Blog to mark Irish women who had impact on history

Women who were ‘famous, infamous, relatively unknown’ will now be acknowledged

Last year a colleague asked Ella Hassett to name 10 Irish women who had made a mark on history. The Trinity College library assistant, who has a master’s in public history and cultural heritage, struggled.

“Aside from the Marys [McAleese and Robinson], a few suffragettes, Constance Markievicz and Grace O’Malley, I was stumped.”

As the nation gears up to mark the 1916 Easter Rising, Hassett has joined forces with the National Women’s Council (NWCI) and will spend the next 20 weeks making sure that no one ever draws a blank about Irish women’s history again.

“I attempted to track down the remarkable stories of women who should be acknowledged for their contribution to the history of Ireland and the rest of the world,” said Hassett. “Women who were famous, infamous and relatively unknown.”


She has included women from the whole island of Ireland. “I have found politicians, poets, singers, actresses, suffragettes, adventurers, scientists, explorers, doctors, criminals and everything in between.”

Fortnightly blog

Hassett “will endeavour to post about an interesting Irish woman from the past every fortnight on the NWCI blog.

“We all know the big names in Irish women’s history, so it is my hope that some of the women in the coming weeks will not be as recognisable. If we spread these stories, we can begin to reclaim these women for their achievements and legacies,” she said.

First up on Hassett’s list is Cork woman Nellie Cashman, who made her way to the gold fields of Alaska at the turn of the last century in search of a lucky strike.

Cashman, who was born near Cobh in 1844, was a philanthropist, prospector and businesswoman.

Rather appropriately, given her name, Cashman caught the gold bug in North America, where she had moved with her widowed mother as a child.

Prospecting tours

Her exploits underground were financed by the businesses she ran, including boarding houses and a restaurant, and she was a regular on prospecting tours, where she put her vast knowledge of mining to good use.

Proving that not every woman had a preoccupation with shoes, Cashman told the Victoria Daily Colonist: "I dress in many respects as a man does with long heavy trousers and rubber boots. Skirts are out of the question up North."

‘True pioneer’

Nellie Cashman was “a true pioneer”, says Hassett. “She prospected well into her 70s and although she never struck a bonanza, she ran successful businesses wherever she went.”

Cashman was inducted into the Alaskan Mining Hall of Fame, one of only four other women out of approximately 100 names on the roll of honour.

You can read Ella Hassett's blog every fortnight on

Anthea McTeirnan

Anthea McTeirnan

Anthea McTeirnan is an Irish Times journalist