Mary, badass teen soldier in the War of Independence

You might think a guerrilla war would be no place for a 16-year-old Cork girl - but think again says DARA BURKE
Mary, badass teen soldier in the War of Independence

Mary Bowles of Clogheen

WHAT occupies the mind of your average teenage girl these days? Posting selfies on Instagram, reading teen mags, hanging out with their friends?

Mary Bowles wasn’t your average teenage girl. Mary was a machine gun-toting, armour-plate-wearing, empire-crushing War of Independence fighter.

A little over 100 years ago, she was a teenage Volunteer from Clogheen village in Cork county.

When Mary, otherwise known as ‘the pride of Clogheen’, wasn’t carrying around automatic weapons or doodling machine gun parts on the walls of her prison cell - which we’ll come to later - she liked to spend her time riding her horse at full-gallop through groups of occupying British soldiers on patrol in her area. Riding so hard that they’d have to jump out of the way to avoid getting trampled.

Mary engaged in the sort of activities that would cause child social services to spit out their coffee mid-gulp in shock.

When she was 16, Miss Bowles was at home one day when a British counter-insurgency operation swooped down on her village of Clogheen and started a house-to-house operation to search for weapons.

While most grown men would be terrified at the thought of the Black-and-Tans kicking down their door and finding automatic weapons in their house, Mary swung into action: she knew exactly what she had to do - stash the weapons.

She grabbed the arms, snuck out the back door, and made it to a nearby field, carrying a loaded pistol, revolver and light-machine gun.

At this stage, the marauding British troops caught up with her and placed her under arrest. Oh, and Mary was also wearing bullet-proof armour plating at the time!

After being dragged into custody by the Black and Tans. the teenager refused to give up her comrades’ identity during her lengthy interrogation.

After being dragged before a British court, she refused to enter a plea or recognise the legitimacy of the court in the country of Ireland.

Mary then whiled away her time in her prison cell in Sunday’s Well by sketching out - accurately - the various gun parts of a selection of machine guns.

This remarkable woman went on to serve time in a women’s prison before being locked up in a nun’s convent - where she probably scared half the nuns to death.

Mary’s name would have been spoken of in reverent, hushed tones by groups of her seasoned companons setting out to ambush British Army patrols.

We salute you, Mary Bowles...

Further Reading: Ordinary Women in Extraordinary Times, by Shandon Area History Group.

This article was written by rebel-history enthusiast and tech nerd Dara Burke from Cork city. When he’s not fixing some computer bug, he’s doing his walking tour of Cork citytarget="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"> called the Rebel City Tour. Check out his website at if you’re looking for things to do in Cork city to pass the time.

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