seamus dubhghaill

Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA


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Birth of Suffragist Winifred Carney

winifred-carneyMaria Winifred Carney, also known as Winnie Carney, suffragist, trade unionist and Irish independence activist, is born into a lower-middle class Catholic family in Bangor, County Down on December 4, 1887. Her father is a Protestant who leaves the family. Her mother and six siblings move to Falls Road in Belfast when she is a child.

Carney is educated at St. Patrick’s Christian Brothers School in Donegall Street in Belfast, later teaching at the school. She enrolls at Hughes Commercial Academy around 1910, where she qualifies as a secretary and shorthand typist, one of the first women in Belfast to do so. However, from the start she is looking towards doing more than just secretarial work.

In 1912 Carney is in charge of the women’s section of the Northern Ireland Textile Workers’ Union in Belfast, which she founds with Delia Larkin in 1912. During this period she meets James Connolly and becomes his personal secretary. She becomes Connolly’s friend and confidant as they work together to improve the conditions for female labourers in Belfast. Carney then joins Cumann na mBan, the women’s auxiliary of the Irish Volunteers, and attends its first meeting in 1914.

Carney is present with Connolly in Dublin‘s General Post Office (GPO) during the Easter Rising in 1916. She is the only woman present during the initial occupation of the building. While not a combatant, she is given the rank of adjutant and is among the final group to leave the GPO. After Connolly is wounded, she refuses to leave his side despite direct orders from Patrick Pearse and Connolly. She leaves the GPO with the rest of the rebels when the building becomes engulfed in flames. They make their new headquarters in nearby Moore Street before Pearse surrenders.

After her capture, Carney is held in Kilmainham Gaol before being moved to Mountjoy Prison and finally to an English prison. By August 1916 she is imprisoned in HM Prison Aylesbury alongside Nell Ryan and Helena Molony. The three request that their internee status be revoked so that they could be held as normal prisoners with Countess Markievicz. Their request is denied, however Carney and Molony are released two days before Christmas 1916.

Carney is a delegate at the 1917 Belfast Cumann na mBan convention. She stands for Parliament as a Sinn Féin candidate for Belfast Victoria in the 1918 General Election but loses to the Labour Unionists. Following her defeat, she decides to continue her work at the Irish Transport and General Workers’ Union until 1928. By 1924 she has become a member of the Labour Party. In the 1930s she joins the Socialist Party of Northern Ireland.

Following the Irish Civil War, Carney becomes much more disillusioned with politics. She is very critical and outspoken of Éamon de Valera and his governments.

In 1928 she marries George McBride, a Protestant Orangeman and former member of the Ulster Volunteers. Ironically, the formation of the Ulster Volunteers prompts the formation of the Irish Volunteers, of which Carney was a member. She alienates anyone in her life that does not support her marriage to McBride.

A number of serious health problems limit Carney’s political activities in the late 1930s. She dies in Belfast on November 21, 1943, and is buried in Milltown Cemetery. Her resting place is located years later and a headstone is erected by the National Graves Association, Belfast. Because she married a Protestant and former Orangeman, she is not allowed to have his name on her gravestone due to the religious differences.

In 2013, the Seventieth Anniversary of Carney’s death is remembered by the Socialist Republican Party. Almost one hundred people attend as a short parade follows, marking and commemorating the work she did for the cause. She is placed in high esteem among the other hundreds of radical women, who stand up for what they believe in, regardless of the consequences they face.


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Enactment of the Parliament (Qualification of Women) Act 1918

parliament-qualifications-of-women-act-1918The Parliament (Qualification of Women) Act 1918, an Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom, is given royal assent on November 21, 1918. It gives women over the age of 21 the right to stand for election as a Member of Parliament (MP). At 27 words, it is the shortest UK statute.

The Representation of the People Act 1918, passed on February 6, 1918, extends the franchise in parliamentary elections, also known as the right to vote, to women aged 30 and over who reside in the constituency or occupied land or premises with a rateable value above £5, or whose husbands do.

In March 1918, the Liberal Party MP for Keighley dies, causing a by-election on April 26. There is doubt as to whether women are eligible to stand for parliament. Nina Boyle makes known her intention to stand as a candidate for the Women’s Freedom League at Keighley and, if refused, to take the matter to the courts for a definitive ruling. After some consideration, the returning officer states that he is prepared to accept her nomination, thus establishing a precedent for women candidates. However, he rules her nomination papers invalid on other grounds: one of the signatories to her nomination is not on the electoral roll and another lives outside the constituency. The Lords of Appeal in Ordinary are asked to consider the matter and conclude that the Great Reform Act 1832 had specifically banned women from standing as parliamentary candidates and the Representation of the People Act had not changed that.

Parliament hurriedly passes the Parliament (Qualification of Women) Act in time to enable women to stand in the general election of December 1918. The act consists of only 27 operative words: “A woman shall not be disqualified by sex or marriage for being elected to or sitting or voting as a Member of the Commons House of Parliament.”

In the December 14, 1918 election to the House of Commons, seventeen women candidates stand, among them well-known suffragette Christabel Pankhurst, representing the Women’s Party in Smethwick. The only woman elected is the Sinn Féin candidate for Dublin St. Patrick’s, Constance Markievicz. However, in line with Sinn Féin abstentionist policy, she does not take her seat.

The first woman to take her seat in the House of Commons is Nancy Astor on December 1, 1919. She is elected as a Coalition Conservative MP for Plymouth Sutton on November 28, 1919, taking the seat her husband had vacated.

As Members of Parliament, women also gain the right to become government ministers. The first woman to become a cabinet minister and Privy Council member is Margaret Bondfield who is Minister of Labour in the second MacDonald ministry (1929–1931).


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Founding of the Irish Women’s Franchise League

irish-womens-franchise-leagueThe Irish Women’s Franchise League (IWFL), an organisation for women’s suffrage, is established in Dublin on November 4, 1908. Its founder members include Hanna Sheehy-Skeffington, Francis Sheehy-Skeffington and James H. Cousins. Thomas MacDonagh is also a member. The IWFL has 1,000 members by 1912 but only about fifty of these are active.

In the early 20th century, the Irish Parliamentary Party under John Redmond and his deputy John Dillon is opposed to votes for women, as is the British prime minister, H. H. Asquith.

In June 1912, after a meeting of a number of women’s organisations, Hanna Sheehy-Skeffington and Margaret Cousins with six other members of the IWFL smash government windows in the General Post Office (GPO) and other government buildings. They are arrested, charged, and jailed. The following month Asquith makes a visit to Dublin to address a meeting in the Theatre Royal. Frank Sheehy-Skeffington manages to gain entrance and demands votes for women before being thrown out. Meanwhile Asquith’s carriage is attacked by British suffragists Mary Leigh and Gladys Evans. In that attack John Redmond is injured. Leigh and Evans go on hunger strike in Mountjoy Gaol, and are joined by the imprisoned Irish IWFL members in solidarity.

In March 1913 a bust of John Redmond in the Royal Hibernian Academy is defaced by a suffragist protesting against the failure of the Irish Parliamentary Party to support a Women’s Franchise Bill in the House of Commons. In contrast, as a mark of solidarity with the women, James Connolly travels from Belfast to Dublin to speak at one of the IWFL’s weekly meetings which is held in the Phoenix Park, and members of the Irish Transport and General Workers’ Union (ITGWU) provide protection and offer escorts to women as they leave the meetings.

Hanna Sheehy-Skeffington loses her teaching job in 1913 when she is arrested and put in prison for three months after throwing stones at Dublin Castle. While in jail she starts a hunger strike but is released under the Prisoners (Temporary Discharge of Ill Health) Act 1913 and is soon rearrested.

The league keeps a neutral stance on Home Rule, but is opposed to World War I. After the killing of Francis Sheehy-Skeffington by a British officer in 1916, it supports Sinn Féin.

The Irish Women’s Franchise League publishes a paper, The Irish Citizen, from 1912 to 1920. The paper is edited originally by James H. Cousins.


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Closing of the Magdalene Laundries

magdalene-laundriesThe last of the Magdalene Laundries in Ireland, also known as the Magdalene Asylums, closes on September 25, 1996.

The Magdalene Laundries are institutions usually run by Roman Catholic orders, which operate from the 18th to the late 20th centuries. They are run ostensibly to house “fallen women,” a term primarily referring to prostitutes in the late 18th century. By the end of the 19th century, Magdalene laundries are filled with many different kinds of women, including girls who are “not prostitutes at all”, but either “seduced women” or women who have yet to engage in sexual activity.

Several religious institutes establish even more Irish laundries, reformatories and industrial schools, sometimes all together on the same plot of land, with the aim to “save the souls primarily of women and children.” Examples are Sisters of Our Lady of Charity of Refuge and the Congregation of the Sisters of Mercy, who run the largest laundries in Dublin. These large complexes become a massive interlocking system, carefully and painstakingly built up over a number of decades. Consequently, Magdalene laundries become part of Ireland’s “larger system for the control of children and women.”

An estimated 30,000 women are confined in these institutions in the 19th and 20th centuries. It is unknown how many women resided in the Magdalene institutions after 1900. Vital information about the women’s circumstances, the number of women, and the consequences of their incarceration is unknown. Due to the religious institutes’ “policy of secrecy,” their penitent registers and convent annals remain closed to this day, despite repeated requests for information.

In Dublin in 1993, the Sisters of Our Lady of Charity sell part of the land in their convent to a property developer to cover money lost in share dealings on the stock exchange. This leads to the discovery of 133 corpses in a mass grave. The Sisters arrange to have the remains cremated and reburied in another mass grave at Glasnevin Cemetery, splitting the cost of the reburial with the developer who had bought the land. It later transpires that there are 22 more corpses than the sisters had applied for permission to exhume. In all, 155 corpses were exhumed and cremated.

Discovery of the mass grave leads to media revelations about the operations of the secretive institutions. A formal state apology is issued in 2013, and a £50 million compensation scheme for survivors is set up by the Irish Government. The religious orders which operate the laundries have rejected activist demands that they financially contribute to this programme.


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OHCHR Mary Robinson Criticises U.S. for Violating Human Rights

mary-robinsonOn August 30, 2002, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mary Robinson, criticises the United States for violating human rights in its war on terrorism and of trying to scale back plans to save the world’s poorest people.

Robinson becomes the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights on September 12, 1997, following her nomination to the post by Secretary-General of the United Nations Kofi Annan and the endorsement of the General Assembly.

She assumes responsibility for the UN human rights programme at the time when the Office of the High Commissioner and the Centre for Human Rights are consolidated into a single Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).

As High Commissioner, Robinson gives priority to implementing the Secretary-General’s reform proposal to integrate human rights into all the activities of the United Nations. During her first year as High Commissioner, she travels to Rwanda, South Africa, Colombia and Cambodia, among other countries. In September 1998, she becomes the first High Commissioner to visit China and signs an agreement with the Government for OHCHR to undertake a wide-ranging technical-cooperation programme to improve human rights in that country. She also strengthens human rights monitoring in such conflict areas as Kosovo in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. Her term of office expires in 2002 after sustained pressure from the United States leads her to declare she is no longer able to continue her work.

Robinson comes to the United Nations after a distinguished, seven-year tenure as President of Ireland. She is the first Head of State to visit Rwanda in the aftermath of the 1994 genocide there. She is also the first Head of State to visit Somalia following the crisis there in 1992, and receives the CARE Humanitarian Award in recognition of her efforts for that country.

Before she is elected President of Ireland in 1990, Robinson serves as Senator for 20 years. Born on May 21, 1944 in Ballina, County Mayo, she is called to the bar in 1967 and two years later becomes the youngest Reid Professor of Constitutional Law at Trinity College, Dublin. In 1973, she becomes a member of the English Bar (Middle Temple). She becomes a Senior Counsel in 1980, and serves as a member of the Advisory Commission of Inter-Rights (1984-1990) and as a member of the International Commission of Jurists (1987-1990).

Educated at Trinity College, Robinson holds law degrees from the King’s Inns in Dublin and from Harvard University. She has been awarded numerous honorary degrees, medals and prizes from universities and humanitarian organizations around the world. In July 2009, she is awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honour awarded by the United States, by U.S. President Barack Obama.


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Operation Demetrius

long-kesh-internment-campOperation Demetrius, a British Army operation in Northern Ireland begins on August 9, 1971, during the Troubles. The operation involves the mass arrest and internment (imprisonment without trial) of 342 people suspected of being involved with the Irish Republican Army (IRA), which is waging a campaign for a united Ireland against the British state.

Operation Demetrius, proposed by the Government of Northern Ireland and approved by the Government of the United Kingdom, begins throughout Northern Ireland in the early morning hours of Monday, August 9 and progresses in two parts:

  1. Arrest and movement of the detainees to one of three regional holding centers: Girdwood Barracks in Belfast, Abercorn Barracks in Ballykinler, County Down, or HM Prison Magilligan near LimavadyCounty Londonderry.
  2. The process of identification and questioning, leading either to release of the detainee or movement into detention at HM Prison Crumlin Road or aboard HMS Maidstone, a prison ship in Belfast Harbour.

The operation sparks four days of violence in which 20 civilians, two IRA members and two British soldiers are killed. All of those arrested are Irish nationalists, the vast majority of them Catholic. Due to faulty intelligence, many have no links with the IRA. Ulster loyalist paramilitaries are also carrying out acts of violence, which are mainly directed against Catholics and Irish nationalists, but no loyalists are included in the sweep.

The introduction of internment, the way the arrests are carried out, and the abuse of those arrested, lead to mass protests and a sharp increase in violence. Amid the violence, about 7,000 people flee or are forced out of their homes. The interrogation techniques used on some of the internees are described by the European Commission of Human Rights in 1976 as torture, but the superior court, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), rules on appeal in 1978 that, although the techniques are “inhuman and degrading”, they do not, in this instance, constitute torture. It is later revealed that the British government had withheld information from the ECHR and that the policy had been authorized by British government ministers. In December 2014, in light of the new evidence, the Irish government asks the ECHR to revise its 1978 judgement. The ECHR declines the request in 2018.

The backlash against internment contributes to the decision of the British Government under Prime Minister Edward Heath to suspend the Northern Ireland Government and replace it with direct rule from Westminster, under the authority of a British Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. This takes place in 1972.

Following the suspension of the Northern Ireland Government and Parliament, internment is continued by the direct rule administration until December 5, 1975. During this time 1,981 people are interned, 1,874 are nationalist while 107 are loyalist. The first loyalist internees are detained in February 1973.

(Pictured: The entrance to Compound 19, one of the sections of Long Kesh internment camp)


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The Sack of Baltimore

sack-of-baltimoreThe Sack of Baltimore takes place on June 20, 1631 when the village of Baltimore, County Cork is attacked by the Ottoman Algeria and Republic of Salé slavers from the Barbary Coast of North Africa. The attack is the largest by Barbary pirates on either Ireland or Great Britain.

The attack is led by a Dutch captain, Jan Janszoon van Haarlem, also known as Murad Reis the Younger. Murad’s force is led to the village by a man called Hackett, the captain of a fishing boat he had captured earlier, in exchange for his freedom. Hackett is subsequently hanged from the clifftop outside the village for conspiracy.

Murad’s crew, made up of Dutchmen, Moroccans, Algerians and Ottoman Turks, launches their covert attack on the remote village on June 20, 1631. They capture 107 villagers, mostly English settlers along with some local Irish people (some reports put the number as high as 237). The attack is focused on the area of the village known to this day as the Cove. The villagers are put in irons and taken to a life of slavery in North Africa.

There are conspiracy theories relating to the raid. It has been suggested that Sir Walter Coppinger, a prominent Catholic lawyer and member of the leading Cork family, who had become the dominant power in the area after the death of Sir Thomas Crooke, 1st Baronet, the founder of the English colony, orchestrates the raid to gain control of the village from the local Gaelic chieftain, Sir Fineen O’Driscoll. It is O’Driscoll who had licensed the lucrative pilchard fishery in Baltimore to the English settlers. Suspicion also points to O’Driscoll’s exiled relatives, who had fled to Spain after the Battle of Kinsale, and had no hope of inheriting Baltimore by legal means. On the other hand, Murad may have planned the raid without any help. It is known that the authorities had advance intelligence of a planned raid on the Cork coast, although Kinsale is thought to be a more likely target than Baltimore.

Some prisoners are destined to live out their days as galley slaves, rowing for decades without ever setting foot on shore while others spend long years in harem or as labourers. At most, only three of them ever return to Ireland. One is ransomed almost at once and two others in 1646.

In the aftermath of the raid, the remaining villagers move to Skibbereen, and Baltimore is virtually deserted for generations.

(Pictured: “The sack of Baltimore (West Cork), ca. 1890-1891” pen and ink by Jack Butler Yeats)