There are many, many women in Irish history who never get the recognition they deserve for their contributions to it. Anne Devlin may be the most egregious example of that. Her strength and dedication to the Irish cause was truly like no other.
On this day in 1883, Helena Molony was born in Dublin. She was orphaned when she was young and didn’t have the happiest of childhoods but this made her strong-willed and a survivor. She dreamt of a better life and soon that dream came to include a free Ireland. When she was older, she looked back at that time saying, “I was a young girl dreaming about Ireland when I saw and heard Maud Gonne speaking by the Custom House in Dublin one August evening in 1903 . . . She electrified me and filled me with some of her own spirit.”
Whether it was Maud Gonne’s spirit that energized Helena or not, one thing is certain – she was immediately and completely devoted to Ireland. She and Maud became fast friends and together they were prominent members of both of Ireland’s Nationalist groups for women, Inghinidhe na hÉireann and Cumann na mBan. Helena founded the first political newspaper specifically for women in 1908 and she started a movement aimed at keeping girls away from English soldiers. She was heavily involved in nearly every suffrage or labor campaign and was assigned to the City Hall garrison during the Easter Rising of 1916. When the authorities came to interview her after she was arrested for her role in the uprising, they found her with torn and bleeding hands and the lock halfway off the door. Similarly, while Molony was imprisoned in Kilmainham Gaol her captors discovered that she was trying to dig her way through the massive stone walls with a rusty spoon. She was indomitable and unapologetic.
These traits carried over into every aspect of her life. Helena fought again in the War of Independence, ferrying messages for Micheal Collins and Liam Mellows and was fiercely opposed to the Anglo-Irish Treaty that partitioned Ireland. She was active in the resulting civil war on the Republican side. She remained loyal to her friends, even when her reputation and political career suffered for it. Molony was unwilling to compromise in nearly every way, including her personal life. She was linked romantically to both males and females in a time when that was considered not only a sin, but illegal- and she refused to be labeled or cornered. All of these things cost her and eventually, Helena was forced out of politics and public life.
Even then, Helena maintained strong friendships, often depending on friends for shelter and care. When she died after a long and full life, she was buried next to many of them in the Republican plot at Glasnevin Cemetery, where she is remembered to this day.
Addendum: For more about Helena please click here. If you’re looking for even more or other fierce women like her, why don’t you grab a copy of my book? “Petticoats, Patriots, and Partition” is available world-wide in bookstores, on Blurb, and all Amazon markets. (Sorry, it’s been awhile since I indulged in some shameless self-promotion.)
On this day in 1958, Ireland lost a powerful (albeit slanted) voice. Dorothy Macardle was best known for her book “The Irish Republic” which was commissioned by her idol and friend Eamon De Valera. Her blind faith in his political party and leadership is apparent throughout her history book but so are the echoes of a rebel suffragist and her whispers of dissatisfaction when it came to women’s rights. Dorothy Macardle may have been a vocal member of Dev’s faithful flock, but that’s not to say she was entirely happy with all of his policies.
On May 4th, 1916, the executions of the leaders of the Easter Rising continued. Joseph Mary Plunkett, William (Willie) Pearse, Edward (Ned) Daly, and Michael O’Hanrahan were shot in the yard at Kilmainham Gaol in the early hours of the morning.
Kathleen Lynn was an anomaly among women at the turn of the century in Ireland. She was extremely well educated, which was very rare for females at the time, and she was a doctor – not a nurse – which was an incredibly unusual profession for a woman of that era. She faced discrimination and difficulty in the field for many years due to her gender and it made her a strong suffragist and a very tough woman.
On this day, 99 years ago, the fateful decision to execute the leaders of the 1916 Easter Rising in Ireland came to fruition. The men were taken from their cells and killed for their role in the uprising during Easter week. The signatories of the new Irish Proclamation had anticipated their deaths since before the Rising began – and while it’s probably not accurate to say they longed for them, they did know that their executions would galvanize many people in Ireland.
The executions began on May 3rd and the last was three months later. By August 3rd when Roger Casement was hanged outside of Ireland’s borders, 16 men had been executed for their roles in the uprising.
he signatories were shot in the yard at Kilmainham Gaol in Dublin. Today a cross marks the spot where they were killed and ironically, the Gaol now houses a museum dedicated to many Irish Nationalists and Republicans who were once killed or jailed there. It is a booming tourist destination.
On this day in 1972 Ireland lost a valiant soldier in its continued quest for freedom. Mrs. Tom Clarke was how she preferred to be addressed in spite of being a staunch suffragist. She gave up her fight on September 29th at the ripe old age of 94, after living a life that would have sent anyone else to the grave much sooner.