‘The small girl smiles. One eyelid flickers. She whips a pistol from her knickers. She aims it at the creature’s head. And bang bang bang, she shoots him dead.’
(Little Red Riding Hood, retold in Revolting Rhymes, by Roald Dahl )
These lines always had my children in fits of laughter, but hiding weapons in your underwear, in extreme dangerous situations, is a very different matter. Margaret (Peg ) Broderick Nicholson, who lived at 17 Prospect Hill, came from a strong nationalistic family, caught up at the times of fighting for an independent Ireland, or hoping to achieve Home Rule by fighting the Germans in the British Army. What a cruel and strange time it was.
During the War of Independence, as well as delivering dispatches, she was involved in the collection and delivery of revolvers and ammunition. On one occasion, at one of the Republican fundraising dances in the Town Hall, the place was raided by the Black and Tans. All the men were being lined up to be searched. Two revolvers were passed to Peg as she joined the line of women leaving by the door, being scrutinised by the officers. She managed to hide them in her underwear, and successfully got outside without being stopped. The relief was palatable. She fainted.
But Peg was a remarkable resilient women, one of eight women who contributed to the making of modern Ireland, highlighted at a new exhibition at the Galway City Museum.
I have written before about a terrifying night in Galway when the Black and Tans went berserk following an incident at Galway railway station on September 8 1920. A drunken Tan, Edward Krumm, confronted the crowd of passengers as they emerged from the train. He produced a pistol and began to fire into the air, causing widespread panic. Séan Mulvoy jumped on his back but Krumm managed to shoot him as they fell to the ground. In turn a man stepped from the crowd and shot Krumm dead.
That night the Tans went on the rampage, arresting suspects, public beatings, burning houses and shops. Seamus Quirke, a young shop assistant, was shot dead.
Peg later described to the Bureau of Military History* what it was like when the Tans burst into her home. Her brother Jimmy was arrested and taken away. The family had an anxious time until told he was safe.
Then, the Tans doused every door in the house with petrol, ready to burn the house down. But for some reason moved along the street leaving the Brodericks alone.
‘Come down as you are’
But not for long. Peg was a prominent Cumann na mBan member who apart from carrying messages, raising money for the Volunteers, marching and training, made a particular nuisance of herself disrupting British army recruitment meetings by singing nationalist songs, and kept going until either the meeting collapsed, or she and her pals were ejected.
One evening Peg was in her bedroom when she heard men come into the hall downstairs. It was another raid by the Black and Tans. One of them called out her name, and demanded that she come downstairs immediately. Peg replied that surely she was allowed to dress herself?
The vioce said : “No, come down as you are.”
“I went down and snatched a coat from the hall-stand. My mother shouted after me ‘be brave Peg’. I thought at first they were going to shoot me, but they took me out and closed the door, then grabbed my hair, saying ‘What wonderful curls you’ve got.’ and proceeded cut off all my hair to the scalp with a very blunt scissors
“I might say they did not handle me too roughly, which is strange to say. There was no further comment until they had finished, when they pushed me towards the door and said ‘Goodnight.’”
Sinn Féin badges
Peg’s parents, especially her mother, had strong a nationalistic outlook. She was educated at the Presention Convent, where one of the nuns, Mother Brendan, who was one of the Joyces of Connemara, shared similar feelings.
“Well I remember the rebellion of 1916. There was a right good row in the playgrounds with an attempt by a number of girls wearing red, white and blue badges, (which were common during the First World War for children whose father or a relative was away in the British forces ), to snatch our Sinn Féin, green, white and orange badges.
“I may say they certainly got the worst of it, with the result that the Reverend Mother sent out an order that all badges must be given up. Mother Brendan was instructed to have the order carried out. I refused to give mine up until all the red, white and blue badges were also collected.
“She did get them all, and when I gave her mine, she said: ‘I have done all the others, give me yours.’ I did so when she said: ‘ I didn’t want to take it from you myself.’
‘I was half stunned’
It was soon after that that Peg joined Cumann na mBan. One evening in Barna, following drill, given by a Volunterer officer named Shiels, they were marching home. As they passed the RIC barracks, a sergeant and six or seven RIC constables, rushed out to arrest Shiels. “ We immediately pounced on the police. I remember getting up on one policeman’s back and getting my two hands around his throat.
“He wriggled to knock me off and let his grip on the prisoner relax. Another RIC man intervened and pulled me off. I grabbed the second fellow’s cap and beat him on the head with the hard peak, and the other fellow swung round and struck me with his revolver on the side of the head, above my ear. I was half stunned and staggered against the wall, when someone shouted ‘This is no time for fainting.’ I shook myself back to life, but by that time they had Shiels inside the barracks, and came out firing shots in the air to frighten us, and using vile language.
“We collected all the stones, of which there were plenty, and broke every window in the barracks. We then re-formed and commenced our march back very ‘brónach’ indeed.”
There was, however, the confusion of divided loyalties just as there had been in the school playground at the Pres. One of the jobs that Peg detested was enticing British soldiers down to the docks where they were waylaid by Volunteers and relieved of their arms.
On one particular evening she noticed that her brother, an officer in the British army, was subjected to the same treatment.
More next week
NOTES: Peg gave her account to the Bureau of Military History (Document WS 1682 ), which was among nearly 2,000 witness statements collected by the Ministry for Defence in 1947. She married Hector Nicholson, and they lived in Fr Griffin Road.
There is more of Peg Broderick-Nicholson’s story, and many others, in the excellent Cumann na mBan: County Galway Dimensions, edited by Marie Mannion and Jimmy Laffey, published by Galway County Council, available free of charge from the County Buildings, Prospect Hill. Thanks also to Tom Kenny and his research.