POLITICIANS Éamon de Valera and John Dillon had a jaundiced view of the women’s suffrage movement, historians recounted at a lecture in Belfast.
“Women’s suffrage will be the ruin of our western civilisation,” Dillon, an MP and deputy leader of the Irish Parliamentary Party, told a suffrage deputation 100 years ago, according to Dr Rosemary Cullen-Owens, in her talk in the series, A Decade of Anniversaries 2012-2023.
“Éamon de Valera once remarked to a researcher that women were ‘the boldest and most unmanageable revolutionaries’,” added Dr Margaret Ward in the lecture on Wednesday night, at Stranmillis College, on the women’s movement from 1910-1922.
“Was he haunted by the fact that women from Cumann na mBan had assembled for service outside his Boland’s Mill outpost in 1916, only to be told by him, the commander of the outpost, to go home as this was no place for women?” asked Dr Ward, director of the Women’s Resource and Development Agency in Belfast.
“The Easter Week proclamation had affirmed women’s equal rights and Irish suffragist Hanna Sheehy-Skeffington declared that it was the first time that men fighting for freedom had voluntarily included women,” she said.
“Feminist hopes were high in 1916, but in the aftermath of defeat and, in particular, the loss of James Connolly, who had given wholehearted and unequivocal support to the Irish suffragettes, republican and feminist women were confronted with a much less egalitarian future,” she added.
“The final defeat of their hopes came with the Irish Constitution of 1937 – so much of which reflected the personal philosophy of Éamon de Valera – which insisted that women’s place was in the home,” said Dr Ward.
Dr Cullen-Owens, who lectures on women’s history at UCD, said the issue of Home Rule dogged the path of women’s suffrage.
“From 1910 the Irish Parliamentary Party, under John Redmond, held the balance of power at Westminster and Home Rule seemed assured,” she said.
Dr Cullen-Owens said Redmond and British prime minister HH Asquith were against women’s suffrage. This prompted the Irish Women’s Franchise League to respond militantly, she added.
From June 1912 until the outbreak of the first World War in July 1914, 35 women were convicted for suffrage militancy – 22 in Dublin and 13 in Ulster.