🇮🇪 🍀 A Cork teenage hero who took on an empire. Mary Bowles.

This article is a brief intro into the life of Cork City hero, Mary Bowles.

The name’s Bowles, Mary Bowles…

In the first in our series of Cork City Rebels, we bring you Mary Bowles. A true Cork Rebel from a town on the outskirts of the city.

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

Mary Bowles wasn’t your average teenage girl. Mary was a machine gun-toting, armour-plate-wearing, empire-crushing War of Independence fighter. A teenage, female, Cork city rebel from Clogheen village in Co. Cork, Ireland. A little over 100 years ago.

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 ridden over.

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

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BTW, that’s Miss Bowles to you…

Miss Bowles (16 years old) was at home one day when a British counter-insurgency operation swooped down on her village and started a house-to-house operation to search for weapons. 

While most grown men would be wetting their britches at the thought of the Black-and-Tans (see below) 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.

Mary grabbed the arms, snuck out the back door and made it to a nearby field carrying a loaded pistol, revolver and light-machine gun. But that wasn’t enough for this Cork City rebel.

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

Mary doodles her way into legend.

This is where it gets…err…interesting.

After being dragged into custody by the aforementioned, equally feared-and-hated, WWI-veteran military force in Ireland. Mary strolls into badass Valhalla by not only refusing to give up her comrades during her lengthy interrogation. 

But later, after being dragged before a British court. She refuses to enter a plea or recognise the legitimacy of the British court in the country of Ireland.

Mary then whiled away her prison time in her cell by sketching out – accurately – the various gun parts of a selection of machine guns. That’s right guys, Mary officially made Mad Max look like Barney the Dinosaur.

Mary went on to serve time in a women’s prison before being locked up in a reformatory. Where she probably scared the nuns half to death.

Her sentence was a great relief to her parents – presumably – since they no longer had to enlist the services of the Trojan Army to babysit her on a Friday night while they frequented their local pub for a few well-deserved, nerve-calming pints of Murphys.

mary bowles rebel city tour | Rebel City Walking Tour of Cork
Mary Bowles – Teenage Hero

The Irish Joan of Arc – a true Cork City rebel.

I think it’s safe to say, Mary Bowles pulled off manoeuvres that would make an adult male, Irish Volunteer fighter in the war go visibly pale. And that Mary’s name would have been spoken of in reverent, hushed tones by groups of seasoned rebels setting out to ambush British Army patrols.

Mary’s conduct during the war was so B-A-D-A-S-S that you’d call BS if you saw it in a Hollywood movie. If you were in the Clogheen area of Cork, Ireland over 100 years ago. And you saw the occupying British Army fleeing for their lives. Then Mary Bowles was almost certainly in the area.

We salute you, Mary Bowles…

No serial human rights abuses, no burning down of Cork city, no standing order to shoot-on-sight innocent civilians by the Crown police force against the population in Ireland during the country’s brutal War of Independence against the British Crown would make Mary lie down in the face of tyranny. 

The grateful nation of Ireland thanks Mary Bowles…

If you’re looking for more stories like the Mary Bowles story, make sure to subscribe to our email newsletter. Also, check out our blog for travel to Cork and Ireland tips and tricks.

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Source Materials: 

1. The Cork Examiner, Big Raid Near Cork,  Friday the 14th of January, 1921, Page 5

2. The Irish Bulletin, Volume 4 – Number 9, Friday the 14th of January 1921  (Note: There is an error in the date of publication which states 1920 instead of 1921)

3. Pic courtesy of Cllr. Kieran McCarthy, Cork city, Ireland

Further Reading:

Ordinary Women in Extraordinary Times by Shandon Area History Group

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