Jeanne Rathbone

Elsa Lanchester Hollywood actress and Notable Woman of Lavender Hill

Posted in Elsa Lanchester Hollywood actress and Notable Woman around Lavender Hill by sheelanagigcomedienne on June 9, 2019

Elsa Lanchester 1902-1986 was Biddy Lanchester and Shamus Sullivan’s daughter.  Edith known as Biddy is one of my Notable Women of Lavender Hill and the family lived at 27 Leathwaite Road SW11. When Biddy declared in 1895, whilst living at Este Road Battersea, that she was going to live with Shamus she was kidnapped by her father, two brothers and a psychiatrist. This caused a debacle and the involvement of the Legitimation League. Biddy never saw her father again but Elsa certainly had contact with them and visited her grandmother in Linfield Haywords Heath and her artistic aunt Mary. She seemed to quite like the Lanchester connection and acknowledged Fred the car designer and Harry the architect and planner of New Delhi.

After the furore of their not getting married but living together they set up home in Lewisham initially. Elsa didn’t think they had a happy relationship but stuck together because they weren’t married, implying that if they were married they might have divorced.

The family were living at 48 Farley Road Catford when Elsa was born and she was their second child. When Waldo her brother was born her mother had gone to stay with Eleanor Marx in her home in Sydenham. Waldo went on to become a puppeteer.

els a birthplace 48 catford…/elsa-lanchester-catfords-bride-of-frankenstei…

A south east London website laments that in  “ Elsa Lanchester’s autobiography there is, sadly, little reference to the Lewisham life of one of ‘Hollywood’s most delightful comediennes and the wife of one of its greatest, and most tortured, actors’ (Charles Laughton).

Elsa spent most of her childhood in Battersea at 27 Leathwaite Road where the Lanchester

27 Leathwaite 2019 walk

27 Leathwaite Road 2019 walk.

family finally settled when Elsa was six years old. Biddy and Shamus stayed there till he died in 1945. So, it was the home that Elsa would return to whilst she lived in various places around London and after she had moved to Hollywood with Charles Laughton.

The family moved six times around south London, in addition to Catford there were short-lived homes in Lewisham, Norwood and in Clapham in Cavendish Road and Rudloe Road before settling in 27 Leathwaite Battersea.  Part of the reason for these frequent movements was to try to prevent Elsa being vaccinated as her brother Waldo had reacted badly to his and Edith wanted to prevent government interference in the life of Elsa and also because of wrangles with landlords. Finally, the schools inspectors caught up with Biddy and so Elsa had to attend school.

Family life involved equal parts adventure and eviction. Biddy took on landlords with every loophole in dozens of bylaws, finding it “irresistible to get the better of the upper classes.”

Waldo was attending a small socialist school on Clapham Common Northside.. They were living in Rudloe Road on the other side of the common at the time the LCC inspector visited. Elsa was aged six and Biddy wanted to continue to educate her at home. Despite Biddy waving her MA certificate certificate at the school’s inspector she had to attend school. She only lasted a week at the local primary school, from which she was exempted from morning prayers.

She was accepted as the only girl into Mr Frederick Kettle’s school in 1908. She loved her time there which she describes in her autobiography and they are very amusing. “ A Mr Hamilton taught mathematics in a very practical way ….cupboard full of instruments, telescopes, theodiolytes, and I was soon busy with logarithms and parabolas. First thing in the morning we read newspapers. We more or less chose the day’s work for ourselves and did as we like, as long as we did something. Madge, Kettle’s daughter taught them French.

As a London child she likened herself to a gutter rat and complained of being deprived of meat and God. She embarrassed her mother by asking her what men and women did to have babies which she knew already. Her mother gave ‘ a description in terms that a plumber would use to describe a diffucult job’ … ‘a secret satisfaction like the Mona Lisa seems to be feeling’.

She recalled reading the cuttings about her mothers kidnapping case, admitting that after a few years she’ found it rather glamorous to be a bastard.’ Commenting that Biddy was regarded as courageous by her comrades but Shamus didn’t get much credit. Although Elsa could see that he was firebrand.

Elsa tells leaving the Rudloe road flat. Biddy withheld the rent because the landlady wouldn’t do repairs. Biddy sent a report to the sanitary authorities. After six weeks the bailiffs came took some furniture and with the rent saved they went on holiday to Clacton on Sea for a simply splendid holiday and Shamus went back ahead of them and he secured the Leathwaite Road flat. The usual set up kitchen, front room and two small attic bedrooms but this one backed on to the common. And had a flat roof terrace. Another tenant had a big brass plate which Elsa polished for tuppence. Miss Valler Robes et Modes.

She danced in the Lower Town Hall aged 16 for the inauguration of the Battersea Labour Party Women’ Section at the request of Caroline Ganley who was asked to establish the Women’s Section by Charlotte Despard who gave her funds to do it. Obviously, the Lanchesters were well known in socialist circles in Battersea. Caroline described her as ‘elfin like’  in her memoirs.

Elsa in Turnabout Thetare

Elsa said that wherever they lived they had ‘The Kitchen’.  The Kitchen was a meeting place for socialist comrades. All evening people drifted in and out, talking of meetings and rallies and thumping our table. The comrades usually ended up comparing socialism to Marxism  and communism. And it often got quite rowdy but by that time I had usually gone to bed. That big oblong table was well marked by the life of that kitchen. Besides table thumping there was eating, homework and shoe cleaning.

She mentions that poor Shamus craved meat and fish. It was agreed that he could occasionally have a half a pig’s head boiled with vinegar which was about all they could afford. Sometimes a bloater or two with the children ‘staring in wonderment that he could eat anything with eye’s in it’ and Biddy saying ‘Hope you’re enjoying your corpse’

Elsa recalled the Bovril ads she saw at Piccadilly Circus as she walked through the west end with her violin case to Dr Trotters school of Music Bovril puts beef into you’ and so she began ‘ to spend her penny a week on on Oxo or Bovril cubes’… cuting them into four chewing a quarter at a time.  They were delicious she said.

Bovril ad at Piccadilly

Sometimes she would go on her roller skates to school and she would pass the house pretty red brick house with a well kept square garden where an old gentleman sometimes leaned on the gate whom she knew was John Burns. In all the seven years she walked ,’no dirty old man ever stopped her for a chat’

She remembers distributing atheist leaflets of biblical quotes at the Sunday school at the end of their road.

They played cricket, football and rounders on the common with Mr Kettle joining in but discouraged from competing in sports and no exams.

They often went camping overnight in Surrey or Sussex staying on private land and having their meals at farmhouses and would wander into the fields and woods for picnics and recalled doing this on the 1911 census night going by bus and tram carrying their tarpaulin and blankets.

There were childhood memories of May Day rallies, sherbet fountains and singing The Internationale and the Lewisham written Red Flag by Jim McConnell an Irishman. There were trips to both the ballet, to see Pavlova’s Swan Lake as well as seeing the likes of George Robey, Marie Lloyd at Clapham Grand.

Elsa went to classes with Biddy in weaving, spinning and sandal making with  Raymond Duncan, brother of Isadora. Through him she ended up at Isadora Duncan’s dance school in Paris although there seemed to be little real talent for teaching from Duncan so little was learned other than to ‘become an autumn leaf’. There is a funny interview with her on the Dick Cavett Show talking about her time with Isadora

After returning from Paris as war was impending Elsa was sent to Kings Langley School. This was a ‘progressive’ co-ed establishment and she was to pay her way by teaching dance. Biddy was good at negotiating such arrangements. Elsa didn’t last there very long there.  Elsa began to make a living out of short-lived dancing assignments, including a week as a snake dancer in Edmonton.

After the war ended she worked for a charity teaching dancing called Happy Evenings, during her second summer of this she set up a school in Charlotte Street in central London.  She also used the premises to set up what was effectively an after-hours theatre club – the Cave of Harmony – which began to attract a famous clientele which included the likes of H.G. Wells, Aldous Huxley and Evelyn Waugh who became a regular visitor. Elsa could be quite blunt and acerbic about her friends and acquaintances, She was quite cutting about Waugh – describing him as ‘not at all attractive looking….pink in patches as though he had a bad cold.’

Here is a BFI free film of the film


She began teaching dance in the Duncan style and gave classes to children and earned some welcome extra income for her household. She started the Children’s Theatre, and later the Cave of Harmony, a nightclub at which modern plays and cabaret turns were performed. She revived old Victorian songs and ballads, many of which she retained for her performances in another revue entitled Riverside Nights. There are recordings on you tube. The songs on this one are introduced by Charles. There are some great ones. Songs for a smoke filled room.

She became sufficiently famous for Columbia to invite her into the recording studio to make 78 rpm discs of four of the numbers she sang in these revues: “Please Sell No More Drink to My Father” and “He Didn’t Oughter” were on one disc (recorded in 1926) and “Don’t Tell My Mother I’m Living in Sin” and “The Ladies Bar” were on the other (recorded 1930). ‘ Never go walking without your hat pin@  shows how things haven’t changed. Little Fred, Fiji Fanny,Catalog Woman, My New York Slip,The Yashmak Song, The Janitor’s Boy    Please do listen.

Elsa songs for smoke filled rooms

There is an article in Women’s history Review titled Elsa Lanchester and Bohemian London in the Early Twentieth Century which explores her world ‘before her marriage to the actor Charles Laughton in 1929 to investigate aspects of bohemian culture in the early twentieth century. It focuses on Lanchester’s artistic nightclub, the Cave of Harmony, on the edges of London’s West End. Bohemianism, modern dance and musical comedy opened up new identities and spaces for female self-exploration.’

Her cabaret and nightclub appearances led to more serious stage work and it was in a play by Arnold Bennett called Mr Prohack (1927) that Lanchester first met another member of the cast, Charles Laughton. They were married two years later. She began playing small  roles in British films, including the role of Anne of Cleves with Laughton in The Private Life of Henry V111 (1933) His success in American films resulted in the couple moving to Hollywood where Elsa played small film roles.

In 1938, Elsa published a book about her relationship with Laughton, Charles Laughton and I.

In March 1983, Elsa released an autobiography, entitled Elsa Lanchester Herself. In the book she alleges that she and Charles never had children because Laughton was homosexual. Her memoris have recently been reissued.

Her role as the title character in Bride of Frankenstein(1935) brought her recognition.…/the-bride-of-frankenstein-looms-large-in-movi…

She played supporting roles through the 1940s and 1950s. She was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting actress for Come to the Stable (1949) and Witness for the Prosecution (1957), the last of twelve films in which she appeared with Laughton. Following Laughton’s death in 1962, Lanchester resumed her career with appearances in such Disney films as Mary Poppins (1964), That Darn Cat (1965) and Blackbeard’s Ghost (1968). The horror film Willard (1971) was highly successful, and one of her last roles was in Murder by Death (1976). I love the clip from Murder by Death and the gorgeous  Maggie Smith.

Her list of films spans from 1925 silent movie to 1980.

Here is a clip from a TV interview where she is talking about Charles. She was a funny clever woman as you can see from this clip. .

and this is a clip of her and Charles singing Baby its Cold Outside

Here is Elsa Woman of a thousand faces.

Elsa died in California on December 1986 aged 84, at the The Motion Picture Hospital from pneumonia having suffered from two strokes.

There is still a lot of interest in Elsa for various reasons. Her Bride of Frankenstein has given her status as a cult siren. There are many blogs about her and her place in horror and monster film history. James Whale the director was British and Elsa and him had worked together in England. (One interesting fact for me is the actor English Ernest Thesiger who played Dr Septimus Pretorius in the film it transpires was the best man of Victor Duval of the suffragist family who lived in Lavender Sweep which is opposite Leathwaite Road on the other side of Battersea Rise. The amazing Duval family feature in my Notable Women  walk. Victor married Una Dugdale in January 1912

Here is a giphy of Elsa the Bride

Elsa as Cult Siren Believe it or not, without Elsa Lanchester, there probably would not be any Cult Sirens website. In fact, it’s not exaggeration to claim that her immortal role in Bride of Frankenstein can easily make her the ultimate Siren in history, considering that this unique character may be the ultimate female role in a horror movie. Nothing less!

Elsa and LGBT history defying heteronormativity.       Tom Blunt, a young  producer and host of numerous entertainments in New York City, including a film-inspired variety show called “Meet The Lady” for the 92nd Street Y which was a show about Elsa. He has written for sites such as The Awl and New York Magazine; his crackpot cinematic theories have been cited in The Guardian and IFC News.

One of the reasons I felt compelled to go to all this trouble was the significance of Elsa’s book to LGBTQ history. The closeted life of her husband Charles Laughton also became her own, as she stuck by him for decades and kept his secrets — even despite what we’d categorize today as Laughton’s intense emotional abuse.

I contacted him about my walk Notable Women of Lavender Hill which includes Elsa because he has been instrumental in getting her autobiography reprinted by  Chicago Review Press.   I sent him photos of the motley crew from my walk in front of the house they lived in for many years 27 Leathwaite Road.

In his article he writes about her witty and candid autobiography written long after Charles had died which now resonates with readers and LGBT commentators about their marriage.

Back then, she was the lesser half of a Hollywood power-couple, migrating from England to the US with Laughton in the early ’30s, where he became an Oscar-winning wunderkind. Elsa snapped up character roles, often in her husband’s movies, toiling in his shadow as he became further renowned as a master-thespian, teacher, and even director (“The Night of the Hunter” remains a classic). The quirkiness of their relationship was considered by fans and friends alike as proof that these two offbeat intellectuals were made for each other – but it also served as a smokescreen for the secret they ended up keeping together for over thirty years.

Even today, over thirty years later, women are finding that unless they speak up immediately, their motives in remaining silent will forever cast doubt on their honesty. Keeping silent seemingly revokes their right to complain.

In 1983, long after her husband’s death, Elsa finally broke her silence. Her memoir, Elsa Lanchester Herself, included a detailed, unflinching personal account of their arrangement, from unfortunate way she first learned of Laughton’s homosexuality (when he was busted for soliciting a male prostitute, early in their marriage) to the grief and resentment that gradually accumulated between them, fully permeating even their final moments.

Elsa Tom Blunt was persistent in getting her autobiography re published

Tom Blunt was persistent in getting Elsa’s biography republished.

Tom Blunt was instrumental in finally getting Elsa’s biography reissued by Chicago Review Press

Elsa has also been acknowledged by LGBT activists as been so significant for her involvement with The Turnabout Theatre.

Turnabout Theatre opened in 1941 and quickly proved itself to be an unusual Hollywood hot spot, its audiences remaining loyal until it closed in 1956. The queerest, dearest, and cleverest “satirical revue” of its time (and perhaps of any time), it was founded by songwriter Forman Brown, puppet-maker Harry Burnett, and manager Roddy Brandon. The three gay men were known as The Yale Puppeteers and lived together as a family for most of their seventy-year career. Turnabout Theatre was one end marionette show and the other end live acts, and its name referred to its reversible streetcar seats and how the audience would “turn about” between acts. The theatre’s star attraction was Elsa Lanchester in an eccentric cabaret mode…….This is the love on which the Turnabout Theatre was built, a love as powerful and enduring and unusual for its time as the love shared by Elsa Lanchester and Charles Laughton. No wonder Forman and Lanchester were so synchronized artistically. It was Charles himself who once told Elsa how she and Forman together made a true “artistic marriage of talents.

Elsa and Charles were friends neighbours of Christopher Isherwood and his partner Don Bachardy on Adelaide Drive in Santa Monica, California. Christopher was one of the readers at Charles Laughton’s funeral.

Elsa in silent films I found this scholarly treatise on Elsa in British silent films from a film conference in Bologna in 2010. However Odd—Elsa Lanchester! While both seem willing to parodize themselves, embracing ugliness, their eccentrism simultaneously provides something of an ironic commentary on the ideal feminine “types” presented by Hollywood and Hollywood’s commodification of particular notions of feminine beauty.

The proposed paper will discuss the role of Elsa Lanchester in British silent cinema, notably in the short films The Scarlet Woman (1924), The Tonic, Bluebottles and Daydreams (1929) and the feature film, The Constant Nymph (1928), starring Mabel Poulton as the classic child/woman of British literature and British 1920s cinema. Lanchester’s gawky angularity seems to have prompted her casting in character parts, rather than as a leading lady in the 1920s and 1930s.

A specific comparison will be made with the “exaggerated,” non-naturalistic style of Aleksandra Khokhlova – notably in Lev Kuleshov’s 1924 The Extraordinary Adventues of Mr West — and the critical appraisal of her work in Eisenstein’s essay, “However Odd! — Khokhlova.” I shall suggest that both artistes, excluded from conventional casting regimes, provide performances which are not simply comedic, but which create a space in which irony (and even satire) — following Linda Hutcheon — is allowed “to happen.”

The paper will build on work on Lanchester already published in “Elsa Lanchester and Chaplinism,” in Crossing the Pond (2002), British Cinema: A Critical History (2005) and on the WSBC website.

I hope that there will be some sort of show about Elsa locally something similar to what Tom Blunt devised with readings, sketches, interviews, her song recordings and clips. I’ll see what we can do! These are photos of my ersatz plaque commemorating Elsa and Biddy taken on a sunny day in April and the view from the back windows of her home onto Clapham Common.

Elsa who was born in 1912 is still so relevant in many different ways today. She feels so contemporary.  She is usually described as coming from a Bohemian family, started to work as a dancer, singer actress in theatre, cabaret, TV and film and has made an impact on cinema, performance and in defying heteronormativity.

Elsa and Biddy are in a queue for Battersea Society commemorative plaques on 27 Leathwaite Road. Of the 16 English Heritage plaques in Battersea there are none to women. I started my Notable Women of Lavender Hill walks in 2018 the centenary of some women getting the vote now there are three plaues commemorative plaques to Caroline Ganley 1879-1966 MP, JP,  councillor and co-operator at 5 Thirsk Road, Charlotte Despard 1844-1939 socialist, suffragette and Sinn Feiner at 177 Lavender Hill and Pamela Hansford Johnson 1912-1981 novelist and critic at 53 Battersea Rise now Farrago restaurant. There are two more in the offing with English Heritage application for Marie Spartali Pre-raphelite artist, The Shrubbery Lavender Gardens and Deaconess Isabella Gilmore on 113 Clapham Common Northside – still a long way to go before we have a gender balance. So, I will continue the tours and the endeavour to have these inspiring women remembered.

I have been asked to suggest names of woman for streets/apartment blocks by Garrett at Wandsworth Council and been told that developers in Nine Elms near the US embassy are considering a Lanchester Way after Biddy and Elsa. It’s a start in commemorating  these two trailblazing women from Battersea. My friend Joan has pointed out that her BFI membership card features Elsa as Bride of Frankenstein.

For a woman born in 1912 she is still so relevant in the history of film and LGBT culture and for the range of friends and acquaintances from artistic, theatrical and political life in London and Hollywood. Battersea should be proud of her.  Having read so much about her I feel, like many biographers, that  I would loved to have met her.  It is because of where I live that I have been ensconced in the lives of women like Elsa who lived very nearby and I feel compelled to write about them and to remember them as pioneers and some I would love to have been their friends!

Elsa should be appreciated, celebrated and definitely deserves to have an English Heritage commemorative plaque on 27 Leathwaite  Road SW11 and please readers do share this with anyone you think will appreciate our Elsa from Battersea.






Duval suffrage family of Lavender Sweep

Posted in Duval Suffrage Family of Lavender Sweep, Uncategorized by sheelanagigcomedienne on April 19, 2019

Elsie and Family at 97 Lavender sweepThis is the Duval family who lived at 97 Lavender Sweep when this was taken. They have the same sized back garden as we do.

97 Lavender Sweep

I only recently discovered that Elsie Duval was born here as the usual address for the family was given as 37 Park Road which was renamed Elsynge Road. Elsie is sat at the front. I only found out when the suggestions for the next Wandsworth green plaque had her on the short list. She was born in 1892 and I checked the electoral register in Battersea Heritage library and found Ernest Duval, her father,  was listed but, of course, it did not include his wife Emily who went on to become an active suffragette and Battersea Councillor in 1919.

Ernest and Emily Duval who together with their children were keen suffragists. Elsie  joined the Women’s Social & Political Union in 1907, the year after her mother. Unlike her mother, however, she did not leave the organisation to join the Women’s Freedom League when the Pankhursts changed the constitution, but the mother and daughter did work together for three years in the Men’s Political Union for Women’s Enfranchisement which Victor Diederichs Duval (1885–1945), Elsie’s brother, founded. Norah, Barbara and Winifred were the other two daughters who were also suffragettes. Their father Ernest was a member and regular speaker for The Men’s League for Women’s Suffrage.


The Women’s Suffrage Movement: A reference Guide 1866-1928 By Elizabeth Crawford has entries on Emily, Elsie and her husband Hugh Franklin, Victor and his wife Una formerly Dugdale and Rise Up Women by Diane Atkinson.

With Elsi and Hugh and Victor and Emily it was very much suffragist familes inter marrying. I will give separate accounts of Emily, Elsie and Hugh and Victor and Una.

Emily Duval

Suffragette Emily Hayes Duval, a prisoner at Holloway Prison in London, in prison uniform and sewing mail bags, circa 1908. (Photo by Popperfoto/Getty Images)

Emily Duval 1861-1924 had joined the WSPU in 1906 but left for the Women’s Freedom League and became Chair of the Battersea Branch. I assume that she was, at that stage influenced by Charlotte Despard and loyal to her local suffrage activists who also left the WSPU to join the WFL which had Charlotte as it’s President. By the spring of 1909 Emily had served two prison sentences for her part in WFL protests. In October 1908 Emily and her seventeen year old daughter Barbara were arrested when Muriel Matters chained herself to the grille in the House of Commons. Emily paid her fine and Barbara was released after promising to refrain from further militancy until  she was twenty-one. Mrs Duval was accused in court of being ‘a lady agitator who was bringing up her daughter to be a lady agitator’ In February 1909 she served six weeks in Holloway, almost all in the hospital wing suffering from acute neuritus.

She rejoined the WSPU in 1911 thus ending her four year membership of the WFL because she thought they were not militant enough and wnet on to break windows at the Local Government Board and was sent to bprison for two weeks and Victor was sentenced to five weeks at Pentonville prison at the same time. Four members of the Duval family went on a deputation to Parliament Emily, Elsie, Barbara and Victor.. This was after the tenth ‘Women’s Parliament’ was called to Caxton Hall which was wherethey left from at the start of each Parliament when the WSPU would march to the House of commons and try to deliver a petition to the Prime Minister.

When Emily was sentenced to six months, in Winston Green Prison for breaking two windows in Regent Street, she told the magistrate that she had been ‘brutally knocked about and thrown on her back’.  She referred to the large numbers of young women who were driven into prostitution by poverty , she addressed the court ‘I should like to say that I shattered the glass because I wish the government to come to their senses, and money can replace broken glass, but it cannot replace the innocence of girls who are outraged daily…. I am prepared to die for Votes for Women ‘ Four months into her sentence Emily went on hunger strike and was force-fed over a two week period.


Emily gave an account of being force -fed in a statement she dictated at Birmingham WSPU office. In the hospital wing the doctor had listened to her heart and begged her to take the feeding cup rather than been fed by the nasal tube, but she told him that hse would rather have her head cut off than do such a thing. They covered her with towels and held her head back and the tube was pushed up her nose,’which was most agonising – my nerves seemed to prick all the passages of my nose and some in my throat . I did not know  how to breathe , I did not struggle or flinch, just gripped the wardresses’ hand very tight’  When they finished feeding her and she got her breath back , she told them ‘Mr McKenna deserves shooting.’  The next morning the prison doctor urged her to eat bt Emily refused and was force-fed once again. The tube was forced down her throat which was ‘agonising’, it seemed as though I was being suffocated. I could not breath it was simply horrible’. She was helped back to her cell where her throat bled and she vomited’all over the place’. She was force-fed several more times and released on 25th June before her sentence was complete and went  to  a nursing home to convalesce. (From her statement 30th June 1912 which is in a private collection.)

Emily Duval was elected Battersea Councillor  in 1919 along with Caroline Ganley who became MP in 1945 and Mrs Jessie Hockley who was secretary of the Battersea Railway Women’s League. Emily died in 1924. It was so sad that three of her daughter did not live to vote as they died in the awful influenza epidemic.

 There is not much information on Norah Duval but she too was imprisoned.                  On 1 March 1912, Mrs Duval was arrested again along with her daughter Norah, this time for smashing windows in Regent Street.  Norah, was sentenced to four months imprisonment at the Newington Sessions on 13 March 1912, for window smashing. She told the court, ‘I wish to say that what I did I did entirely on my own responsibility, and not, as the jury would infer, as the dupe of others. I did it because I want the same political tights as my brothers enjoy today. When asked by the judge whether she would be willing to give up breaking the law, Norah Duval replied, ‘No, certainly not. It is the only thing we can do. We cannot get redress in any other way’

We also know that she stayed with the Rutters in Leeds Frank Rutter was a an art critic and and founder member of the Men’s League for and the MPU. Their home became a sanctuary for for suffragettes to recuperate from hunger striking. There is an occasion when a baker delivery van drew up outside their home and Norah was disguised as the delivery boy while the driver dressed as a man was Leonora Cohen who then walked out of the house as the delivery boy to be driven off. Leonora continued to evade recapture by continuing to dress as a boy or as an old women becoming the Elusive Pimpernel.

Elsie DElsie Duval 1892-1919 was the most active suffragette of Emily’s daughters.  There is more information on Elsie available as she fell in love with and married Hugh Franklin who was very active in the Men’s Political Union for Women’s Enfranchisement which he had joined on 22 Feb 1910 which had been founded by Victor Duval who was Elsie’s brother

Elsie and Hugh’s archive which is part of the National Archive is kept at the Women’s Library at the LSE .                      

Elsie and dog

Hugh was the fourth of six siblings and had three brothers and two sisters Alice, Hugh, Helen and Ellis, along with their mother, turned from the Liberal Party tradition of the family and took the path set by Caroline’s sister Henrietta who had set up the Jewish League for Women’s Suffrage.

Alice, a staunch socialist, would later become a leader of the Townwomen’s Guild  ; Helen became forewoman at the Royal Arsenal, where she was forced to resign for supporting female workers and attempting to form a trade union, and Ellis became vice-principal of the Working Men’s College. Through Ellis, Hugh was also the uncle of the famous crystallographer Roasalind Franklin.

Hugh Frankin, the son of Arthur Franklin, the senior partner in a banking firm, was born in 1889. His mother, Caroline Franklin, was a member of the National Union of Suffrage Societies  He was educated at  Clifton College and in 1908 went to Caius College to study engineering. After hearing the Pankhursts at the Queen’s Hall he become committed to the cause of  women’s suffrage and joined Men’s League for Women’s Suffrage.

The paper written by June Marion Balshaw gives an account of political couples and chapter six is about Elsie and Hugh and their families.

Hugh Franklin

CHAPTER SIX.     More than just ‘a sporting couple’: the militancy of Elsie Duval and Hugh Franklin                                                                                                             

This chapter will consider the political partnership of Elsie Duval and Hugh Franklin who were both involved in the suffrage campaigns of the early twentieth century and yet the level and extent of their commitment has not been acknowledged in subsequent histories and accounts of suffrage.’ I will first examine their individual activities and motivation for becoming involved in the suffrage campaign and the ways in which this both created and reinforced their continuing separate identities. I shall also consider the extremities of their actions, the ways inwhich they were represented and how this subsequently affected both their personal and political activities. By taking this approach, a good insight is provided into the changing nature of the relationship between the WSPU and the MPU as militancy escalated as well as enabling a discussion of suffrage and judaism to be included .Finally, I shall explore the impact of suffrage on Hugh Franklin’s political and personal life after Elsie Duval’s premature death. Hugh Franklin and Elsie Duval were born in 1889 and 1892 respectively, making them among the younger supporters of votes for women. They were both arrested several times between 1910 and 1913 and Hugh Franklin was imprisoned on three occasions whilst Elsie Duval experienced Holloway prison twice.

Their militant activities were extreme and included alleged arson attacks on a house, a railway station and a train.  They met through Victor Duval, Elsie’s brother, and although they did not many until 1915, their romantic involvement had begun several years earlier.3 Nevertheless, throughout the period of suffrage militancy they continued to conduct their militant activities separately, creating very distinct identities and effectively put the personal side of their relationship ‘on hold’  choosing instead to focus on their individual political endeavours. In this sense,their commitment to the cause cannot be questioned but why they chose to function in this way warrants further discussion.There are a number of factors that determined their political activity which also reveal the complexities of being involved in the suffrage movement at this time. Membership of the MPU and the WSPU was segregated by gender and, as ‘will be seen, the evolving nature of the relationship between these two organisations and their policies would not have enabled Hugh Franklin and Elsie Duval to function as a political partnership in the same way as the Pethick-Lawrences. As relative ‘late-corners’ to the cause, not least because of their ages,their introduction to the suffrage campaigns was influenced, and to an extent dictated by, family alliances

Elsie Duval was arrested on the 23 Nov 1911 for obstructing the police. After this event, she was officially accepted by the Women’s Social & Political Union (WSPU) as a militant protest volunteer. Whilst on remand, Elsie had her “state of mind inquired into” writing “They have got it into their heads that I am sixteen years of age. You know I refuse to give my age.”

On 27 Jun 1912, Elsie was arrested for smashing a Clapham Post Office window. Subsequently she was remanded for one week in custody ‘for the state of her mind to be enquired into’, and then sentenced to one month in the third division at Holloway, during which time she was forcibly fed nine times before being released on the 3 Aug 1912. She was arrested again in Apr 1913 for loitering with intent (with Phyllis Brady) and was again sent to prison for a month. She was forcibly fed during both remand and whilst serving her sentence, being seriously ill throughout and often resisting strenuously. Her prison diary for this year refers to ‘pain at the heart’ after one of these incidents.

Elsie letter


She was released under the Prisoners (Temporary Discharge for Ill-Health) Act, 1913, (commonly known as the ‘Cat and Mouse’ Act) which allowed for prisoners to return to prison on recovery. Duval was the first prisoner released from Holloway under the Act and the second to be released (Hugh Franklin was the first) from any prison. During her last imprisonment (according to Hugh Franklin’s biographical notes) a charge was being prepared for burning Lady White’s house at Egham, with ‘Phyllis Brady’, (Olive Beamish) for which the latter received five years’ imprisonment. Duval  also burnt Sanderstead station and other places, before her arrest, together with ‘Phyllis Brady’.

At the time of the attack, no-one was arrested. However, on the 12th April 1913 Phyllis Brady (real name Olive Beamish) and Millicent Dean (Elsie Duval) were approached by a police officer whilst walking in Croydon at 1.45am. They were both carrying leather travelling cases and claimed they were returning from holiday. They were followed by the policeman and decided to drop their cases and run but were caught and arrested for being found with inflammable material with the intention of committing a felony. According to some sources, both women had been responsible for burning Sanderstead station and other unnamed targets. They were also suspected of the burning of Trevethan house, and a case was being built against them.


However, they were not charged for this offence but instead were remanded in custody and then sentenced to 6 weeks imprisonment in Holloway jail. Both went on hunger strike and were forcibly fed. While they were in prison ‘The Prisoners (Temporary Discharge for Ill Health) Act 1913’ came into force. Commonly known as the ‘Cat and Mouse Act’, this allowed prisoners who were in danger of dying to be released and then taken back into prison shortly after when they had recovered a little. Elsie and Olive were the first prisoners to have been released under the act on the 28th April 1913. Both absconded after they had been released and did not return to prison.

Churchill was Home Secretary and he was widely blamed for the police excesses on display. Hugh was angered by what he had seen, began to follow Churchill to heckle him at public meetings. On the train back from a meeting in Bristol,  Hugh met Churchill and set on him with a dog whip , shouting “Take this, you cur, for the treatment of the suffragists!”

The attack was widely reported, even reaching the headlines of The Times and for the Franklin family, it was a great embarrassment. He was imprisoned for six weeks and dismissed as Sir Nathan’s secretary. In March 1911, he was sentenced for another month for throwing rocks at Churchill’s house. Hugh took part in the hunger strikes that were then being waged by the suffragettes, and was force-fed repeatedly during his imprisonment. The force feeding turned him into an activist for penal reform.

Elsie and Hugh left for France to avoid the re-imprisonment that her terms of temporary release had demanded. She spent several months working as ‘Eveline Dukes’ in Germany, Belgium and Switzerland armed with false testimonials provided by friends.

In Europe, Elsie went under the alias Eveline Dukes and had many fake references allowing her to get employed in various different countries. Using the several character references she had, all provided by people who knew her such as her brother Victor- who  she got a job in Germany as a governess for 10 months. She then spent three months in Brussels learning  French and doing office work, followed by two months in Switzerland. At first she believed she may have been able to travel with Hugh but actress and fellow suffragist Winifred Mayo warned against this. In March 1914, during her time abroad, she received a letter from Jessie Kenney writing under the alias C. Burrows which said: ‘Miss Pankhurst thinks it would be better for you to stay where you are for the time being and until you get stronger’. But when World War One began in 1914 Elsie and Hugh returned to the UK after a general amnesty was granted to the suffragettes. After this she became active in the war work of the WSPU.

She and Hugh Franklin were finally married in a Jewish ceremony at the London Synagogue in Sep 1915. She had converted to Judaism. Nevertheless, his father disinherited him for marrying out of the Jewish faith and never saw him again. His mother attended the wedding. Elsie had asked Emmeline Pankhurst to be one of their witnesses but she wasn’t well enough at that time.  Two years later, she joined the Pankhursts’ Women’s Party.

Sadly Elsie died on the 1 Jan 1919 of heart failure, a victim of the influenza epidemic. She had, undoubtedly, been weakened by her treatment in prison when she was force-fed.

Victor Duval

Victor Duval

Victor Duval 1885-1945 had been the secretary of the Clapham League of the Young Liberals. He resigned from it after seeing a woman thrown out of one of John Burn’s meetings- the one time socialist of Battersea was now very much seen as a renegade once he joined the Liberal Government, especially by our suffragette Charlotte Despard.

In 1909 Victor helped Marion Dunlop to stencil her petition on the walls of St Stephen’s Hall in the House of Commons and in October 1910 he had co-founded the MPU

MPUThe Men’s Political Union for Women’s Enfranchisement was based at number 13 Buckingham Street. The MPU had been founded at a meeting held at the Eustace Miles Restaurant (just the other side of the Strand) in 1910. One of the founders – and the hon. organising secretary of the MPU – was Victor Duval. The premises were also, I think, the offices of his family firm, Duval & Co. Victor’s mother, Emily Duval, had been one of those who transferred allegiance from the WSPU to the WFL and would doubtless have been a regular visitor to number 18 on the other side of the street.

Duval’s book ‘An Appeal to Men’, criticises the ongoing reliance on politics as a driver for change, his reasoning being due to the ineffectiveness of the “fourteen Woman Suffrage Bills…introduced into Parliament since 1870. This saw Duval respond by provoking an urgency for radical action, with his ‘Men’s Political Union for Women’s Suffrage’ personifying this aim, being described as ‘The national bastion for male militancy   I liked the descrition of their role in the WSPU 1911 Christmas Fair, where they ran the ‘Fun of the Fair’ section of the event that included a Roundabout, Hoopla, and a Shooting Gallery. This Shooting Gallery was run jointly with the Croydon branch of the WSPU and was advertised as where “Suffragists and Anti-Suffragists alike can try their skill with an air-gun” so that participants “will realise that muscular force is not the basis of all Government or even of all fights… but that skill and determination have to be taken into account.” The entertainments also included Suffrage Shies, a Suffrage Punch and Judy show written by Inez Bensusan, a member of the Actresses’ Franchise League.

Victor was was imprisoned for a week for a disturbance after he addressed Lloyd George outside City Temple. Heserved on the committee of the International Women’s Franchise Clubs. He published two pamphlets the other was ‘Why I went to prison’. H espent two years of the war in Salonika serving with the Royal Engineers. He rejoined the Liberal Party and stood unsuccessfuly at three elections.



Una Duval

Una Dugdale, suffragette and marriage reformer, was educated at College before studying in Hanover and Paris. Una was a debutante daughter of Commander Edward Stratford Dugdale and his wife, who were supporters of the suffrage movement. Una was educated at Cheltenham Ladies College, and later in Hanover and Paris where she studied singing She was niece of  Arthur Peel 1st Viscount Peel, Speaker of the House of Commons. Apparently, her parents household had five servants and they had a holiday home near Aberdeen. Her sisters Daisy and Joan were  also active suffragettes. Joan wrote a play 10 Clowning Street.

In 1907, after hearing Christabel Pankhurst speak in Hyde Park, Una joined the Women’s Social and Political Union. Una worked alongside Emmeline Pankhurst to campaign for women’s rights and the vote in Scotland as she accompanied her on her Scottish tours.

She was part of confrontational direct actions undertaken by suffragettes and, in 1909, was arrested and imprisoned for a month following her involvement in the raid on the House of Commons. Una was the co-founder and treasurer of the Suffragette Fellowships. I found this wonderful BBC radio recording Of Una Duval. Please do listen.

Una and Daisy Dugdale

Una and Daisy Dugdale

Una met Victor when he acted as best man at Frank Rutter’s  wedding on 13 January, 1912,  at the Savoy Chapel. She scandalised society by refusing to include the word obey in her vows. She saw marriage as an equal partnership,She was advised that if she did not, the marriage would not be legal. However, at the wedding, she did not repeat obey after the clergyman spoke. He said that he hoped there would be an amended form of the service created. Her father accompanies her down the aisle but did not ‘hand her over’ to her husband to be. Christabel Pankhurst, Constance Lytton and the Pethick-Lawrences attended dressed in WSPU colours. The Mirror ran the headline, ‘The Bride Who would Not Promise to Obey.’

I found newspaper references to it in international newspapers like the Chicago Examiner and the New York Herald Jan 13th 1912. I discovered – the joys of the internet- that Victor’s best man was an actor called Ernest Thesiger (I also found out that Ernest that he was an expert embroiderer and written a book on it. and that he was Dr Septimus Pretorius in The Bride of Frankenstein withour own Notable Woman of Lavender Hill Elsa Lanchester)

It was so good to discover that the Duval famous suffrage family and their extended families lived down the road and thrilled to find the photo of them in their backyard. I had known about them but then just had to blog an account of them as they were now going to be included in my Notable Women of Lavender Hill walk.

Notable Women of Lavender Hill walk led by Jeanne Rathbone on Sunday 26th May 2019 at 12.00 at Battersea Town Hall/Arts Centre. It is part of the Wandsworth Heritage Festival contribution for the Battersea Society.  Jeanie Nassau Senior 1828-1877, first woman civil servant, Charlotte Despard 1844-1939 suffragette, socialist and Sinn Feiner, at 177 Lavender Hill, Olive Morris Black activist,  Caroline Ganley CBE MP 1945-1951 lived at  5 Thirsk Road , Deaconess Isabella Gilmore 1842-1923, 113 Clapham Common Northside, Marie Spartali 1844-1927 Pre-Raphaelite artist lived at The Shrubbery Lavender Gardens, Laura Barker 1819-1905 composer Lavender Sweep House, Emily and Elsa Duval Suffragettes  97 Lavender Sweep Biddy 1871-1966 socialist/feminist and Elsa Lanchester, 1902-1986 Hollywood actress – The Bride of Frankenstein – who lived at 27 Leathwaite Road, Violet Piercy first British female marathon runner 21 Leathwaithe Road  Penelope Fitzgerald 1916-2000 author and booker prize winner for Offshore 1979 lived at 25 Almeric Road  and Pamela Hansford Johnson CBE 1912-1971 novelist lived at 53 Battersea Rise, Farrago restaurant.

Yes, I will, in due course, be applying for an English Heritage plaque given the dearth of  English Heritage plaques commemorating women. There are sixteen EH/LCC plaues in Battersea but none to women. Now there are three plaques of my Notable Women Caroline Ganley CBE MP 1945-51 at 5 Thirsk Road, Charlotte Despard 1844-1939 socialist, suffragette and Irish nationalist on 177 Lavender Hill Labour Party HQ since 1923 and funded by her and Pamela Hansford Johnson novelist and critic at 53 Battersea Rise.

Violet Piercy Marathon runner and Notable Woman of Lavender Hill

Posted in Violet Piercy 1889-1972 first Britsh marathon runner record setter by sheelanagigcomedienne on April 1, 2019

Violet Piercy female marathon record setting runner is an addition to my rosta of Notable Women of Lavender Hill walk. Violet Stewart Louisa Piercy lived, in the early thirties. at 21 Leathwaite Road which overlooks Clapham Common. Derrick Johnson of the Clapham Society brought her to my attention when he came on the first walk I led  and I promised I would include her along with the motley of significant women who lived in this area around Lavender Hill.

I led another walk of on 26th May 2019 which was paert of the Wandsworth Heritage Festival programme 2019. it startsing at Battersea Arts Centre and finishes at 53 Battersea Rise. There are now 12 women included in this walk. Of the sixteen EH/LCC blue plaques in Battersea none commemorate women. Since I started these walks last we now have three plaques – one to Caroline Ganley CBE MP 1945-1951 at 5 Thirsk Road, Charlotte Despard socialist, suffragette and Irish nationalist on 177Lavender Hill and Pamela Hansford Johnson novelist and critic at 53 Battersea Rise.



Between the two world wars, Violet Piercy  became the very first woman to run a marathon – a feat not repeated by anyone of her sex for almost 40 years! Women were excluded from the Olympics when Violet was running.

Violet piercy

Violet is recognised by the International Association of Athletics Federation was an as having set the first women’s world’s best in the  marathon on 3 October 1926 with a time of 3:40:22. She was reported to have run unofficially and her mark was set on the Polytechnic Marathon course between Windsor and London and finishing at Battersea Town Hall. However, the Association of Road Running Statisticians includes Violet but notes Marie Louise Ledru of France  as the first woman to run a marathonmarie-louise_ledru__1918 According to the ARRS, Ledru ran 5:40 at the Tour de Paris Marathon held on 29 September 1918. According to the IAAF, Piercy’s mark stood 37 years until Merry Lepper’s  3:37:07 performance at the Western Hemisphere Marathon on 16 December 1963.

Violet Stewart Louisa Piercy was born at 15 Clarendon Road, Croydon, on Christmas Eve, 1889, the daughter of a property owner who died before she was born. She attended Old Palace of John Whitgift School and in 1911 was living in Croydon with her widowed mother.

Here is a link to the silent Pathe clip from 1927

Before we look at Violet’s story we need to bear in mind that before the 1980s, there were no women’s distance races in the Olympics.

In the Moscow Games, the longest race for women was the 1,500 meters, which had been instituted in 1972. Women had been excluded from track and field competition altogether until 1928, when the longest race was the 800 meters. Despite a world record by winner Lina Radke of Germany, many of the competitors had not properly prepared for the race and several collapsed in exhaustion. This led Olympic organizers to consider the race too strenuous for women. The president of the IOC, Count Henri Baillet-Latour, even suggested the elimination of all women’s competition from the Games. Such a drastic move was not taken, but until 1960, when the 800 meters reappeared, no race over 200 meters was contested by women in the Olympics.

Before 1972, women had been barred from the most famous marathon outside the Olympics-Boston. That rule did not keep women from running, though. In 1966, Roberta Gibb hid behind a bush at the start of the Boston Marathon, sneaking into the field and finishing the race in an unofficial time of 3:21:25. She was the first woman known to complete the arduous Boston course. Gibb had been inspired to run by the return of her race entry with a note saying that women were not physically capable of running a marathon.

On August 31,1971 Adrienne Beames of Australia became the first women to run a sub-three-hour marathon, smashing that barrier with a time of 2:46:30.On October 28, 1973, the first all women’s marathon was held in Waldniel, West Germany.The first women’s marathon officially sanctioned by the IAAF was the Tokyo International, held in November of 1979.IAAF officially recommended to the IOC that a women’s marathon be included in the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics. Lost in the headlines about the end of amateurism at the Olympics and the selection of Seoul and Calgary for the 1988 Games was the fact that women had finally won the right to compete in an Olympic Marathon.

Joan benoit 1984 olympic marathon gold winner1984 – Joan Benoit. Almost a century after Melpomene was denied the opportunity to run in the first modern Olympics’ marathon, Joan Benoit, USA, won the gold in the field of 50 women from 28 nations who competed in the first Women’s Olympic Marathon.  (Summer Olympics in LA.)

Now back to Violets story.  I got most information from the piece written by Derrick Johnson which appeared in the South London Press. and from

It seems Violet had a number of natural talents ahead of her time, one of which was a gift for public relations. Over a period of around 12 years she gained much publicity for her various runs and became well known across the land and beyond. She was widely regarded as an eccentric and feisty character.

When she got started the maximum distance for a women’s race was set at 1,000 metres. This was ludicrous according to Violet. Aged 31 she boldly marched down to the London Olympiades club and signed up as a member – although still had to do her training alone. To demonstrate to the world that women could be good at sport and endurance events, she decided to run a solo marathon along the Windsor to London route.

Violet Piercy 1934This appeared in the South london Press in 1934 and spelt her name with an extra e.

To the amazement of onlookers, she set off at 4.20pm on Saturday 2nd October 1926 from near Windsor Castle. She made good steady progress early on, reaching Hounslow well before 6. After this suburban traffic slowed her down and she finally finished outside Battersea Town Hall around 8pm. Her time was recorded at 3 hrs 40 mins.

She told reporters: “I did it because I wanted to show the Americans what we can do and to prove Englishwomen are some good after all!”  Presumably this was a reference to the recent efforts of Americans Gertrude Ederle and Amelia Corson, who had stunned the people of Britain and France by successfully swimming the Channel.

Although cross-Channel swimming became popular in subsequent years, women’s distance running certainly didn’t. The reaction to Violet’s great feat was mixed. The Westminster Gazette wrote: “It must be hoped that no other girl will be so foolish as to imitate her.” All Sports Weekly were equally firm: “The marathon should be cut out by the women.”

Violet scoffed at all this and appeared on BBC radio telling listeners that doing athletics would help produce a race of women “capable of and suited to motherhood” because the sport was based on rhythm, co-ordinated movement and clean living.

There is a quirky Pathe video entitled Mary had a little lamb from 1930.

Thirty-seven years after Violet’s pioneering first marathon Dale Greig representing Scotland was the second British woman to take the plunge and chalked up a time of 3:27:45. There is no record of either Merry Lepper or Dale Grieg had  heard of Violet Piercy and nobody in the media was able (or interested enough) to track down Violet to ask her about the women who followed in her footsteps at long last.

In the next few years Violet claimed a series of records for road running but as this was new for a woman and she had no competitors she was able to do this with fairly modest performances. She also finished her runs at locations where she would get maximum publicity. In 1933 she completed a third solo run from Windsor past thousands of cheering spectators and finishing on the stage of the Shepherds Bush Empire. Two years later she ran five and a quarter miles from the Whittington Stone in Highgate and up the 311 steps to the top of the Monument in 43 minutes 2 seconds. ‘I did it to prove that a woman’s stamina can be just as remarkable as a man’s’ she told the South London Press (2 April, 1935).

It was not until 13 June 1936, with the connivance of the organisers of the Polytechnic Harriers race from Windsor to Stamford Bridge, and setting off ahead of the male runners, that Violet completed a run over the official distance of 26 miles 385 yards (42.195 km). Her finishing time of 4 hours 30 minutes is extremely modest by today’s standards but her record lasted until 1964. She was also 46 years old and as she said: ‘I only wanted to prove that women could stick the distance’.

The 1939-45 War seems to have ended her running career and she quickly sank into obscurity.  Little is known of her life after 1938 except that electoral registers show a woman of her name living in lodgings in Battersea and Wandsworth up to 1958. Apparently, she was involved in a court case when she was a medical secretary for a Dr Coplans of Leathwaite Road and they had a disagreement which ended up in court.

Violet Piercey Lady champion liong distance runner in training

Violet was a symbol of female strength between 1926 and 1938 as the first British female long-distance runner. She ran long distances “to prove that a woman’s stamina can be just as remarkable as a man’s,” (South London Press, 2 April 1935), and is now often credited as the inspirational figure behind modern female long-distance runners.

However, it very sad that recent evidence suggests that an elderly woman of no fixed address who died in a London hospital in April 1972 was the once-famous Violet Piercy. She had suffered a brain haemorrhage, hypertension and chronic kidney-related infection. The death certificate mistakenly gave her surname as Pearson, which ruled out any chance of her being immediately recognised as the former celebrity runner.

Violet languished in obscurity for something like 70 years but recent developments have changed all that  . . . . there’s now a clip of her running on-line at the British Pathe archive, she has an entry in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography and the novelist Peter Lovesey has written at length about her in Track Stats magazine.

However, there is no doubt that Violet set a trend which is still with us as so many women are found running especially on Clapham Common when I go for my regularly walkies.

Leathwaite Road

21 Leathwaite Road

Violet Piercy female marathon icon,  one time neighbour of the Lanchester family on Leathwaite Road, I will happily include you on my walk of the inspiring Female Lavender Hill mob.  So, Violet Piercy we salute you as you join the other inspiring Women of Lavender Hill!

Olive Morris black activist

Posted in Olive Morris 1952-1979 Black activist Brixton by sheelanagigcomedienne on March 4, 2019

Since I started my Notabale Women of Lavender walks I discovered this vibrant young black activist was said to have lived on Lavender Hill when she first came over from Jamaica to join her parents in 1962 aged 9. However, I since ascertained through the Metroploitian arhives that the Morris family lived at 7 Milford Street which is now demolished and was off the Wandsworth Road. I am including Olive in my Notable Women of Lavender Hill walk as she attended Lavender Hill Girls School. I have spoken with her nephew Ferron Morris.

It was not unusual for the Windrush generation for parents to come ahead leaving the children with grandparents till they could sort out accommodation and jobs. I knew the name from Olive Morris House 18 Brixton Hill which is Lambeth’s Customer Service Centre. There one can make inquiries about benefits, council tax, rents and repairs, housing , school admission documents, Freedom Pass and parking permits.  It was remodelled in 2009 when the revamped building was renamed the Civic Centre but Olive’s name was reinstated. There is currently some controversy about its future.


Olive was an amazing fiery activist from her teens and packed so much into her short life.  She died tragically young in 1979 aged 27. I went to see the Olive Morris Archive at the Minet Library in Camberwell. Seeing the photos, letters flyers and papers etc forty years on, inevitably, makes one think what she might have done and what role would she have played in British political life.

The main sources I have used for details of Olive’s life come from the Remembering Olive Collective, thanks to the wonderful work of artist Ana Laura Lopez de la Torre and Liz Obi, who as another young activist and friend of Olive’s, who established the Remembering Olive Collective. In 2009 ROC launched the Olive Morris Collection at Lambeth Archives..

Beverley Bryan, Stella. Dadzie, and Susanne Scafe, eds., The heart of the race: black women’s lives in Britain (1985),

Olive Morris collection, Lambeth Archives, and some great photos from photographer Neil Kenlock. The collection consists of contributions from her friend Liz and Mike McColgan her partner.  This was launched in October 2009

Dr Angelina Osborn,   rememberolivemorris

Olive on Brixtonpound BrixtonPound1

Olive was born on 26 June 1952 in Harewood, St Catherine’s, Jamaica, the daughter of Vincent Nathaniel Morris and his wife, Doris, née Moseley. When she was nine years old, she and her brother, Basil, left their maternal grandmother and joined her mother and father in Lavender Hill,  Battersea in 1962. There were four further siblings. Olive’s father became a forklift operator and her mother was a factory shop steward.

Olive attended Heathbrook Primary School and then Lavender Hill Girls’ Secondary School which was close by to where the lived. She finished her secondary education at Tulse Hill Secondary School. She was obviously a very able pupil but she experienced all the inequalities and injustices of the British education system. She left at sixteen with no qualifications, but undeterred, she went on to college to study ‘O’ and ‘A’ levels while at the same time holding down a full-time job. She studied at the London College of Printing.

I lived at 108A Lavender Hill (one-time home of John Burns MP) briefly at this time with my sister and her husband in 64/65. In the seventies I was a Labour Governor of the school and became aware of how these girls were not been properly served by the education system. I can but wonder if I ever passed Olive in the street.

The late 1960s and 1970s were a particularly challenging time for Britain’s post-war African, African-Caribbean, and Asian communities. There was increased tension between police and the black community (epitomized by the ‘sus’ laws, that is, the laws allowing police officers to stop and search people on mere suspicion that they intended to commit a crime), and attacks by fascist groups such as the National Front, as well as discrimination in housing and employment.

Olive became a tireless organizer and fighter against racism, and also sexism and other forms of oppression. In an early example of her political activism she intervened in the arrest of a Nigerian diplomat Mr Clement Gowalk for a parking offence in Brixton in 1969. Olive came upon the scene when Mr Gowalk had already been taken away but intervened when her friends who protested .  She was physically assaulted and racially abused by the police and arrested, along with six other people, fined £10, and given a three-month suspended sentence for two years. The charges comprised assault on the police, threatening behaviour, and possession of dangerous weapons.

Olive’s account of this is quite shocking to read about the treatment, brutality and abusive racist and misogynist language used by the police against a teenager. The vulgarity, misogyny, and physical violence turned into a full-fledged sexual assault. Olive’s account was printed in ”Black Panther News Service in May 1970 and analysed in this article by Anne-Marie Angelo ‘Any name that has power’.

“They all made me take off my jumper and my bra in front of them to show I was a girl.” After Morris disrobed, “The one with the truncheon said, ‘Now prove you are a real woman.’ He pointed at the truncheon in front of me and said, ‘Look it’s the right colour and the right size for you. Black cunt!’  Olive who, “was crying because I was in terrible pain,” asked to see a doctor. A police doctor appeared and told Olive that she was bruised and gave her two pills to take.

It seems extraordinary that a police doctor could accept this clear evidence of the assault of a teenage girl and then walk away and leave her with those who had assaulted her knowing that she was going to be charged. Olive said they  “continued arguing about my sex. Another said I should strip and get on the table and give them a little demo.”  At the end of this harrowing episode of physical, emotional, and sexual violence, Olive remembered, “My particulars were taken and I was charged with assaulting a policeman. I was then told to plead guilty when the case was called; and I was let out through the back way of the station at about 6 o’clock”.

Downtrodden but not defeated, Olive  found her way to nearby King’s College Hospital where she obtained treatment for her injuries. As she received treatment at King’s College that night, Black Panther photographer Neil Kenlock headed to the hospital where he took a photograph of Olive which provided evidence of her tenacity. She saved the photograph, scrawling a note on the back: “Taken at about 10 PM on 15 Nov 69 after the police had beating me up (at Kings College Hospital.)

As the newspaper later reports on Olive’s sentencing, “During the melee Miss Morris kicked a police officer and hit him on the jaw.” Olive’s handwriting on the reverse of the photo tells a different story, not related in the newspaper account: “Taken at about 10pm on 15th Nov 69 after the police had beaten me up.”

I think I know which version we believe.

This awful experience of the police and their racist, misogynistic, bigoted attitudes and sheer brutality surely propelled Olive into action in fighting racism and injustice. She seemed to become fearless in confronting the police.

In the early 170s she became a member of the youth section of the Black Panther movement (later the Black Workers movement), along with others such as Linton Kwesi Johnson, Clovis Reid, and Farrukh Dhondy.

From the Heart of the Race:  ‘ it was here that she began to develop the political ideology which would determine her future actions. She gave a total commitment to the organisation’s work and development, and participated in nearly all of the battles which formed part of the community’s everyday life. She was in tune with the needs of the people, and always showed herself willing to take the initiative and act’…  She became well known in the community for her willingness to help other Black people who were facing difficulties, whether with the schools, the police, housing, social security officials or the courts – whatever the issue, she was never too busy to offer support. For Olive, it was not just a case of doing things for those who couldn’t do it for themselves: it was her way of involving people in the struggle, showing by her own example the will to resist and to challenge.”

But teenage Olive was also curious about the world and she liked fashion. She loved jewellery, especially bangles. Ana Laura said : Of the many things that Liz had to say about Olive, there were two that stood out for me. The first was Liz description of Olive, and how she always visualised her whenever she thought of her: silver bangles on her arms and forever riding her bike. The second had to do with what Liz had learned from Olive: never to be afraid of anything.

She was  interested in traveling as she was an internationalist. She visited Germany in 1971. In August 1972 she and her friend, Liz Obi, planned to visit the American Black Panther leader, Eldridge Cleaver, who was in exile in Algeria, but they became stranded in Morocco. There is an account of this trip in the archives.

The Brixton Black Women’s Group was started by Olive Morris and other women who had been active in the Black Panther Movement. The Group was formed to address the specific issues faced by Black women, and to offer advice and support to those in difficulties. It originally operated from Olive and Liz’s squat at 65 Railton Road. With the years, the BWG developed and transformed into the Black Women Centre, relocating its premises to Stockwell Green.

Gail Lewis talks about the the group and the similarities and differences with mainly white feminist groups, especially the wider focus of  poverty, racism, housing, education suss laws etc

Olive along with Liz Obi played a major role in the squatting movement in Brixton which is why we now have the iconic photo of her climbing back in after eviction in the squatters handbook from that time.

She squatted at 121 Railton Road, Brixton, with Liz in 1973. The squat became an organizing centre for community groups such as Black People against State Harassment as well as housing Sabaar Bookshop, which was one of the first black community bookshops. 121 Railton Road remained a social centre and a centre for the squatting movement until it was closed in 1999.

Olive and squatter book


The 1979 Squatters’ Handbook published by the Advisory Service for Squatters with chapters on law, moving in and eviction. The cover shows the black community activist Olive Morris scaling a building. Olive actively campaigned for squatting and opened the 121 Railton Road squat in 1973 with Liz Obi, which later became the Sabaar Bookshop and an anarchist centre in the 1980s.

There is an account of the squatting movement and a section on Brixton.

Despite living side by side and having cordial relations, Black and White squatters did not organise themselves together. Liz Obi remembers that when they squatted 121 Railton Road, some white squatters came to help them turn on the gas and the electricity. During evictions some women from the “White Women Center” also came to show support, but that was as far as the relationship went. Black activists at the time were focused on the many specific issues affecting the Black community (police violence, discrimination in education and workplace, etc). The absence of joint activity might explain why in most accounts of the Brixton squatting movement written in later years, there are no references to the early Black squats of the 1970s.

In July 1974 Morris returned to Jamaica for six weeks.

Olive in Jamaica

The following year she began a degree in economics and social science at Manchester University.

Heart of the Race :In 1975, she went to Manchester University to study for a social science degree. This in itself was an important step for Olive, who believed in education for the people. For her, going to university was not a status symbol, but an example to many young Black people of how to fight and win against a system which tries to push us to the bottom of the education pile and force us to compete against each other.
Unlike many students, Olive did not separate her work at the university from the struggles which were being waged in the rest of the community. In her work with the Manchester Black Women’s Co-operative and the Black Women’s Mutual Aid Group, which she helped to set up, she participated fully in the black community’s battles in Moss Side. Committed to furthering education rights for Black people, she campaigned with Black mothers for better schooling for their children and helped to set up a supplementary school and a Black bookshop in the area. Because she was an internationalist, she also worked at the university within the National Co-ordinating Committee of Overseas Students. She provided an essential link between international, community and women’s organisations, drawing the parallels between our experiences here and in the Third World.

She visited Italy and Northern Ireland in 1976. In 1977 she visited China and wrote a piece entitled ‘A sister’s visit to China’ which explored the role of China in anti-imperialist struggles. It was published in Speak Out!, the Brixton Black Women’s Group newsletter.

The Heart of the Race ”  In 1978, Olive visited China. The trip was of great significance to her, for she saw China as one of the countries which Third World peoples could learn a lot from, and which could serve as a model for us in self-help and self-reliance. The lessons she learn there were shared with everyone she worked with on her return. Sharing knowledge was always her practice.
Olive had always identified the relationships between the struggles of people in the Third World and those of the white working class. She recognised that it was a fight which had to be won through the contribution of both groups, and that we would need to work together if we were to bring about any meaningful changes. It was this awareness which was her greatest contribution to the political development of those she worked with.”

In 1978 she, along with Stella Dadzie and other women, founded the Organization of Women of African and Asian Descent (OWAAD). OWAAD held its first conference at the Abeng centre on Gresham Road in Brixton, a centre that Olive had helped to establish along with Elaine Holness and other members of the community.

This is a video of Beverely, Stella and Suzanne…stella-dadzie-and…-/10156672848924470/

This article from the Guardian in 2014 sets out the experiences of women from the West Indies. the context for the story ere was th

Olive graduated in 1978 and returned to Brixton, working in the juvenile department of the Brixton Community Law Centre where she was involved in the campaign to scrap the ‘sus’ laws. She lived at 2 Talma Road, Brixton. She was also a burgeoning writer and co-wrote a piece on the Anti-Nazi League with her partner, Mike McColgan. ‘Has the Anti-Nazi League got it right on racism?’ was published in a flyer for the Brixton Ad-Hoc Committee against Police Repression in 1978 and criticized the strategy of focusing on fighting fascism, while largely ignoring the impact of institutionalized racism: the role of the police, the education system, and so on.

Olive became ill during a trip to Spain in 1978. On her return to London, she was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and underwent treatment which was unsuccessful. She died on 12 July 1979 at St Thomas’s Hospital, Lambeth, and was buried in Streatham Vale cemetery. She was survived by her partner, Mike McColga. Her premature death was a shock to her friends, family, and political colleagues.

Beverely Bryan :“Olive and I went to the same school. Even then she had that streak in her – in school, they would have called it rebelliousness or disruptiveness, but it was really a fearlessness about challenging injustice at whatever level. This made others very weary of her, she was so obviously a fighter. I saw her once confronting a policeman – it might have been when she was evicted. She went at him like a whirlwind and cussed him to heaven. And this policeman looked really taken aback, he didn’t know how to deal with someone who had no fear of him. He was meant to represent the big arm of the law. But because she was angry and she knew he was in the wrong, she didn’t hesitate.

She would take anybody on like that, even people in organisations if she thought that someone needed to expose their hypocrisy for mounting slogans and living a lie. Because of that, a lot of them saw her as a pain in the neck and she was too! She’d fight them physically, if it was necessary. If you moved with Olive, you couldn’t be a weak heart. She gave a lot of support to so many sisters though, when they came under pressure from the brothers at meeting or wherever. She was a real example, You didn’t see it then, of course, but that fearlessness of hers, and that genuine commitment she showed to the work she did made her stand out, made her special.

Olive Morris on the Brixton Pound     Several people asked how Olive Morris came to feature on the first edition Brixton Pound note. The reason for this is very simple. When we began designing the currency back in 2009 we asked lots of people from Brixton who they thought should go on the notes. We had a stall at the Lambeth Country Show and on online voting poll. Olive’s name kept coming up.

As we looked into it more, it seemed Olive Morris was a brilliant choice to be the first person to go on a Brixton Pound. She was an activist – campaigning on many social justice issues including racism, unemployment, police violence and squatters rights. She was also a member of the British Black Panthers and a socialist and she supported anti-colonial struggles internationally. 

Money and power are at the heart of many of the issues that Olive campaigned on. Just take a look at our national currency, sterling, and look at the images that are chosen and the symbols they represent. If you go to the British Museum you can also see notes issued by the British Government in the British Colonies and they look very similar to the notes that we still use today.

The Brixton Pound deliberately chose images and symbols that break tradition with this colonialist past. Olive Morris was a disrupter and we are proud to put her image on the first issue of the notes in the place that is usually reserved for the Queen. We hope this may encourage more people to look at the inequalities sustained and perpetuated by our current financial system and challenge them, just as Olive Morris did. 

Since putting Olive Morris on the Brixton Pound we have had many people come and talk to us who remember Olive. They have told us a bit about her and her life. We hope that, alongside organisations like the Remembering Olive Collective, we can help keep her legacy alive.

Let us spread the word about the inspiring black activist Olive Morris who came to live in Battersea as a nine year old then as an activist in Brixton and at university in Manchester but whose legacy is global.

There is an application for an English Heritage plaque honouring her on one of the squats she organised and lived in.

Black Power Women of Brixton Walk

Sun Mar 10 2019 at 10:00 am to 12:00 pm

This walk last two hours and 15 mins approx .Meet point sent upon booking. Private group bookings for schools, staff groups, birthdays possible .Above photo by Neil Kenlock taken in Balham 1972 outside Martin Luther King employment agency.

Black people in Britain fought for civil/equal rights as hard as their American counterparts. The role of women in this struggle has been severely marginalised. This walk will show the life, times, and activities of numerous African/Caribbean women in Brixton. From the 1950’s to the 1980’s Black women supported and led the anti-racist fight in housing, education, employment, media and politics. We will cover:.

Black Panther Women of Brixton
How the British school system made Black children ‘Educationally Sub Normal’
The rise and importance of Saturday Schools and Black teachers
Olive Morris, radical, revolutionary and the fight for decent housing in Brixton
The legendary Claudia Jones ,1950’s newspaper publisher and campaigner
How Dame Joceyln Barrow smashed the job colour bar in Oxford street and Brixton
The Organisation of Women of Asian and African descent.
The Depo Provera scandal, fibroids, birth control and conspiracy
The incredible Gloria Cameron and the Race Relations Act
Miss Lou,The Sus law, Mavis Best


My Notable Women of Lavender Hill walk on Sunday 26th May 2019 included Olive and three more women Emily and Elsie Duval suffragettes 97 Lavender Sweep, Violet Piercy first martahon record in 1926 lived at 21 Leathwaite Road and Penelope Fitzgerald novelist and Boker prize winner 1979 with Offshore.   This walk is one of the Battersea Society contributions to the Wandsworth Heritage Festival 2019.There were no blue plaques to any of these women last year when I started these walks and now there are three.

Clare Sheridan

Posted in Clare Sheridan Author, Sculptor and Notable Galway Woman by sheelanagigcomedienne on August 16, 2018

Clare Consuela Sheridan ( 1885 -!970) has had the most varied, exotic and colourful life of these Notable Galway Women.  She came from a well-connected cosmopolitan family.  She was a sculptor, a writer, a restless nomad who wrote about her adventures, had relationships with intriguing men and she endured tragedy – with the death of her adored husband and two of her three children died before her. She had fascinating friends which reflected her cosmopolitan background of Anglo-Irish American parentage. Her godmother was Consuela Vanderbilt, Duchess of Marlborough

Through her bust sculptures and journalistic assignments she was intimate with a variety of people including Irish Nationalists like Michael Collins, British politicians and aristocrats, the Mountbattens, Lady Diana Cooper, Vita Sackville-West and Vivien Leigh,  Charlie  Chaplin and the Russian revolutionaries. Through her cousin Winston Churchill she made useful connections as sculpture and writer and her biography Cousin Clare  was written by the fascinating Galway based biographer Anita Leslie of Oranmore Castle who was also a cousin and is probably  most definitive book on this remarkable life and she was a regular visitor there especially during her Galway years in the late forties.  She lived in many exotic places and her her life seemed to be in phases. She came to live in Galway in 1947-1954, converted to Catholicism and devoted her skills to religious carvings. We visited Oranmore Castle in August 2017 whilst staying in Oranmore with my sister Ida. We met Leonie King who takes guides people around her fabulous and atmospheric home which is her castle. Leonie is the daughter of Anita Leslie. This blog is by Olivia King



She was born Clare Frewen in 1885, the only daughter among the children of the talented and wealthy three Jerome sisters. She had two brothers Hugh and Oswald whom she called Peter in her memoirs.  The Jerome’s were a prominent New York family and her grandfather Leonard Jerome was nicknamed ‘the King of Wall Street’.  Her father, Moreton Frewen (1853-1924), of Innishannon House in Cork led a peripatetic life, moving from England to America, then to Ireland and finally back to England again. He was was apparently he was a  charming if financially incompetent adventurer known for reckless financial and political schemes and was briefly  MP for Cork as an Independent  ‘Home Ruler’.  Nevertheless their house was burnt down in 1921. Michael Collins apologised to her for this when she interviewed him! Her father’s restlessness  was echoed in Clare’s  own life, which was spent constantly on the move.

Even in 2017 the Mail on Sunday can splash headlines about her in their style

She bedded Trotsky, was molested by Mussolini, got spurned by Hitler and ran off with Charlie Chaplin: How Churchill’s cousin Clare Sheridan was a seductress… and Soviet spy



Clare was sent to the Convent of the Assumption in Auteuil, in Paris but when she announced to her family that she wished to convert to Catholicism she was removed and sent briefly to a finishing school in Darmstadt in Germany where she went to the opera twice a week and played ping-pong with German officers. A maid was sent to Darmstadt to fetch her home, and further attempts at conventional schooling were abandoned.

Clare went to balls at Dublin Castle and years later in her memoirs Naked Truth  she amusingly described her first season at Dublin Castle with Lord Dudley masquerading as the King. She was then brought to London and dressed at some expense when she attended balls and parties and fell in love with a young stockbroker named Wilfred Sheridan when she was 17.                                                                       She told her cousin Anita: “in Wilfred’s company she felt herself utterly natural, sparkling and gay” But her father disapproved as they wanted her to marry someone richer. Wilfred lent her books, including the works of his great grandfather Richard Brinsley Sheridan. She returned to Cork and commenced her first attempts at writing with a play called l’Ingénue.

This article by Peter Murray in Irish Arts review recounts incidents from her memoir Nude Veritas.

On one occasion her and her mother left Malta where Peter’s ship was based and went to  Cannes penniless when she found a fiver that cousin Jack Churchill had given her for Christmas and then Clare was given fifty ponds by an old friend of her father’s which he stuffed into her shoe despite being told not to take money from men only books! Her mother cried but they kept the money. They went to Monte Carlo, Clare gambled, and won. The following year she relates her stay in Sweden with the Princess Margaret.  She also went to Capri, where she stayed in a house owned by Swedish psychiatrist Axel Munthe. She attributed to Munthe her initial introduction to Bolshevism.

Meanwhile, Clare’s family had moved from Cork to England, her mother buying Brede Place, a 14th-century ruin on Edward Frewen’s estate in Sussex. Henry James was just four miles away, at Rye. Clare became friends with James, and also with the novelist George Moore. She began to write articles and a novel, showing chapters to both James and Moore. Moore described it as ‘charming’ and a ‘dear little book.’ In response, Clare flung the manuscript across the room, danced on it, kicked it, and finally put a match to it.

Clare Brede Place

Brede Place

He advised her to gain independence from her mother through marriage, and so on her return to England in 1910 she and Wilfred became engaged. He was said to be the best-looking man in England. At the wedding she refused to say the word ‘obey’, and the Canon was shocked by the irreverence of bride and groom. Clare settled in Sussex with Wilfred, where they had two children, Margaret and Elizabeth. However in 1914 Elizabeth died in infancy. Clare became friendly with Mary Watts, widow of artist George Frederick Watts, who ran a nearby pottery and who encouraged her to sculpt a memorial to her deceased daughter. She enrolled in the modelling section of the Guildford Technical School, bringing the half completed clay memorial with her.



The following year, her son Richard was born, but a few days later her Wilfred was killed at the Battle of Loos. He was probably the love of her life. They had parted only a few weeks earlier when they were staying at Frampton Court, his parental home where they hoped Dick would be born as heir.  ‘She stood there watching him walk away – so light of step, sunburned and handsome. Once he turned to wave. Then he was gone.” She was heart broken.. She was given the letter written by her beloved Wilfred which was found in his pocket. : “You will only read this if I am dead, and remember that as you read it I shall be by your side. Remember that all over England are broken hearts and ruined lives, remember that one splendid woman, such as you are, refusing to weep, and hugging her soul with pride at a soldier’s death, will consciously or unconsciously stiffen up and bring comfort to these… God keep you and help you and bring my little Margaret up happily. I can leave you nothing, darling, except the memory of years, and you know what our life together has been. Surely if perfection is attained we have attained it.”

Clare S Frampton1

Frampton Court Dorset the home of the Sheridans.

Stricken by this second loss, and the deaths of other close friends in WWI, Clare resolved to devote her life to sculpture. She produced various types of images, but it was her portrait heads that made her reputation. She became a successful society artist. Among her sitters were HG Wells, Arnold Bennett, Gladys Cooper and Diana Manners at this time as well as Churchill.

She had been pursued by suitors Lord Birkenhead,and Alexander Thynne, son of the Marquis of Bath who was also killed in the War and  Seymour Egerton who was the  6th Earl of Wilton, asked the widowed Clare to marry.

Then she decided to travel to Russia where she succeeded in getting Lenin and Trotsky to sit for her. She had become in onvolved with Lev Kaminev which is chronicled in Mayfair to Moscow  .



This infuriated Churchill who was very anti-Bolshevik and it caused the first of the ‘scandals’ that would keep her name buzzing on the world’s press wires for the next 30 years. Her life from this point on reads like the improbable plot to a novel – full of sex, tragedy and espionage, played out against a backcloth of bright young things and international power-brokers taking in America.



She set forth in search of dangerous adventures, interesting men and artistic fulfilment. She travelled most of the world and met people like Gandhi, Primo De Rivera, Gorky, H.G. Wells, Kemel Ataturk, Mussolini, Marconi, Rudyard Kipling etc. Clare had affairs with some of these while others sat for her while she worked on their portrait. She was a very good journalist and interviewed many world leaders including Michael Collins. She was the only journalist to get into the occupied Four Courts in Dublin and interview Rory O’Connor. She spent time in America and it was here she became entangled with Charlie Chaplain.

In 1925, she moved to Algeria  where it was noted by M15 that “she appeared to be comfortably off and debt-free for the first time in 10 years”. She built a house on the edge of the Sahara at Biskra. In 1937, her beloved son Dick died of appendicitis at Constantine in Algeria. Clare took a large oak tree from the family home, Brede Place, in Sussex and carved it into his memorial. Carving in wood seems to have given her a fresh artistic direction. She  went on a pilgrimage to Montana and Canada, staying with the Black Foot tribe on the Blood Reserve. Many of the objects she collected during her visit are kept at Hastings Museum.



The account of her dealings with Mussolini are chilling – his “nostrils flaring-head down like an angry bull.” Mussolini commented: “You will not leave till dawn, and then you will be broken in”. Anita Leslie continued: “He must seduce her. Sketch-book and clay flew to the ceiling, slaps, punches, wrestling, gasping cries of amazement (on both sides) filled the room. Clare couldn’t believe it true. Neither could Mussolini – she was taller than he, but he was stronger…. He blocked the way to the main door, but grabbing her handbag she made for the side exit. He got there before her and there was, according to her own account, a veritable hand-to-hand struggle for the key. Clare managed to snatch it and open the door. It took a long time, she said. But eventually she managed to wedge it open with her foot. Mussolini threw his whole heavy weight against the door to close it and caught her elbow in the process. Her screams of pain halted him. Purple in the face he stood back for a moment and she was able to wrench herself from his grasp.”



She made homes for herself in many strange and exotic places. She came to Galway in 1947 and lived in the house beside the Spanish Arch which later became the first museum of the city.  The Palace Arthouse Cinema behind it has only opened in 2018.

She was by now doing a lot of carving in wood as well as stone. She spent a lot of time working in the grounds of Oranmore Castle, the home of her cousin Anita Leslie and Anita’s husband, Bill King. She got the castle mason to rough out big blocks of stone, which she could then hew into form. Clare was a well-known figure in Galway ‘floating around in her violet shaded tweed cloaks of ecclesiastical design’. These cloaks were made by her good friend Cis O’Máille of O’Máille’s Shop in Dominick Street, who regularly entertained Clare to Sunday lunch.  Clare got on well with Claddagh fisherwomen who brought her baskets of fish when the boats came in. She was a regular visitor to the Poor Clares, and also to Kennys Bookshop.



Clare was still strong enough to carve, not only in wood but in stone, but she was very disappointed at the dearth of orders from the Church for her carvings. She had high hopes that the Bishop might buy the Madonna and Child for his new cathedral. She was not impressed when she saw the mosaics of JFK and Padraic Pearse, and she railed against the poor taste of those who had the power to spend. She offered the statue to a convent guest-house, but it was pointed out to her that as the Holy Child wore no trousers, some people might be offended. Her retort was “The renaissance did not consider underwear necessary, why should you”?



She has a crucifix in Salthill Church and a Madonna and Child on top of the Spanish Arch. By October 1st, 1952, she had sold Spanish Arch House and “so comes to an end another five year span on which the pattern of my life is so inadvertently composed ….. one five year span after another”.  She lived in a guest house run by the Franciscan Convent Hope Castle at Castleblayney before moving to  Allington Castle in Kent where she carved, from bog oak, a celebrated Madonna now at Brede.

The Spartacus piece on Clare is Interesting

Clare Sheridan home in Hastings

Belmont it looks rather sumptuously renovated.

From 1956 she lived at Belmont House, Hastings not far from the High Street from where she wrote To the Four Winds in 1957 which was updating her memories.  By this time, her scandalous days were a thing of the past and she lived here until her death in 1970. Clare Sheridan died in 1970 Parnham House Beaminster Dorset aged 84 years and is buried in the churchyard of St George’s, Brede.

Clare’s life is just so intriguing. She had the advantage of her class privilege and her  connections but she carved out her own life and was a liberated woman who did her own thing despite the tragedies of losing her beloved husband when she was so young and her two children Elizabeth and Dick. Her earlier life when she packed in travel, living in wonderful houses, her many lovers, relationships with friends and relatives like Churchill, writing memoirs, articles, interviews and travel chronicles, bringing up children, meeting fascinating people, making friends and all the while sculpting till her contemplative religious life in her latter years.  Her writings are so absorbing and easy to read and I love checking out photos and images.  I am so glad to be able to include her in this assembly of memorable Galway women.

  • Russian Portraits (Cape, 1921); published in the U.S as Mayfair to Moscow: Clare Sheridan’s Diary (1921)
  • My American Diary (New York, Boni and Liveright, 1922)
  • In Many Places (Cape, 1923)
  • West to East (1923)
  • Stella Defiant (Duckworth, 1923)
  • Across Europe with Satanella (Dodd, Mead and Company, 1925)
  • The Thirteenth (Duckworth, 1925)
  • A Turkish Kaleidoscope (Duckworth, 1926)
  • Nuda Veritas (Butterworth, 1927); published in the US as Naked Truth (New York, Harper & Brothers, 1928)
  • Green Amber (1929)
  • The Substitute Bride (1931)
  • Arab Interlude (1936)
  • Redskin Interlude (1938)
  • Without End (1939)
  • My Crowded Sanctuary (Methuen, 1945)
  • To the Four Winds (1957)

Siobhán McKenna renowned actor and Notable Galway Woman

Posted in Siobhán McKenna renowned actor and Notable Galway Woman by sheelanagigcomedienne on August 13, 2018

Renowned actor and theatre director Siobhán McKenna (1923–86) takes her place among Notable Women of Galway. Siobhán was born in Belfast to a nationalist family, was a fluent gaelic speaker and moved to Galway when her father was appointed a lecturer in Mathematics in UCG.

Siobhán Giollamhuire Nic Cionnaith was born in 1923  at 28 St James’s Park, off the Falls Road, Belfast,  the second daughter of Gretta from Co. Longford, and her husband, Eoghan McKenna Millstreet, Co. Cork,  lecturer in mathematics at  the Municipal College of Technology, Belfast. She had an elder sister Nancy  and they their early schooling was at the Dominican Convent, Falls Road, Belfast. In 1928 Eoghan McKenna moved his family to Fort Eyre at Shantalla, Galway, when he was appointed lecturer (later professor) in mathematical sciences at UCG.

They lived in Hansberry House, a three storey house which bookends the listed terrace of derelict shops which have been bought to be developed, and Spire House which is the home of the Jesus and Mary nuns who ran Scoil Ide Primary School which I attended. ( I remember visiting Mother Stanislaus there with Dave after we were married in 1967 )

Below is Siobhán reading the Proclamation in 1966 in Eyre Square Galway during the 60 year commemorations of the Rising.


siobh in galway

Siobhán became fluent in Connemara Irish and it was what the McKenna’s spoke at home. Her formal education states that it was at Dominican College, Taylor’s Hill, Galway, my alma mater. But she was only five when they moved and it was their  Montessori junior school that she attended. Her schooling was interrupted by a year’s confinement to bed with glandular fever. She then enrolled at the boarding school of the St Louis Sisters at Monaghan, where she developed her love of drama.

A video of Siobhán from 1961 talking about reading a poem at her Montessori School in Taylor’s Hill which was a short walk from where they lived and they laughing at her accent

While still a university student, at UCG, Siobhán acted leading roles in An Taidhbhearc, Galway’s Irish-language theatre. (Walter Macken who went on to be one of Ireland’s well loved novelists was an acclaimed actor there and was its Director from 1939-47) Siobhán played in the Irish version of Evans and Valentine’s Tons of money ‘Dalladh airgid’ in March 1941, in Jean-Jacques Bernard’s Le National Six ‘Ar an mBóthar Mór’, and in her own translation of J. M. Barrie’s Mary Rose. She played in an Irish version of Eugene O’Neill’s The Emperor Jones and in two plays by Sean O’Casey, ‘Shadow of a Gunman’ and ‘The Plough and the Stars’.

An Taibhearc

She graduated BA from UCG with first-class honours in Irish, French, and mathematics in 1943, and enrolled at UCD for postgraduate studies in French. Ó Briain is credited with bringing McKenna’s talent to the notice of Ernest Blythe , managing director of the Abbey Theatre, who having auditioned McKenna offered her a contract. She began at the Abbey with Irish-speaking parts in Peadar Ó hAnnracháin’s ‘Stiana’  1944, followe by ‘Sodar i ndiaidh na n-uasal’, Blythe’s translation of Molière’s Le bourgeois gentilhomme . She was noticed favourably for her playing of a Belfast factory girl in ‘The end House’ by Joseph Tomelty and her role as Jimín, a pert newsboy, in the Gaelic pantomime, ‘Muireann agus an prionnsa’  1945/46, was acclaimed by the Evening Herald critic as ‘a performance of inexhaustible vitality’. 1946 was a decisive year in McKenna’s career and life.

McCormick, the great Abbey actor, tutored her when she played opposite him in ‘Village wooing’ by Shaw and when she received favourable notices for a small part in the British film Hungry Hill he advised her not to abandon her stage career for one in film. In September 1946 McKenna married the actor Denis O’Dea ; their only child, Donnacha, was born in August 1948. He went on to swim for Ireland at the 1968 Summer Olympics and later won a World Series of Poker bracelet in 1998 and I believe the poker bug has been caught by her grandson Eoghan who is an online player!

She first appeared on the London stage on March 1947 at the Embassy Theatre as Nora Fintry in ‘The white steed’ by P. V. Carroll. She played Maura Joyce in Sir Laurence Olivier’s production of Jean Anouilh’s ‘Fading mansions’ at the Duchess Theatre ; Olivier also advised her to remain in theatre work when she was offered a Hollywood contract for her memorable performance in the Paramount film ‘Daughter of Darkness’  1948.

In response to a request from the Taidhbhearc, Siobhán offered to play the lead in her own translation of Shaw’s Saint Joan. It was a sensational success, it played to packed audiences first in Galway, in December 1950.

It is interesting to note that the awful prig Bishop Browne declined an invitation writing that he “did not think that attendance at a Shaw play would be a suitable means or occasion for one in his position”.

There was one performance at the Gaiety in Dublin, 14 January 1951. Micheál MacLiammóir , who was in the audience, invited her to play Saint Joan in his production of the play, which opened at the Gate Theatre, Dublin, on November 1954 to great  reviews. She also played the role in an English production in London in September 1954, at the Arts Theatre and then at the St Martin’s Theatre; she won the Evening Standard award for her acting. She played Saint Joan again in 1956–7 in Paris and then in New York, where with her unfamiliar accent endeared her to Broadway audiences. In 1956 she was the first Irish actor to win a Tony award.

During the same years with Shelah Richards  directing, created a new Pegeen Mike in ‘The playboy of the western world’ by J. M. Synge , first in 1951 at the Edinburgh Festival and then in July 1953 at the Gaiety Theatre in Dublin, with the actor–manager Cyril Cusack playing Christy Mahon, in what was deemed a superb production; it went on a European tour, and charmed Parisian audiences at the Sarah Bernhardt Theatre. In 1960 Shelagh revived the play for the Dublin Theatre Festival and for the Florence Festival, where she was given the ‘best actress’ award. In 1961 Brian Desmond Hurst directed  her  in the film production of  ‘The playboy of the Western World.                                    It is  interesting to have to explain the conceit of the play to a London Primary School assembly which I did in Latchmere School with my friend June O’Sullivan in the 80s when we did a series of them at the time when there was a lot of anti-Irish racism.   There is a video about the filming in Dingle

For international audiences Saint Joan is considered her outstanding role; in Irish theatre history she is best remembered for redefining the role of Pegeen Mike. She was  a fine Shakesperian actor and spent a season a Stratford-on-Avon in 1952. She played a captivating Viola in ‘Twelfth night’, directed by Sir Tyrone Guthrie at the Stratford Festival in Ontario in1957, and a one-woman Hamlet in the manner of Sarah Bernhardt off Broadway in 1957, which critics panned; but her Lady Macbeth, opposite Jason Robards, at Harvard University in 1959 was of star quality, ‘putting in the greatest mad scene seen in the U.S. since Callas’s Lucia di Lamermoor’

Loyalty to the Irish stage brought her back to Ireland, and in 1960 she made Dublin her permanent home: the family lived on Highfield Road, Rathgar, first at no. 23 then, when O’Dea’s health declined, in a smaller house at no. 78. From then on Siobhán steadfastly pursued the aims of an Irish National Theatre, in keeping with the vision that inspired the Abbey’s founders.

The establishment of Irish television in 1961 brought her into wider contact with the Irish public. Exile, emigration, and homecoming for the economically deprived were themes that interested both writers and their public. Siobhán engagement with the folk plays of Michael J. Molloy included financial backing, directing, and acting Daughter from over the Water, 1964 and gave her the impetus to direct and experiment. In 1966 she played Juno with Peter O’Toole and Jack MacGowran  in‘Juno and the Paycock’ at the Gaiety Theatre, Dublin. At the 1967 Dublin Festival, which coincided with the reopening of the Abbey Theatre, she gave a magnificent performance as the broken-down, earthy Cass in Brian Friel’s ‘The loves of Cass Maguire’. At the 1968 Dublin Festival at the Abbey she and Cyril Cusack starred in Chekhov’s ‘Cherry Orchard’, directed by Madame Knebal from the Moscow Art Theatre.

Films include 1961’s King of Kings, starring in the role of the Virgin Mary. In 1964 she performed in Of Human Bondage and the following year in Doctor Zhivago.

For more than a decade Siobhán had been considering a one-woman show on the lines of MacLiammóir’s ‘I must be talking to my friends’. When Wolf Mankowitz and Laurence Harvey put up the money for a West End production, with Sean Kenny as designer and director,  Siobhán set about creating her show, choosing her pieces with consummate skill.

Here are Ladies played in Britain, North America, Australia, Ireland, and Vienna throughout the 1970s. Her Molly Bloom and stream of consciousness Anna Livia Plurabelle passages from James Joyce  were a tour de force that brought audiences to their feet. She gave sixty-seven public performances and as many more at university venues.

Theater: Siobhan McKenna’s’Ladies’ – The New York Times

During the 1970s McKenna directed fifteen plays, taking over O’Casey’s ‘Juno and the Paycock’ at the Mermaid Theatre in London in 1973 on the sudden death of Sean Kenny in Toronto she directed a season of Synge plays later that year.

Although she concentrated on directing plays by O’Casey and Synge in the 1970s, she continued to act: she played Bessie Burgess in the Abbey’s golden jubilee production of ‘The Plough and the Stars’ in 1976, which toured New York, Boston, Philadelphia, and Washington DC. Quest Productions presented ‘Here are ladies’ and, with McKenna directing, O’Casey’s ‘The shadow of a Gunman’ in Vienna 1980–81.

Siobhán had been active in human rights. March 1982 she addressed the United Nations special committee against apartheid in New York by invitation; she revealed that she and Dame Peggy Ashcroft were among a group of actors, members of Actors’ Equity, who had signed a declaration not to perform in South Africa until there was an end to apartheid.

She formed a small company, Quest Productions, with John Hippisley as manager–director. She directed and played in Eugene O’Neill’s ‘A Moon for the Misbegotten’ at the Gate in 1975. In 1977 she played Sarah Bernhardt in ‘Memoir’ with Niall Buggy, in Eric Salmon’s production at the Olympia Theatre in Dublin, the Ambassador in London, and briefly in Canada. I  remember speaking to Niall Buggy when he proudly showed me his Claddagh ring Claddagh ringwhich Siobhán had given him.

While Siobhán was directing a season of one-act Irish plays in London, Denis O’Dea died 5 November 1978.

The following year her own health began to fail but she continued her hectic programme, appearing as Juno in Joe Dowling’s production of ‘Juno and the paycock’ at the Abbey in 1979,  Agrippina in ‘Britannicus’ at the Lyric, Hammersmith, London, in 1981, and in ‘All Joyce’ at the Abbey Theatre in 1982. In 1984, as well as directing and stage-managing Brian Merriman’s  ‘Cuirt n mheán-oiche’, she played a luminous Mary Tyrone in Eugene O’Neill’s ‘Long day’s Journey into Night’ for the Abbey.

'Late Late Show' Mac Liammóir birthday special (1969)The following year she and Maureen Potter played the two old ladies in ‘Arsenic and old lace’ with verve at the Gaiety in Dublin.

siobhan-mckenna0 as Mommo

Though seriously ill, McKenna undertook the demanding role of Mommo in Tom Murphy’s ‘Bailegangaire’, which he had written with her in mind. Directed by Garry Hynes, who is another Notable Galway Women  It played at the Druid Theatre in Galway from December 1985 through January 1986, transferring to the Donmar Warehouse in London for the spring of 1986, and to the Gaiety Theatre, Dublin, for a two-week run. Murphy’s drama is set in a cottage in the west of Ireland where a senile grandmother, Mommo, strives to tell her two granddaughters a story which she cannot finish. The production was a rare conjunction of director, actors, staging, and play and Galway connections.  McKenna’s contribution became a legend. I saw this memorable production at the Donmar Warehouse and loved the Schubert Notturno which accompanied it -an  unforgettable production.

On 16 November 1986 Siobhán  died of cardiac arrest after a lung operation in the Blackrock clinic in Dublin. She was buried at Rahoon cemetery in Galway. My mother attended it and wrote me a letter describing it on a rain drenched day with a lone piper playing. My parents Tom and Eithne Egan are both buried in Rahoon. Since then there is a stone by the entrance gate of Joyce’s poem She Weeps over Rahoon which of course refers to Nora Barnacle, his wife and another Notable Galway Woman.…/nora-barnacle-galway-woman/

At her graveside playwright Brian Friel declared: ‘For people of my generation, she personified an idea of Ireland.’…/siobhan-mckenna-is-dead-actress-known-for-st-joan.h…

La Times Obituary 1986

Siobhán McKenna was pre-eminent among the players who brought the dramatic works of the Irish literary revival to the national and international stage in the second half of the twentieth century. She was and is one of our best known actors of stage and screen and certainly one of Galway’s most Notable Women.

Dolores Keane singer Notable Galway Woman

Posted in Dolores Keane singer and Notable Galway Woman by sheelanagigcomedienne on August 12, 2018




Dolores Keane is one of Ireland’s greatest singers and is undoubtedly a Notable Galway women. She is usually referred to as either a folk, traditional or Celtic singer. He voice is so distinctive, resonant and haunting with a definite Galway twang. She is dubbed the “Voice of Ireland” by Nanci Griffith. Dolores is known the world-over for her deep, melodic voice which often lives up to her name which means ‘sorrow’. She is a singer of the stature of Bessie Smith, Umm Kulthum and Aretha Franklin according to the Immortal Jukebox blogger

Her Galway Bay is, for me, the definite Galway song


though I have a soft spot for the Tin Pan Alley Galway Bay as sung by Bing Crosby in 1966 and recorded in Dublin.                                  

Here is an earlier video of them talking about their musical heritage  and singing ‘I am thinking, ever thinking’                               

They Keane family produced an album in 1985 which has been reissued.Dolores and family record

In the sleeve notes, Dolores  writes: ‘My earliest recollections of music and singing were when I was about three years of age. My grandmother’s house, where I spent much of my childhood, was often visited by many fine musicians and singers. Among them were Willie Clancy, Máirtín Byrnes, Seán ‘ac Dhonncha and many others from neighbouring villages. During the music sessions at the house, the ‘noble call’ operated among the gathered company and, even at the age of four or five, I was expected to do my bit. This encouraged me to learn songs and tunes.

Like all my brothers and sisters, I was fortunate to grow up in an atmosphere where learning songs and tunes was like learning to read or to walk. I remember Ulick McDonnell, an elderly neighbour, visiting the house and swapping songs with my grandmother. I remember my Uncle Paddy playing his flute, while visiting travelling people danced a set in the kitchen and I remember Ciarán Mac Mathúna coming to record songs for his Ceolta Tire radio programme.

In 1975, she co-founded the very successful traditional Irish band De Danaan and they released their debut album Dé Danann in that same year. The group gained international recognition and enjoyed major success in the late 1970s in the US. Dolores went touring with the band and their single “The Rambling Irishman” was a big hit in Ireland. In early 1976, after a short two-year spell, she left left De Dannan.





Soon thereafter, she married multi-instrumentalist John Faulkner musician John  with whom she had worked on many occasions, in 1977 and with whom she would subsequently record three albums of folk music.

Dolores and John

Dolores lived and worked in London for several years with John  before they moved to Ireland in the early 1980s. They worked on a series of film scores and programmes for the BBC and formed two successful bands, The Reel Union and Kinvara. During this period Dolores recorded her first solo album, There Was a Maid in 1978. This was followed by two other releases, Broken Hearted I’ll Wander (1979) and Farewell to Eirinn (1980), which gave credit to Faulkner.

In the mid-1980s she rejoined De Danaan and recorded the albums Anthem and Ballroom with them.

De Danaan with Dolores

After a very difficult pregnancy, Dolores gave birth to their first child, Joseph. He was born with a condition Laurence -Moon Bardet-Biedl Syndrome  which causes obesity and and failing leading to blindness. Her marriage ended in 1988.

She then resumed on a very successful solo career, establishing herself as one of the most loved interpreters of Irish song.  She also toured with Planxty and collaborated with The Chieftains on the album “Bonapart’s Retreat”.

1988 saw the release of the eponymous Dolores Keane album. Her follow-up album A Lion in a Cage, in 1989 which featured a song written by Faulkner called Lion in the Cage  protesting the imprisonment of Nelson Mandela  It became her second Irish number one and she performed the hit at the celebration of his release. This exposure expanded Dolores’s reputation and popularity worldwide.

She played the female lead in the Dublin production of  Brendan Behan’s The Hostage the opening night of which was attended by Mary Robinson  the President of Ireland at the time.

The story of A Women’s Heart

In 1992, Delores was among the many female Irish singers to lend their music to the record-smashing anthology A Woman’s Heart. The album, which also featured Eleanor McEvoy, Mary Black, Frances Black Sharon Shannon and Maura O’Connell , went on to become the biggest-selling album in Irish history. A Woman’s Heart Vol.2 was released in late 1994 and emulated its predecessor in album charts the world over. Also in 1994, a solo album, entitled Solid Ground, was released on the Shanachie label and received critical acclaim in Europe and America.

Dolores and Sean

In 1995, Dolores was was awarded the prestigious Fiddler’s Green Hall of Fame award in Rostrevor Co Down for her “significant contribution to the cause of Irish music and culture”. In that same year, she took to the stage in the Dublin production of  Synge’s Playboy of the Western World.

Dolores at home 2007

She contributed to the RTE/BBC television production “Bringing It All Back Home”, a series of programmes illustrating the movement of Irish music to America. Dolores was shown performing both in Nashville  with musicians such as  Emmylou Harris and Richard Thompson and at home in Galway with her aunts Rita and Sarah.

In August 1997, Dolores went to number one again in the Irish album charts with a compilation album with her most loved songs. And another studio album was released by her in 1998, called Night Owl. Dolores Night Owl

It saw her returning to her traditional Irish roots and it did well in Europe and America. Despite a healthy solo career, she went on tour with De Danaan again in the late 1990s, where she played to packed audiences in venues such as Birmingham Alabama and New York City.

Dolores, Emmylu and mary Sonny

But then she stopped touring. By then she had settled with her partner Barry ‘Bazza’ Farmer which lasted for 20 years and she had her daughter Tara in 1994  with him. Her relationship ended a few years ago. Dolores had problems with alcoholism and depression and has received extensive treatment for these conditions. She was also diagnosed and treated for breast cancer.

Dolores  has pleaded guilty to drink driving at Clonboo on November 19 2010 and again in Glenties. in 2014 she attended a hearing asking to have her licence restored as she needed it to attend medical appointments following development of breast cancer and, to continue to attend her AA meetings.

Dolores outside Glenties counrt July 2014

Dolores outside Glenties Court when she asked to be given back her licence halfway through her four year ban.

There is an article from 2014 by Barry Egan.

“I was ready to give singing a break,” Dolores says, because it was enabling her to be an alcoholic but, “I didn’t know how to give up singing. But I did need a break from singing. I was burnt out.”

In hindsight, Dolores believes that the heavy drinking was her way of “trying to get away from the singing and where she was in her life.” Despite the praise and international accolades, Dolores wasn’t happy “having to put the good face on. I had had enough of that.”

“I was fed up with the road,” she continues. “I was fed up with the songs I was singing. I was fed up with the approach of the bands I had and everything else. It was all the same old ding dong. I wanted to change all that. I wanted this new lease of life.”

This article is about the tour that Dolores did with her brother Sean in 2015/16   when she went on on tour for the first time in over 30 years  with him

This article is also about the tour

“Music has got me all over the world and it’s been a fabulous experience. We’ve been to America, China, Hong Kong, Bermuda, Australia, New Zealand and all over Europe. Getting paid always seemed like a bonus.”

Are there any songs she never tires of singing?

“I love The Island and Galway Bay and Caledonia and Never Be The Sun. Caledonia is a song people always ask for; I can’t not do that one. But as soon as I introduce it, people sing it back to me so it’s an easy gig for me,” she laughs.

There was an article in Ireland’s Own which also mentions the RTE 2015 documentary

In the past couple of year Dolores has gone public about her troubles and she told the full, unvarnished story in a searingly honest and acclaimed documentary by Liam McGrath, entitled ‘Dolores Keane: A Storm In The Heart’, initially shown on RTE television last year and recently repeated.

Many people were very moved by the brutal honesty of the story she told, and wished her well in getting her life back on an even keel and her career back on track.

She has shown courage and determination in telling her story in the hope of inspiring and helping others, and she has been back on the touring circuit for the past 18 months, being joined in many of the shows by her equally well known and talented brother, Sean.

The trademark flowing red hair has gone as a result of her cancer treatment but the quality of her remarkable voice and the love of the songs which has always driven her is still undimmed.

Dolores comeback

It wasn’t just Keane’s honesty in relation to her life and the way that she exposed the same ordinary human failings – as we all have – to the camera that people loved about the documentary A Storm in the Heart. This isn’t the reason why the tickets for her comeback tour of the same name will disappear quicker than the May morning dew. It is also the complete lack of egoism she eschewed towards her one time star status.

Dolores is taking life at an easy pace now. Her son Joseph lives in Galway, on-off and between Dolores’s house and Dolores’s sister Christina’s house. “He also goes to a place in Galway – his work as he calls it. But he is doing brilliantly.” Her daughter Tara lives in Tuam and works in retail. No doubt, she will be heard singing again even if those touring days on the road are over and I am sure she will enjoy it again but without the pressures and expectations of when she was younger.

While she has a voice she wont stop singing when she gets together with other musicians, especially around Galway and while she is walking with her dogs or maybe doing a bit of gardening and remembering what a fascinating life she has had with all its vicissitudes, what pleasure she has given to millions as she shared her wonderful talent, all helped by a great sense of humour and always a proud Galway woman..

Ada English Psychiatrist Galway Woman

Posted in Ada English Psychiatrist and Irish Nationalist by sheelanagigcomedienne on July 20, 2018

Ada biography

Dr Ada English is someone whose role in Irish history is beginning to be acknowledged particularly because of the centenary events in the past few years where women’s contribution to revolutionary Irish politics and entry into the professions is  being celebrated and commemorated, at last. I too was intrigued to hear about another inspiring Galway woman.

Ada English seems like a strange name for an Irish nationalist who spoke the language having  received lessons from Pádraig Pearse in the Irish language in which she was fluent. It was only her gravestone in Ballinasloe District Asylum where she was buried alongside her patients that gave her name in Irish as Eithne Inglis.  Ada was an influential  psychiatrist under British rule in Ireland and who would also have understood the importance of identity. She was also a woman in a male dominated profession with all the attendant prejudices against women and the lack of appreciation for their work and achievements in gaining promotion and having their expertise and insights appreciated.

Ada has recently begun to be given the recognition she deserves. The biography by Dr Brendan Kelly kick started the process of the appreciation of the life and work of of one of the earliest female doctors in Ireland as well as becoming one of the original female psychiatrists in Ireland.

But she was so much more as she was an active nationalist in Cumann na mBan during the Rising and the civil war serving as a doctor, she served 6 months in prison in  Galway  Jail and she was elected to the Dáil all this alongside her very dedicated work as psychiatrist in a busy mental hospital.

She featured in Ireland in History Day by Day on the anniversary of her birth 27th January 2018

Ada English 1875-1944 was born in Cahersiveen (Cathair Saidhbhín). The family moved to Mullingar when she was a year old where her father was a pharmacist and Town Commissioner. She had four siblings while her grandfather, Richard, had been Master of the Old Castle Workhouse in the town. to secondary school at the Loreto Convent in Mullingar in 1881.

Having already trained briefly in Richmond Asylum, The Mater Misericodiae and Temple Street Hospital, Dr English arrived as the second assistant medical officer in Ballinasloe District Asylum in 1904 and for a short period, she had an appointment at a London hospital before taking the position of assistant at what is now St Bridget’s Hospital in Ballinasloe. Chronic overcrowding of the 1,293 patients (519 female, 774 male) greeted her there. Dr Kirwan’s was the Resident Medical Superintendent)at the time of Ada’s arrival in Ballinasloe.

Mary Macken (later Professor) remembered her:
I remember her crisp blond hair, remarkable eyes and fascinating lisp. She struck me as being singularly adult. She was in fact some years my senior and tolerant of everything except incompetence or willingness on our part to put up with it. For she burned to get at her real work of medicine; it was for her as much a vocation as a profession.


Ada English

Ada is sat in the centre wearing a white coat and a tie.

The esteem in which Ada held her patients was remarkably different from society at the time.The Dangerous Lunatics Act, which was passed in 1838 which initially applied to Ireland alone allowed individuals to be involuntarily detained in Asylums on account of testimonies of relatives or other familiar people relating to alleged present mental disorders. Inciting evidence often could be as basic as a “mere peculiarity of behaviour or expression”. Asylums became proverbial dumping grounds for those who were ostracised or dismissed by society. Due to the overcrowded nature of the local jails and work houses at the time many were transferred to asylums such as Ballinasloe. In doing so patients who had severe and genuine psychiatric diseases and disorders where overwhelmed in terms of space by those who often didn’t require psychiatric treatment.

She developed occupational therapy including farming and sports and under her direction Ballinasloe was the first mental hospital in Ireland to use  electric convulsive therapy.

The camogie team for which Ada was personally responsible for introducing in 1915 went on to be very successful in external competitions, winning silver medals at the Second Tailteann Games in 1928. There is now an Ada English Memorial Cup for camogie. A cinder track for cycling competitions was laid down in 1921. There were also hurling, hockey and tug of war teams.

Ada Camogie team

There is a lovely essay on Ada which won the Scoilnet 2017 History Competition Winner  by Maithiu Breathnach and the subject was – Dr. Ada English: Innovator and Revolutionary.

“Ada also developed the drama society alongside Dr Kirwan for those who had no interest in sports and/or had a major interest in the world of drama, thus catering for multiple individuals’ hobbies and passions alike. This is important to highlight in the regard in which she had concern and compassion for all her patients. The Asylum farm also gained substantial recognition at the summer convening of the Irish division of the Medico Psychological Association at Ballinasloe in June 1917 and the “many improvements recently made in the Asylum” were highlighted to a great effect. Ada also wholeheartedly believed in the power of cinema and later noted in 1940 that “it would be a great boon to the patients if the old cinema could be adjusted to take talkies”

In October 1914, Ada was appointed to a lecturership in mental disease in University College Galway a position she retained until February 1943. In 1921, she was offered the position of RMS of Sligo Mental Hospital by Austin Stack , Secretary of State for Home Affairs, but she decided to stay in Ballinasloe.The decision to overlook Ada despite given her thirty-two years experience there and the fact that she had already proven herself a capable RMS during the absence of Mills the RMS, caused understandable consternation.. She was finally appointed, in 1941, to the position of RMS. It was a long wait to gain the promotion but she so obviously dedicated to the patients, staff and the town of Ballinasloe and decided to stay there. Ada loved to tour the highways and byways around the town in her horse and trap, driven by a patient, and would stop and talk with those she met on the road. One man, who met Ada frequently when he was a child, remembers her as  always accompanied by her dogs, Victor, Isabel and Judy.

Ada Oireachtas Gaelic League

The photo of the 1913 Galway Oireachtas, outside the Town Hall in Galway which was attended by three future presidents of Ireland, Douglas Hyde, Seán T O’Kelly and Eamon de Valera as well as by Proclamation signatories Pádraig Pearse, Seán Mac Diarmada and Éamonn Ceannt, and other noted figures such as Cathal Brugha, Countess Markievic and Dr Ada English.


Of course, she was very politically involved in the area.
Ada was a nationalist both politically and culturally. Ada’s first role within subversive activities as seen by the British authorities was her and Dr Kirwan’s replacement of Queen Victoria with the Galway coat of arms on the buttons worn by staff members in 1905 as well as her erection of notices in Irish in proceeding years. She also was an early proponent of import substitution in the sense she insisted on purchasing Irish manufactured goods only where available.
She was imbued with the spirit of Irish nationalism. She was involved in the Gaelic League, Sinn Féin, Cumann na mBann and the Irish Volunteers. She was was  medical officer to Liam Mellows throughout the insurgency in Galway during the Easter Ris ing.
In June 1918 it was reported that she “took a prominent part in the women’s anti-conscription campaign in Ballinasloe…and was chief organiser”. Even beyond 1918 her various movements and actions were closely watched. In the same Dublin Castle File No. 4168, with the title of “Activities Since the Truce” it was illuminated how “after making a “blood and thunder” oration at Ballinasloe town she proceeded openly to enlist members of Cumann na mBan. The Asylum at Ballinasloe also provided the perfect environment for Ada to conceal prominent individuals such as Eamonn De Valera and Liam Mellows on some occasions from detection.
In 1921 Ada was imprisoned for six months for having been found in possession of seditious literature. Alice Cashel was there at the same time. That year she was also elected to the second Dáil of Sinn Féin’s underground, unilaterally declared Irish Republic. Ada was opposed to the Anglo-Irish Treaty and participated on the republican side during the ensuing Civil War. As Diarmaid Ferriter states in the forward to the biography it is fitting that participants such as Ada English are rescued ‘from the historical margins’ and assessed alongside their contemporaries of those revolutionary times. Until quite recently she was a neglected and nearly forgotten figure.

In 1944 following Ada’s death, due to a heart attack in Mount Pleasant Nursing Home, Ballinasloe in accordance with her own wishes she was buried in Creagh Cemetery adjacent to Ballinasloe Mental Hospital (later renamed St Brigid’s hospital (1960) until final closure in 2013) alongside some of her former patients.

Adas grave

Mrs Helena Concannon, a senator paid tribute to Ada on the 19th of April 1945 upon the Mental Treatment Act of 1945 passing in the Dail and noted her role in bringing it about. She highlighted Ada’s substantial efforts in having the term “Asylum” replaced with the less ominous “mental hospital”.

Ada’s desire to exchange the custodial nature of the prevalent institutions of the time
with a more therapeutic environment wasn’t achieved until recent times, with immense
progress still being required, an aspect identified by “A Vision for Change” in 2006
 Since her biography was published and the interest in commemoration women’s role in Irish revolutionary history the name Dr Ada English is now being recognised as an important figure in women’s contribution to medicine, psychiatry, the national struggle and political life. Her legacy is been commemorated in various ways.
There is a play by Pat Johnston who taught History at Garbally College, Ballinasloe and is now retired. As a member of St. Brigid’s Hospital Heritage Group she has worked towards keeping alive the history of the psychiatric hospital and its community. Her play,For a Little Lonely While, is an exploration of the life and work of Dr. Ada English.
There is a St Brigid’s Hospital Heritage Group and the erection of plaques honouring her at Pearse Street, Mullingar and more importantly at Loreto College, Mullingar alongside an ornate marble bench and there was an Ada English Summer School  held in Ballinasloe in 2013.

 Ada Summer School

In 1944 following Ada’s death, due to a heart attack in Mount Pleasant Nursing Home, Ballinasloe in accordance with her own wishes she was buried in Creagh Cemetery adjacent to Ballinasloe Mental Hospital (later renamed St Brigid’s hospital (1960) until final closure in 2013) alongside some of her former patients.

Mrs Helena Concannon, a senator paid tribute to Ada on the 19th of April 1945 upon the Mental Treatment Act of 1945 passing in the Dail and noted her role in bringing it about. She highlighted Ada’s substantial efforts in having the term “Asylum” replaced with the less ominous “mental hospital”.

I hope people enjoy discovering and celebrating pioneers like Ada and that Galway folk come to appreciate some of the fine inspiring women who played a part in the life of Galway in the last hundred years as much as I have in writing about them.

Margaretta D’Arcy Galway Woman

Posted in Margaretta D'Arcy Galway Woman by sheelanagigcomedienne on July 14, 2018

Margaretta D’Arcy is the most bolshie and active protesters of the Galway women I have selected. D’Arcy is m one of the 14 Tribes of GalwayDarcy crest.


Margaretta D’Arcy is a writer, playwright, actress and peace-activist is known for addressing Irish nationalism, civil liberties and women’s rights.

Margaretta was born in London in 1934 to a Russian Jewish mother and an Irish Catholic father. Her father, Joseph, was a tenement child from Henrietta Street in Dublin and was active in the IRA during the War of Independence. He later met Miriam Billig. As the daughter of an Irish freedom fighter and a Jewish doctor, a second-generation refugee from Odessa in the Ukraine, this split identity informed her battles in the theatrical and political worlds she has inhabited. She was the third of four girls in the family who were moved between England and Ireland, and to different addresses in Ireland.

D’Arcy worked in small theatres in Dublin from the age of fifteen and later became an actress. She was an acting ASM at the new, progressive-looking Hornchurch Rep in the early 1950s and graduated to the Royal Court where she became an actress in the heady days of that theatre’s radical resuscitation under the charismatic George Devine. For a time she was one of the company’s most flaming members. Protest was constant in her life. She joined Bertrand Russell’s Committee of 100 in 1960.

Margaretta and John

She met and married the playwright John Arden in 1957. They had five sons: the eldest, Finn, is a film editor; Jacob works for City University in London; Neuss is a safety inspector on the London underground and Adam works in construction in Australia. Afifth son, Gwalchmai, was born with spina bifida and died a few weeks later. They moved to a house on a village green in East Yorkshire next an RAF/US Air Force base housing nuclear missiles. She wrote a letter to the American commander of the basesaying she and her family felt personally endangered by his weapons and asking him to examine his conscience, then cycled over with a baby on her back to deliver it. The commander’s reply, through the local police, was a threat (not acted upon) of 25 years in jail for encouraging a soldier to abandon his post.

 Margaretta Darcy and Arden

Decades of playwriting, pageantry, pirate radio, books and protest followed.

Her plays include The Pinprick of History; Vandaleur’s Folly; Women’s Voices from W. of Ireland; Prison-voice of Countess Markievicz; A Suburban Suicide (a radio play, BBC3, 1995); Lajwaad (The Good People, play by Abdel Kader Alloula, adapted by M. D’Arcy for readings in London, 1995); and Dublin (Irish Writers’ Centre, 1996).
Plays devised as group productions include Muggins is a Martyr; The Vietnam War-game; 200 Years of Labour; The Mongrel Fox; No Room at the Inn; Mary’s Name; Seán O’Scrúdu; Silence.

Plays written in collaboration with John Arden include The Business of Good Government; The Happy Haven; Ars Longa Vita Brevis; The Royal Pardon; The Hero Rises Up; The Ballygombeen Bequest; The Non-Stop Connolly Show; Keep the People Moving (BBC Radio); Portrait of a Rebel (RTÉ Television); The Manchester Enthusiasts (BBC 1984 and RTÉ 1984 under the title The Ralahine Experiment); Whose is the Kingdom? (9 part radio play, BBC 1987). Her publishers include Methuen, Cassells, Allison & Busby (formerly Pluto Press), all London.

They settled in Galway in the 70s and established the Galway theatre Workshop  in 1976. They had a cottage in Corrandulla a few miles from the city. ( My Dad, as consulting  civil engineer, was involved in some works they had done to it.) We used to see them as we passed their cottage as we had ours nearby in Tonnegurrane and I remember seeing them riding their bikes in the boreen around our cottage. They also had a little ex-corporation house in St Bridget’s Place in Bohermore where her radio station was based. (I had corresponded with her about a women’s festival she was organising).

Margaretta darcy 1964

Her four boys lived in London, in India and on an island in Lough Corrib before they were through their teens. They saw their mother imprisoned in Shillong Jail, in northeast India, and, later, in Armagh for refusing to pay a fine incurred during a republican rally. During the Greenham Common women’s peace camp, which existed from 1981 to 1990, she spent two days in solitary confinement at Holloway Prison for refusing to adhere to the strip-search policy.She was jailed in the North for campaigning for political status for the women in Armagh prison and again in London for the Greenham protests against Cruise missiles. In 2014, she was imprisoned after she refused to sign a bond saying that she wouldn’t trespass on non-public parts of Shannon Airport. Her arrest was a consequence of trespassing on airport property during protests over US military stopovers at Shannon.

Margaretta and John protesting Royal court

Here they are protesting outside the Aldwych Theatre which was staging John’s play The Island of the Mighty.

It is interesting to hear about them from their children’s perspective, especially since John died in 2012. Finn admitted their embarrasment when they were teenagers about their parents which is normal. Her son Finn said: “She was always a bit of a rebel really, her background kind of seen to that. The circle she was hanging around in the late fifties would have included Francis Bacon and Brendan Behan, people like that and then she met my Dad.”


Ballad by son Jake with great images about his mother

Her friend the film director Leila Doolan said:  “She’s indomitable, really,” Doolan says. “People sometimes think of Margaretta as a person without a sense of humour, but if you read her memoir you see the absolute hilarity with which she views life, while at the same time being very serious about it.”


NUI Galway Receives Archive of Margaretta D’Arcy and John Arden. Sabina Higgins wife of the President of Ireland is seen here with her as she is a friend.


Celebrating Margaretta D’Arcy’s Theatrical Activism apraises her contribution to theatrical activism.

Here, activists from the brilliant feminist performance group Speaking of IMELDA offer a series of stimulating reflections on the influence of Margaretta D’Arcy on their own agitation for abortion law reform in Ireland. 


IMELDA at Kings Cross 2016

The IMELDA’s when I joined them at Kings Cross

Margaretta has written various memoirs about theatrical activism, Armagh women’s prison, her Shannon Airport protests at American war planes and her pirate radio exploits. She has just kept going despite having Parkinson’s disease now. She is definitely Galway’s living political protester,the stroppiest and feistiest of them and a Galway Woman to be proud of.


Michelene Sheehy Skeffington Notable Galway Woman

Posted in Dr Michelene Sheehy Skeffington botanist Notable Galway Woman by sheelanagigcomedienne on July 14, 2018

Michelene Sheehy Skeffington is one of my Notable Galway Women. Michelene

Michelene is a botanist and plant ecologist who was a lecturer in Galway University. She has also become a champion of women’s equality by challenging the University for gender discrimination when she won a landmark case against her former employer of 34 years, NUI Galway.  The Equality Tribunal found that the university had discriminated against the botanist for promotion because of her gender.

Of course, Micheline is from a renowned family and the name Sheehy Skeffington – wihout a hyphen – is well known in Ireland. Her grandparents Hanna and Francis Sheehy Skeffington played a significant role in Irish political and public life in the last century and sadly Francis, a pacifist, was killed by the British in 1916. Hanna is one of my heroines and I had written a blog on her.

In 1985 I had been involved with Irish Women in Wandsworth in putting on an exhibition on Charlotte Despard in Battersea Arts Centre. I visited the National Newspaper Library at Colindale and the Fawcett Library which was then based in the east end. I was contacted by Jill Norris editor of a series of biographies entitled Women of Our Time. She had found my name among the list of researchers at the Fawcett Library resulting in an exchange about Hanna as a worthy subject for the series. This led me to contact Andree Sheehy Skeffington who married Owen, Hanna and Frank’s only child and Michelene’s father, to find out if she knew of any proposed biography of Hanna. It transpired that there was one about to be published by Leah Levenson.  Below is an extract from her letter. I treasure such hand-written letters.

Letter fro ASheehy Skeff

Here is my blog on her.

Hanna and Frank sheehyskeffington

Here is Michelene’s  NUIG CV details.

Dr Sheehy Skeffington is a plant ecologist with an interest in terrestrial ecosystems, especially wetlands including turloughs, peatlands, heathlands, river flood-meadows and salt marshes. She also carries out research on sustainable farming for conservation, with special focus on grassland management for conservation.

Interests also include sustainable agriculture in the tropics, with publications on Indonesian and Cuban sustainable forest and agricultural management.

  • Appointed to The Heritage Council 1995-2000. Chaired Council Wildlife Committee 1999-2000.
  • Council Member Tropical Biology Association 1993-present. Taught on Uganda course 2012.
  • Appointed in 2005 to the Project Advisory Group for the international award-winning Burren LIFE programme and is newly-appointed to the Aran LIFE programme Advisory Board.
  • Academic representative on the Irish Ramsar Wetlands Committee
  • Courses: BPS302 Plant Ecology and BPS405 Ecology and Conservation Issues. MSc in Sustainable Resources, Policy and Practice; MSc in Biodiversity and Land-use Planning. All include residential and /or day field excursions.
  • Curator of the NUI Galway Vascular Plant Herbarium

There is a list of her published articles and books.

Michelene working

I have been following Micheline in her gender discrimination challenge to NUIG and contributed to the crowd funding.

National University of Ireland Galway has been instructed by the Equality Tribunal to immediately promote a female academic and pay her €70,000 in damages. The ruling comes after the tribunal found that the college had discriminated against her on the grounds of her gender.

Dr Micheline Sheehy Skeffington applied for a senior lectureship post at the university in 2009 but was not appointed. In its ruling in favour of Dr Sheehy Skeffington, the tribunal described NUIG’s interview process as “ramshackle”.

It ordered the college to review its policies and procedures in relation to promotions and to report back. Dr Sheehy Skeffington is a highly qualified botanist, widely published, and described as an “inspirational” lecturer by a former student. After 19 years as a college lecturer at NUIG, she applied to become a senior lecturer for the fourth time.

She was not appointed and after an unsuccessful internal appeal, she took a case based on gender discrimination to the tribunal. The tribunal found in her favour, citing both direct and indirect discrimination.

It found that on paper promotion to senior lecturer at NUIG seemed to be fair. But it said its implementation has fallen short. There was no training for interviewers, no meeting to discuss candidates. The suggestions of the external interviewer on the panel were ignored. The fact that there was no marking scheme for the interview, it said, highlighted the “ramshackle” approach.

The tribunal said it was worrying that one male candidate who was promoted was not even eligible to apply for the position. It found that men at the university had a one in two chance of being promoted to senior lecturer. Female academics’ chances were less than one in three.

The tribunal ordered the university to retrospectively appoint Dr Sheehy Skeffington to the post and to pay her damages of €70,000.

The university has said it accepts the tribunal’s decision “unreservedly” and it will “take immediate steps to implement the … findings”.

It said: “The University very much regrets the distress caused to Dr Sheehy Skeffington in this matter, thanks her for her contribution over many years and wishes her well in the future.”

NUIG male

One of her predecessors was Professor Maureen de Valera who was my botany lecturer in 1964/65. (Being the only botanist on the staff, de Valéra taught all of the botanical courses, with the work load doubling when the lectures were offered in Irish.  She was the first Chair and Professor of Botany at UCG. Her specialism was algae.)…/Path-Breaking-Women—Brochure.pd.

There has been a Gender Equality Task Force appointed and they have produced their findings.

The Task Force concluded that the current climate in NUI Galway is not conducive to ensuring that all staff are supported to reach their full potential. The Micheline Sheehy Skeffington case was the second gender equality case in which the Equality Tribunal found against the University in 2014. Gender inequality is evident across the University, among academic and support staff, with the result that many women feel undervalued and ignored. At a human level, this is clearly unacceptable but for the University this represents a significant loss of talent and undermines the University’s commitment to excellence.      

Micheline has now retired from NUIG but has donated her compensation to the continuing fight for other women lecturers.  Although the NUIG has accepted the recommendations of the Task Force which was slammed according to the Connaught Tribune.


“The report fails to address, in any meaningful way, the discrimination and unfair treatment faced by administrative, general operative and technical staff, academics and others on precarious contracts or casually employed, researchers or students. The few recommendations regarding some of these staff or students are token gestures or misguided proposals which may make matters worse.

“The report proposes actions which may result in more academic women being promoted to senior positions. However, gender quotas are not a long-term solution to the underlying problem of institutional discrimination across all grades of staff. Quotas will not resolve the fundamental, underlying problem of unfair treatment of those with caring responsibilities, a majority of whom are women.”

The case of the women lecturers against NUIG is continuing and in the meantime there is a new President who wants to see the back of this and seems to be stalling the process.

Micheline has embarked on another project which is repeating the epic lecture tour of the USA undertaken by her grandmother Hanna publicising what had happened to her grandfather Francis -a pacifist – was shot by a British firing squad during the Easter Rising. Hanna is Ireland’s most famous suffragette.

The four taking the case are Dr Margaret Hodgins, Dr Sylvie Lannegrand, Dr Adrienne Gorman and Dr Róisín Healy. The fifth female lecturer, Dr Elizabeth Tilley is pursuing a separate case in the Labour Court.They had all been deemed eligible for promotion to Senior Lecturer posts in 2009 but were all turned down.

President Jim Browne and NUIG having insisted all these years that it was for the five women to prove the injustice in court as there was nothing management could do to put it right, this hearing for four of the women’s cases would have shown management were attempting to stop the women from doing that.

Hanna and me

When her husband Francis was killed despite him being a pacifist, Hanna undertook an epic lecture tour of the US, publicising what had happened. This autumn her granddaughter, Micheline, also known for her fight for gender equality and justice, is repeating Hanna’s tour and we plan to film it for a documentary.

She says “This autumn, 100 years on, I will retrace my grandmother, Hanna Sheehy Skeffington’s epic lecture tour of the US. This tour was so important for Ireland’s fight for independence, yet has largely been forgotten. I want to publicise what she did by making a documentary of my trip. I will spend three months speaking in the places she visited and, like her, my tour will be funded by the organisations and communities that host me. But I also want to film the tour and the people and places I encounter.

I will visit places associated with her feminist friends, like Jane Addams, Elizabeth Gurley Flynn and Emma Goldman.We’ll film key sections of the tour to provide a basis for the production of a full documentary on Hanna’s journey. We hope to have this broadcast during 2018, the anniversary of Irish women getting the vote – which happened because of the actions of suffragettes like Hanna. We are seeking funding simply for the filming of the tour so that the eventual documentary can weave the thread between Hanna’s epic journey then, Irish-Americans and feminist activism today, and Hanna’s suffrage activity in Ireland. It resonates with what my father, Owen, did to champion the cause of human rights in 20th century Ireland, as well as my own recent fight for gender equality.”

Micheline’s blog:


The last entry The mediation that has been ongoing between NUI Galway and the four female academics taking High Court cases for gender discrimination in the 08/09 promotion round to senior lecturer has finally ended in failure…… With the meditation over, Micheline and this campaign can again publicise NUI Galway’s gender discrimination. Micheline’s lecture tour will ensure there are many opportunities, starting with coverage in Ireland during August before she goes, then in the US with media coverage of the tour there, and then again here when she returns in November. Every time she speaks to the media or gives one of the many lectures about her grandmother’s famous tour, Micheline will also reference the campaign and the injustice for the five women. AS will the documentary about Hanna she plans. You can support what she is doing and help highlight the gender discrimination at NUI Galway by contributing to the crowd funding to film the tour, for the documentary Hanna and Me- Passing on the Flame.

The row rumbles on as NUIG is to receive official recognition for its work to advance gender equality. In May the college, along with Maynooth University , received the internationally-recognised Athena Swan bronze award, which demonstrates a solid foundation in eliminating gender bias despite being at the centre of this high-profile gender discrimination row. The Irish Times May 7th quotes : ‘Dr Sheehy Skeffington said she was surprised at the bronze award given that four other female lecturers were involved in High Court cases in which they allege they unfairly missed out on promotions. She said she felt actions by women over alleged gender discrimination had led to recent improvements.’

Under new rules, higher-education institutions are required to have bronze awards by the end of next year to remain eligible for Irish research funding. Latest available figures show women are significantly under-represented in the senior ranks of most of the State’s universities. While just over half of all of lecturers in universities are female, these numbers fall dramatically at higher grades such as associate professor (29 per cent) and professor (21 per cent).

Many of us petitioned Athena Swan against awarding but obviously the promises to be good in the future seems to have worked!

Whatever happens NUIG doesn’t look good in terms of its gender equality.  Micheline succeeded in getting the funding for the tour and film. The the four women lecturers are still negotiating in their challenge. I hope that the women of Galway stay assertive, challenging and standing up to gender inequality wherever they encounter it. I will continue to update.