount Anville, there in 1912-16.

Revolutionary in 1916-21:
Sighle, like her mother and all her family, became a revolutionary in the 1916-23 period.
Her brother Dick fought in the 1916 Rising, in which their uncle The O'Rahilly, one of the leaders, was killed. Dick went to prison, as did Dick and Sighle's mother Nell.
Sighle was educ in 1917-18 at Scoil Bhríde (the oldest Gaelscoil in Ireland, founded 1917). Scoil Bhríde was then at 70 Stephen's Green, Dublin; also known as St.Brigid's High School; principal Louise Gavan Duffy.
She was on committee of Irish Volunteer Dependants' Fund after 1916 Rising (support for dependants of those killed or imprisoned) [Ward, 1983].
She joined Cumann na mBan 1919.
She and her brother Dick studied in Paris in late 1919 - early 1920. She studied French civilisation at the University of Paris.
Sighle did work for Cumann na mBan during the War of Independence 1919-21. [McCoole, 2003] says she worked as a courier in Michael Collins' network. She was never arrested under the British.

Anti-Treaty in Civil War 1922-23:
She took Republican side in Civil War 1922-23. Republican leader Ernie O'Malley made his HQ at her family home, Ailesbury Rd, Dublin.
[McCoole, 2003] describes Sighle as one of the most active Cumann na mBan in Dublin in the early Civil War in 1922 - carrying messages, finding safe houses for isolated Republican fighters. She was first arrested by the Free State in Oct 1922, for painting slogans with other Cumann na mBan in Dublin city centre. Released the same day. See [P106/978(1)] and [O'Malley, 1978, Ch.10].
Ernie O'Malley was captured in the Free State raid on Ailesbury Rd in the Civil War, 4 Nov 1922, in which a Free State soldier was shot dead, supposedly by Ernie O'Malley. Sighle had also shot at the Free Staters, and there were always rumours that she shot the soldier, but she always denied it.

In prison, 1922-23:
She was jailed by the Free State for a year after the raid. In jail until after Civil War. See account of early stages in [P106/979(1)]. She was at some of those times in jail with her mother Nell and her aunt Anno.
Mountjoy: She was in Mountjoy prison Nov 1922 to Apr 1923. Also in Mountjoy at first were her mother Nell and Nancy O'Rahilly and Mary MacSwiney. The Governor of Mountjoy was Philip Cosgrave (W.T.'s brother). Sighle and her mother and Nancy O'Rahilly went on hunger strike, Nov 1922, for a few days. Nancy was released. Sighle remained in Mountjoy with her mother and other Republican women. [P106/979(1)] shows how much trouble they caused for the prison authorities. At one point, they (Sighle, Nell and others) barricaded their cell and the deputy governor Paudeen O'Keeffe fired a bullet into it. Sighle and fellow trouble-maker Máire Comerford were then put in solitary confinement. She says that at the time she expected to be in prison for years (she expected the war to last for years). Máire Comerford was shot and injured by a guard. She and Sighle went on hunger strike in Jan 1923 for about a week. They attempted an escape together in March 1923 with an improvised ladder, but were stopped.
NDU: Sighle was moved end Apr 1923 from Mountjoy to North Dublin Union (NDU). The women resisted and it was a violent removal. "Sighle Humphreys was taken out half conscious" [McCoole, 2003]. Civil War ended May 1923, though prisoners not all immediately released.
Kilmainham: Sighle was moved from NDU to Kilmainham Gaol in June 1923. Her mother Nell was released from prison in July 1923. See order for Sighle's continued detention, dated 8 Aug 1923, signed by Dick Mulcahy, Minister for Defence.
NDU: Sighle moved back to NDU, probably Sept 1923. She was on big hunger strike in NDU, Oct-Nov 1923. Sighle was on for 31 days [Mac Eoin, 1980]. She observed later that "it did wonders for the skin". Sighle in radio interview says that when on hunger strike they used to read books about food. They read cookery books aloud for lunchtime. Her aunt Anno was in NDU on hunger strike with her. She and Anno were released on 29 Nov 1923 [McCoole, 2003].

Republican diehard, Anti-Free State, in 1920s and 1930s:
After the Civil War, as the Free State under W.T. Cosgrave was established, most republicans gave up, but Sighle stuck with the diehard republicans and the IRA who regarded the Free State as illegitimate.
She was an officer of Cumann na mBan, now ever more isolated in its anti-partition Republican policy. She was Secretary. She became Director of Publicity in 1926. [DIB] describes her as "its leading Dublin activist for a decade thereafter". She was Vice-President of Cumann na mBan in 1920s [her death notice].
They staged protests against the play The Plough and the Stars (1926), which they felt belittled the men of 1916.
In 1926 Sighle originated the idea of the Easter Lily badge.

Sighle and other Cumann na mBan started a campaign of intimidating juries to acquit Republicans brought before the courts. They sent anonymous leaflets to soldiers, gardai and jury members, signed from "Ghosts", asking them not to serve the state. They threatened death to members of juries which convicted Republicans.
1926-27 jailing: Sighle was arrested in Oct 1926 (apparently NOT 3 Dec 1926) in a raid on an office in Dawson St. See report on her trial for jury intimidation, Evening Herald, 9 Dec 1926, p.1 and p.3. She refused to recognise the court. She was jailed in Mountjoy, freed Apr 1927.
She continued the campaign of intimidating juries and support for IRA.
Ailesbury Rd was raided many times in 1927-31.
In 1928 Sighle smashed the windows of shopkeepers who flew Union Jack flags during the Tailteann Games.
1928 jailing: Ailesbury Rd raided 11 Apr 1928. Thousands of the "Ghosts" leaflets were found there. Sighle was found with an IRA letter. She was charged on 10 May 1928 with influencing juries, and membership of an illegal organisation.
See item from Evening Herald, 10 May 1928, printed in [Mac Eoin, 1980]. See Irish Freedom, June 1928. She was jailed in Mountjoy until around Nov 1928.
She went on 6 day hunger strike for political status. Opposition leader De Valera defended her right to political status, pointing out that the Republican cabinet used meet in her home.

Saor Éire, 1931:
Despite living on ultra-wealthy Ailesbury Rd as a result of Richard Rahilly's capitalism, Sighle and her radical aunt Anno were socialist/communist.
In 1931 Sighle supported the founding of the socialist/communist IRA organisation, Saor Éire (see here and search). The National Executive included Sighle. She was co-treasurer [Ernie O'Malley letters, 1991].
Saor Éire was meant to be an engagement by the IRA in politics, but using revolutionary means rather than parliamentary means. Its program was "to overthrow British imperialism and Irish capitalism" so that "Industry shall be made to serve the community, not to make profit for individuals".
[Irish Independent, 28 September 1931] reports on congress of Saor Éire. Sean MacBride presided, saying he hoped the organisation would overthrow Imperialism and Capitalism in Ireland, and lead to a Republican Ireland, controlled by the working-class people. Amongst the resolutions was one sending "fraternal greetings to the U.S.S.R.".
The Catholic bishops in Oct 1931 accused Saor Éire of wanting "to set up a Communist state. That is to impose upon the Catholic soil of Ireland the same materialistic regime, with its fanatical hatred of God, as now dominates Russia". They said it was sinful for any Catholic to be a member of Saor Éire or the IRA.

1931 jailing: Saor Éire, the IRA and Cumann na mBan were all made illegal in a crackdown by the Free State under W.T. Cosgrave Oct 1931.
Ailesbury Rd was raided again, Sighle arrested, 2 Nov 1931 [Mac Eoin, 1980]. Held in Mountjoy. Military trial Dec 1931. Sentence 29 days imprisonment, back-dated to arrest, released [Ward, 1983].
Dublin Evening Mail, 15 Jan 1932, reports that Sighle was charged with membership of Cumann na mBan, refused to recognise the court. See [P106/1102]. At her trial she said: "I am charged with being a member of Cumann na mBan and I admit it. You are very foolish to try and suppress that organisation, for we thrive on suppression".

In 1932-33 she was a leading member of the Boycott British League, which organised boycotts of British goods, and attacked premises which sold Bass beer. Her future husband Domhnall directed the campaign.
In April 1934 she was a founder member of the socialist/communist Republican Congress, and was on its Organising Bureau, but left the organisation in July 1934 [DIB] or Aug 1934 [Mac Eoin, 1980] because it was critical of the IRA.
Still living Ailesbury Rd at marriage. Sighle said that Nell and Anno were very protective of her when young, thought no one was good enough for her. They finally eased off, thought better allow her get married!
Cróine in The Struggle said it took Domhnall about 5 years to get Sighle to marry him, "because she was married to Ireland!"

Sighle mar 28 Feb 1935 [her age 36, him age 38], Donnybrook Church, Dublin [GROI], NOT 1937,
to Domhnall O'Donoghue [born May 1897, member of IRA Army Council and editor of An Phoblacht] and had issue.
Sighle after marriage went as "Sighle Bean Domhnaill O Donnchadha" or "Sighle Bean Uí Dhonnchadha".

Kilmainham Gaol

Sighle's cell in Kilmainham Gaol.
It now has her name on a sign over the cell.
Photo 2000. See larger and full size.
See other scan.

Close-up of her name. Photo 2000.
The sign says "1921" but this is wrong. She was not imprisoned under the British.
The sign should say "1923". She was only in Kilmainham for a few months in 1923.
Her name is also spelt wrong.
See larger and full size.

Sighle's grandson Manchán Magan in her cell in Kilmainham Gaol, think 2011.
From Feb 2012 article.

Since Kilmainham was closed shortly after Sighle left, her cell still has graffiti written by her.
This one reads: "Tunnel begun in basement laundry, inside door at left, may be of use to successors, good luck, S."
This was a 4 foot deep hole the prisoners had dug around July-Aug 1923, before discovery [McCoole, 1997, 2003].
From "B'í Mo Mhamó í" (2012).
See photo of this graffiti in [McCoole, 2003, p.134].
For Sighle's other graffiti in her cell see Feb 2012 article.

Mountjoy Prison

The female section of Mountjoy Prison (where Sighle was jailed) became St. Patrick's Institution for younger prisoners.
See old map.
In 1939, Sighle paid for and unveiled a stained-glass window at St. Patrick's Institution, made by the Harry Clarke Studio.
This still exists.

Stained-glass window at St. Patrick's Institution, donated by Sighle.
See larger and full size.

P106 - Papers of Sighle Humphreys

Papers of Sighle Humphreys, dates 1845-1989, [UCD Archives] UCDA P106.
Donated by Cróine Magan 1991.
Indexed by Teresa O'Donnell 1994.
See Sighle Humphreys - Transcripts of papers.


NAI - Dept of the Taoiseach files


Other papers

Sighle Humphreys - Pictures

Sighle Humphreys - Transcripts of papers

Sighle Humphreys - Video and audio

"B'í Mo Mhamó í" (2012)

"you could go to confession alright ... but you only had a sporting chance of receiving absolution. ... the priest asked you what you were in jail for? ... in nearly every case a long discussion followed and ended by the Priest saying that unless you were willing to obey the Bishops ruling - through their Pastoral - he couldn't give absolution. ... I never could feel antagonistic towards the priests for their action that time, as they had to obey the Bishops. ... Of course I do think there was no need for the priests to ask a person what they were in jail for; if they mentioned something political, then they brought it on themselves, and if they considered it a sin well then, they shouldn't be in the movement and should give it up. But if I sent all the F.S. Cabinet to glory during hostilities, I believe it would be a meritorious action."
- Sighle in [P106/979(1)] describes being in prison in 1922 in the Civil War. She says the prison chaplains would not give them absolution unless they renounced the Republican cause. She has no moral doubts about the cause, e.g. about the Free State Cabinet being a legitimate target.

"'Hope springs eternal,' and until the prison gate is finally closed behind one, one never despairs. ... Usually one almost prays for an accident or break-down or any miracle which might offer some means of escape. One envies the passers-by and wonders at the many who look so gloomy, one feels like asking them what they are so sad about when they have the most precious thing in the world - freedom. But then again have they freedom? Under this rotten government and rotten social system, who has freedom? A handful of capitalists!"
- Sighle writing in 1928 or more likely in 1931 about jail and freedom. From [P106/978(1)].

On the other hand, Sighle amusingly recalls that at one point in early 1923 in Mountjoy, prison was not so bad:
"As to service, we lived in a state of luxury that we shall probably never again enjoy in this world. Everything was done for us. The only exertion of our day was lifting the fork to our mouths at dinner ... Our mornings are worth describing. ... the wardress unlocked the door .. to tell us that our baths were ready. All my life while I enjoyed the pleasures of home and freedom I had to begin the day, summer and winter, with a dreaded cold bath. Now that I was “suffering in prison”, I began the day with a full hot bath – too hot very often. After our baths we found our breakfasts waiting for us on a table before a blazing fire. ... by 9.30 a.m. we were absolutely and entirely free to do nothing for the rest of the day. If physical comfort is all that is necessary to constitute happiness we should have been the happiest individuals on the face of the earth. But instead of enjoying our state of luxury, as sensible individuals would have done, we looked around for and sought out causes to grouse about."
- Sighle in [P106/979(1)].

"I’ve long ago forgiven Cosgrave and Co. for all their murders (I’m sure they appreciate my forgiveness!!) I might be able to make myself forget that 8th December morning; but is one expected to forget that “Ireland” no longer exists, we are now a Dominion styled “Irish Free State”, forget that Ulster, with its Benburb, its Cave Hill is no longer ours; forget that the Gaeltacht is all but dead; that the youth of the country have become wild geese, that – and exaggerated as this may seem its true – outside a very small band of Republicans who are living rebels to the existing ruling government (the I.R. Government exists but chiefly in our hearts) there is no one left in the country except those who are dependent in some way on the F.S. Government, the aged, and the very young. Are we honestly expected to forget these things?"
- Sighle in [P106/979(1)].

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