Jennie Wyse-Power: Entrepreneur, Revolutionary, Treaty Supporter

Jane [Jennie] Wyse-Power nee O'Toole was born in Baltinglass, County Wicklow, in 1856 to Edward And Mary O’Toole [nee Norton]. Her father owned his own business and before she was two years of age her father had sold his business and moved the family to Dublin. Some sources say she attended attended Warrenmount National School or the Loreto Day School Dublin.

Pictured, 'Liberty Girls,' with Wyse-Power in the middle 

Born into a family that was steeped in republican sentiments,  her family members provided shelter and refuge to all Fenians. So she and her siblings grew up immersed in the traditions of supporting nationalist causes. By the time she turned 20, both of her parents had died. [Some sources say it was tuberculosis, which was prevalent in this era.] 

By 1881 she had joined the Ladies Land League -- unsurprisingly – coming from a very entrenched Nationalist background. She became involved with Charles Stewart Parnell's Home Rule Party; he was the nationalist member for Parliament. She was also an intimate friend of his sister Anna.

It was during her time in the Ladies Land League that she was to meet and marry her husband – none other than John Wyse-Power, the editor of the Leinster Leader newspaper and a prominent member of the Irish Republican Brotherhood and founding member of the Gáelic Athletic Association.  The two married in July 1883 and went to live in Naas, County Kildare, settling there for just two years. By 1885, they had moved back to Dublin, as her husband had secured a very lucrative post at Freeman's Journal.

Pictured, Jennie Wyse-Power in her later years.

Their youngest son was born five months after Parnell's death – they named their son Charles Stewart Wyse-Power in honour of their friend. In that same year, Wyse-Power published a book titled "Words of the Dead Chief." The introduction of the book, which contained a selection of extracts from Parnell’s speeches, was written by Anna Parnell. Interestingly the Wyse-Power family appear in James Joyce’s "Ulysses" in the guise of Wyse Nolan’s.

Disillusioned after the fall from grace of Parnell and his subsequent death, both she and her husband stayed out of politics for some time. She did, however, remain an active member of the Dublin Women’s Suffrage, but was never prominent in the organization.

By 1899 the family again moved – this time to Henry Street in Dublin City Centre. They set up and ran a very successful business there selling Irish products only: eggs, butter, cream, and honey confectionery [all locally produced and made]. Into these premises she introduced a restaurant with tea and luncheon rooms. Her intellectual friends of the Land League and all those other notables of the day were frequent visitors to her shop.

The restaurant was a very convenient place for the many nationalists allied with the Irish Republican Brotherhood to meet, with Arthur Griffith and his sister being close friends of hers within the Sinn Fein movement, along with many members of the Gaelic League.  At the inaugural meeting of Sinn Féin, she was included as a member of the executive board, thereby cementing her place in the annals of history. Her friends then included Patrick Pearse, James Connolly, Thomas Clarke, Countess Markievicz, Maud Gonne, and Elizabeth O'Farrell. Their common goal was to gain Independence from British rule, at whatever cost.

Wyse-Power always maintained that the IRB's Military Council signed the 1916 proclamation in no particular order.

By 1900, with Sinn Féin now a part of the growing nationalistic alliance, Wyse-Power had once again become very interested in politics and joined of Inghinidhe na hEireann. This is when she was elected as one of the four vice presidents of that movement . By 1903, her appetite wetted once again by political intrigue and nationalist feelings, she entered the arena of elections for the post of Poor Law Guardian for North Dublin.  Always vocal and on the side of the poor, she criticised public housing and public health throughout her tenure as the Poor Law Guardian. By 1911, she had resigned this post -- it was felt that she was too outspoken.

By 1908, Wyse–Power's family had expanded its business into Lower Camden Street – run along the same principles as her shop in Henry Street – the logo being "Irish products only sold here." This business thrived. Her importance within Sinn Féin also climbed due to her diligence, intelligence and her business acumen – and in 1912 she was appointed vice president. 

Now a prominent women within the nationalist movement, it was no surprise that she then became a founding member of Cumann na mBan, which was launched at Wynn’s Hotel, Dublin, on the 5th April 1914. By October, she had been elected the first president of Cumann na mBan. Always ready to participate in any nationalistic cause, she would find herself speaking at any and all forum that would enhance the nationalist cause. Some sources suggest she was very active within the IRB's Military Council – as the 1916 Proclamation (pictured) was signed at her home on Henry Street by the signatories listed 

“Signed on Behalf of the Provisional Government,

         James Connolly

Sean Mac Diarmada      Thomas MacDonagh 

Padrigh Pearse                 Thomas J. Clarke

Joseph Plunkett                  Eamonn Ceantt

Wyse-Power always maintained that the Military Council signed the proclamation in no particular order. They just signed as it was passed to each of the signatories, though, with James Connolly being eager to be the first to sign. Even the identity of the head of Provisional Government was not altogether clear. Her impression was that such distinctions were unimportant at the time -- their only real ambition was to give the address of the proclamation on that Easter Monday to the people of Ireland as all their energies were devoted to the military campaign.

Kathleen Connolly, Connolly's wife , however, has always maintained that her husband was invited to sign the proclamation first, as the other signatories acknowledged him as first president of the Republic. On the Rising's 50th anniversary, in 1966, Connolly was interviewed, and she was very scathing of Pearse and his leadership abilities. What has now become very clear, however, is that with all of their deaths taken place in the first two weeks of May 1916 – the first government of the Irish Republic came to a bitter and brutal end.

During the 1916 Rising, both Wyse-Powers' business and home on Henry Street was destroyed by fire. Undeterred, she and her daughter Nancy set about reorganizing Cumann na mBann, with the sole purpose of distributing alms and funds to those people who were in dire need due to the Rising. These funds had been sent from U.S.-based Clan na Gael, whose organisation had always been the prime funder of all vital nationalist causes.

At this time, she was succeeded by Countess Markievicz as leader of Cumman na mBan, as Wyse-Power had joined the Irish Women’s Franchise League. [Countess Markievicz was imprisoned at this time, but took her place as place as leader on her release.] Under Wyse-Power's leadership of Sinn Fein, its military wing expanded rapidly. Charged with this recruitment effort, she prospered it, with 600 branches of Volunteers arising all over the country, apparently effortlessly recruiting both men and women.

During the War of Independence, all Free State senators were targeted by Anti–Treaty republicans. So, unsurprisingly, her shop on Camden Street was bombed, and sustained considerable damage.

Wyse-Power continued her commitments to all the movements that she had endorsed and was Pro-Treaty during the War of Independence. During the War of Independence, all Free State senators were targeted by the Anti–Treaty republicans. So unsurprisingly her shop on Camden Street was bombed, and sustained considerable damage.

By December 1922, Wyse-Power had been appointed to the Irish Free State's Seanad Éireann as a Cunann na ngaedheal member [Society of the Gaels]. She continued to serve as the Cumann na nGaedheal Ard Chomhairle member. By this time she had however become increasingly disillusioned with government policy, particularly over the debacle of the Boundary Commission, which was set up to look at the 1922 Provisional Border agreement, and what  had been agreed between the Government of Ireland Act 1922 and Northern Ireland. Nationalists had hoped for considerably more transfer of land to the Free State on the basis that most of the borders had nationalist majorities within those particular boundaries. However, relatively small areas of land were being discussed for transferral.

This prospect did not endear the commission to Wyse–Power. The Northern Ireland government, the Free State government and the British government agreed to suppress the report. The existing border was confirmed by  W.T. Cosgrave for the Free State, Sir James Craig for Northern Ireland, and Stanley Baldwin for the British. This was a part of a wider agreement, which included a resolution of outstanding financial disagreements. Wyse-Power was beside herself with anger. The commissioned report was not released to the public until 1967 [long after Wyse-Power's death]. This border still exists today [read "That’s Just How It Was"].

Wyse–Power attended her last meeting as a Cumann na nGaedheal representative on December 1, 1925. Thereafter, she stood as an independent candidate. On the 5th January 1941, Wyse–Power died at the age of 82 at her home in Dublin. She was buried in the Republican Plot at Glasnevin Cemetery with her husband and daughter Máire. Her funeral was attended by many of those people whom she had fought so bravely for, as well as colleagues from both sides of the Dáil and many of her former revolutionary colleagues.

Once again I endorse the words of Fearghal McGarry, Queen’s University, Belfast. He notes: “There could be worse ways of commemorating Ireland’s revolution than restoring these forgotten women, and the lost ideals that inspired them, to prominence”. Amen to that.

Sláinte.

Views: 1069

Tags: 1916, Activism, Civil War, Easter Rising, Feminism, Free State, Irish Freedom Struggle, Politics, Suffrage, Treaty

Comment by Patrick Murphy on August 25, 2015 at 9:40am

Thank you for an excellent, well researched and very interesting story.  Absolutely let us not forget women like Jennie Wyse-Power.

Comment by Patrick Murphy on August 25, 2015 at 9:44am

And may I add, let us not only remember "women like Jennie Wyse-Power," but women generally - who made their contributions public and private, heroic and personal, grand and modest, violent and peaceful so that their land and their families upon it could be made free.


Heritage Partner
Comment by That's Just How It Was on August 27, 2015 at 6:59am

Patrick Murphy ; Thank you for your comments . I am absolutely believe  100% that they should all be honoured in the 100th centenary of the 1916 Easter Rising . There are many, many more women who have to remain nameless because all of the research I have done ; does not give me anything on lots, lots of names that I have who were members of Cumann na mBan .

However I have completed an article on Cumann na mBan --- it was received very well on the Wild Geese. I am hoping that if I do not get any more information , on these other brave  women , that the article that I have written about Cumann na mBan will show them all the respect that they so truthfully deserve. 

Comment by Patrick Murphy on August 27, 2015 at 7:19am

Yes, I see that Cumann na mBan article in your blog now.  I will look at that today, and some of the others.  Keep up the good work.  Too often female figures were ignored by earlier historians and biographers and now going back to try and make up for the lost time, I am sure, is a real challenge.  For instance, I've read any number of the eyewitness accounts in the Bureau of Military History covering 1913-1921, and women are infrequently mentioned.  Yet we know women played important roles in many of the activities of that time period.  If women were excluded from such important primary sources - how do you make up for the gaps?  That is a real challenge.


Heritage Partner
Comment by That's Just How It Was on August 27, 2015 at 1:38pm

It is absolutely a real challenge Patrick ; however I will continue to try.  I have come accross many women who were in Cumann na mBan who do not even get a mention in any of the research I have completed so far. 

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