Jeanne Rathbone

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. https://sheelanagigcomedienne.wordpress.com/tag/hanna-sheehy-skeffington/

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.   https://sheelanagigcomedienne.wordpress.com/tag/hanna-sheehy-skeffington/

Hanna and Frank sheehyskeffington

Here is Michelene’s  NUIG CV details.https://www.nuigalway.ie/science/school-of-natural-sciences/disciplines/botany-plant-science/research/plant-and-algal-marine-ecology/michelinesheehyskeffington/

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. https://www.rte.ie/news/2014/1117/660112-nuig/

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.)

https://www.nuigalway.ie/media/nuigalwayie/…/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.

http://www.nuigalway.ie/media/nuigalwayie/content/files/aboutus/Final-Report-Gender-Equality-Task-Force-260516.pdf      

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.

CONNACHT-TRIBUNE-300x88-300x88.

http://connachttribune.ie/union-slams-nuig-gender-equality-report-860/

“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.”

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.

https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/hanna-and-me-passing-on-the-flame#/

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 they 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:        https://michelinesthreeconditions.wordpress.com/

-Micheline-Sheehy-Skeffington-

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 five women lecturers finally won their cases and there is a new President of NUIG and we hope that gender equality will continue to improve there. Congratulations to all the women and their supporters who fought for this and I am looking forward to the completed video of Michelene’s trip.  Michelene features in my Notable Galway Women walk for Heritage week 2019.

Notable Galway Women

Posted in Notable Galway Women by sheelanagigcomedienne on June 6, 2017

I am writing this series of blogs featuring Notable Galway Women in reaction to the two songs entitled Galway Girl – one written by Steve Earle and the latest by Ed Sheeran in the Irish tradition of songs about women from a male perspective – the male gaze.

I am celebrating and commemorating 14 Notable Galway Women in the centenary year of some women women getting the vote. This is in parallel with my Notable Women of Lavender Hill Walks which came about because none of the Wandsworth Heritage Societes/Groups were planning any activities in the centenary year as they had already decided on the theme of ‘open spaces’ . This is why my talk on International Women’s of Significant Battersea Women became my walk Notable Women of Lavender Hill.

In my preface I explain that as a Humanist Celebrant I have been writing brief biographies for funerals and memorials and this is an extension of that tendency. I have also been involved with the Battersea Society commemorative blue plaques and believe so much in this kind of commemoration. I have even gone a step further in campaigning for a statue of Charlote Despard 1844-1939 socialist, suffragette and Sinn Feiner to be commissioned in the regenerated Nine Elms Battersea. So, I am on a mission to have real women commemorated as they are so under represented visibly in the public domain with plaques and statues.

Getting back to the Galway Girl songs.  They are often fetishised descriptions of hair colour, wearing black velvet band, rosy cheeks, lily white skin, wearing bonnets, carrying baskets, tripping along, called Mary, Rose,  Eileen and, of course, place naming Galway, Tralee, Mooncoin etc.  This is the typical objectifying of women as the ‘comely maidens’ of De Valera’s imagination. The Lovely Girls contest in Father Ted refers to the annual cringe fest of the Rose of Tralee beauty pageant where the Roses parade in front of the Prime Minister every summer – an Taoseach ogling the cailini – only in Ireland or an oligarchic Whatistan.

The other role of Irish womanhood is, of course, in the home and enshrined in the constitution. The reference to a woman’s “life within the home” rather than work in the home, and the desire to prevent mothers from engaging in the labour force “to the neglect of their duties in the home” is insulting,  Catholic inspired and patriarchal.

My original blog was in response to the blow-in Earle who has returned to the states but when I heard that Sheeran had written one also with the same title, was happy to admit that 400 million people of Irish descent would be interested in it, shamelessly acknowledging that he did it for financial reasons and not bothered by a plagiarism challenge.

The hype in Ireland, particulaly in Galway,  about it was OTT especially when the video starring Saoirse Ronan as the Galway Girl appeared.  saoirse ronan

http://www.dailyedge.ie/galway-girl-video-implausible-3373033-May2017/

The Earle imagined black-haired/blue-eyed women disappeared after the one night fling after their a walk on the Salthill prom. Presumably she fled because she didn’t fancy him in the sober light of day. Stewart Lee, cynical comedian, has sung it on the grounds that his wife’s folk – comedienne Bridget Christie – hail from Galway. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qfAJAG6dgQI

There is a version as ghaeilge.  A cover version of the song by Mundy and Sharon Shannon reached number one and became the most downloaded song of 2008 in Ireland, and has gone on to become the eighth highest selling single in Irish chart history.

So, Ed Sheeran thought he could cash in the popularity of a song called Galway Girl.   The Sheeran Galway girl it turns out was based on fiddle player Niamh Dunne who is a member of Antrim-based folk group Beoga that collaborated with Sheeran on the track.  However, she is not his love interest nor married to an Englishmen and is from from Limerick. But they did spend a night on the tiles in Dublin Irish dancing, Guinness, two Irish whiskeys – Jameson and Powers, Van the Man, a rendition of Carrickfergus, Grafton Street – the usual kind of ingredients of a commercial modern Irish song.  Of course, he is eligible for an Irish passport, ginger hair etc. And that makes him Irish. He even has a photo of him as a teenager busking in Galway next to the statue of Oscar Wilde.

Ed Sheeran in Galway

Teenage Sheeran busking in Galway

So now I feel compelled to write about Galway women. The first thing to note about Galway women is that they are women not girleens. I am one.  There is some interesting imagery of women in Galway songs. For a start, you had the women making hay, in the uplands digging pratees whilst chatting in Irish- a language that the English do not know. The woman featured in the song a Galway Shawl wears ‘a bonnet with a ribbon on it’ but ‘she wears no paint nor powder,  no none at all’.

Further name check of Galway songs produces the Queen of Connemara which transpires is a boat, Sweet Marie refers to the name of a horse in the Galway Plate race of the Galway Races. There’s the Lass of Aughrim which featured in James Joyce’s Dubliners. There is Pegeen Litir Mor telling how she attracts not only the poet but men from different districts. And so it goes on.

Even our bard Seamus Heaney got in on the act with his Girls Bathing Galway.

No milk-limbed Venus ever rose
Miraculous on this western shore;
A pirate queen in battle clothes
Is our sterner myth.

…in swimsuits, Brown-legged, smooth-shouldered and bare-backed
They wade ashore with skips and shouts.

This will always remind my generation of the proclamation of disapproval by the very conservative Bishop Browne about women in Salthill wearing two piece bathing costumes which prompted a letter in response from some Galway women inquiring which piece of the swim suit did his Lordship wish them to remove.

Galway women come in varying shapes, sizes, temperaments, ages and colours. They are emigrants, daughters, mothers, sisters, wives, lovers, poets, authors, entrepreneurs, singers, dancers, artists, politicians, teachers, workers, lawyers, doctors, nurses, engineers, scientists, administrators, shop assistants, etc.

I would like to introduce you to a few Galway women.  It is a random choice from poets, to Nationalist activists. I have included Mary Devenport O’Neill (1879 – 1967) poet and dramatist. She wrote the poem Galway which I suggested to Tom Kenny should feature in the Galway Poetry Trail. He said it was too long!

Galway

I know a town tormented by the sea,
And there time goes slow
That the people see it flow
And watch it drowsily,
And growing older hour by hour they say,
‘Please God, to-morrow!
Then we will work and play,’
And their tall houses crumble away.
This town is eaten through with memory
Of pride and thick red Spanish wine and gold
And a great come and go;
But the sea is cold,
And the spare, black trees
Crouch in the withering breeze
That blows from the sea,
And the land stands bare and alone,
For its warmth is turned away
And its strength held in hard cold grey-blue
stone;
And the people are heard to say,
Through the raving of the jealous sea,
‘Please God, to-morrow!
Then we will work and play.’

There are powerful Galway women like Catherine Corless who has worked tirelessly to expose the secret and shame of the neglected babies who died and were buried in unmarked graves and their unfortunate mothers who were incarcerated by the Irish state and the Catholic Church whilst the silent population looked on. There was Bridie O’Flaherty , Mayor and founder member of the Progressive Democrats, Anita Leslie 1914-1985,  biographer and writer and there is Leila Doolan Producer /Director,  Patricia Burke Brogan, playwright, novelist, poet and artist who exposed the the Magdalene Laundries scandal in her play Eclipsed, Jessie Lendennie founder of Salmon Publishing which has championed women poets, Vanda Luddy artist, Mary Coughlan, chanteuse and Galway character that was Una Taaffe etc.

I emigrated in 1965 when I was still a teenager and so my choice of women of Galway reflects that as I am now an old pensioner, pagan and stranger in the City of Tribes. I have selected Nora Barnacle, wife and muse of James Joyce,  Rita Anne Higgins poet, Michelene Sheehy  Skeffington, botanist and gender equality campaigner, Siobhain McKenna, actor,  Lady Augusta Gregory, playwright and Abbey Theatre founder,  Garry  Hynes, Theatre Director, Alice Perry, Civil Engineer, Ada English, Psychiatrist 1903 UCG, Alice Cashel, Irish nationalist,  Margaretta D’Arcy, author and activist, Maureen Kenny, bookseller, Mary Devonport O’Neill poet Dolores Keane singer and Clare Sheridan sculptor and writer. A younger person would have chosen a different set of Mná na Gaillimhe  and I hope they do and continue the celebration of significant Galway women.

I hope that some Galway woman/women will pick up this idea and even do a walk entitled Notable Women of Galway Trail to the places lived in or associated with these women. I think this should happen for 2020 Year of culture. I certainly hope so and it is part of my intention in embarking on this. I also hope that

I will feature each one individually.

Nora Barnacle (1884 -1951)  Wife and Muse of James Joyce Nora Barnacle

https://sheelanagigcomedienne.wordpress.com/tag/nora-barnacle/

Maureen Kenny (1918-2008) Bookseller extraordinaire Maureen K

https://sheelanagigcomedienne.wordpress.com/2018/04/29/maureen-kenny-galway-bookseller-extraordinaire/

Lady Augusta Gregory (1852-1932) Dramatist, folklorist and theatre manager Augusta,_Lady_Gregory_ alter life

https://sheelanagigcomedienne.wordpress.com/2018/04/29/lady-augusta-gregory-galway-woman-2/

Rita Anne Higgins  Poet, Bard of Galway Rita-Ann-Higgins-2

https://sheelanagigcomedienne.wordpress.com/tag/rita-anne-higgins/

Alice Cashel (1878-1958) Irish Nationalist Alice_Cashel

https://sheelanagigcomedienne.wordpress.com/tag/alice-cashel/

Garry Hynes      Theatre Director Garry Hynes

https://sheelanagigcomedienne.wordpress.com/2017/06/20/galway-women-part-2/

Alice Perry (1885-1969)  First Woman  Civil Engineer 

https://sheelanagigcomedienne.wordpress.com/2018/05/02/alice-perry-first-european-female-engineering-graduate-galway-woman-6/Alice_Perry_1885-1969

Michelene Sheehy Skeffington    Botanist, NUIG Gender Discrimination     

https://sheelanagigcomedienne.wordpress.com/tag/michelene-sheehy-skeffington/

Michelene

Margaretta D’Arcy Author, Political Activist Theatre 

https://sheelanagigcomedienne.wordpress.com/2018/07/14/margaretta-ddarcy-galway-woman/

Margaretta D

Margaretta Darcy

Ada English (1875-1944) Psychiatrist and Irish Nationalist

https://sheelanagigcomedienne.wordpress.com/2018/07/20/ada-english-psychiatrist-galway-woman/

Ada biography

Mary Devonport O’Neill (1879-1967)  Poet and Playwright https://sheelanagigcomedienne.wordpress.com/2016/07/28/mary-devenport-oneill-poem-galway/

Mary Devenport O'Neilll

Dolores Keane Singer https://sheelanagigcomedienne.wordpress.com/…/dolores-keane-singer-and-notable-ga…

Dol

Siobhán McKenna (1923–86)         
https://sheelanagigcomedienne.wordpress.com/category/siobhan-mckenna-renowned-actor-and-notable-galway-woman/
Siobhan Dr Z
Clare Sheridan (18  -190 Sculptor, Author and Traveller
https://sheelanagigcomedienne.wordpress.com/category/clare-sheridan-author-sculptor-and-notable-galway-woman/
Clare by Anita

Hanna Sheehy Skeffington an Irish heroine and wonderful role model for Irish women.

Posted in Hanna Sheehy-Skeffington - an Irish heroine and role model for Irish women by sheelanagigcomedienne on January 27, 2015

The two women I have chosen as heroines who have inspired and fascinated me are called Anna and Hanna. Anna Parnell and Hanna Sheehy Skeffington both played their parts in Irish history, in the history of women speaking up within a colonised country in its struggle for independence but fighting for autonomy and equality for women within that – always a struggle between nationalism and women’s rights.

Anna Parenll bigraphy petticoatrebellion

Anna, born in 1852 had set up the Ladies Land League so when her brother Charles Parnell MP and other leaders were imprisoned in 1881, as predicted, the Ladies’ Land League took over their work. Offices were given to the women but little help. The women held public meetings and encouraged country women to be active in withholding rent, in boycotting and in resisting evictions. They raised funds for the League and for the support of prisoners and their families. They distributed Land League wooden huts to shelter evicted tenant families and by the beginning of 1882 they had 500 branches, thousands of women members and considerable publicity. Anna, whose nationalist fervor exceeded that of her brother, parted on bad terms with him over politics, and lived the rest of her life in the south of England under an assumed name. She never married.. She wrote an angry account of her Land League experiences in Tale of a Great Sham, which was not published until 1986.   She drowned at Ilfracombe, Devon in 1911. Anna’s is a sad story from an earlier time compared to Hanna’s.

Hanna_Sheehy-Skeffington_in_1916

Hanna’s life is more documented as she played a pivotal role in Irish history at the time of the struggle for independence and for women’s right to vote and for equality and the name SheehySkeffington is embedded in Irish history as she and her husband Francis were a couple who both fought for women’s equality and he was killed by the British in 1916.

Hanna

Hanna’s House – History

Hanna Sheehy Skeffington was born Johanna Sheehy on May 27, 1877 in Kanturk, Co. Cork, the first of six surviving children born to David Sheehy and Elizabeth (nee McCoy). The Sheehy’s owned and operated a successful milling business.
Hanna’s father was a staunch Irish Republican who was active in both the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB) and the Irish Land League, militant organizations opposed to oppressive British rule in Ireland. As a consequence of his activism and outspokenness he was imprisoned on a number of occasions for incitement and sedition. After the abortive IRB Rising in the late 1860′ he fled to the United States to avoid arrest and imprisonment. When things quietened down in the early 1870’s he returned to Ireland. After the “New Departure”(1) of 1879 he became an Irish Parliamentary Party Member of Parliament, first representing south Galway and after that Meath.

In 1887 when Hanna was ten years old the family moved to Dublin where she attended the Dominican Convent in Eccles Street. She was an excellent pupil who demonstrated an innate talent for languages.

When Hanna was 18 she developed symptoms associated with incipient tuberculosis. As German physicians were in the forefront of diagnosing and treating tuberculosis at that time, Hanna was sent to the Rhineland for what was generally a prolonged period of treatment in a sanatorium setting.

After she returned home in 1896 she enrolled at St Mary’s University College in St. Stephens Green to study modern languages, specifically, French and German. St. Mary’s College was established by the Dominicans in 1893 to promote higher education for middle-class Catholic women. As a private Catholic College, St. Mary’s was not granted a royal charter, therefore could not award recognized degrees. In order to graduate she took her final exams at the Royal University of Ireland from whence she received a BA degree in 1899. The Royal University charter enabled Irish students to sit the universities examinations and receive degrees.

After receiving her BA degree Hanna attended University College Dublin (UCD) in pursuit of an MA in modern languages. Part of her studies were conducted in Paris and Bonn. On her return to Dublin in 1902 she was awarded a first class honors MA degree in modern languages.

As a qualified teacher she was employed as on a part time basis at the Dominican Convent school in Eccles Street, the school where she received her secondary education. She soon discovered that as a female lay teacher her career options were limited as the Catholic Church controlled all aspects of Catholic education. All that was available to her and other qualified lay teachers were temporary assignments that ended when a qualified nun appeared to fill the position on a permanent basis. After completing her assignment at the Dominican Convent she continued her career as a teacher of French and German at the Rathmines College of Commerce.
This institutionalized discriminatory situation that she was confronted with while at the Dominican Convent caused her to question the political system that, not alone, tolerated but condoned such blatant gender inequalities. That experience was an awakening of sorts that led her, over the next 8 years, to abandon constitutional nationalism and its institutions in favor of a more radical approach to bring about a more equitable society.
Up until 1912 the focus of the Irish Party and most Irish politicians was in achieving Home Rule without regard to its inequities. The Home Rule charter acceptable to John Redmond and the Irish Party did not include gender equality — women were barred from voting in general elections. By 1912 the “New Departure” initiative of 1879 was coming apart. The IRB, after a period of dormancy, was again re-emerging as a ‘physical force” alternative to the ineffective and flawed constitutional approach.

Hanna and Frank sheehyskeffington

In 1903 Hanna married Frank Skeffington, a university register. As an expression of equality in all aspects of their relationship they symbolically joined their names to ‘Sheehy Skeffington’ .

Both Hanna and Frank joined Ireland’s only suffrage organization, the Irish Women’s Suffrage and Local Government Association. The aim of the organization was to campaign for women’s suffrage and to advance women’s position in local government.
In 1908 Hanna and Frank together with Margaret and James Cousins, set up the Irish Women’s Franchise League (IWFL) as an independent, militant suffrage organization modeled on the British-based Women’s Social and Political Union. It addition to its suffrage underpinning it embraced the labor movement, Irish nationalism and the revival of the Irish culture.

In 1912, the British House of Commons passed a Home Rule Bill for Ireland excluded equal rights for women. Women were denied the right to vote thus denying them the rights of Irish citizenship. On June 12 , 1912, in an act of defiance, members of the IWFL took to the streets smashing windows in Dublin Castle, the United Irish League and other citadel’s of male power. Hanna was adamant that Dublin Castle, the bastion of British power in Ireland , was to be her target. As a result of her actions she was imprisoned for two months in Mountjoy Jail and also lost her teaching job. At a suffrage meeting in Phoenix Park before her imprisonment she stated her actions were in line with the Irish struggle for national freedom. The defiant actions of the women of the IWFL on that day in June of 1912 was the beginning of the decline of John Redmond Irish Parliamentary Party who unequivocally opposed equal rights women.
Hanna was imprisoned for a second time in November of 1913 for an altercation with a member of the British security forces. She went on hunger strike and was released after six days.

Both Hanna and her husband Frank opposed the War in 1914. Frank was imprisoned for protesting the recruitment of the Irish Volunteers that Redmond encouraged, notwithstanding the fact that Home Rule for Ireland, Redmond’s hoped for crowning glory, was set aside by the British at the onset of the 1914 war.
As a committed feminist Hanna was critical of the subservient role of Cumann na mBan to the Irish Volunteers, but, nonetheless, supported their aims. Although she and her husband did not take a direct part in the fighting during Easter Rising of 1916, neither did they stand idly by. She took it upon herself to bring food and messages to the various outposts while her husband Frank tried to stop looting. A declared pacifist Frank was arrested while trying to stop looting, and the following day, Wednesday, was summarily executed by a firing squad on the orders of a British officer. After the Rising Hanna shed any reservations she had regarding the use of physical force to achieve the stated purpose of the Rising — a sovereign Irish Republic that embraced gender equality in a pluralistic society.

hanna and margaret
Towards the end of 1916 Hanna undertook a tour of the Unites States in response to an invitation from the Friends of Irish Freedom. From January 6, 1917 to June 27, she spoke at over 250 meetings. Her tour started in New York and continued through New England, Ohio, Illinois, Wisconsin, Missouri, the Pacific Northwest, California and back to again to New York. The theme of her narrative, which, remained consistent throughout her tour, dealt with the evils of British Militarism, the British governments sanction of her husbands murder and Ireland’s just struggle freedom and sovereignty.

Hanna Owen michelene

She raised $40,000 during the tour that she handed over to Michael Collins, who, at that time was the Secretary to the National Aid and Volunteers Dependents Fund.

Hanna and Margaret Pearse mother of Padraic Pearse who was executed by the British

Hanna and Margaret Pearse mother of Padraic Pearse who was executed by the British

During her tour the British tried to everything to stop her from speaking. They also tried to prevent her from informing the American public of Britain’s brutality towards their Irish opponents and their blatant disregard for human rights and democratic principles. On her return they tried, but failed, to prevent her from entering Ireland. Shortly after arriving back in Ireland she was arrested and imprisoned with Countess Markievicz, Kathleen Clarke and Maude Gonne in Holloway Jail in London. After starting a hunger strike she was released.
In September 1918 she joined Sinn Fein and shortly afterwards was appointed to its executive In May of the 1919 she was appointed Organizing Secretary primarily responsible for the organization’s propaganda campaign. Her anti-British speeches during the War of Independence caused her to go on the run to avoid arrest and internment.
In 1920 Hanna was elected to the Dublin Corporation serving on the Technical Education Committee and the Public Libraries Committee. She also acted as judge in the Republican courts in south Dublin and was hired as a French teacher at the Technical Institute in Dun Laoghaire.
After the Anglo-Irish truce was signed to stop the fighting in July of 1921, Hanna played a prominent role, as an intermediary, in the peace negotiations between de Valera, President of Dail Eireann and Lloyd George the British prime minister. Despite her involvement in the negotiations she and the women of Cumann na mBan opposed the subsequent Anglo-Irish Treaty, the establishment of the Free State, the partition of Ireland and the Oath of Allegiance to the English King.

Hanna, Frank and Fr Eugene on her release from prison 1912
At the onset of the Civil War in April 1922, Hanna and other Republican women tried, unsuccessfully, to stop the fighting. Despite her aversion to war she supported the Republicans who continued to struggle for the Republic proclaimed in 1916. At the request of De Valera she undertook a second tour of the United States which lasted from October of 1922 to May of 1923. During that tour she, together with Linda Kearns and Kathleen Boland, visited 23 states raising funds on behalf of the American Committee of Irish Republican Soldiers and Prisoner’s Dependant Fund. The women who crisscrossed the country raised $123,000.
After the Civil War she was barred from teaching because she sided with the Republicans and refused to swear allegiance to the English king.
The British buttressed Free State government that took over in 1923 was misogynistic, anti-republican and opportunistic. The brutality directed at women opponents during the Civil War far exceeded that meted out by the British during the War of Independence. There was no place in the dominion state for those who supported or fought for the Republic proclaimed in 1916.
In 1925 Hanna was elected to the Dublin County Council where she served alongside other republicans women including Constance Markievicz and Dr Kathleen Lynn. She also worked with the Women’s Prisoners Defense League founded by Maude Gonne to help Republican prisoners and their families.

hanna pamphlet
In 1926, her desire to better challenge Cumann na nGaedheal, the Free State party in power, overcame her trepidation to join the executive the newly formed Fianna Fail party headed by de Valera whose apathy towards women was no secret. Uncomfortable from the onset for having joined she took the opportunity to resign when De Valera proposed that newly elected TD take the Oath of Allegiance to the English king in order to enter the Dail. After that she threw her support to the republican cause helping to edit An Phoblacht. When An Phoblacht was suppressed by the Free State she single-handedly published the Republican File.
Hanna considered the Fianna Fail led government that took over 1932 to be more theocratic than democratic, provincial in its outlook and buoyed by censorship fear. She was a leading opponent of De Valera and Bishop John McQuad’s constitution of 1937 that essentially relegated the role of women to kitchen duties. In 1933 she was imprisoned for a month by the Unionist government for crossing the border to speak on behalf of republican women prisoners.

Hanna continued to deliver speeches in Ireland, Canada and the United States and made her living as a journalist, writing about independence, suffrage and feminism.She visited the USSR in 1930 with another women I greatly admire Charlotte Despard who is much associated with Battersea and was the Labour candidate here in 1918.

Hanna died in 1946 on Easter Saturday 20 April leaving a legacy of sacrifice, bravery and a list of achievements befitting of a true Irish hero.hann and frank ngrave-stone

In a lecture at UCD Hanna Sheehy Skeffington remembered – History Ireland  in 1996 her daughter-in-law Andrée recalled Hanna with great affection: ‘She was very helpful, but she could also be quietly critical. When I told her that I and some friends were forming the Irish Housewives Associations she said, “You’re not wedded to the house, you know!”’.

Andrée remembered, ‘It was startling to see on her mantelpiece a photo of a British officer in uniform. This was Major Sir Francis Vane, who had ordered an enquiry into the murder of her husband. He did all he could to see that justice was done, and it cost him his position in the British Army’.

I corresponded with Andrée when I was asked if I was interested in writing a short biography of Hanna after I had been contacted by Jill Norris (who tragically died in a car crash soon afterwards) who was commissioning them for a series Women of their Times.Jill NorrisCharlotte letter from Jill Norris

Andree letter

Three leading feminist historians contributed to the event: Margaret MacCurtain, Rosemary Cullen Owens and Margaret Ward, who is writing a biography of Hanna Sheehy-Skeffington. Margaret Ward said her view of Hanna had changed during her research. ‘I think there is an assumption that if you are a feminist, a socialist, an anti-vivisectionist, and you are married to a man who is a strong pacifist, that you too must be a pacifist and not be a nationalist except possibly after 1916. In fact Hanna always had nationalist sympathies, but her starting point in evaluating any situation was, “How would it affect women ?”. We need an annual Hanna Sheehy Skeffington summer school. It would cover so many important things in Irish life: Hanna as an educationalist, Hanna as an inspiration to feminists, Hanna as someone who intervened in nationalist affairs, Hanna and the labour movement. That would be a fitting memorial to her.’

These three have written much about Hanna and admired her and the role she has played in the history of Ireland and Irish women.

Her grand daughter Dr Michelene Sheehy Skeffington has been fighting gender inequality at NUI Galway.Michelene

She is a botanist and was a lecturer at NUI Galway, has said she has “struck a blow for all female academics” after the Equality Tribunal found she was discriminated against on gender grounds when she was overlooked for a senior lectureship. 4 NUI Galway ordered to promote lecturer overlooked over …   and so the fight continues and her grandmother would, I have no doubt, approved of her actions. She now has a petition Petition · Micheline’s Three Conditions · Change.org  DO PLEASE SIGN.

Like many republican women, Hanna remained true to her beliefs. She was immune to the lure of power, money or other inducement so enticing to so many her male contemporaries. That is why she is such an inspiration for Irish women who still are fighting the causes for women’s equality and under representation in political life and against the ethos of the patriarchal Catholic church and its terrible legacy of child sexual abuse, of the incarceration of women, forced adoptions,  maltreatment in the Magdalen Laundries with the connivance of the government, with the refusal to allow abortion rights etc. We need the inspiration of women like Anna and Hanna to remind us of the long struggle but also the achievements of our fore sisters.

This year 2018 is the centenary of some women -aged 30 and property owning –  getting the vote in Britain and Ireland. However, full franchise for those over 21 in Ireland was introduced in 1922 and not till 1928 in Britain.Votes for women 100

The first woman elected to parliament was, of course, Constance Markievicz who served in the Dail as Minister for Labour 1919-1921. She has a statue commemorating her.

Markievic statue

Hanna Sheehy Skeffington should also have a similar commemoration but more importantly this has to be a year of action as Ireland’s record of women in public life and politics is woeful.

Many people believe Ireland needs more female representation in its corridors of power. In fact there have been more people called ‘Sean’ and ‘John’ elected to Dáil Éireann since 1918 than women. To be specific, there were 99 Johns and 31 Seáns elected over the last century compared with just 114 women. Of all the people ever elected to the Dáil, only 9% were women, while 91% were men.                                                                     http://www.irishexaminer.com/lifestyle/features/time-for-womens-voices-to-be-heard-in-government-454263.html

The struggle/campaign for women’s equal involvement in political life in Ireland spearheaded by women like Hanna continues.