A WEDDING GIFT TO TERENCE & MURIEL MacSWINEY, JUNE 1917
This silver dish ring is a reminder of the family life of Terence MacSwiney. It has been added to our collection at Independence Museum Kilmurry as we mark the centenary of his wedding to Muriel Murphy in June 1917.
The couple had met through mutual friends at Christmas 1915 but – with Terence deeply immersed in his activities with the Irish Volunteers and arrested in May 1916 after the Easter Rising – romance did not blossom immediately. However, Muriel became a support to him and others in the separatist movement during their stand-off with the British authorities during Easter week at Cork’s Volunteer Hall, and during Terence’s subsequent detention in England.
After Terence was released, along with many other Cork prisoners at Christmas 1916, Muriel spent several weeks in Dublin. She had gone to visit friends in England, when word reached her of Terence’s deportation.
Along with Tomás MacCurtain, Seán Nolan – both also regular visitors to Kilmurry on organising activity with the Irish Volunteers – he had been arrested on February 22, 1917. They were taken into military custody and, without any charges or convictions, sent to several English towns and villages, and ordered not to travel outside of a short radius of a few miles.
Although they did manage to cycle across the English countryside to meet each other, or to visit Irish supporters of the separatist cause, the men were not allowed to work and had their lodgings paid by the military. After tracking him down to the Herefordshire village of Bromyard, Muriel visited Terence and they became engaged on March 3.
While Terence’s sisters Mary and Annie were present at the wedding, the bride’s family was not represented. She was a member of a prominent Cork distillery family, and her mother was disapproving of the match, despite Terence’s attempts to secure her approval through the emissary work of Cork’s Catholic bishop Daniel Cohalan. The wedding, which they had hoped to have within a few weeks of getting engaged, was instead put off until the day after Muriel’s 25th birthday when she would become financially independent.
Just as the Irish language had been a subject of their early interactions, and their correspondence during Terence’s 1916 detention, it was also the language of their marriage. At Terence’s request, the Capuchin friar Fr Augustine Hayden travelled to conduct the ceremony. He had tended to many of the wounded and the dying during the Easter Rising in Dublin, and had been with many of the executed leaders in their final hours in May 1916.
The occasion was a rare opportunity for MacSwiney to don the uniform of the Irish Volunteers, and so one was smuggled to England for him. In the warm June sunshine, he arrived at the Catholic church in Bromyard in a large overcoat, which he removed once inside to reveal the uniform.
The silver dish ring, made by the famous Cork silversmith firm Egans in 1916, was a gift to the couple from the girls of Saint Íta’s. The inscription reads:
M M M agus T Mac S Lá an Spórta, 9/6/17. [‘agus’ is Irish for ‘and’. ‘Lá an Spórta’ is possibly a mistaken reading by the inscriber of the words ‘Lá an bPósta’, or Day of Marriage].
Ó Cailíní Sgoil Íte Naomhtha [From the girls of St Íta’s School]
St Íta’s was a school established in Cork city in the September 1916 by Mary and Annie MacSwiney, after Mary lost her job at St Angela’s College, a girl’s secondary school on St Patrick’s Hill. The school’s religious owners were worried about the impact of her arrest in the aftermath of the Easter Rising. She had been taken away by police while teaching a class and was held for a short period in Cork Women’s Gaol. St Íta’s continued to teach girls up to Leaving Certificate, and boys through to infant classes, until it closed in 1954 and was amalgamated into Scoil Mhuire.
The others who attended the wedding were Muriel’s friend Geraldine O’Sullivan (later Neeson), who was her bridesmaid. She later taught occasionally at St Íta’s, where Terence and Muriel’s daughter Máire (later Máire MacSwiney Brugha) was among her pupils in the 1930s. The best man was Richard Mulcahy, who would later become Chief of Staff of the Irish Volunteers/Irish Republican Army, and National Army Commander-in-Chief after Michael Collins’ death at Béal na Bláth in August 1922. Mulcahy spent the summer of 1917 travelling around Mid-Cork as an organiser for Conradh na Gaeilge, the Gaelic League.
But the newlyweds also got to enjoy rural Co Cork during summer 1917, after Terence and others were released within weeks of the wedding in Bromyard as part of a wider amnesty for remaining Irish prisoners held since Easter 1916. He and Muriel travelled to the Gaeltacht Irish-speaking Mid-Cork village of Ballingeary. Muriel described it in the weeks after her husband’s death in October 1920 as “a very, very beautiful place out in the country where they still do thing in the old Irish way. They do not know English there yet, I am glad to say, and they are very much better off for it.”
The couple stayed in Ballingeary until September, when they moved to the city for what would be their short few remaining years together, much of it spent with Terence either in prison or unable to stay at home for fear of arrest.
The silver dish ring, a wedding present to Terence and Muriel MacSwiney in June 1917, was bought at auction in 2016 and has been very generously donated to Independence Museum Kilmurry.