Subscriber OnlyOpinion

Diarmaid Ferriter: Women’s soccer players evoke past rebels

FAI row shows how female protesters always raise the hackles of the men in charge

This week, members of the Irish women’s soccer team continued a tradition of Irish women occupying Liberty Hall to challenge the male establishment.

Exactly 100 years ago, female Irish rebels were planning how best to mark the anniversary of the 1916 Rising.

It was ultimately commemorated in a riot after the hoisting of a republican flag on the rubble of the GPO resulted in stone-throwing and a police baton charge, and 12 people ended up in Jervis Street hospital.

No friend to the commemorators, The Irish Times report of the affair referred to “the lower element seeking to let itself loose in honour of Easter week” and attacks by “a number of young roughs”.

But it was the women who had come up with the idea. Helena Molony, Jinny Shanahan and Winnie Carney, veterans of the Rising as members of the Irish Citizen Army, had decided to have a "demonstration to commemorate the rebellion".

They made a replica of the Proclamation and arranged to have the Tricolour raised onto a large flagstaff at the GPO.

Trade union leaders decided the date would be honoured, but it was the women who ensured it was done in dramatic fashion

In doing so, they were keen to emphasise the message that “The Republic still lives”, the words they emblazoned underneath the text of the Proclamations that they had posted on Dublin city walls and letterboxes.

Proclaim it again

In her statement to the Bureau of Military History in 1950, Helena Molony recalled: “There were concerts arranged, but what I was concerned with most was our decision to beflag all the positions that had been occupied in the 1916 Rising.

“We intended to run up the flags again in these positions and to get out the Proclamation, and proclaim it again, and to try to establish the position that the fight was not over and that the Republic still lives.

“That was very much left to the extremist group in Liberty Hall, who were indeed the women.”

Easter Monday 1917 did not mark the end of the commemorative affair, however.

As recalled by Rosie Hackett, another ICA member and trade unionist with the Irish Women's Workers Union, women associated with the labour cause were also determined to mark the anniversary of the execution of James Connolly in May.

Trade union leaders decided the date would be honoured, but it was the women who ensured it was done in dramatic fashion.

As Hackett recounted when she gave her statement to the Bureau of Military History in 1951: “A big poster was put up on the [Liberty] Hall, with the words: ‘James Connolly Murdered, May 12th, 1916’.

"It was no length of time up, when it was taken down by the police . . . We were very vexed over it, as we thought it should have been defended . . . Miss Molony called us together – Jinny Shanahan, Brigid Davis and myself. Miss Molony printed another script.

Much remains to be done to give meaning in so many areas of Irish life to historic promises of equality between the sexes

“Getting up on the roof, she put it high up, across the top parapet. We were on top of the roof for the rest of the time it was there. We barricaded the windows.

“I remember there was a ton of coal in one place, and it was shoved up against the door in case they would get in. Nails were put in. Police were mobilised from everywhere, and more than four hundred of them marched across from Store Street direction and made a square outside Liberty Hall.

“Thousands of people were watching from the quay. It took the police a good hour or more before they got in, and the script was there until six in the evening, before they got it down.

“I always felt that it was worth it, to see all the trouble the police had in getting it down. Of course, it took four hundred policemen to take four women. Historically, Liberty Hall is the most important building that we have in the city.

“Yet, it is not thought of at all by most people. More things happened there, in connection with the Rising, than in any other place. It really started from there.”

Various dramas

According to Molony, these various dramas in 1917, orchestrated by women, “established the 1916 commemoration” that will again be marked this month.

Such remembrance will also, as demonstrated by the plight of the women footballers, provide a reminder of how much remains to be done to give meaning in so many areas of Irish life to historic promises of equality between the sexes.

The FAI erroneously asserted that the recent actions of the footballers could damage their reputations and their “responsibilities to many young people who look up to you”. They did quite the opposite.

Protesting women, as is clear from events 100 years ago and this week, have always raised the hackles of the men in charge.

As Molony pointed out, in 1917 there was much hostility towards the rebel women: “we had unsympathetic members in the back and enemies in the front.”

So did the footballers; but they took them on and got a result.

READ MORE