Éamon de Valera’s new constitution, with its assertions of Ireland as a sovereign 32-county state, and its definition of Catholic morality and “women’s place” is approved on January 14, 1937.
De Valera’s 1937 constitution (Bunreacht na hÉireann) evokes a passionate rebuke of the articles defining the role and rights of women. The aspirations of 1916 had been eroded to the extent that the rights of half of the State’s citizens were reduced and effectively became second-class citizens. In 1936, while formulating the new constitution, Éamon de Valera establishes a civil service committee to assist him. They are all men. He also takes extensive advice from the president of the Supreme Court and the High Court. Both again are men. Archbishop of Dublin, John Charles McQuaid, also heavily influences the final text. There are only three women TDs at the time and none of them say a word in the Dáil debates on the draft.
Women are told that marriage should be their highest aspiration, child rearing their only creative outlet, and that economic dependence their civic duty. That in its turn produces levels of misogyny, emotional sterility and civic immaturity.
Article 41.2.1 becomes famous as ‘a woman’s place is in the home’ statement: “the State recognises that by her life within the home, woman gives to the State a support without which the common good cannot be achieved.”
Many women protest in public and in private during the drafting of de Valera’s constitution. The Irish Women Workers Union, many of whose members had been involved in the 1916 Easter Rising, express outrage. A letter from the secretary to de Valera, quoting the clauses which refer to the position of women says, “it would hardly be possible to make a more deadly encroachment upon the liberty of the individual.” The constitution is accepted and a combination of revisionism and isolationism in the years that follow leave the majority of Ireland’s citizens ignorant of the legacy woman had been denied.
The fundamental principle of the 1916 proclamation, which guaranteed religious and civil liberty, equal rights and equal opportunities to all citizens, echoed by the 1922 Constitution of the Irish Free State, guaranteeing those rights to every person “without distinction of sex,” had been changed.
As commander of the Boland’s Mill outpost in 1916, de Valera had been the only leader to refuse women’s participation in the Rising. As with many of the woman who fought in the Rising, in the same streets where Elizabeth O’Farrell walked through gunfire, now with Article 41 of the Constitution, de Valera closes the door on women’s progress in a more definitive way.