A role in Home Rule

Wed, Oct 17, 2012, 01:00

Seventy seven women are listed as subsequently imprisoned by the British. Members of the IWFL brought supplies to outposts and carried messages. After Francis Sheehy Skeffington was arrested and executed by British troops while attempting to organise a citizen’s militia to stop the wide-scale looting he feared would discredit the ideals of the Rising, Hanna spent months in a crusade to force Prime Minister Asquith to hold an inquiry into the circumstances of his death. After surrender only five women were detained for lengthy periods, all Citizen Army members. Constance Markievicz’s death sentence was commuted to life imprisonment because of her sex.

The execution of 16 leaders and the work of bereaved women relatives in holding memorial masses and supporting released prisoners did much to change public opinion, initially hostile to the Rising. Grace Gifford married her fiancé Joseph Plunkett before his execution in Kilmainham Jail. Kathleen Clarke, whose husband Tom was the first signatory to the Proclamation, distributed relief to bereaved families. A resurgent nationalist Ireland successfully resisted attempts by the British to impose conscription. Women were at the forefront of opposition. In addition, nationalist women from different organisations joined forces to ensure they would be effectively represented in the reorganisation of nationalist forces.

In April 1917 a group of women came together at the home of Countess Plunkett. They included members of Cumann na mBan, widows of the leadership, women from the Irish Citizen Army, from the Irish Women Worker’s Union and others. Hanna Sheehy Skeffington joined on her return from America.

They formed a group, the League of Women Delegates, Cumann na d’Teachtaire, determined that the Proclamation’s promise of equal citizenship would be adhered to.

Their first task was to campaign for increased representation for women within Sinn Féin. However, as only 12 women out of 1,000 were selected as delegates to the October 1917 Sinn Féin Convention, Cumann na d’Teachtaire did well to have four women elected on to the executive, all of whom had some connection with the Rising. They were dismayed at the lack of women candidates in the parliamentary elections of December 1918. The Representation of the People Act had given women over the age of 30 in Ireland and Britain the right to vote and another act allowed women stand for election.

Only two women were selected: Constance Markievicz in Dublin and Winifred Carney in Belfast. Both had been members of the Irish Citizen Army. Kathleen Clarke had hoped to be a candidate. Hanna Sheehy Skeffington rejected the offer of an unwinnable seat. Members of the IWFL and Cumann na nBan worked hard for a Markievicz victory, criticising Sinn Féin for its lack of support. Anna Haslam, 89, led a victory procession of women in Dublin as she cast her vote for the first time, supporting a Conservative candidate. Markievicz became the first woman to be elected to parliament, although she did not take her seat. Despite jubilation over her victory The Irish Citizen commented, “Under the new dispensation the majority sex in Ireland has secured one representative. This is the measure of our boasted sex equality.” The elected Sinn Féin members boycotted the British Parliament in favour of a new Irish assembly, Dáil Éireann. Markievicz became Minister for Labour.

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