Address by Heather Humphreys Minister for Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs TD at the Revolutionaries in their own right: Irish Women in War and Revolution Conference at Strokestown Park House on 15 September 2016
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Ladies and Gentleman, good afternoon.
It is a great pleasure to be here at Strokestown Park House today, as we remember and explore the major role played by women in the significant historical events that arose between 1912 and 1922.
2016 will be remembered as a very special year in our shared history.
It has been a year where we have come together to celebrate and have pride in our independence and to honour those who gave their lives or participated in the Rising, so that the dream of self-determination could become a reality.
We have honoured their courage, dignity and ideals.
The role of women in the Rising has been a central theme of the Government’s Ireland 2016 Centenary Programme.
One of my priorities in leading the Programme has been to highlight the role and lives of these remarkable and capable women.
The centenary programme contains a special focus on the women of 1916.
A number of special events have already taken place this year to acknowledge and celebrate their unique role.
On 8 March, 2016 (International Women’s Day), a special event “Women of Ireland 1916 – 2016” took place at the Royal Hospital Kilmainham.
The event, attended by President Higgins, commemorated the key role women played in the events of the 1916 Rising and also in building our country today.
Last April, Dublin City University hosted a seminar “Women and Irish Politics from 1916 to the Good Friday Agreement“.
A number of further initiatives are planned for the remainder of the year including:
- An NUI Galway Conference (9 – 10 November): exploring the role of women in Irish political life, commencing with Countess Markievicz and running up to the present day;
- #FemFest 1916-2016 (organised by the National Women’s Council): which will bring 150 young women together from across the country to reflect on the issues of 1916, including Politics, Equality, Feminism and Labour, and re-imagining a new vision for Ireland; and
- #WakingtheFeminists: a symposium / cultural event which will reflect on what has been achieved to date and explore a range of positive initiatives showing leadership in the sector.
Women played a major part in the events of Easter 1916.
They came from all backgrounds, all parts of society and from across the county.
The Rising was remarkable for the number of women among the insurgents – some 300 women took part across Easter week, many of whom were members of the Irish Citizen Army, Cumann na mBan, the Clann na nGaedheal Girl Scouts and the Hibernian Rifles.
In recent years, our understanding of the role played by the 1916 women has been transformed by releases from the Military Pensions Service Archive.
The Archive is one of the flagship capital projects supported under the Ireland 2016 Centenary Programme and I would encourage everyone to visit this impressive facility.
The release of witness statements housed by the Bureau of Military History has given us access to the personal testimonies of the 1916 women, but it is the applications for military pensions that provide us with verified accounts of the part women played during the Rising.
This wealth of information has allowed historians to record the role and lives of these remarkable women and have allowed their voices to be heard, in many cases for the first time.
As part of the Centenary Programme, a new travelling exhibition on the role women played in the Rising has been curated by Sinead McCoole.
We know that many of the women who participated in the events of 1916 were forgotten over the last 100 years, and I am delighted that they are now re-emerging from the shadows and taking their place alongside the more well-known names associated with the Rising.
The exhibition documents for the first time the experience of the women involved in the Rising, including, for example, women who were couriers for Eoin MacNeill’s countermand, the women who waited for action that never came and the women who joined the fight and evaded arrest and indeed the records for so long.
The Exhibition has toured to a number of locations across the country and has been made available to local communities and Irish Embassies and Consulates abroad.
Women participants in the Rising were defiant, strong and united in their belief for a better Ireland that would accept male and female as equal.
Two of the most iconic women involved in the Rising were Countess Markievicz and Dr Kathleen Lynn.
Countess Markievicz was second in command of the Irish Citizen Army at St. Stephen’s Green; and Dr Lynn took over command of the City Hall garrison and eventually surrendered it.
Their values were enshrined in the 1916 Proclamation signed by the leaders of the Provisional Government of the Irish Republic and read out on the steps of the GPO.
In the aftermath of the surrender of the Volunteers, many women, like their male counterparts were detained, often in poor prison conditions.
Upon their release, the women of 1916 continued the journey towards equality and empowerment – they paved the way for all future generations of women to take on the world as equal partners.
Many of the 1916 women went on to hold important roles in the years following the Rising including –
- Kathleen Lynn and Madeleine ffrench-Mullen who established St.Ultan’s Hospital for Infants on Charlemont Street, Dublin providing much needed facilities for impoverished infants and their mothers;
- Countess Markievicz was the first women elected to the Westminster Parliament and become Minister for Labour in the first Dáil;
- Margaret Skinnider through her membership of the INTO campaigned over many years for equal pay and status for women teachers; and
- Mary Perolz who was prominent in the revival after the Rising of the Irish Women Workers Union and who remained an outspoken champion of the rights of women in industry and in the labour movement.
Today, as we reflect on the immense achievement of the women of 1916, we must also look on them as positive role models for the young women of 2016.
I am delighted that during this special year, we have, at last, heard the stories of these women who had such an impact on our country 100 years ago.
I was particularly pleased to recently announce that a new piece of public art will be unveiled in Dublin, which will be a permanent and fitting tribute to mark the role played by the 1916 women and the achievement of Irish women over the last 100 years.
This sculpture, which is being commissioned as part of the Ireland 2016 Centenary Programme, will leave a positive and lasting legacy in our capital city to the truly remarkable women of 1916.
Go raibh míle maith agaibh.