Musician / Teacher / Revolutionary
This gifted musician opened her own musical academy in Westport. She aided those who fought for Ireland’s freedom.
Agnes Gallagher was born in Bridge Street, Westport, Co. Mayo on 19th November 1863. She was the sixth daughter of Margaret (nee Gill) & Patrick Gallagher. She had two older step – siblings. Her Gill side of the family included her first cousin Major John Mc Bride.
Agnes with her sister Kathleen were trained Instrumental musicians on the violin. They performed at several concerts in the town from 1880. On the 1901 Irish National Census both sisters was listed as a music teachers. Agnes Gallagher operated an academy for her home.
During 1904 Agnes participated on the Instrumental music judging panel at the Mayo Feis that was held over three day. The Feis promoted Irish singing, dancing & story-telling also Irish crafts & agriculture. Agnes Gallagher was very involved with the Celtic Revival in her area.
Cumman na mBan
Aged fifty-two years Agnes Gallagher assisted with the foundation of the Mayo Cumman na mBan branch during 1915. She was instrumental in organizing concerts with her orchestra of twenty-four musicians as part of a fund raiser initiative for both the volunteers & Fianna Eireann members. One particular event was organized for Easter Monday 24th April 1916. She also organized financial support for dependents of imprisoned Volunteers. During September she was sent as a delegate to Thomas Ashe’s funeral in Dublin. On two occasions she travelled to Dublin for Cumman na mBan Business. She attended a meeting at no. 6 Harcourt Street where she encountered Nancy ‘Nanny’ O ‘Rahilly & Mrs. Mary Kate O ‘Kelly. They were short of supplies in Dublin so meeting was unsuccessful.
She appeared to have been close to her cousins. She acted as a seconder at the candidate nominations in early December 1918. Agnes Gallagher continued fund raising while she campaigned for the election of one of her cousins Joseph MacBride as a candidate for Sinn Fein MP in the Mayo West Constituency.
War of Independence
Agnes Gallagher provided her home for conferences & the billeting of senior officers of the IRA. It was also used as a liaison office to debate over the terms of the truce being offered. She continued to raise funds as she actively campaigned with her grand-niece Ellen: who appeared to have been raised with the Gallagher sisters. (daughter of Francis Dineen, fourth president of the GAA) She assisted with the collection of subscriptions for the internal loan. Also at that time Agnes Gallagher procured rifles & ammunition for the IRA. She also purchased leggings & other small items from a shopkeeper in Westport (who had refused to sell the stuff to the IRA members). They did however sell it to Agnes: who was forced to pay the bills accumulated herself. She provided accommodation for the Courts of Dail Eireann from April 1919.
The Black & Tans made several raids on her establishment. On one occasion she was briefed that the house would be burnt; she cleared all the furniture but was spared when they ran out of petrol down the street. She was forced to leave her home. She went to Islandmore also Clew Bay on the run but continued with her campaign as she organized the girls to conduct surveillance, then check for incoming boats. She returned home for Christmas with her sisters Kathleen & Nora: then she set up a communication station to record dispatches from outlying areas.
Between 1919 & 1920 multiple searches were constantly carried out on Agnes’ young female students to the extent that her academy was forced to close because ‘the children were afraid to come in.’
On her return to Westport she assisted with the organization of the formation of an intelligence service to warn of impending attacks. During 22nd November 1922 she became aware of an impending ambush due the next day in North Mayo. Despite her attempts to forward information the men were surrounded then fatalities occurred. She often went herself to deliver dispatches two or three times a week due to a fear of who to trust.
Aged fifty-nine Agnes Gallagher was arrested by Claremorris troops on 21st April 1923, then sent to Galway Prison without any trial. She was described as a five ft ¾ in woman with grey hair, blue eyes & fresh complexion. Then she was transferred to Kilmainham Jail on 21st May that year. She was among fifty women who participated in a mass hunger strike along with the seven thousand republicans in other prisons that began on 13th October. She lost her sight in a fall during one hunger strike Despite her injuries Agnes Gallagher was transferred to the notorious North Dublin Union on 28th September 1923. (One woman described the NDU as follows: … the condition of the place was filthy beyond description, the treatment was worse, the diet was worse, and altogether, in every respect, it was the worst period of [her] confinement.)
Agnes Gallagher was released on 27th October 1923. She was returned to Mayo. Following her ordeal her health was very poor. As she was by then blind Agnes Gallagher was unable to resume her teaching career. She was supported financially by her brother Edward.
During September 1934 she applied for a military pension. The following was contributed towards her case: … I gladly testify to the wholehearted and devoted service of Miss Agnes Gallagher and her two sisters […] from 1915 onwards. They organised concerts, carried out National Aid work, assisted in organising activities and at a later stage rendered the greatest service to the West Mayo flying column through the provision of clothing and supplies, the maintenance of communications and supplying information. […] Miss Gallagher’s enthusiasm, devotion and unselfishness were always a fountain of inspiration and encouragement for the young men and women of the Westport district. The moral support given to us at all times by herself and her family was of the greatest value and must be reckoned with the financial aid and the practical assistance which they gave in a wide range of cultural, and political, as well as military, activities over a long period of years. Miss Gallagher’s services in the national movement cannot be sufficiently appreciated by those who had not personal knowledge of her work and of the intimate relations of trust which existed between her family and the local Volunteer and IRA organisations.’ (Thomas Derrig (Commandant of the West Mayo Brigade of the Irish Volunteer) It was not granted until 1942. It was granted that she was entitled to one of Grade E status at £17 10s per annum. She appealed the decision as she felt that she deserved a higher grade but her appeal was denied.
Agnes Gallagher said of the split between friends during that period following the 11th July 1921 Truce that ‘I could not prevent them I did my best to keep them back.’
Of the raid events on her home during the 1920’s she recalled ‘They would come in the middle of the night too & raid us. Nothing but raids. That was the Tan Time. They wanted to take our house from us. The Auxiliaries came & demanded the house.’ During Autumn that year she said ‘strangers to the locality came. They were Tans with revolvers in their hands, they inquired for Miss Agnes Gallagher.’
During October 1922 her house was fired on by free state troops, she escaped being shot but remembered ‘They shot a very valuable dog on us. The house was raided three times that night. We never went to bed. It was the night they were coming back from the road at Cliften. They expected the boys would be coming back from there & kept raiding all night.’
Her recollections of November 1922 were ‘I was walking – you could not cycle on the road; it was patrolled. One would be held up. They had outposts everywhere. It was about 9 00 ‘clock at night. I had to go across the fields – I dare not go on the road. I passed the outpost, and they followed me, I got in under the railway bridge, and they kept firing but did not know where I was.’
She participated in hunger strikes in prison; on one occasion she recalled ‘we were pretty weak & were not able to go out in the air for recreation, & we opened one of the windows to get fresh air. There was a soldier in the Crow’s Nest, & he always shot the prisoners when he saw them at the windows, I did not know this. They shouted at me he was going to fire. I stumbled back & fell & broke two ribs, & my eye came up against the table as a result. I was never able to teach music or take up any position.’
In her pension application she stated how they heard in 1916 of ‘this thing in Dublin, and the artists were taken away, and the police arrived.’
Agnes Gallagher’s demise occurred on 19th June 1946 following an illness of ten days when she was aged eighty – two years at her home.
This PDF References Agnes Gallagher: http://westmayo.ie/wp-content/uploads/2021/01/36-Cumman-Na-Mban-in-Westport-1915-1923.pdf
Agnes Gallagher is referenced on Facebook at this link: https://m.facebook.com/herstoryireland/photos/a.1658047017807913/2675106072768664/?type=3&locale2=zh_CN
This site may be of interest: https://www.militaryarchives.ie/collections/online-collections/military-service-pensions-collection-1916-1923/brigade-activities/wp-content/uploads/2018/11/BAR_Guide_web.pdf
Agnes Gallagher (https://www.herstory.ie/news/2019/7/10/agnes-gallagher-revolutionary-musician-teacher) [Assessed 19th January 2021]