Musician / Teacher / Revolutionary
This gifted musician opened her own Academy plus aided those who fought for Ireland’s Freedom.
Agnes Gallagher was born in Bridge St., Westport, Co. Mayo on 19th November 1863. She was the sixth daughter of Margaret Gill and Patrick Gallagher. She had two older step – siblings.
She performed at several concerts in the town from 1880. On the 1901 National Census she was listed as a music teacher. She opened an Academy at her premises. During 1904 she participated as an instrumental music Judge on a panel for the Mayo Feis. She was very involved with the Celtic revival in her area. Unfortunately, during the War of Independence between 1919 1920, she was forced to close her Music Academy due to constant harassment plus daily searches being applied to her young female students. She reported that ‘the children were afraid to come.’
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 fund raising: one particular event was organized for Easter Monday 24th April 1916. Many years later in her Pension application she stated how they heard of ‘this thing in Dublin, and the artists were taken away, and the police arrived.’ She also organized financial support for dependents of volunteers in prison. During September she was sent as a Delegate to Thomas Ashe’s funeral in Dublin.
War of Independence
Agnes Gallagher said of the split between friends during that period following the 11 July 1921 Truce that ‘I could not prevent them I did my best to keep them back.’ She provided her home for Conferences also the billeting of senior officers of the IRA. She continued to raise funds plus actively campaigned with her grand – niece Ellen Dillon. She provided accommodation for the Courts of Dail Eireann during April 1919 along with the collection of subscriptions for the internal loan. 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. Of these events 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 1920 she said ‘strangers to the locality came. They were Tans with revolvers in their hands, they inquired for Miss Agnes Gallagher.’ She was forced to leave her home. She went to Islandmore plus Clew Bay on the run but continued her campaign as she organized the girls to conduct surveillance, then check for incoming boats. She returned home for Christmas with her sisters Kathleen and Nora, then set up a Communication Station to record dispatches from outlying areas.
On 28th June 1922 this sad episode of Ireland’s history occurred: Agnes Gallagher procured weapons ammunition etc for the IRA plus purchased leggings or other small items from a Westport shopkeeper with hr own cash. On two occasions she travelled to Dublin for Cumman na mBan business plus a meeting at 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 for her. On her return to Westport she assisted with the organization of the formation of an Intelligence Service to warn of impending attacks. During the following October her house was fired on by free state troops, she escaped being shot, she said that ‘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.’ During 22nd November 1922 she became aware of an impending ambush for next day in North Mayo. Despite her attempts to forward information the men were surrounded then fatalities occurred. She later recalled that ‘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.’
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 plus fresh complexion. Then transferred to Kilmainham Jail on 21st May. She participated in hunger strikes; 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.’ Agnes Gallagher was transferred to the notorious North Dublin Union on 28th September. 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.
It was 27th October 1923 before her release date; when she returned to Westport she was in ill health, blind, she required the assistance of her brother Edward financially. During September 1934 she began her application 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 Volunteers.) It was 1942 before her pension was granted. She was awarded just a Grade E status of £ 17.10pc per annum. Her appeal however for a higher Grade, she felt justified to make was denied.
Agnes Gallagher died following an illness aged eighty – two years at her home on 19th June 1946.
Information sourced from Project Manager & Researcher Katelyn Hanna on this link:
Agnes Gallagher Revolutionary / Musician / Teacher (https://www.herstory.ie/ ) [assessed 29th August 2019}