Decade of Centenaries: Nationalism, suffrage and labour, 1912-1924

By Irish Research Council

Posted: 8 March, 2016

This 1916 Flagship Project funding (New Foundations) looked at the experience of female political prisoners in Revolutionary Ireland between the years 1912-1924, focussing in particular on the prison art, graffiti and personal mementoes and on the collection of personal political papers held in University College Dublin Archives. The website gives a comprehensive introduction and overview of the material that was uncovered. The project built on an Irish Research Council-funded postdoctoral project, undertaken by Dr Laura McAtackney: ‘Following the Fighters? Female Experiences of Imprisonment in Early 20th Century Ireland’.

Female experiences of political imprisonment during the period of 1912-1924 are infrequently considered and this is surprising given the significant numbers of women imprisoned. The inclusion of papers and material culture in this project from Northern women allows a wider consideration of the complex politics and identity issues at this swiftly changing period. Bringing these sources together ensures that complexity is added to our knowledge of women’s experiences that, significantly, extends beyond borders, into the prisons and bypasses the usual cut-off dates into the post-civil war aftermath. According to the project leaders, this project produces knowledge of key aspects of female political experience that are infrequently articulated and will strike a chord with the public as these women came from every county, indeed almost every parish on the island of Ireland. Their voices range across a variety of registers: defiant, uncertain, courageous, humorous and despondent, but always with a vision of how a future Ireland (where we their descendants now stand) might be a better place.

A very successful symposium was held on 16 October 2015 giving an overview of the key findings and with papers in response by invited leading historians of Irish women’s history. Speakers included Padraig Yeates, Linda Connolly and Margaret Ward and topics discussed ranged from women and crime in 1916 to women and the Anglo-Irish Treaty. The response to attend was so strong that the venue had to be changed to accommodate the demand and the hashtag #RevoltingWomen trended on Twitter. Dr O’Donnell and Dr McAtackney are collaborating with the Cork History Teachers’ Association and they will participate in their seminar series for the academic year 2016/17. The team, in conjunction with Dr Fionna Barber from Manchester University, are developing an exhibition highlighting holdings relating to Constance (Countess Markievicz) and Eva Gore Booth from UCD and the Public Record Office in Northern Ireland. The exhibition is due to be launched before International Women’s Day, March 8 2016.

Arising from the project funded by the Irish Research Council, Dr O’Donnell and Dr McAtackney were able to successfully leverage UCD Centenaries Funding as Dr McAtackney found a significant amount of material within UCD’s own archives that had been overlooked by scholars – including notebooks belonging to Constance Markievicz. After a briefing on the team’s findings, UCD Archives has committed resources to digitising collections of papers deposited by revolutionary women and making them available online.

The strength of the project is that the website interface allows for an accessible on-going public engagement, which receives hundreds of visits on a monthly basis. Many are browsers from Ireland but a significant amount are from places associated with the Irish Diaspora such as the UK, USA and Australia. The list of women who were imprisoned during the Civil War has generated particular interest by local historians and descendants curious about the often vague stories they have heard about their female relatives’ involvement.

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