by Mary Conlon and Alexis Ketchem
After a quick 20 hour stay in Belfast, our class headed to Dublin for the last leg of our trip. When we arrived at Trinity College, we were greeted by our tour guide, Donal Fallon from Historical Walking Tours. Donal was raised in Dublin and currently lives in Belfast. He has been giving tours of Dublin for just over 4 years.
Our first stop on the walking tour was the statue of Theobald Wolfe Tone. Wolfe Tone was one of the founding members of the Society of United Irishmen. Donal explained to us that the groups first meeting was held at a bar in Ulster. During this meeting, there were two toasts given. The first one was to George Washington, and the second one was to King George the Last. He was eventually jailed and sentenced to execution for the role he played in the rebellion. On the night before he was to be executed Wolfe Tone committed suicide as a final act of defiance. While continuing on tour Donal pointed to an Irish flag and told us that the meaning behind the flag is mostly based off of Wolfe Tone’s ideas. The green represents Catholics, the orange represents Protestants, and the white represents the peace between the two.
The next stop on our tour revolved around Constance Markievicz. Donal shared with us that Markievicz was mostly known for being an “unlikely revolutionary” and a suffragette. She was one of the many people who was sentenced to death over Easter Rising, however because of her gender she was not executed. Donal told us there are some who claim that she begged for her life and that’s why she was spared. In reality, she was proud of her actions, said she would do it all again if given a chance, and believed it was only fair for her to receive the same punishment as the men. It was great to hear Donal speak passionately about Markievicz and to acknowledge that “women have fallen through the cracks of history” and that “if there was going to be a revolutionary movement in Ireland women needed to take their place in it.”
After viewing the Constance Markievicz statue, our group headed to the W.B. Yeats monument. This monument was unique than the other ones we have seen so far because rather than being a statue or a plaque the Yeats monument was an amphitheater. While at the amphitheater Donal began to give us a brief background on Yeats; he thought that this was the most appropriate way to honor Yeats, claiming that Yeats would have loved to see all the people who come to perform in the amphitheater. Donal then shared with us that Yeats was driven in life by three things. 1. The Fenian Brotherhood, an Irish republican organization. 2. Occult, which involves relating to mystical, supernatural, or magical powers, practices, or phenomena. And lastly, love. Donal said that Yeats best work came from the rejection he faced with his true love, Maud. It was noted that Yeats proposed to her at least five times and never received the answer he was looking for, and without that, he found little meaning in life, not even caring when he won the Nobel Peace Prize. After leaving the Yeats monument we made several more quick stops at Trinity college and the post office that is well known for the 1916 rising, then we headed to lunch.
After enjoying lunch on Grafton Street we headed to the University College Dublin campus to meet with Gender Studies professor, Mary McAuliffe. With classes in full swing, the large, modern campus was buzzing with students like ourselves. We too were on our way to class where Professor McAuliffe showed us how, in the spirit of Yeats’s poem “Easter, 1916,” Ireland was “All changed, changed utterly” during the last few decades. Like the United States, Ireland has also been undergoing some soul searching and shifting cultural values which has led to changes in policy and in public opinion. Her presentation covered the involvement of women and the role of gender overall in the political and social life in Ireland from the 1916 Rising to the dramatic changes being made currently.
When the Proclamation of the Republic was read at the General Post Office during the 1916 Rising a key word was included in its promise of freedom and equality: Irishwomen. The proclamation was addressed to both Irishmen and Irishwomen, intending women to take equal claim in the joys of freedom. Many women were fighting for the Republic during this rising, in the coming War for Independence, and in the Civil War that came after through women’s organizations like Cumann na mBan. Women fought and died alongside men, and Professor McAuliffe informed us that they experienced gendered and sexual violence from both sides of the conflict—a detail that is only recently being paid serious attention. Many women were against the Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1921, it was this dissenting opinion that made them the target of pro-treaty voices—the women that had once been celebrated as revolutionaries were now ‘ungovernable’ and were a threat to Ireland. The new Irish Free State and the influential Catholic Church worked through public opinion and policy to create a new idealistic version of Irish womanhood: domesticated, married, and children being reared. This would set back women’s rights tremendously, as a slew of legislation from 1923-1937 was passed to limit a woman’s right to education, to employment, to bodily autonomy. The Irish Constitution of 1937 explicitly states that a woman’s role is in the home as caretakers and babymakers; the promise of full freedom that was read out during the 1916 Rising seemed buried and forgotten.
But the women of Ireland wanted and deserved more, and generations of hard work have paid off. Professor McAuliffe focused on the way that feminist grassroots movements have made tremendous progress possible in Ireland, especially where reproductive rights are concerned. Feminism bloomed in Ireland during the 1970s in the form of the Irish Women’s Liberation Movement and the Irish Women United Charter. These organizations were taking on the numerous restrictions Irish women were facing such as lack of educational opportunities, discrimination in the workplace and restrictions on types of jobs that could be held by women, unfair taxation laws, freedom of sexual identity, and a complete lack of equal standing in the eyes of the law, especially women who were deserted by their husbands.
During this time, the United States was also experiencing a strong women’s rights movement which resulted in the legalization of abortion through the results of Roe v. Wade. In response to this, the Irish government passed the Eighth Amendment in 1983 which states that women and fetuses have equal rights in the eyes of the law, making medical decisions regarding the termination of a pregnancy a constitutional issue rather than one between a patient and medical professional. This resulted in the deaths of many women through unsafe abortions and other avoidable medical complications. Professor McAuliffe informed us that between 1983 and 2018 it is estimated that between seven and ten thousand women travelled abroad in order to obtain an abortion. In 2012 Savita Halappanavar died after being denied an abortion despite the intense decline in health she was experiencing due to complications experienced from a miscarriage. The international outrage over her death spurred the Repeal Campaign, a feminist grassroots movement that was campaigning for the Eighth Amendment to be repealed. In a decisive victory after a tremendously successful campaign, the Eighth Amendment was repealed in 2018, making abortion legal in the Republic of Ireland. Of those who voted, sixty five percent of men voted yes to repeal and seventy percent of women voted yes. In 2015, gay marriage was also legalized in the Republic. Recent years in Ireland have demonstrated that Ireland is more than the stereotypical, highly conservative image that often comes to mind. Professor McAuliffe noted that the public is widely accepting of LGBTQ+ individuals, noting that transgender individuals hold full rights in Ireland and are supported by their medical system, and that while there has been an increase in troubling racially motivated incidents, by and large the people of Ireland are mindful of their own history of emigration and view those come to Ireland as assets. If you are interested in learning more, check out this website that features an interview with Professor McAuliffe. Our walking tour through Dublin and Professor McAuliffe’s presentation was deeply inspiring and a reminder that when people come together for the good of their community, immense change is possible.