Last year on International Women’s Day I was in Derry, exploring the murals that were off the beaten path. I found many honoring the women of the area – including one that was painted in honor of International Women’s day itself. I find that looking through my pictures of them now is just as inspiring as it was then, and I think sharing my favorites on both sides of the puddle is especially powerful on today of all days.
It’s rare that a woman can juggle an immense amount of political power, a restaurant of her own and a family of four children. But Jennie Wyse Power did all this and more, at a time when most women weren’t even getting an education. She was an Irish superwoman and an unapologetic suffragist who passed away on this day in 1941.
Edith Maud Gonne has been hailed as one of the greatest activists and fighters of her time. Her beauty has been recorded and immortalized by one of Ireland’s greatest poets. History has compared her to Joan of Arc and she’s one of the best known women in the books, in no small part due to her own inflated memoirs and creative storytelling. She is largely considered to be an Irish hero—which is a great feat for a woman—particularly one who wasn’t Irish born and who grew up as a member of a wealthy, loyal, British family. So was she a true revolutionary, or a fraud in it for the fame and her own idea of who she wanted to be? Either way, she did enough to leave her mark on Irish history and one thing is undisputed – Maud Gonne chose the green and was most certainly not born to it.
Agnes O’Farrelly was a mighty woman in the realm of aademia during a time when that was highly unusual. She was a suffragette committed to improving the role of women in society and a staunch supporter of the Irish language. She has the important distinction of being the first woman to publish multiple novels in Irish. She was not a native speaker and did not learn it until she went to university – in fact, she was the reason that language lessons were revived there. Eoin MacNeill was her mentor in the language and eventually he sent her to the Gaeltacht area in the Aran Islands to further her education in Irish. Though she did not speak it from birth, this trip only reinforced her love for it. Eventually, she became a professor in Modern Irish and she continued speaking, teaching, and writing it for the rest of her life.
Ms. O’Farrelly presided over the inaugural meeting of Cumann Na mBan in Dublin, however she did not stay involved for long. While she was in favor of an independent Ireland and a supporter of Irish Nationalism, she felt that the women’s organization should be dedicated to arming and supporting the men of the Irish Volunteers, rather than joining the fight directly. It may seem like a peculiar stance for someone who wanted equal rights for women but she also believed in peace. As Cumann Na mBan became more militant in their own right, she withdrew from her leadership role and returned to academia – still fighting for women and an independent Ireland in her own ways, such as reviving the language and history, becoming an influential member of the Gaelic League and convincing other women to join her.
In 1916, she used her powerful gift of the written word and her scholarly position in an attempt to save her good friend Roger Casement from execution. She started a petition and sent a lot of correspondence but in the end, she was unable to persuade the authorities to spare his life. In 1922, she was part of a group of women who tried to convince the IRA leadership to avoid the upcoming civil war. That too, failed. Despite these setbacks, Agnes O’Farrelly remained influential in Dublin for many years and continued to be one of the most prominent female activists of the time.
Her devotion to the Irish language, to education, and to peace left little room in her life for romantic attachments. She remained an independent woman her whole life and never married. She died on this day, Nov. 5th, in 1951 and was buried in Deans Grange Cemetery. Her funeral was attended by many former colleagues, students, political activists, authors, rebels and the Taoiseach himself. She is remembered for being one of the most profound advocates for the Irish language in recent memory and has been credited for being one of the reasons that the number of women in academia swelled greatly at the time and ever since.
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.
52 years ago today, Ireland lost an incredible feminist voice. Few women have ever managed to juggle being an activist, a rebel, a suffragist, a wife, a prisoner, a judge, a volunteer, a commanding officer, a hunger striker, an author, and the President of a political party, especially during a time when most women were dismissed and ignored. In fact, only one comes to mind.
Margaret Buckley (née Goulding) was an unrepentant suffragist and Republican woman who began her long and lustrous career of activism and politics as the president of the Cork chapter of Inghinidhe na hEireann, before the organization merged with Cumann Na mBan. Later as a married woman, she became a prominent organizer of the Irish Women’s Workers Union and eventually returned to her role as President, but the next time she did it as the head of a newly revamped Sinn Fein. Continue reading
Constance Markievicz may have wanted to die like her compatriots for her role in the Easter Rising but the English wouldn’t execute a woman. In the end, they may have wished they had, for the Countess had another 11 years to continue being a thorn in their side. She went straight into an even more political role, creating a world where women were more equal to the men, remaining staunchly Republican and inspiring thousands of people, including myself, throughout the years since. She is one of my favorite heroes.
The good folk at the Sinn Fein shop in Dublin have an amazing walking tour that they offer, that they call the Rebel Tour. I highly recommend it for people who are interested in Irish history – and even people who know a lot about it already are guaranteed to learn something new on the walk. ( The Rebel Tour )
That being said, I would do almost anything to be able to fly over the puddle and meet Dr. Mary McAuliffe this weekend for her own walking tour. Her tour is based on the revolutionary women who helped shape Ireland’s history – but who are often times reduced to a footnote in it. This is an insult that must be addressed in all the history books of all nations, but this year Ireland is doing a lot to remedy it. Perhaps it is due to the hundred year anniversary of Cumann Na mBan and the renewed interested in the female rebels, or maybe it is just because it’s time to acknowledge the women warriors. Either way, things like this walking tour make me very happy and I hope both men and women get involved in it. I am very sad that I am too far away to experience it.
If you aren’t, please join this tour on Sunday – and report back to the rest of us who cannot.