Women in Intelligence – Part 2: Eileen MacCarvill née McGrane

Following on from a previous blog article relating to the intelligence work of Dubliner Annie Smith covering the period from the War of Independence through to the end of 1923, this blog features the case of another Dublin based woman, Eileen MacCarvill (née McGrane) who, like Smith, also worked closely with Michael Collins.

MacCarvill moved from the midlands to study at University College Dublin, joined the University branch of Cumann na mBan in Dublin in 1917, was elected Captain and was engaged in routine activities including attending signalling classes, First Aid lectures and map-reading classes.  She was later elected a member of the Executive in 1918, attended weekly meetings, and organised branches in Armagh, Down, and Clare. She subsequently became Director of Publicity and Propaganda for Cumann na mBan and states:

the work I was doing as Director of Publicity in December 1920 was carried out on the direction of General [Michael] Collins for the purpose of counteracting enemy action and the new policy of the English of making war on women because of their steadfast resistance and support of the fighting forces as well as their active participation in the guerrilla warfare.

1 Propoganda Work & CnamB
Details of work with Cumann na mBan.


2 Part of MacCarvill's Statement covering Propaganda and Publicity Work for CnamB

In addition to MacCarvill’s work with Cumann na mBan she also worked for Michael Collins, initially bringing back to Dublin large sums of money in gold, which had been collected for the Department of Finance, and accompanying him on his visits to see Mrs de Valera (while Eamon de Valera was in America) in case Collins was being observed (1919-1920). She took over a flat at 21 Dawson Street, Dublin and offered a room for Michael Collins to use as an office in which he worked frequently, arriving at odd hours and leaving his bicycle in the hall. Here he kept intelligence documents and held important interviews including with Arthur Griffith, Acting President. It was also visited by other members of the Intelligence Department who needed to access intelligence documents which Eileen MacCarvill would fetch for them. MacCarvill states she had Michael Collins’ full confidence and was in charge of keeping the office and its documents safe. On 31 December 1920 she was visited by Thomas Cullen [24SP5341] who thought he had been recognised by the maid from the flat downstairs and warned Eileen that he could not visit again as it was no longer safe. The flat was raided later that evening by the ‘Auxiliaries’ (Auxiliary Police Force) asking for Cullen. When he was not found they left but returned a few minutes later and following a thorough search discovered Michael Collins’ office. Eileen was arrested in January, charged with High Treason and held in Mountjoy awaiting sentence. At the time of her arrest she claims she held the rank of Director of Publicity on Cumann na mBan and a member of their Executive.

In a statement she gave in September 1947 at an appeal to have her intelligence work for Collins included in her application (she had initially only mentioned Cumann na mBan work) she refers to a mysterious file PF142, which she produced at her hearing and referred to frequently but which is not on file.

3 Affidavit at appeal
Sworn affidavit of MacCarvill as part of appeal.

It seems to have had details of the documents discovered in the raid, and the arrests made as a result. Referring to several pages of this file, MacCarvill claims it was evident that during the first four months of 1921 following her arrest, copies and photostats of these documents were made and were being examined in London as well as in Dublin Castle. She states “certain original documents were selected by Sir Hamar Greenwood, Chief Secretary for Ireland, to be forwarded to him in London”. She continues:  “two friendly detectives in Dublin Castle were placed under arrest because from the documents found in Dawson St. it was known that they were giving information and help to General Collins, Director of Intelligence”.

4 MacCarvill's description on the documents taken during the raid
Extract statement from MacCarvill which referred to the work being carried out in the room in her flat and gives a good idea of just how sensitive some of the documents discovered.

MacCarvill also interestingly notes that Michael Collins had been due to call to the flat over the next number of days for some special work, believing it to be completely safe, and while it is clear the raid and discovery of these important documents were a blow to the IRA, the fact that Collins had only narrowly avoided arrest must have been an enormous relief. Note in the image below taken from MacCarvill’s statement that she claims Arthur Griffith had continuously warned Collins of the danger of being followed during the peace negotiations of December 1920, in particular when going to interview Archbishop Clune.

5 Collins' Close Call
Collins’ proposed intention to use the office.

While the aforementioned mysterious file PF142 is not in the MSPC, (it was produced by MacCarvill at her appeal but not left with her case file), a copy of a single page from it was made and kept in MacCarvill’s application. This items adds even more intrigue to the existence of said file, as it appears to be a statement from a third party dated 24 June 1921 stating that Kathleen Wright, who had been killed by the IRA, had not been accidentally shot as was widely believed, but had instead been deliberately targeted as a result of allegedly passing on information to the Crown Forces (British Military) leading to the raid on MacCarvill’s flat.

6 Copy of statement contained in mysterious file PF142, in relation to shooting by Kathleen Wright by IRA
Copy of statement in relation to the shooting of K Wright by the IRA.

From sources external to this collection it was found that Kathleen Wright was shot on 3 June 1921 at a Cricket match between the “Gentlemen of Ireland” and the Military and was a Science student at Trinity College Dublin. It seems unlikely that she was also a maid working in the downstairs flat, although she may have been a visitor. Certainly MacCarvill herself was unsure whether Wright was the same woman who may have recognised Cullen or indeed been responsible for passing on any information relating to her apartment and its visitors.

While in Mountjoy, MacCarvill made a wax impression of a key for the gate between the men and women’s prisons, where some prisoners used to exercise daily. She sent it to Michael Collins to aid in the escape of a member of the Dublin Brigade named Traynor, who was under sentence of death. In a raid carried out on an office on Mespil Road, Dublin on 01 April 1921, which was apparently instigated based on intelligence discovered in documents from the raid on MacCarvill’s flat, both the wax impression and the plan to rescue Traynor were discovered, after which she was kept under special observation. While no more details on Traynor are given in this file, MacCarvill is most likely referring to Thomas Traynor [1D134], executed by order of court martial on 25 April 1921 for an armed incident at Great Brunswick (Pearse) Street, Dublin on 14 March of the same year.

Originally charged with High Treason, MacCarvill’s charge was dropped in May 1921, she was tried on a milder charge, sentenced to 4 years penal servitude and removed to Walton Convict Prison, Liverpool. She was released on 8th December 1921. MacCarvill noted of the reduced charge:

In view of these peace talks it seems it was not politic to proceed with the charge of High Treason because the Prosecution would have had to produce in evidence some of the documents… taken in the raid.

MacCarvill claims she was ill following her release and underwent an operation and became active again a few months prior to the Civil War.

7 MacCarvill describes the order to reduce her charges, and the sentence given as a result
MacCarvill describes the order to reduce her charges, and resulting sentence.

At the outbreak of the Civil War she carried dispatches and arms during the fighting on O’Connell Street, and throughout the War she carried same to and from Cork, Limerick, Clonmel and Dundalk. She appears to have been in constant touch with IRA headquarters and with Tom Derrig [MSP34REF8768] and Liam Lynch [DP5482] and alleges her flat was used as a dispatch centre. MacCarvill was engaged in publicity work and Derrig notes she was chosen as a delegate to meet and interview “distinguished strangers, including the Pope’s Envoy, Monsignor Luzio”. She also provided homes for men on the run, was again arrested in April 1923 at University College Dublin, interned and released in October 1923.

9 Tom Derrig Reference Pg 1
Reference from Tom Derrig
10 Tom Derrig Reference Pg 2
Reference from Tom Derrig continued.

Eileen MacCarvill was initially awarded 6 and 5/8 years of service which she successfully had increased to 7 and 5/24 years at “D” rank following an appeal. However she also claimed unsuccessfully for service in the periods between 1 April 1916 and 30 March 1917 and again appealed the board’s decision in 1944. It was in this appeal that MacCarvill states she was including evidence of her service with the IRA General Headquarters (IRA GHQ) not given in original application and she proposed Mr Gearóid O Sullivan as a witness. She makes no mention of what O’Sullivan was planning to add and when he subsequently died before giving evidence MacCarvill decided to withdraw her second appeal.

In an obituary taken from the Irish Times, 06 March 1984, which was included on MacCarvill’s file, it is stated that:

She looked back nostalgically to the years before the split and kept only the kindest memories for many who found themselves on opposing sides in 1922: Michael Collins, Josephine McNeill, Rory O’Connor, Patrick McCartan, Mabel Fitzgerald, Ernie O’Malley.