Wartime sexual violence against women in Ireland 'ignored'

Republicans and Black and Tans guilty of sexual violence in War of Independence and Civil War, says historian

Auxiliaries, who worked alongside the Black and Tans in the War of Independence, talk to a postman with a GPO mail cart in Dublin. Photograph: Walshe/Getty Images

Auxiliaries, who worked alongside the Black and Tans in the War of Independence, talk to a postman with a GPO mail cart in Dublin. Photograph: Walshe/Getty Images

 

Physical and sexual violence was waged against women during the Civil War and the War of Independence by republicans as well as by the notorious Black and Tans, according to a controversial paper to be presented at a conference next month.

The lecture, Addressing the Violence Suffered by Women during the Irish Revolution, will be delivered by Professor Linda Connolly of Maynooth University at the second West Cork History Festival.

“There was physical and sexual violence waged against women in the period 1916/17 to 1923 and it was carried out by all sides involved in the conflict,” said Prof Connolly.

“There are many examples of forced head-shorning and numerous references to women being humiliated and punished, or being singled out,” she said, adding that there were many references to this in both the newspapers of the time and in witness statements in the military archives.

“Women who were seen to be fraternising with, or passing messages to the enemy were subjected to forced head-shorning; it was a warning but also a humiliation,” she said, adding that sometimes the head-shorning was accompanied by physical violence.

“There are also some reports of sexual assault against women, but to a lesser extent than the head-shorning,” Prof Connolly said, adding that existing research had already unearthed the case of a single woman in Longford who, in 1923, was attacked and raped by a member of an armed gang whose members had declared they were the IRA while raiding the family home.

It’s important that the Irish Revolution is not perceived as a war about men

“She became pregnant, had a baby and gave it to an orphanage.

“We don’t really know as of yet the scale of sexual violence against women, but we do know it occurred, as we have cases perpetrated by both sides against women,” said Prof Connolly, who is editing a forthcoming book for the Indiana University Press, Women of the Irish Revolution 1917-1923, due to be published at the end of the year.

“It’s important that the Irish Revolution is not perceived as a war about men. The civilian impact - which is where women come into play - has largely been neglected,” she said, adding that women were subject to night raids, and violence and suffered trauma as a result.

“This has not really been spoken about,” she added.

What Prof Connolly has written, and is about to publish a book on, is the ignored experience of women in the course of that period

Prof Connolly’s paper focuses on something that “nobody likes to talk about,” observed Simon Kingston, founder of the festival, which will be held outside Skibbereen Co Cork, from August 16th to 19th offering a mix of talks and field trips of historical interest.

“This is not an attractive part of the War of Independence and the Civil War. What is quite challenging is who exactly was inflicting violence, including sexual violence against women,” said Mr Kingston.

“Tales from this period tend to emphasise a very male story and what Prof Connolly has written, and is about to publish a book on, is the ignored experience of women in the course of that period.”

Other speakers at the festival include historian Michael Robinson who will discuss the ongoing financial support provided by the British Ministry of Pensions to Irish veterans of the Great War, and the pioneering work on post-traumatic stress disorder carried out in a hospital specially built in Dublin by the British government to treat the men. More details at www.westcorkhistoryfestival.org