Separate but equal

Wed, Oct 17, 2012, 01:00

The tactics of the WSPU were more violent. The English prime minister, Herbert Asquith, visited Dublin in 1912 and two English activists threw a hatchet into his carriage and tried to burn down the Theatre Royal.

In Ulster the WSPU activists engaged in arson attacks, damaged a golf course in Belfast, and attacked other property, generally belonging to Unionists. WSPU activists Mary Leigh and Gladys Evans, imprisoned for their militant activities in Dublin, were the only suffragettes forcibly fed in Ireland during imprisonment.

Public opinion was not generally supportive of militant activity; newspapers, in particular, were quick to condemn the women involved. Militancy was seen as anti-home rule, anti-nationalist and unwomanly behaviour. Non-militant Irish groups completely disassociated themselves from the WSPU’s actions in Ireland, and even the IWFL were not supportive. Relations between the WSPU and Irish suffrage groups had completely broken down by 1913. On the outbreak of the first World War the WSPU suspended all activities.

The war fractured the international women’s movement. In Ireland some suffrage societies, mostly those linked with English groups, suspended activity and engaged in war relief work. Some Irish groups were anti-war or pacifist.

When the war ended, Home Rule for Ireland was on the statute book and in 1918 the British parliament, arguably because of womens war work, granted partial suffrage, confined to those over thirty with a property qualification, to women throughout the United Kingdom.

However, by this time the Irish political scene had completely changed. New political cultures emerged for Irish and English women after the war and many retained or forged new links with their sisters in other countries.

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