Maria Winifred Carney – The Silent Rebel

On December 4, 1887, Maria Winifred (Winnie) Carney, trade unionist and revolutionary was born at Fisher’s Hill, Bangor, Co. Down. Her father, Alfred was a protestant and her mother, Sarah (Cassidy) was a catholic. Winnie was reared as a catholic.

Shortly after her birth, her family moved to Belfast and her parents separated. Winnie went to Hughe’s Commercial Academy and was graduated as a shorthand-typist.

Carney became involved in the Gáelic Leagues and joined the suffragists and other socialist activities. By 1912, she had met James Connolly (pictured), who was then based in Belfast. He offered her the post of secretary of the Textile Workers Union. [Officially part of the Irish Women Workers Union — it was in practice the women’s section of the Irish Transport and General Workers Union Belfast.] She then joined the Citizens Army and thereby cemented her place in the 1916 Easter Rising. Privy to all of Connolly’s thoughts and communication, she was, some sources say, James Connolly personified into a woman.

Carney and her other colleagues in Cumann mBan were later arrested and taken to Kilmainham Gaol, including Helena Melony and Nell Ryan. They were then transferred to Aylesbury Prison, England. These women tried to revoke their internee status with the privileges it brought so that they could be held as normal prisoners with Countess Markievicz.

Their request was denied. They were finally released in December 1916. She continued to work for the Transport and General Workers Union. After the Anglo-Irish Treaty, Carney sided with the anti-treaty forces and was arrested on numerous occasions for her role in the wide-ranging challenges to the newly formed Free State government.

Carney, the typist with the Webley, the silent rebel, and Connollys confidante, died in 1943.

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