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Seven women Kathleen, Maud, Lillie, Fanny, Agnes, Grace and Muriel – all shared one destiny: they were all widowed at Easter time in the year 1916. In this, they shared the same fate as so many of their contemporaries whose husbands were at war in Europe.
Selecting their widows’ weeds was no problem, as many outlets were selling those clothes for war widows. A whole generation of men were dying, in their hundreds of thousands that year alone. Men in uniform had been a common sight for a number of years. Soldiers marching, bands playing, parades and drills.
These seven women came from different backgrounds to be united in a common grief. Maud was the wealthiest. Kathleen’s upbringing was considered comfortable due to the support of an uncle who had made a fortune in Australia; she had also established her own dressmaking business. Sisters Grace and Muriel were the daughters of a solicitor and were well off by the standards of the day. Fanny, brought up by a widowed mother, became a clerk, earning her own income as soon as she left school. Lillie had been in service and had become a governess to the younger children of the household in which she lived, and Agnes became a nurse, but marriage had brought both of them down the social scale.
Death had already fractured the lives of some of the women before 1916. Maud was brought up by a faithful servant who fulfilled the role of her parent, as her mother had died when she was four and her father was constantly absent. Fanny and Lillie lost their fathers to early death, their mothers taking charge and shaping their lives. While Agnes and sisters Grace and Muriel had not spent their childhood under the shadow of death, it was to be only a short time before they too would experience the effects of loss.
Maud and Kathleen would both marry against the wishes of their closest friends and family. The others married seemingly conventional men. Edward worked in the heart of the British administration at Cork Hill, next to the entrance to Dublin Castle. James was a British soldier stationed in Dublin when he met Lillie. Michael was also a soldier in the British Army, about to embark for service in British India at the time he met Agnes. Joe was the eldest son of the director of the National Museum of Science and Art, Dublin when he began his courtship with Grace. A poet, playwright and inventor, he was managing director of a theatre along with Thomas, who married Muriel; he was a promising academic, a university lecturer, a poet and a playwright.
These men shared with their women an interest in the arts, literature, music and theatre. Dublin had a wealth of groups, clubs and societies of all kinds, and those interested in Ireland and all things Irish were plentiful, with classes in the Irish language, sport and music. All of them became meeting places for young men and women, facilitating introductions and romance. But there were also early indications of what the future would hold for Kathleen, Maud, Lillie, Fanny, Agnes, Grace and Muriel, hints of what and who these men would become . . .
By 1916, five of their husbands – Tom, James, Edward, Joe and Thomas – had formed a self-styled Provisional Government of the Irish Republic along with P. H. Pearse and Sean Mac Diarmada. John MacBride and Michael Mallin became commanders of out¬posts, part of an Army of the Irish Republic during the fateful Easter Week.