Thursday 18 January 2018

When freedom was in the air, Irish suffragettes took steps to win equality

The most significant feminist in 20th-century Ireland is honoured in a new book

CAT AND MOUSE: Above, a ‘Daily Sketch’ photo of Hanna addressing a meeting outside Mountjoy, where suffragette Kathleen Houston was imprisoned in 1914.
CAT AND MOUSE: Above, a ‘Daily Sketch’ photo of Hanna addressing a meeting outside Mountjoy, where suffragette Kathleen Houston was imprisoned in 1914.

Margaret Ward

In the early morning of June 13, 1912, four years before the GPO was to achieve notoriety as the headquarters of the Easter Rising, eight women quietly approached some of the most important buildings in Dublin - the GPO, Dublin Castle and the Custom House among them - and smashed as many glass windows as they could before arrest: "The Custom House gave a splendid front, and two stalwarts covered its four sides, encouraged by a group of dockers, who entered into the spirit of the thing, cheering the ladies on and keeping a lookout! They got clean away, and operated next on the GPO, where they were duly apprehended."

Hanna Sheehy Skeffington, the writer of this account, chose Dublin Castle - centre of British rule - as her target, but managed only to smash enough windows for a three-month stretch of imprisonment. "However, she added, "the policeman who grabbed my arm instinctively seized the right, and, as I am left handed, that gave me a chance to get in a few more panes before the military arrived and my escort led me off".

Irish women had lost patience. The Home Rule bill was going through British parliament, but they would not be granted citizenship. All-male rule would continue in the new Ireland. Condemnation of their actions came from all sides - as Sheehy Skeffington recorded: "Not only were we enemies of Home Rule, but rebels as women."

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