Photo essay focuses on mass imprisonment of women in Ireland in the early 1920s

Inside Out project, launched by Mná100, details experiences of women arrested because they opposed the establishment of the Free State

A photo essay detailing the arrest of women in Ireland in the early 1920s seeks to help illuminate “the terrible conditions” experienced by the women in prison.

The project, entitled Inside Out, focuses on mass imprisonment of women in Mountjoy Prison, Kilmainham Gaol and the North Dublin Union in the early days of the Irish Free State.

Mná100 worked in partnership with City of Dublin Education and Training Board (ETB) teachers and students from the education centre at Mountjoy. The essay is available to view online on the Mná100 website.

In the first months of 1923, there was a mass arrest of “suspect women” who opposed the establishment of the Irish Free State.


Using images of artefacts from the Mountjoy Prison Museum, along with the voices of students from the history class, it looks at the story of these women’s imprisonment.

The women political prisoners included writers Dorothy Macardle and Lily O’Brennan; elected TDs Mary MacSwiney and Kate O’Callaghan; well-known activist Maud Gonne MacBride; and suffragettes such as Mary Bourke-Dowling.

Prisoners also included women deported from London, Liverpool and Glasgow. By February 1923, Annie MacSwiney wrote that “nearly 300 women” were in prison.

Correspondence was restricted and censored and several of the women went on hunger strike up to their release in December 1923.

Minister for Arts Catherine Martin described the work as “very powerful, insightful and moving”, saying that it “illuminates the terrible conditions experienced by women prisoners during a very traumatic time in our history”.

“A century ago, their voices were unheard, confined within the prison walls. Now, we properly acknowledge their stories, through words, images and artefacts. In turn, we are richly rewarded with a deeper understanding of our history, in all of its complexity,” she said.

“By combining the imagery, text and audio clips from the history class students, this photo essay takes you on a journey through the experiences of these women while they were imprisoned, as well as their life beyond prison walls. This is a hugely valuable and lasting educational resource for all students of history.”

Paula Egan, a history teacher involved in the project, said the importance of prisoners’ voices being heard is at “the heart” of the essay.

“By allowing prisoners’ words and creative work to filter from the inside to the outside... walls, which previously silenced and separated, can become sites of learning and reflection,” she said.

“Considering the role played by prison and prisoners in the birth of the State, it is fitting that prisoners from Mountjoy education centre can contribute towards the Decade of Centenaries programme.”

Shauna Bowers

Shauna Bowers

Shauna Bowers is Health Correspondent of The Irish Times