Royal Irish Academy

A Revolution in Profiles - Co. Offaly

In association with The Royal Irish Academy

Catherine Mahon 1869-1948

Catherine Mahon was born at Lakka, Carrig, Tipperary in 1869 to James and Winfield (nee O’Meara) Mahon. After studying with the Sisters of Mercy in Birr she was appointed as a monitor and later qualified as a teacher. She was appointed principal of Carrig national school in 1892.

Mahon supported the Irish language revival through membership of the Gaelic League and universal suffrage through the Irish Women’s Franchise League.

In 1906 she criticised the lack of female representation on the executive of the Irish National Teacher Organisation, declaring…

Taxation without representation is tyranny’. (1)

Elected president of the INTO in 1912. She was the first woman to hold the role and the first president to be reappointed. As a trade unionist Mahon was a vocal advocate for better pay and conditions along with equality for women in the profession and her term of office saw the organisation expand its membership

In the aftermath of the Easter Rising, Mahon raised funds for the families of republican prisoners through the National Aid Association and a speech she made in Birr in June 1916 provoked censure from the board of education. 

In 1917 Mahon joined the Cumann na mBan at Birr and later formed a branch in Carrig which affiliated to the Offaly district council.

During a prolonged farm labourers strike in 1918, farmers removed their children from Carrig school in response to Mahon’s support for the strikers. She addressed the May Day labour meeting in Birr in 1919

A prominent member of the Pioneer Total Abstinence Association, Mahon spoke to the organisations 1919 conference on the achievements of the American temperance movement.

In early 1920, a major political row erupted over the chief secretary for Ireland Ian MacPherson’s Education Bill. The bill included several provisions including compulsory attendance, but administrative reforms centred on school management drew the ire of the Catholic hierarchy who were concerned that the church would lose control of schooling. When the INTO gave tentative support for the bill, Mahon broke with the union, writing to the Irish Independent…

‘There was a time when a starving people were presented with an ultimatum of “no reformation no soup” and they turned away and died-two millions of them. “Died down in the ditches, wild and howling for bread” They could have had life and land, and possessions and worldly inheritance for the barter of a principle. But they died and the very dust of their bones calls to us from every perch of soil we tread. We are badly off, there is no use denying it, but we have not reached that stage yet.’ (2)

As correspondence grew more acrimonious and eventually bitter, union leaders issued a libel writ against Mahon, who refused to appear on the grounds that the proceedings were held in the British court system. MacPhersons reforms shelved later that year.

At Carrig, Mahon helped to establish a parish court, collected for the Dail loan, held dances to raise finances and participated in first aid courses. President of the Cumann na mBan’s Offaly District Council and she attended the organisations 1922 convention. During the Civil War, Carrig served as a base for officer from the anti-Treaty 3rd Southern Division and her home was regularly used as a safe house.

Joining Fianna Fail on its formation, she served as a representative of the party on Tipperary County Council during the 1930s. Moving to live with her two sisters in Dublin she acted as President of Balbrigan Fianna Fail Cumann; Chairman of the I.R.A Welfare Committee, as a member of the local Red Cross and District Nursing Association. She reconciled with the INTO and during the 1946 teachers strike told the unions conference

‘To the Teachers was owed in large measure the fact that we had a Christian country with a moral code that no-one could subvert, as had been done in many other countries today.’ (3)

Mary Mahon passed away in February 1948. Her funeral to Balbriggan cemetery was attended by republican veterans and her coffin was draped in the tricolour. A plaque on her grave quotes from her obituary in the Irish School Weekly…

‘In the annals of the I.N.T.O., the name and deeds of Catherina Mahon will occupy a large and deservedly honoured place.’ (4)

 

The author wishes to acknowledge the existing work on Catherine Mahon carried out by Margaret Hogan, Bridget Hourican and Síle Chuinneagháin


Sources:

Military Service Pension Collection. Catherine Mahon MSP34REF52093. Search online at https://www.militaryarchives.ie/collections/online-collections/military-service-pensions-collection-1916-1923

Carrig National School. Online at http://carrigns.com/history-of-carrig-national-school/

Síle Chuinneagháin. Catherine Mahon: First Woman President of the INTO. (Dublin) 1998.

Danny Grace. ‘Catherine Mahon-A woman of firsts’ in Nenagh Guardian. 12 February 2022.

Margaret Hogan (1869-1948)- Birr’s radical republican feminist. Online at

Bridget Hourican. ‘Catherine Mahon’ RIA Dictionary of Irish Biography online at https://www.dib.ie/biography/mahon-catherine-a5389

Drogheda Independent. 18 October 1919,

Irish Independent. 20 January 1920. 20 September 1920. 2 March 1948.

Leinster Reporter. 10 May 1919. 1 July 1916. 11 October 1919.

(1) Bridget Hourican. ‘Catherine Mahon’ RIA Dictionary of Irish Biography online at https://www.dib.ie/biography/mahon-catherine-a5389

(2) Irish Independent. 20 January 1920.

(3) Irish Press. 24 April 1946.

(4) Carrig National School, online at http://carrigns.com/history-of-carrig-national- school/

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