Close to the entrance of Milltown Cemetery is a neat limestone monument which marks the grave of a remarkable woman by the name of Winifred Carney. She, along with Charlie Monaghan, are Belfast’s direct link with the Easter Rising of 1916. Born in Bangor, Co. Down, on the 4th of December 1887 into a fairly comfortable family, she was one of six children. Her mother, who was left to rear the family, had a small sweet shop for a time at No.5 Falls Road, where the Twin Spires complex stands today. By the early part of the 20th century as Winifred was in her early twenties, she and her mother were living at 2a Carlisle Circus. By this time in her life with a good education behind her and two secretarial jobs, she became involved with the Suffragette’s and then the socialist movement, meeting James Connolly for the first time while working in a small trade union office at No.50 York Street.
Through a national progression of socialist trade union activity, she moved into republicanism, joining Belfast No.1 branch of Cumann Na mBan in 1914. As one of the few outside the republican leadership, she knew well of the forthcoming rising due to her close working relationship with James Connolly. He kept her informed of events during her visits to Belfast, and on April 14th 1916 he telegrammed her to travel to Dublin immediately.
There, she found herself in Liberty Hall typing dispatches and mobilisation orders. Known as the Typist with the Webley, during the fighting she was the last of the women to leave the G.P.O.
After the rising she was interned in Mountjoy Prison along with Helena Moloney and Countess Markievicz. But as the leaders including Connolly were executed by the British, Winifred was released in December 1916.
She became involved in Sinn Fein, and even stood as a candidate for Central East Belfast in the elections of December 1918. But this was a period when the Irish Parliamentary Party in Belfast under Joe Devlin had the backing of the majority of Belfast Catholics. When the ‘troubles’ broke out in July 1920 in Belfast, she was once again active in Cumann Na mBan working within the 1st Battalion of the Belfast Brigade, 3rd Northern Division (Her service number was 56077)
Following the Civil War, Winifred became disillusioned with politics in the new Free State, and was critical of subsequent governments including DeValera’s. She returned to her roots of socialism and labour politics. She even found time to marry a Protestant from the Shankill Road, George McBride from Crimea Street in the Shankill Road, while still remaining herself a Catholic, although critical of the church hierarchy. They set up home at No.3 Whitewell Parade on the outskirts of North Belfast. She slowly drifted from politics in the late thirties through a combination of health problems, and her friends moving to Dublin.
Winifred Carney died on November 21st, 1943 a Socialist to the end. Her brother Ernest refused to have her grave marked so that the name McBride would not appear, a final protest at marrying a Protestant. However, many years later when the Belfast National Graves discovered the final resting place of this fine woman, a headstone was erected, and an oration by Belfast Republician Liam Rice.
Charlie Monaghan, who was born in Short Strand, and who died in Co. Kerry Easter Week, 1916, becoming Ulster’s first IRA martyr. As with Winifred Carney he is Belfast’s connection to the Easter Rising.