Ruth Taillon chaired a panel with Dawn Purvis, Martina Devlin and Bernadette McAliskey for a session entitled And where were the women when history was made? at the John Hewitt International Summer School in Armagh.
Note the names already in the frame there.
So I had to have my two cents’ worth, and here for the record it comes:
For a few examples from Easter Week:
- Mollie Adrian, on her bicycle, shuttled orders and reports between Pearse in the GPO and the Fingal Battalion, so that Thomas Ashe would get the credit.
- Maire Nic Shiubhlaigh was in command of the Cumann na mBan at Jacob’s factory, from where she had an excellent view of the pounding the GPO was getting.
- The Cumann na mBan had to be ordered out of the GPO — it took Seán McDermott backing up Pearse before they would agree — late on the Friday morning of Easter week. The first shell arrived soon after their departure.
- At the Department of Agriculture farm at Athenry, Mellows had about 500 men armed with a total of 35 rifles and 350 shotguns. The women of the Cumann had the local bullocks slaughtered, and made the stew to feed them all — which was about the most positive aspect of Mellows’ “campaign`”.
- The Kilkenny Cumann were (later) more than tart in their comments about how the menfolk sat around debating, but not actually getting stuck in.
- Marie Perolz of Inghinidhe na Éireann, on her motor-bike, all the way from Dublin to the brigade in Cork, brought MacCurtain and MacSwiney the orders for the Rising (how the other eight orders got through, I’m not sure).
- Rose McManners of the Inghinidhe was in the Jameson distillery to observe how clueless MacDonagh was when it came to leadership. When the garrison of 44 men at the South Dublin Union surrendered, and dumped arms, Rose and the other twenty Cumann picked up the weapons and brazenly carted them into the Richmond Street barracks. They got away with it, because the British Army had no women searchers to hand.
- Kathleen Lynn took command at City Hall after Seán Connolly was killed, and negotiated the surrender of the ICA garrison.
- Elizabeth O’Farrell, nurse and midwife, of the Cumann na mBan, under fire took the white flag from the GPO to Moore Street, to open the surrender negotiations.
Then, of course, as Kathleen Clarke never stopped complaining, the women of 1916 were largely elided from the record. It’s not they weren’t there, but as Jessica Rabiit said, “I’m just drawn that way”.
As I was posting that, it came to my mind that once — around 1960 — I shook hands with Caitlín Bean Uí Chléirigh.
- a Sinn Féin TD in the Second Dáil (and spoke against the Treaty in the Great Debate),
- was on the receiving end of attention (first from the British, then from the Free Staters),
- was a Fianna Fáil TD for Mid Dublin in the Fifth Dáil, then in the Seanad,
- then on Dublin Corporation — including being the first woman to be Lord Mayor.
- To her credit, she was one of the women who despaired of de Valera after the 1937 Constitution re-defined the role of women, and then continued her shift to the left (or, rather, maintained her stand as Fianna Fáil became corporatist and shifted to the right).
- So, in 1948 she was a candidate for Clann na Poblachta.
By the time I met her, she was definitely out in the leftist fringes. A Great Lady.