Historic cloak is special ‘guest' at Bantry 1916 women's event

April 16th, 2016 7:10 AM

By Southern Star Team

The historic Macroom cloak as worn by Cathy Cunnigham

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Cumann na mBan’s influence on Rising is told through the personal stories of the wives,  mothers and daughters,  writes Siobhán Cronin

A 100-YEAR old cloak which held a secret – arms for Irish rebels – was one of the ‘guests’ at an Afternoon Tea event hosted by the Cobh Animation Team in Bantry recently.

The team, which brings history to life with stories, memorabilia and period costume, is travelling the country with its 1916 presentation this year.

The well-attended event last Saturday, in Bantry’s Westlodge hotel, which was also hosted by Bantry Development & Tourism Association, told the story of some of the women of Cumann na mBan and their roles in 1916.

The members of the Cobh team took on the persona of the women, including Countess Markievicz, and the wives of some of the seven signatories, and told their stories in their own words.

Cobh-based Cllr Claire Cullinane, a member of the team, narrated the event, and explained why women played such an integral role in the rising – be they wives, mothers, sisters, friends or other sympathisers.

There was one very special guest on the day – Cathy Cunningham, who assumed the persona of Nora Cunningham from Barrack Street in Macroom.  Nora was a sister of Molly Cunningham, a Cork president of Cumann na mBan. But Nora’s own story was pretty impressive – her ‘master tailor’ father had created a magnificent cloak for her – as such cloaks were all the rage at the time.

But the cloak was more than a stylish piece of fashion – it also hid several arms that Ms Cunningham would regularly transport through the town to Irish rebels.

When she was eventually caught, she told the audience, she was taken into the barracks and questioned, and later escorted, at bayonet point, by four constabulary, off the premises.

The actual cloak itself was worn last Saturday by Cathy, a relative of Nora’s, really bringing her story to life. It will be put on display in Kilmurry museum later this summer, on loan from the Cunningham family, Cathy told The Southern Star.

The family recently donated all of Molly’s papers and other significant documents to the public archive in Cork. The collection is of national importance, given the huge involvement of the Macroom family in the republican movement of the time.

Saturday’s event, which also included music and song, was performed while the guests were treated to some magnificent period cakes – including Chester cake, Madeira cake, traditional scones and cream, traditional sandwiches, caraway seed cake and cherry cake.

The ‘treats’ were provided by the Timeless Tarts bakery in Cobh, which is  a Victorian baking company that also supplies the period china and cutlery for events. Music was by Violin and Flute duo, and attendees also included Cllrs Mary Hegarty and Declan Hurley and newly elected FF deputy Margaret Murphy O’Mahony TD.

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