McGowan, Martin Bernard (1890–1958), republican, was born 7 November 1890 at Aghamore, Ballyshannon, Co. Leitrim, eldest son among four sons and one daughter of James McGowan, national school principal, and Margaret Jane McGowan (née Gallagher). He was educated locally at Drummons before moving to St Patrick's College, Drumcondra, Dublin, to train as a primary schoolteacher; he returned to Leitrim after graduation and succeeded his father as principal of Drummons national school.
He came to the nationalist movement through his involvement with the Gaelic League and the GAA, and was influenced in the development of his nationalist thinking by fellow Leitrim man Seán Mac Diarmada (qv). In 1914 he joined the Volunteers and became heavily involved with the organisation and training of Volunteer companies throughout the county. Although he did not take part in the 1916 rising, the execution of his friend Mac Diarmada had a profound impact on him and he threw himself into the reorganisation of Sinn Féin and the Volunteers in the aftermath of the rising. During the war of independence he rose to become commanding officer of the Leitrim brigade of the IRA and went on the run in 1920. Leitrim was not particularly active during the 1919–21 period but his small column, based in the north of the county, was involved in several engagements in collaboration with the more active columns in Sligo, most notably the ambush at Moneygold on 25 October 1920. He was also involved in the development of the dáil courts in the county.
He opposed the treaty and was active in the Sligo–Leitrim border area during the civil war, although much of his energy was spent evading capture rather than attacking the Free State forces. In 1923 he was elected as an anti-treaty Sinn Féin candidate for the Leitrim–Sligo constituency but refused to take his seat. He was disappointed by the decision of Eamon de Valera (qv) to enter the dáil in 1926, and never joined the Fianna Fáil party. Having lost his position at Drummons NS in 1920, he worked in a variety of jobs before returning to the school (1932) as principal, a post he retained till retirement. He retired from politics after 1927 and concentrated on the revival of the Melvin Gaels GAA club and his interest in the Irish language. However, he reentered the political arena on the founding of Clann Na Poblachta (1946), becoming an active member of the party and serving on its national executive. In 1950 he was elected to Leitrim county council as a Clann na Poblachta candidate and was reelected in 1955. He also contested the 1951 and 1954 general elections for the party in the Sligo–Leitrim constituency but was unsuccessful on both occasions.
He died 14 June 1958, and was buried at Conwell cemetery, Glenade, Co. Leitrim. A large monument to his memory, with the inscription ‘To the memory of Martin B. McGowan, soldier, scholar, patriot’, was later erected at Glenade.
He married (June 1929) Mary McGowan (her maiden name); they had seven sons and lived at Aghamore, Glenade, Co. Leitrim.