Nollaig na mBan: How women can spend their ‘day of rest’

Events to mark centenary of vote for women, Fine Gael pledges ‘women’s charter’

Nollaig na mBan, or Women’s Christmas, which is celebrated on Saturday will have a particular significance this year given that 2018 marks 100 years since women in Ireland and the UK were given the vote.

For Irish women, January 6th, which also marks the feast of the epiphany, was traditionally a day of rest when exhausted mothers, sisters and daughters took a break after weeks of cooking and cleaning over the Christmas period.

Whether or not domestic chores are more equally shared today, it is clear that Nollaig na mBan is still recognised as a celebratory occasion for Irish women of all ages.

What’s more, it is being used this year to kick off a range of events highlighting the women’s suffrage movement, its leaders and the impact of wider voting rights.


And Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has used the occasion to announce plans by Fine Gael for a “women’s charter in 2018 which will set out a path for the further advancement of women’s rights in Ireland”.

In Dublin, the Irish Writers' Centre and literary journal Banshee are holding a Nollaig na mBan celebration on Saturday evening with contributions from Sinéad Gleeson, Grace Dyas, Alison Spittle, Nuala O'Connor, Éilis Ní Dhuibhne, Anna Carey and singer Loah.

Light festival

The Illuminate HerStory global light festival will run over four days from Friday, lighting up cities and towns across Ireland with the "universal colours of the divine feminine".

The festival also includes workshops in primary and secondary schools where students will illuminate their classrooms with “their heroines and visions for a world of equals”.

Cork City Library will enjoy a light display of Irish women activists, academics and journalists running until Sunday daily from 5pm, while Ely Place in Dublin will project images of “incredible women who have made their mark on Ireland” featuring Mary Robinson, Sally O’Neill, Tina Roche and Rena Buckley.

In Fermanagh, Enniskillen Castle will be lit in purple until Monday to mark the centenary of women's suffrage. The Oldcastle Library in Co Meath will screen a short film on Saturday called Reel Irish Women about the role of women in the 1916 Rising. In Wexford town library, people can attend a free lecture on Saturday to celebrate the lives and contributions of revolutionary Wexford women.

Back in Dublin, CandletLit Tales will hold a "Women and& Warriors" event at Smock Alley Theatre at 7.30pm on Saturday to recount the tales of the great heroines of Irish legend, while Dr Micheline Sheehy Skeffington, granddaughter of suffragette Hanna Sheehy Skeffington will speak at 2pm in Epic, the Irish Emigration Museum.

Film programme

The Galway Arts Centre is holding an Oíche Nollaig na mBan event to celebrate the work of female artists, poets and musician. "Interference," a film programme, will also run through Saturday evening at the arts centre.

Breast Cancer Research has called on women to celebrate their day of rest by hosting a coffee morning, lunch or pub event to raise funds for the research group.

To coincide with Nollaig na mBan, Mr Varadkar announced a programme of activities being organised by Fine Gael to celebrate the 100th anniversary of women getting the vote.

“The centenary of women’s suffrage provides an opportunity to reflect on how women’s rights have improved in Ireland over the last 100 years, and look at what still needs to be done,” the Taoiseach said.

“Fine Gael will draft a women’s charter in 2018 which will set out a path for the further advancement of women’s rights in Ireland and will be debated at our next ard fheis.”

He said each Fine Gael constituency organisation would be invited to hold an commemorative event, and party members would be encouraged to unearth relevant memorabilia on the development of women’s rights.

The Labour Party is hosting a Nollaig na mBan event “Stories of Repeal” in the Project Arts Centre, Temple Bar on Friday with speakers including Senator Ivana Bacik, 6.30pm-9pm.

Sorcha Pollak

Sorcha Pollak

Sorcha Pollak is an Irish Times reporter and cohost of the In the News podcast