Sighle, shortly before the 1916 Rising.
lifelong Irish republican revolutionary,
born 26th Feb 1899, Limerick,
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
fought in the
in which their uncle
one of the leaders,
Dick went to prison, as did Dick and Sighle's mother Nell.
(the oldest Gaelscoil in Ireland,
then at 70 Stephen's Green, Dublin;
also known as St.Brigid's High School;
Louise Gavan Duffy.
on committee of Irish Volunteer Dependants' Fund after 1916 Rising
(support for dependants of those killed or imprisoned)
Cumann na mBan 1919.
She and her brother
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.
says she worked as a courier in
She was never arrested under the British.
Anti-Treaty in Civil War 1922-23:
Republican side in Civil War 1922-23.
made his HQ at her family home, Ailesbury Rd, Dublin.
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.
[O'Malley, 1978, Ch.10].
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
She was at some of those times
in jail with
and her aunt
Nov 1922 to Apr 1923.
Also in Mountjoy at first were
her mother Nell
The Governor of Mountjoy was
Sighle and her mother and
went on hunger strike, Nov 1922, for a few days.
Nancy was released.
Sighle remained in Mountjoy with her mother and other Republican women.
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
fired a bullet into it.
Sighle and fellow trouble-maker
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.
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"
ended May 1923,
though prisoners not all immediately released.
Sighle was moved from NDU to
in June 1923.
Nell was released from prison in July 1923.
order for Sighle's continued detention,
dated 8 Aug 1923,
Minister for Defence.
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].
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.
Anno was in NDU on hunger strike with her.
She and Anno were released on 29 Nov 1923
Anti-Free State, in 1920s and 1930s:
Free State under W.T. Cosgrave
most republicans gave up,
stuck with the diehard republicans and the
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.
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
(premiered Feb 1926),
which they felt belittled the men of 1916.
In March 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
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.
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,
She refused to recognise the court.
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
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
10 May 1928,
[Mac Eoin, 1980].
Irish Freedom, June 1928.
She was jailed in
until around Nov 1928.
She went on 6 day hunger strike for political status.
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
Sighle and her radical aunt Anno were
In 1931 Sighle supported the founding of the
socialist/communist IRA organisation,
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"
"Industry shall be made to serve the community, not to make profit for individuals".
28 September 1931]
reports on congress of Saor Éire.
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.
Saor Éire, the IRA and Cumann na mBan
were all made illegal in a crackdown by the
Free State under W.T. Cosgrave
Ailesbury Rd was raided again,
Sighle arrested, 2 Nov 1931
[Mac Eoin, 1980].
[Evening Mail, 23 Nov 1931]
says she is charged with having
Cumann na mBan documents, and
implies she is out of prison at that point.
Military trial Dec 1931.
Sentence 29 days imprisonment, back-dated to arrest, released
Dublin Evening Mail, 15 Jan 1932, reports that Sighle was charged with membership of Cumann na mBan,
refused to recognise the court.
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
and was on its Organising Bureau,
but left the organisation in July 1934
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!
said it took Domhnall about 5 years to get Sighle to marry him,
"because she was married to Ireland!"
mar 28 Feb 1935 [her age 36, him age 38], Donnybrook Church, Dublin
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".
- Sighle Humphreys' memoirs
- HUMPHREYS, SIGHLE
- Survivors, edited by Uinseann Mac Eoin, 1980, reprinted 1987.
Has memoirs by Sighle and Emmet.
- Unmanageable Revolutionaries - women and Irish nationalism,
Margaret Ward, 1983.
Guns and Chiffon - Women Revolutionaries and Kilmainham Gaol, 1916-23,
by Sinead McCoole,
No Ordinary Women: Irish Female Activists in the Revolutionary Years 1900-1923,
Papers of Sighle Humphreys
Donated by Cróine Magan 1991.
Indexed by Teresa O'Donnell 1994.
Sighle Humphreys - Transcripts of papers
- Sighle's diaries and memoirs are in index p.138-149.
- Sighle's account of 1916, mostly in Irish, 1916-17, P106/968.
- Sighle's account of 1916, c.1960s, P106/974.
- Account by Sighle of prison in 1923. P106/1046.
- Account of prison in 1923. P106/1172.
- Note: P106/321 is a very early sketch family tree by me,
scribbled at some casual meeting.
is replaced entirely by this website and should be disregarded.
Sources yet to be consulted
- [BMH witness statements].
Officer Cumann na mBan, Dublin, 1917 - 1921.
Search for Sighle's statement(s)
under "O'Donoghue, Sheila"
and under "Ui Donnchadha, Mrs. Domhnaill".
May come online.
- "Savaging Women Prisoners", Nora Spillane, Eire, 19 May 1923.
- "Memories of Easter Week",
27 Mar 1986.
- "Sighle Humphreys: Her Republican Beliefs",
Therese Manley, MA Thesis, History Dept,
St Patrick's College, Dublin,
- Ann Matthews
- Cumann na mBan and the Irish Revolution
by Cal McCarthy, 2014.
- Women of the Irish Revolution
by Liz Gillis (2014).
Written in Stone: The Graffiti in Kilmainham Jail
by Niamh O'Sullivan (2014)
At Home in the Revolution: What Women Said and Did in 1916
by Lucy McDiarmid (2015)
Dept of the Taoiseach.
File: Anti-State Activities.
Typed copy circular issued by "Ghosts", October 1928, to members of Jury panels selected to try the cases of certain Republican prisoners, including Sighle.
Dept of the Taoiseach.
File: "Ghosts", Seditious Posters, etc., 1928-1929.
- Letter to Minister for Justice from
36 Ailesbury Road, file date 26 March 1928, relating to a series of
"unjustifiable raids" carried on at the house for the past 6 months. She asks that responsibility be assumed for the damage done to the house yesterday by the
- Report by Garda Siochana, Metropolitan Division, 21 August 1929, relating to documents found at Sighle's house, 36 Ailesbury Road.
- Report from the Chief Superintendent's Office, Garda Siochana, Metropolitan Division, 22 August 1929, relating to papers found at Sighle's house, 20 August 1929. Details of Sighle's political activities. "she has been active for the past 7 years in propaganda against the established government".
- Copy report to Department of Justice, from Garda Siochana, 22 August 1929. Reference to copies of pamphlets signed "Ghosts" received by members of the force throughout the country. The original of this pamphlet is, the letter states, in the handwriting of Miss Sheila Humphreys and was found in her residence, 20 August 1929.
"This propaganda campaign has been a great source of annoyance over a long period, and as well the title 'Ghosts' and the activities and attacks of the band of gun-men who are associated with this woman, have terrorised many citizens.
It may be well to demonstrate to the public and to potential jury-men that this woman is the author of this vicious campaign, because the very fact that the offence has never been brought home to the author has left people in terror of this secret organisation. Besides this propaganda was, and is, calculated to incite soldiers and police to mutiny, desert or resign and forego their allegiance to the State".
- Note to Mr O'Hegarty, signed PS, 6 September 1929.
Minister for Agriculture has made a note on their file relating to the recent search on the house of Sheila Humphreys stating that a prosecution should be implemented.
- Irish Independent.
23 October 1928. "Untried Prisoners", letter to the editor,
from Maud Gonne MacBride,
relating to prisoners kept in jail for long periods without trial.
She cites the situation of Sighle. "She was arrested last April, charged with a crime few people have ever heard of, embracery. The jury before whom Miss Humphries was brought disagreed as to the evidence connecting her with the leaflet, but this young girl is still locked up in Mountjoy awaiting another trial, her whole summer lost in these hideous conditions".
Department of the Taoiseach,
Department of the Taoiseach,
Report of a successful police action in connection with an armed assault on a policeman on 20 September 1930, issued by the Department of Justice, 7 November 1930. The police came to the conclusion that the assault was the work of a new Company of Irregulars. The report names the men arrested and states that in the case of Alfred Lawless he came from a respectable family and was the only Irregular amongst them. "Whilst Lawless was before the District Court Mrs. Maud Gonne McBride and Miss Sheila Humphries, believing that the Lawlesses were all Irregulars, approached Mrs. Lawless and a young lady who is supposed to be engaged to Alfred Lawless. Mrs. Maud Gonne McBride and Sheila Humphries were severely snubbed."
Department of the Taoiseach,
File: "Sheila Humphries".
Report, 15 Jan 1932, re the trial of Sighle. Offences included being in the possession of documents relating to Cumann na mBan.
- Maire Comerford papers,
IE UCDA LA18
- Maire Comerford papers,
Letter of Sighle to Maire Comerford, 5 Oct 1923, describing conditions of prisoners in the North Dublin Union.
J J Hearn Papers.
[NLI] Ms 15994.
- Mary MacSwiney Papers, UCD Archives.
- Annie O'Farrelly Papers,
Papers relating to Clann na Poblachta,
IE UCDA P125.
- Irish military file on Domhnall O'Donoghue
detailing his activities in WW2.
"B'í Mo Mhamó í" (2012).
There is nothing definite about contacts with Germany.
- There is no dedicated file on Sighle.
- Captured Documents Collection.
Cumann na mBan papers captured in "Baby Club", 21 Werburgh Street, Dublin, on 7 February 1923.
Letters of 25 January 1923 from B. O'Mhaolain, prisoner in Mountjoy, to the Cumann na mBan executive, requesting the issue of the order cancelling a hungerstrike by Sighle
and Maire Comerford.
"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."
being in prison in 1922 in the Civil War.
the prison chaplains would not give them
unless they renounced the Republican cause.
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.
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
"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