OPW invite Granddaughter of leading Irish suffragette Hanna Sheehy Skeffington to re-enact smashing the windows in Dublin Castle to mark the 100th anniversary of women's suffrage.
5 February 18
To mark the centenary of women getting the vote in Ireland, the granddaughter of Irish suffragette Hanna Sheehy Skeffington will tomorrow (Tuesday the 6th February) re-enact her grandmother smashing the windows of OPW’s Dublin Castle over a 100 years ago to highlight women's disenfranchisement. The event hosted by the Office of Public Works will also be attended by the Lord Mayor of Dublin Micheál Mac Donnacha and will include a speech by Hanna’s granddaughter Micheline Sheehy Skeffington from a “soapbox” similar to that used by suffragettes a century ago.
At 5am on the 13th June 1912 Hanna Sheehy Skeffington on her own smashed windows in Dublin Castle, the seat of British Government rule, in response to votes for women being excluded from the Home Rule Bill for Ireland. She was arrested and sent to Mountjoy Prison where she went on hunger strike. To commemorate the centenary of women getting the vote Hanna’s granddaughter Micheline dressed in period costume will smash a replica window in the Castle at the Ship Street entrance and will be “arrested” by a policeman.
In the coming weeks Dublin City Council will recognise Hanna Sheehy Skeffington’s contribution to Irish public life by erecting a plaque at the Ship Street entrance. Lord Mayor of Dublin Micheál Mac Donnacha said, “Hanna Sheehy Skeffington is Ireland’s most famous suffragette and her actions and agitation directly contributed to Irish women winning the vote in 1918. Hanna lived in Dublin and was elected to the Council so it’s entirely fitting that Dublin City Council recognise her role in Irish political life by erecting a plaque in her honour and I look forward to unveiling this later in the year”.
Speaking about the event Chairman of the OPW Maurice Buckley said; “The OPW is delighted to host this event celebrating Hanna Sheehy Skeffington who dedicated her life to tackling injustice in general and women’s inequality in particular. As a suffragette, a nationalist and a human rights activist Hanna was undoubtedly ahead of her time in challenging the boundaries of what was perceived as a woman’s role. Smashing the windows in Dublin Castle resulted in the first of many prison sentences Hanna endured over a 20 year period. Indeed, she noted that a wife-beater sentenced the same day received a lighter sentence, than her two months in Mountjoy Prison. This event tomorrow (6th February) is about recognising a historic day in Irish public life as well as a celebration of the contribution of Ireland’s most committed feminist who played a leading role in the struggle for equality. I would like to sincerely thank Micheline Sheehy Skeffington for coming here today and for her commitment as the custodian of grandmother’s legacy.”
Speaking about her motivation for staging the re-enactment Micheline Sheehy Skeffington said, “I want to ensure that the courage of the suffragettes is honoured on the centenary of women getting the vote. What they did and what they achieved is incredibly impressive. We have the vote today because of them. Power and privilege are never given up easily by any section of society, but things changed through women like Hanna taking a very public and often unpopular stance to demand that change. So we owe it to them to ensure they are remembered”.
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Running order of the event
Location: Dublin Castle, Ship Street Entrance
10.30am - 11am-Micheline available for interview
11.30am – Photocall with Lord Mayor of Dublin Mícheál Mac Donncha, OPW Chairman Maurice Buckley, Manager of Dublin Castle Mary Heffernan, Micheline Sheehy Skeffington
11.35am - Micheline breaks the safety glass with a knobkerrie
11.40am - Micheline is “arrested” by actor in Dublin Metropolitan Police uniform
11. 50am - Micheline then gives brief speech from podium
Representation of the People Act 6th February 1918
Women over 30 years old received the vote if they were either a member or married to a member of the Local Government Register, a property owner, or a graduate voting in a University constituency.
All men over 21 gained the vote in the constituency where they were resident.
About Micheline Sheehy Skeffington
Dr Micheline Sheehy Skeffington, a plant ecologist, won an Equality Tribunal case in December 2014 against her university, NUI Galway, for discrimination on the basis of gender in the 2009 NUI Galway round of promotions to Senior Lecturer. She was the first female academic to achieve this in Ireland or in the UK. This resulted in Ireland’s Higher Education Authority releasing the statistics showing how few women were promoted in academia. Both the government and her university, NUI Galway, set up bodies to investigate the problems and have now initiated changes to ensure a fair number of women are promoted. Micheline continues to campaign on this issue.
About Hanna Sheehy Skeffington-
Hanna Sheehy-Skeffington, born 24 May 1877, was one of Ireland’s most ardent promoters of women’s rights. She was an influential figure during the suffragette movement, tirelessly campaigning for the equal status of men and women in Ireland.
Hanna was exposed to the republican struggle from a young age due to her father’s involvement with the Irish Republican Brotherhood and later his career as an MP for the Irish Party. Her uncle, Fr. Eugene Sheehy, was a renowned Land League priest. Hanna’s father had, however, consistently voted against all female suffrage bills, giving her a profound insight into the extent to which women were marginalised within social movements.
Throughout her career she strove simultaneously for national freedom and women’s rights. Hanna had actively involved herself in many different avenues of the struggle for women’s rights. She was responsible for founding the Irish Women’s Franchise League in 1908 with Margaret Cousins. The Irish Women’s Franchise League was a militant suffrage organisation that played an important role in the pursuit of civil rights. Additionally, in 1911 Hanna became one of the founding members of the Irish Women’s Workers Union, an autonomous branch of the Irish Transport and General Workers' Union (ITGWU). As a talented writer, her skills were utilised in the Irish Citizen, a paper that her husband Francis Sheehy-Skeffington had established with James Cousins, at a time when print was central to the dissemination of political theory. From 1918 on she wrote articles relating to the lives of Irish women and to attempt to radicalise the population in the hope of inspiring new ways of viewing gender roles, including the place of women in contemporary society.
On 13th June 1912 Hanna along with eight other women in Dublin city that day took part in the act of symbolically smashing male rule in Ireland by breaking windows in public buildings. Hanna alone chose Dublin Castle as the seat of British power and broke the windows with a 'cherry stick', a reaction to the exclusion of women from the franchise of the third Home Rule Bill. She was arrested and sentenced to two months imprisonment. This resulted in the loss of her teaching job, but she was one among several who risked much to fight against the curbs placed on women’s freedom of lifestyle.
Hanna spent 18 months touring the United States from December 1916 speaking to large venues including a packed Carnegie Hall telling the Irish Americans what had happened in the uprising and about her husband, Francis's, death by firing squad. She is the only Irish delegate of that time to have met the President and was praised by the main organiser, John Devoy of the Friends of Irish Freedom, as having 'done more real good for the cause of Ireland than all the writers and orators of the past twenty five years'. When she returned Hanna was made a member of the Sinn Féin executive but was only offered North Antrim as a seat to stand for in the election. She turned it down in disgust as unwinnable. Instead she stood and won a seat on Dublin Corporation in 1920 as an IWFL candidate.
Hanna lived to be disappointed with de Valera’s vision for modern Irish society. She chose to take a firm stance with the anti-Treaty advocates, feeling those who were pro Treaty were playing it safe and would never see the truly free Ireland that she envisioned. Furthermore, Hanna felt that the constitution did little to signal that women would enjoy any greater amount of freedom under Irish governance than English. She believed the 1937 constitution maintained the same boundaries for women that the previous ruling elites had and independence had been won for Ireland in name, but the wives, daughters and sisters of Ireland saw little change in their prospects.
Although the constitution fell short of her visions for full gender equality, Hanna considered the Easter Rising the first point in Irish history where both the struggle for women’s citizenship and national freedom converged. While she was a dedicated republican, committed to obtaining national freedom, this was never to be done at the expense of the struggle for women’s rights. Hanna should be remembered as a remarkably enlightened thinker and a pioneering force for the cause women’s rights in Ireland.