President honours role of women in creating Ireland of today

Event at Kilmainham celebrates achievements of women from 1916 on

 

Society must recall as fully as possible the part that women played in the 1916 Rising in laying the foundations for the Ireland of today, President Michael D Higgins has said.

Mr Higgins was addressing a special State ceremony to honour Women of Ireland 1916-2016 at the Royal Hospital Kilmainham on Tuesday.

Relatives of those involved in the events of 1916 as well as members of the Oireachtas, the legal world, the arts, sports and community sectors and activist groups are attending the event hosted by Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht Heather Humphreys at the Royal Hospital Kilmainham.

In a wide-ranging speech, Mr Higgins explored the social and historical context of the Rising and said our accounts of it must always be grounded in an awareness of the wider context.

“They must include not just the leaders and their wives, but make space for all those who suffered, so many who were too poor, too marginalised and too disenfranchised to be heard.

“Thus when we recall the 485 men, women and children who died in Dublin that week, we should also remember the families of those soldiers, so many of them from the tenements, who were among the 580 Irishmen killed on the Western Front in that same week, in a clash between the world’s most powerful and insatiable empires.

“As we reflect, in hindsight, on the contribution of the women of the Irish revolutionary movement, the irony of their subsequent marginalisation in the first five decades of our independence appears more starkly.”

So many obstacles to the participation of women in the economic and political life of the country have been removed but there still remains a “glass ceiling” blocking their access to decision-making positions, Mr Higgins said.

“Over the last few decades, we have witnessed spectacular gains in the educational attainment of women and girls and a steady increase of the number of women engaged in paid work,” the President said.

“Yet, as is widely acknowledged, there too often remains a glass ceiling blocking women’s access to decision-making positions. Furthermore, while salaried work is important, it is also essential that we fully recognise the contribution of women to a variety of care activities.”

Attendees were treated to an excerpt from a new music commission by Simon O’Connor, performed by vocalist Michelle O'Rourke with the backing of the RTÉ Concert Orchestra ensemble and dedicated to the widows of those who lost their lives in 1916.

The magnificent performance by the RTÉ Ensemble conducted by Conor Palliser was narrated by actor Olwen Fouéré. It will be performed in full in venues throughout the country during the year.

Ms Humphreys said that in the decades that followed the Rising, the role played by women in bringing about independence “was diluted, often deliberately”.

“Recognising the role of women is a central plank of the Ireland 2016 Centenary Programme. One hundred years on from the Rising, we have a unique opportunity to honour the women who put their lives on the line at a time when they didn’t even have the vote.”

Master of ceremonies Olivia O’Leary recalled the words of General John Maxwell when he dismissed the women of the Rising as “silly little girls”.

No more would Irish women have to ask for permission to become what they wanted to be, said O’Leary.

“Little by little, they won’t be only ‘little girls’ any more” asking if they could be President, Lord Mayor or Garda Commissioner.