Czira (Gifford), Sydney Madge (‘John Brennan’) (1889–1974), journalist, broadcaster, and republican, was born 3 August 1889 at 8 Temple Villas, Rathmines, Dublin, the youngest of twelve children of Frederick Gifford, a wealthy solicitor, and Isabella Gifford (née Burton), a niece of the artist Frederic William Burton (qv), RHA. Her forename was registered on her birth certificate as ‘Sidney’ and both spellings are found in references to her. Her father was a catholic and her mother a protestant, and she and her siblings were brought up in their mother's faith. Though both parents were conservatives and unionists, several of the Gifford daughters entered radical politics, and this led to lively discussion between the family's Fabian and Sinn Féin supporters.
Educated at Alexandra College, Sydney became interested in politics while still a schoolgirl and began buying nationalist newspapers. Later, on the advice of Seumas O'Sullivan (qv), she contributed articles to Sinn Féin, the paper edited by Arthur Griffith (qv), and following visits to the home of George Russell (qv), she met many members of the Irish literary revival. Through her involvement with Inghinidhe na hÉireann she was invited to assist in the launch of the newpaper Bean na hÉireann, in her articles for which she highlighted the poor treatment of women in the workplace. She was among those who helped in the Inghinnidhe scheme launched in 1910 by Maud Gonne (qv) to provide school meals for Dublin children. By 1911 she had been elected to Sinn Féin's executive. The marriage of her sister Muriel (qv) to Thomas MacDonagh (qv) in 1912 encouraged her radicalism, and in time she contributed to the IRB paper Irish Freedom. Although she used the pseudonym ‘Sorcha Ní Hanlon’, she was always best known in journalistic circles as ‘John Brennan’, a name she adopted because it sounded like ‘a strong Wexford farmer’ (Hayes, ed., p. xxvi), which she felt commanded greater authority. She was also involved in the suffrage campaign; she regularly attended the meetings of the Irish Women's Franchise League, and in April 1914 she appeared in their fund-raising event as Anne Devlin (qv) in a tableau vivant as part of the Great Daffodil Fête at the Molesworth Hall.
In June 1914 Gifford left Ireland for America, settling in New York, where she hoped, as a woman journalist, to find increased opportunities. She immediately immersed herself in the nationalist campaign, and met many leading Irish-Americans, among them Padraic Colum (qv) and Mary Colum (qv), whom she already knew, Thomas Addis Emmet (1828–1919), in whose library she worked, and John Devoy (qv). Despite her letter of introduction from Thomas Clarke (qv), she found Devoy difficult and unhelpful. She was an active participant in the anti-war campaign, and assisted Nora Connolly O'Brien (qv) in making contact with German authorities in the USA. She was also responsible for the formation of the first American branch of Cumann na mBan, of which she became secretary. A contributor to the New York Sun and the Irish World, she was instrumental in the latter's support for Sinn Féin.
Following the 1916 rising, which left her sisters Muriel MacDonagh and Grace Plunkett (qv) widowed, she found herself blacklisted by the British authorities and unable to obtain a passport. In response to events in Ireland she flew the Irish flag from the top of a Fifth Avenue bus. In 1918 she became involved in the pro-Sinn Féin Progressive League, and was in charge of their New York premises. During the split among Irish republicans in America, she supported the faction headed by Joseph McGarrity (qv), who backed the flotation of a Dáil Éireann external loan. While in America she married (date unknown) a Hungarian emigrant, Arpad Czira. After a period working in Philadelphia for McGarrity's Irish Press, she returned to Ireland with her infant son, Finian, in 1922, on a borrowed passport. Arpad Czira had by this stage already returned to his native Hungary.
Back in Dublin she became involved in the Women's Prisoners’ Defence League, and with its founders Charlotte Despard (qv) and Maud Gonne MacBride protested against the treatment of republican prisoners during the civil war. She remained active in the league until the late 1930s. She also resumed her career as a journalist and, after the launch of 2RN (later Radio Éireann) in 1926, extended her activities into broadcasting; in that year she presented a series of programmes on Irish historical ballads. Her views, which often conflicted with those of the Free State government, resulted in her being sacked in July 1927 within twenty-four hours of having a letter published in the Irish Times criticising a senator's speech, which she felt jeopardised the possibility of a fair trial for those charged with the assassination of Kevin O'Higgins (qv). Her case, which caused considerable outcry, was taken up in the dáil by Seán T. O'Kelly (qv), but it was not until the change of government in 1932 that she was reinstated as a broadcaster.
After the second world war Czira and Dorothy Macardle (qv) brought German refugee children to Ireland. In the 1950s some of her personal reminiscences, many of which focused on her former nationalist colleagues, appeared in the Irish Times, which she found both ironic and amusing. She died in Dublin, 15 September 1974, and was buried in Deans Grange cemetery; her husband predeceased her. Her memoirs were published posthumously.