On April 24, 1916, Patrick Pearse launched an armed insurrection in Dublin. Nationalist forces took control of several of key locations and government buildings, including the General Post Office, where Pearse stood to read the proclamation of new independent Irish republic, free from British control. The Proclamation was a powerful statement of freedom, sovereignty, and equality. Although British authorities forced the revolutionaries to surrender after six days and executed Pearse and the other leaders in the weeks following, the Easter Rising marked a turning point in Irish history that would bring an end to centuries of colonial rule. The Rising was not just a product of men’s struggles for independence and freedom: Irish women, too, were instrumental in the rebellion. Some organized a paramilitary auxiliary to the all-male Irish Volunteers called Cumann na mBan. Others founded activist organizations and publications, and advocated for labor causes and women’s suffrage. For Irish women, the Easter Rising did not mark the birth of their political consciousness, but rather a manifestation of it.
The current Burns Library exhibit, Irish Women Rising, which will remain on display through March 25, 2017, examines the participation of Irish women in revolutionary activities from the turn of the twentieth century through the Irish Civil War in 1922-23. Beginning with an exploration of the lives of six exemplary women, the exhibit illustrates the ways many women participated in the struggle toward an independent Ireland in ways that have been overlooked in traditional historical narratives. Drawing from the recently acquired Loretta Clarke Murray Collection, Irish Women Rising showcases dozens of artifacts and papers from the revolutionary period. One exhibit highlight is a remarkable embroidered panel, designed and executed by Maud Gonne, that features the flags of the four provinces of Ireland and motifs from Celtic mythology. Another standout is an original copy of the Proclamation of 1916 on loan from the Strokestown Park National Famine Museum.The exhibit explores the themes of nationalism, suffrage, labor, and the Celtic Literary Revival to highlight the ways in which women engaged with revolutionary republicanism and how they contributed to political, labor, and charitable movements. Over the next several months, this blog will present the lives of six women of the Irish Revolution as lenses through which the exhibit’s broader themes and concepts can be examined. Look for upcoming posts about Maud Gonne MacBride, Constance Markievicz, Mollie Gill, Margaret Skinnider, Hannah Sheehy Skeffington, and Kathleen Clarke.