Women on Wednesday: Margaret Buckley

Decade of Centenaries and Dictionary of Irish Biography are collaborating on showcasing women of the early twentieth century who strove for Irish Independence; for female suffrage; to improve the lives of women in poverty; and to improve the standard of care for children. These women worked hard throughout their lives to improve the lives of others, but they have not always been accorded their due recognition. 

Hopefully this series will bring their deeds to a new and wider audience. 

The final entry is Margaret Buckley.

Margaret’s entry is reproduced here with kind permission from the Dictionary of Irish Biography

Buckley (Goulding), Margaret (‘Maggie’; ‘Margaret Lee’)

by Frances Clarke

Buckley (Goulding), Margaret (‘Maggie’; ‘Margaret Lee’) (1879–1962), republican, trade unionist, and writer, was born in July 1879, at Winter’s Hill, Cork, the eldest daughter of James Goulding and his wife Ellen (née Joyce), both of Cork. Her father, who was employed as a labourer at the time of her birth, later worked as a railway porter and then as a railway inspector. Her family were supporters of Parnell. As a young woman she worked as a teacher. She was active in Cork musical and cultural circles, participating in local choral and operatic societies, and in the Gaelic League. She became politically active through her involvement in the Cork Celtic Literary Society, founded by Terence MacSwiney in 1901. She joined the Cork branch of Inghinidhe na hÉireann, serving initially as its assistant honorary secretary and later as its president. As an Inghinidhe activist she campaigned for the establishment of the Irish Industrial Development Society, and she was among those who in 1904 organised protests against Edward VII’s visit to the city.

Following her marriage in June 1906 to Patrick Buckley, a civil servant in the revenue commissioners, she moved to Glasnevin, Dublin, where she lived for the remainder of her life. It was in Dublin that she first became involved in the trade union movement. As secretary of the Irish branch of the Women’s Federation, she was eager to see the union distance itself from its British roots, while keeping its independence from male-dominated Irish unions. With this in mind she sought talks with the Irish Women Workers’ Union (IWWU) in 1919. This resulted in her appointment as an IWWU official, with responsibility for the semi-autonomous Domestic Workers’ Union. In 1920 she opened its offices in North Great George’s St., and began a campaign for ‘good wages, fair conditions, to secure good service’. As she was an outsider, her appointment as an IWWU official initially caused some resentment within the union but this was soon laid to rest by the significant contribution she made to the union movement.

Buckley was in Cork at Easter 1916; after the rising she joined Sinn Féin and was an active member of the Michael O’Hanrahan cumann in north Dublin. She regularly travelled the country organising and liaising with fellow Sinn Féin activists and, on occasion, came close to arrest. She was appointed as a judge of the republican courts, and served alongside Kathleen Clarke and Jenny Wyse Power in Dublin’s north city courts, of which she also served as treasurer. An opponent of the treaty and active member of the Women’s Prisoners’ Defence League, at whose meetings she often spoke, she was interned in Mountjoy jail in January 1923. Following periods of imprisonment at the North Dublin Union and Kilmainham jail, she was released in October 1923. Her prison experiences provided the material for her book The jangle of the keys (1926).

After the formation of Fianna Fáil, she represented Dublin at the Sinn Féin ard fheis in 1926. She was among those who joined Comhairle na Poblachta in 1929 in an effort to reconcile the various conflicting republican groupings. Having served as vice-president of Sinn Féin, she was appointed president in 1937. In this role she criticised the 1937 constitution of Éamon de Valera, in particular because it treated ‘the women of the country as though they were half-wits’. Following her retirement as president of Sinn Féin in 1950, she remained a member of the organisation’s standing committee. She retired as a trade union official in the late 1950s.

Under the pseudonym Margaret Lee she wrote articles and stories, and in 1956 she published a short history of Sinn Féin. She brought up her nephew Séamus Ó Goilidhe after the death of his mother in 1925. She died 24 July 1962 at her home in Marguerite Road, Glasnevin, Dublin, and was buried at St Finbar’s cemetery, Cork.



GRONAI, census returns, 1901; United Irishman, 18 Apr. 1903; Margaret Buckley, The jangle of the keys (1938); United Irishman (Dec. 1950); (Apr.–June 1951); (Jan. 1952); obituary, Irish Press, 25 July 1962; Margaret Ward, Unmanageable revolutionaries: women and Irish nationalism (1983); Mary Jones, These obstreperous lassies: a history of the IWWU (1988); Kathleen Clarke, Revolutionary woman: Kathleen Clarke, 1878–1972, ed. Helen Litton (1991); Uinseann MacEoin, The IRA in the twilight years, 1923–1948 (1997)

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