Updated: Sep 16, 2020
The formative years of Bríd Ní Foghlú (Mrs. Breeid Martin) read like a movie script. Born Bridget Foley on 14 April 1887, she was one of thirteen children born to Richard and Margaret (nee Long) who lived in Knockmonlea, Killeagh, Co. Cork, both of whom were Irish speakers.
Figure 1: Birth Certificate for Bridget Foley, in the District of Killeagh, Youghal, Co. Cork.
Bridget lived for the first fifteen years of her life in Knockmonlea and is recorded as being one of nine resident on the family farm on 31 March 1901.
Figure 3: 1901 Census - Residents of a house 4 in Knockmonalea West (Clonpriest, Cork).
The Foley family had a deep resentment of British occupation and rule in Ireland. The general school of thought is that this was as a result of the Ponsonby Estate evictions during the Land War is the late 1880s.
Dublin - Gaelic League and Cumann na mBan
In 1902, Bridget moved to Dublin to attend school. A number of her siblings were already in the capital, and, similar to them, she joined the Keating Branch of the Gaelic League.
Figure 5: Keating's Camogie Team 1904 (Bridget, front row, third on left).
Over the next thirteen years, the Foley family took part in many of the Gaelic League activities such as ‘pageants, turasanna, aeriachts’. In 1915, she joined the Central Branch of Cumann na mBan, the Irish republican women's paramilitary organisation who held their meetings at 25 Parnell Square where she became an active member.
Figure 6: Notice of Cumann na mBan Meeting 1915.
She recalls that in 1916, herself and Effie Taaffe carried two rifles under their coats from Flemings, 140 Drumcondra Road to another house. Flemings was a grocer’s shop where the Volunteers kept arms. The Foley family had a typing office at Reiss Chambers, 11 Sackville Street, Dublin, so between carrying messages and arms for the volunteers and working in the family business Bridget was a busy woman. In the lead up to the Easter Rising 1916, her focus was to shift primarily to revolutionary work.
Figure 7: Thom's Official Directory of Great Britain and Ireland , 1912.
Bridget Foley - Revolutionist
Bridget’s older brother, Sean, was an inspector of munitions in Birmingham and regularly sent messages to the Volunteers and she served as the go-between between both parties. Bridget was unaware what was contained in the messages, although Sean McDermott and Eamon Ceannt advised her to know as she was incurring risk. McDermott also advised her to keep a 'nightie and a toothbrush' at the ready as she could be required to deliver a dispatch at any time.
This advice was apt as approximately three weeks before the Easter Rising, she was asked to travel to Birmigham, taking a dispatch to her brother, Sean. This dispatch was in relation to Liam Mellows who had been deported previously. Liam came back to Ireland dressed as a priest, leaving his brother, Barney to take his place in Birmingham. Liam Mellows was accompanied by Nora Connolly, to whom Bridget had loaned a blouse in Birmingham. On receipt of a wire ‘Mother arrived safely’, Bridget made her way back to Ireland, however, it took four attempts to return due to the presence of submarines in the Irish Sea. Not only was the air fraught with tension in Ireland, but the same atmosphere permeated England with World War 1 raging.
Figure 8: Liam Mellows (1892-1922).
Just over a week before the Easter Rising, the Keating Branch Ceilidhe was held on Palm Sunday, 16 April 1916, two days after Bridget’s twenty ninth birthday. She observed that the excitement was palpable and it was the first time she realised that something unusual was approaching. Over the next week, Bridget travelled to her native county, Cork, three times to deliver dispatches to Tomas McCurtain, the final time being on Easter Sunday, 23 April 1916, where she and her sister Cait travelled by taxi. Unfortunately the journey was horrendous, heavy rain and four punctures severely hampering their efforts. In addition, news of the Foley sister's journey had reached Cork and the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) were waiting for them at Dunkettle. The two sisters were escorted to the Windsor Hotel on King Street (now MacCurtain Street). They were allowed to remain at the hotel as the RIC barracks was next to the hotel. However later that night, with the vital dispatch hid under the carpet in her hotel room, she was summoned by the RIC.
Figure 9: King Street (MacCurtain Street), Cork.
Bridget decided she was going to have the upper hand and demanded to know, ‘What is the meaning of this? It is an extraordinary thing if I can’t come to my native city without being interfered with by the police’. Bridget was searched but the dispatch, hidden in her room was not discovered and remained safe for the moment. The next morning, two men, whom Bridget realised were detectives, took breakfast at the hotel with the Foley sisters. Bridget then decided she would walk to the Augustinian Church on Washington Street, known then as Great George's Street and if all came to all, leave the vital dispatch with a Priest she knew there. According to Bridget she was followed to the church by two different detectives, ‘I must have looked a bigger mug that I was, because they stayed outside.’ She disappeared out by the back of the church and travelled to Blackpool. Unfortunately Tomas McCurtain was away on manoeuvres, so Bridget gave to the dispatch to his brother. Arriving back at Windsor Hotel, she was questioned by two G-men and afterwards they told her that she was to be out of Cork by 3pm. Bridget travelled back to Dublin with her sister, stopping in Thurles for a cup of tea, where they heard that the Volunteers were out in Dublin.
Figure 10: Bridget's journey. Easter Monday, 1916.
Easter Monday, surrender and arrest
The journey from Thurles to Dublin on Easter Monday, 24 April 1916, was insignificant until the Foleys arrived at Inchicore, where they were stopped by the British Army. Finally arriving home, Bridget made straight for the General Post Office (GPO, O’Connell Street, formerly Sackville Street). The Irish Volunteers and Irish Citizen Army had seized the building that afternoon and Bridget reported that everybody seemed in good spirits.
The following morning Bridget returned to the GPO where the atmosphere was filled with euphoria and jubilation. She recalls that the faces of many of the Volunteers were black as a result of munitions making. She also observed big sides of beef going into the ovens in the GPO restaurant for the men’s lunches. Over the next few days, Bridget served as a courier carrying messages, and later on in the week when fighting reached a fever pitch, opening a first aid station at Skeltons, 14 Lower O’Connell Street.
On the 29 April 1916, Bridget began hearing rumours of a surrender. The following morning, Sunday, the British Army got so strict that Dubliners were not allowed to attend the masses they wanted to. On Monday 1 May 1916, the Foley home in Cabra was searched once again, the soldiers failed to find anything but they did arrest Bridget. When she asked where she was going, the soldier retorted aggressively that a trench was being dug in the yard of Richmond Barracks, ‘and they were going to put 500 Sinn Feiners in it and bury them alive. I said if we couldn’t live for Ireland we could die for it.’ Bridget and a number of her Cumann na mBan comrades were taken first to Ship Street Barracks. On Wednesday 3 May the prisoners held in Ship Street were marched to Richmond Barracks and then to Kilmainham, which Bridget reported was filthy and where they were served skilly in bowls (a watery porridge), although the prisoners had no appetite as they heard the shots that killed the 1916 leaders. After a few days, the Cumann na mBan prisoners were taken in a Black Maria to Mountjoy and after approximately six weeks were sent across the Irish Sea to Aylesbury in England. She was finally released in August 1916.