Don’t forget to look at their feet, and remember that Pearse chose a woman to stand at his side when the Easter Rising came to a close 100 years ago today
April 29th looms ever closer and the Centenary celebration truly comes to a close…at least until May when the executed leaders will be remembered a hundred years after they were killed. The surrender was originally offered on behalf of the revolution by Elizabeth O’Farrell, but the English would not accept it from a woman. She returned with Patrick Pearse and stood at his side when he offered it himself to “prevent the further slaughter of the civilian population and in the hope of saving our followers, now hopelessly surrounded and outnumbered”. Some argue that it was no surrender at all, but rather a pause to prevent the loss of innocent life because the leaders knew the fight for Irish freedom would continue, with or without them. Others couldn’t bear the thought of standing down for anything, even if their leaders were asking them to. The end to the Easter Rising is a fact, but were the rebels defeated?
That’s a question I’ve been studying for a long, long time and my answer is still yes and no. It’s also for a different post, because this one is about what you can do in Dublin on April 29th to commemorate the close of the battle and to lend your support to those who are still fighting to save one of the most important areas of the city.
It is estimated that at least 200 women were involved in the Easter Rising of 1916, many more than previously thought. Their roles varied as widely as the women themselves – and ranged from the traditional fundraisers, cooks, and nurses, to the more unexpected roles of sharpshooters, spies, smugglers, and experts on explosives. A decent effort has been made over the last few years to give them credit for the part they played in the fight for Irish freedom, but sadly, they are still largely absent from many of the narratives.
Worse still is when a historian refers to the women as “great supporters” or “brilliant fundraisers” or “backbones”. These statements are true, but they still have an air of dismissal even amidst the recognition. They still show women in supportive or secondary roles and ignore the fact that many of them saw themselves as rebels, fighters, and soldiers in their own right – regardless of whether or not there were any men around. Until more historians can acknowledge that, many of the women who continuously risked their lives during Easter Week and in the years that followed, will not get the respect and honor that they are due.