Anita Mc Mahon
Journalist/Cumann na mBan
This committed Cumann na mBan member was deeply involved in the nationalist movement. She used her Journalistic skills in promoting the local people’s plight on Achill Island.
Originally from Cork, Anita McMahon was employed in the newspaper business in Fleet Street, London. Her wish to study the Irish language brought her to Achill Island. As an Active Cumann na mBhan member, she along with Scoil Acla founding members erected a monument at Dookinella to Fr. Manus Sweeney during 1944. [i]
Anita Mc Mahon visited the Achill Summer School of 1911. She co-founded Scoil Acla in 1910 with Claud Chevasse, Darrell Figgis. Tuam Herald April 3rd 2013 She befriended many founding members including Mrs. Emily Weddal who had arrived on the island with her husband Captain Edward Weddel during 1906 when they founded the school. One morning on her way to the school Anita Mc Mahon witnessed an event that appalled her, she was distressed at how the Agent was treating the men by “extracting” rather than “collecting” the rent, she was compelled to take up the local peoples fight against the evictions by land owners like Agnes MacDonnell. [ii]
From the moment of her arrival she was prominent in articulating the economic plight and hardship in national and local newspapers. She wrote to the “Mayo News” newspaper a letter entitled “A Cry from Achill” then requested a column. When informed she could have “as much space as she wanted” she began her work to “expose the scandal” on Achill Island. The following week they published the headline “The Achill Scandal” which in turn was followed by many other articles on the issue. Her strong letter entitled ‘A Cry from Achill’ on the plight of the islanders was published in The Mayo News just a week before the attack on the hay cart convoy at Valley crossroads. ‘Achill Island was one of the first places that the Congested Districts Board, now twenty years in existence, was intended to benefit,’ she also commented. [iii]
One item of interest was her statement that “young children, girls as well as boys, are taken from school and sent with their elders for harvesting, where the horrible conditions under which they are obliged to live are a grave moral as well as physical danger” as she wrote of the compulsory powers of purchase in the Birrel land Act of 1909 that had not brought any benefit to the island. [iv]
Due to her actions in assisting the locals Anita Mc Mahon began a campaign to convince the Archbishop of Tuam to establish a Convent in Lower Achill. A Convent was established in Keel under the Stewardship of Fr. Keaveney during 1932. [v]
Cumann na mBhan
Another of her interests was the Irish National Movement. She was active in the promotion of Irish Culture along with her activities as a committed member of the local Cumann na mBhan. Among her compatriots was Eva O’Flarhety. [vi] Anita Mc Mahon was imprisoned in Galway Gaol during 1920 for carrying seditious documents. [vii]
Anita Mc Mahon has been fondly remembered in her adopted Achill community as “Auntie McMahon.” Her name is included by Patricia Byrne in the “Irish History Today in Ireland” issue of March 7th 2012. [viii] She has been mentioned by Turtle Bunbury in his “Asgard and the Howth Gun – Running 1914.” [ix]
Patricia Byrne penned an article 21st May 2012 in The Irish Story titled ‘Achill Island: A Microcosmic Swirling Political Movement’ where she discussed events at Scoil Acla during 1912 / 1913. Emily Weddel Anita Mc Mahon, Darell Figgis, Claud Chavasse with his sister plus others were present at the Achill Assizes re land agitation issues, attended protest meetings, also wrote strongly – worded letters to local newspapers with their concern for the severe economic conditions on Achill Island. Anita Mc Mahon was acknowledged by Emily Weddel ‘It was her influence in the direction of the Gaelic League to the economic plight of the people and not just to the Irish League: I am happy to tell you… that though I have been inactive with regard to the economic question in Achill, the Gaelic League has not been inactive. Anita Mc Mhathghamhna… has since she came here last summer done many wonderful things, both for the language and for the economic conditions of the place.’ (assessed 21st January 2021) at this site: https://www.theirishstory.com/2012/05/21/achill-island-1912-a-microcosm-of-swirling-political-movements/
Anita is mentioned in an article of ‘Centenary Stories’ by Mary J. Murphy in ‘Cathair na Mart Historical Journal’ 2020 No. 37 pages 58 – 65 on Achill residents.
In the Mayo News edition of 26th May 2020 under an article entitled ‘Unravelling a Woman of Substance’ by Mary J. Murphy on Eva O ‘Flaherty’s Legacy: she mentioned that Sile McHugh, a Scholar & expert on Anita MC Mahon stated that ‘Anita Mac who along with Eve & others co – founded the Islands Summer School during 1910.’
Anita Mc Mahon is mentioned in the Connaught Telegraph’s supplement titled ‘Commemorating the War of Independence in Mayo’ 4th May 2021 on page 6.