McCoole, Sinéad

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McCOOLE, Sinéad


ADDRESSES: Agent—3, The Nurseries, Ballybrack, County Dublin, Ireland.

CAREER: Historian. Kilmainham Gaol Historical Museum, Dublin, Ireland, researcher and lecturer.


Hazel: A Life of Lady Lavery, 1880-1935, Lilliput Press (Dublin, Ireland), 1996.

Guns and Chiffon: Women Revolutionaries and Kilmainham Gaol 1916-1923, Stationery Office (Dublin, Ireland), 1997.

(With others) Mary Herbert of Muckross House, 1817-1893, edited by Terry Fitzgerald, Muckross House (Killarney, Ireland), 1999.

Researcher's Handbook: Sources for Twentieth-Century Irish History: Limerick City Library Historian-in-Residence Millennium Project, Limerick Corporation (Limerick, Ireland), 2000.

Hard Lessons: The Child Prisoners of KilmainhamGaol, Dúchas—The Heritage Society (Dublin, Ireland), 2001.

Cross-Border Reflections on 1916: Drogheda-ShankillPartnership, Dublin Conference, 27th-29th April 2001, Island Publications, [Ireland], 2001.

No Ordinary Women: Irish Female Activists in theRevolutionary Years, 1900-1923, Lilliput Press (Dublin, Ireland), University of Wisconsin Press (Madison, WI), 2003.

Also contributor to Irish Women and Nationalism, edited by Margaret Ward and Louise Ryan, Irish Academic Press (Dublin, Ireland), 2004; Sunday Miscellany, 2003-2004, Townhouse (Dublin, Ireland), 2004. Scriptwriter for documentaries, including Women of 1916, 1996, Who Is She, 1997, and Guns and Chiffon, 2003.

SIDELIGHTS: Irish historian Sinéad McCoole has written a number of books, including Hazel: A Life of Lady Lavery, 1880-1935, a biography of American-born Hazel Martyn. Martyn was a promising artist who traveled to Europe, where she met and fell in love with the older John Lavery. Her mother, however, forced her to return to marry a more suitable husband, which she did to please her family; widowed early in her marriage, she returned to marry Lavery.

Martyn then explored her Irishness, even changing her birthday from March 14 to March 17, and became politically involved. The couple offered their London house to serve as a neutral meeting ground during treaty negotiations, and these meetings included negotiations between Michael Collins and Winston Churchill.

Martyn was a beautiful woman and, despite her marriage to Lavery, engaged in an affair with Collins; after his death she had an affair with Kevin O'Higgins, who was assassinated. Lady Lavery's likeness was used for the first Irish currency notes.

A reviewer for the Boston Irish Reporter praised Hazel, adding that McCoole "has made excellent use of the papers, scrapbooks, and letters to which she was allowed access, and the book is generously illustrated with portraits, photographs, and sketches."

No Ordinary Women: Irish Female Activists in the Revolutionary Years, 1900-1923 profiles seventy-five women who impacted Irish history. McCoole recovered much of their histories while researching Kilmainham Gaol, where many of them had been imprisoned. She also interviewed survivors and relatives, some of whom continue to deny the activities of their activist women relatives and ancestors, women who ran guns and information, as well as nursing and cooking for the cause. McCoole includes photos and memorabilia, and her indexes list the female prisoners taken in the 1916 Easter Uprising and Irish civil war of 1922-1923.

McCoole begins with Maud Gonne, who at the turn of the twentieth century formed Inghinidhe na hEireann (the Daughters of Ireland), which eventually became Cumann na mBan, the women's auxiliary of the Irish Republican Army (IRA). More than 200 women fought in the Easter Uprising, and those taken prisoner were either later released or exiled to England. Gore Booth, the countess Markievicz, was sentenced to death, but her sentence was commuted because of her gender. As McCoole notes, Booth was later elected to the Irish parliament and became the first female cabinet member in Western Europe. Kathleen Clarke, who lost her husband and brother, then ran the Volunteers Dependants Fund, gave a young Michael Collins his first significant post-1916 job. Clarke later became the first female lord mayor of Dublin. During the years from 1917 to 1921, Irish women provided safe houses for the men and hid guns in their skirts and in the folds of their babies' blankets. They hid propaganda literature in their babies' prams.

Collins represented the provisional Irish government in signing the 1921 treaty that guaranteed one government for twenty-six counties and another for the remaining six, provisions that to this day have not been ironed out. When civil war broke out soon after, women were treated as were the men, and the jails filled. The women held hunger strikes to gain concessions.

Lauren Byrne wrote in the Women's Review of Books that, "when the civil war ended in 1923, rancorous divisions had to be buried in order to move forward. This, McCoole suggests, is one of the reasons the names of the people involved in the wars were forgotten." Byrne noted that "the Irish Constitution, drawn up in 1937, also played its part in tidying women away when it defined the role of women in the new Ireland: "By her life within the home, Woman gives to the State a support without which common good cannot be achieved.'" A Publishers Weekly reviewer called No Ordinary Women an "absorbing and exciting look at a little-investigated part of Irish history."

McCoole told CA: "I have always been curious by nature. I think of myself as a researcher rather than as a historian or writer. My aim is to find new information and visual material that will change the way historic events are viewed. At university I found it difficult to make an impact using secondary sources. Then in my final year on a women's documents course, I found an inspiring teacher, Dr Margaret MacCurtain, and I found my niche—when I started to do primary research.

"Writing nonfiction, you collect facts from a wide variety of sources, interviews, newspapers, books—so when I am writing, I see it like a massive jigsaw puzzle—pulling from my memory an article I read five years before. The hard bit is finding it again.

"There is good and bad in every book, and my nature is never to be 100 percent happy with the finished result. I have the misfortune of being a picture researcher, so the design of the book and illustration is as important to me as the content. I think I would have to say Guns and Chiffon: Women Revolutionaries and Kilmainham Gaol 1916-1923 was my favorite book as it brings a lot of new protagonists to the fore. Also, for me it is the fact that the book made a lot of people happy; it tells an emotive story and awakened emotions in the descendants of these women. That was unexpected and hugely rewarding. No Ordinary Women: Irish Female Activists in the Revolutionary Years, 1900-1923 had a similar effect, as it was a continuance of that story.

"I want people who would not normally read history books to read these stories, and I am delighted to say that the library records in Limerick Library showed that with Hazel, the book was read by those who usually only borrowed fiction.

"For me history and the past is my passion. I want people to come to know the historic people—think of them as real—and to perhaps shed tears for the sorrows in their lives, admire them for their achievements, and for the fact that so many of them were extraordinary. I want, of course like all writers, for my book to be widely read and to bring new scholars to the subject. The power of the written word and the spread of knowledge is awesome. Working in isolation, many times you are just trying to get the stories out of your head, not thinking of the finished product, because as you are creating it, it is incomplete. When it is done, you are spent. My books have ended up in parts of the world I may never visit.

"The strangest result of my work is that a man named his horse after one of the women I profiled! That is fame in Ireland to have a horse named after you—so you could say I did take her name out of the footnotes and into mainstream and that's what I always wanted. The books become their own life force; you have no idea where they will take you!"



Boston Irish Reporter, October 1, 1996, review of Hazel: A Life of Lady Lavery, 1880-1935, p. 27.

Dublin Historical Record, spring, 2004, review of NoOrdinary Women: Irish Female Activists in the Revolutionary Years, 1900-1923.

Independent, October 12, 1996, Ray Foster, review of Hazel.

Ireland, March, 2004, Richard Ginger, review of NoOrdinary Women.

Irish Literary Supplement, fall, 1997, Mary Helen Thuente, review of Hazel.

Irish Studies Review, 1998, Sally Trueman-Dicken, review of Guns and Chiffon: Women Revolutionaries and Kilmainham Gaol 1916-1923.

Irish Times, September 11, 1996, John Regen, review of Hazel.

Library Journal, April 15, 2004, Janice Dunham, review of No Ordinary Women, p. 100.

Publishers Weekly, February 9, 2004, review of NoOrdinary Women, p. 71.

Spectator, October 26, 1996, Victoria Glendinning, review of Hazel.

Times (London, England), November 7, 1996, James Mackay, review of Hazel.

Women's Review of Books, June, 2004, Lauren Byrne, review of No Ordinary Women, p. 8.

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McCoole, Sinéad

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