The centenary celebrations of the 1916 Rising dealt with a number of themes and issues, one of the key themes of the years celebrations was the role that women played in 1916. The women of 1916 have gone without recognition for generations, and finally they are being celebrated for their part in the Rising.
Irish women have been side-lined from Irish political history especially in regards to their part in the fighting during Easter week 1916. A good example of removal of women from political history is the cropping out of Elizabeth O’ Farrell and her feet from the famous photo of Pearse’s surrender.
Elizabeth O’Farrell was a member of Cumman na mBan who were the women’s branch of the Irish Military Paramilitary. She worked as a nurse in the GPO and joined the fighters when they moved on to Moore Street during Easter week. Once the fighting was over, O’Farrell carried a white flag and the official surrender from Pearse to the British Guard but she was then edited out of the official surrender photo. Being edited out of moments of historical importance, such as o’Farrell was, began a common trend of side-lining and moving women from the polis (political) and returning them to the oikos (home).
Éamon de Valera played a key role in reducing the roles of women outside the home especially when he rose to power as Taoiseach of Ireland in 1937. As a leader in the 1916 rising deValera held the Bolands Mills on Grand Canal Dock with a troop of 100 poorly armed soldiers. When joined by women of Cumann na mBan, deValera absolutely refused to have any women involved in the fighting and demanded that they return home. Many of the female insurgents believed that this is why the Bolands Mills didn’t last as long during siege.
Once deValera became a key political power in the 1930’s he was involved in the further side-lining of women by reducing their position within the Irish constitution to that of household caretaker, and writing that into law.
“ Article 41
2. 1 In particular, the State recognises that by her life within the home, woman gives to the State a support without with the common good cannot be achieved.
The State shall, therefore, endeavour to ensure that mothers shall not be obliged by economic necessity to engage in labour to the neglect of their duties in the home.”
Women became more symbolic in Irish culture, this can be seen as having root in the theatrical writings of Irish Literary Revival, a literary attempt to revive Irish writing. A play which came out of this movement, Cathleen Ní Houlihan by Lady Gregory and W.B. Yeats, features the title character Cathleen as a symbolic representation of Ireland. Irish theatre has always given a symbolic role to women, especially when it comes to representations of 1916.
The symbolic nature of women is epitomised in the lack of statues in the city centre to commemorate women. With 70% of the statues of women being as a representation, rather than to commemorate an actual woman.
Statues that are of actual women include two of the Countess Markievicz, one full body statue on Tara Street and a bust in St. Stephens Green, and a statue of Margret Ball on Cathedral Street. Ball was a devote Catholic who was punished by her son and publicly tortured to deny her faith, which she did not do.
Women are represented as being symbolic, such as Anna Livia known locally as ‘The Floozie in the Jacuzzi’ who is supposed to represent the river Goddess for whom the Liffey is named. She is doubly symbolic as she appears in James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake as a character who also embodies the river.
There is also, probably the most famous statue in Dublin, Molly Malone. Known locally as ‘The Tart with the Cart’ on Sulfolk Street. Molly Malone is a romantic idea as to what life in Dublin was like in the 17th Century. The female statues are the only statues in Dublin that are subjected to offensive nicknames and continuous sexual groping so much so that the bronze had worn away on the chest of Molly Malone. The sexualisation of these female statues further diminishes their significance and their position within the cityscape of Dublin.
Women are also represented as symbolic in the statues of the Famine People, Children of Lir, Famine Monument, Three Fates, Eire Sculpture and the two women with the bags.
It is only in recent years that the first bridge was named after a woman, the Rosie Hackett Bridge. After months of deliberations Rosie Hackett was chosen as the name for the bridge.
At the unveiling of the bridge there were, reportedly, no women present. Still in 2015 women are being side-lined from the important moments in Irish history. In the Abbey Theatres preparations for the 2016 centenary, female playwrights were excluded from theatrical line up with only one in ten plays being performed having been written by a woman.