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Women and the Decade of Commemorations. 1916 Revisited.

January 21, 2016


Dr Mary McAuliffe, Women’s Studies, University College Dublin
Dr Roísin Higgins, Department of History, Teeside University;
Dr Sinéad Kennedy, Department of English, Maynooth University;
Dr Emilie Pine, School of English and Drama, University College Dublin.
Four great speakers, four great topics.   From Roísin Higgins,  I learned all about the earliest attempts at 1916 commemoration.  I was fascinated by the story of Helena Moloney, and her ability to commemorate 1916 as early as 1917.  Indeed, given the rather theatrical and exemplary quality of the 1916, and the fact that its commemoration was anticipated at its inception – that as an “event” it is inseparable from the imagining of its commemoration, you could say that Helena Moloney completed the Rising – concluded it successfully by creating a precedent for commemoration.

Mary McAuliffe meanwhile discussed an ongoing project to chart the lives of 77 women who were “out” during 1916 and arrested subsequently.  They are currently the subject of a quilting project.  Most interesting is the pre and subsequent histories of these women, many of whom had a working class Dublin background, and who subsequently found themselves marginalised in a “Free State”, drifting overwhelmingly to an Anti-Treaty position.  The question of whether these women were “really” combatants was tabled – if only to showcase the way in which this question is politicised.  It turns out that women involved in combat are held to a different kind of standard than men – who are more easily assimilated to a combatant standard.

The purpose of these events is not just to establish the truths of a century ago but to reflect on twenty-first century uses and abuses of a legacy.  Emilie Pine’s discussion of the ongoing “WTF” (Waking The Feminists) campaign provoked by the exclusionary assumptions of the Abbey Theatre focused on the ways in which gendered inequalities are sponsored by market segmentation – that Irish citizens in the twenty-first century still find themselves excluded and marginalised by categories imposed by the narrow and focused imaginings of media advertising.   A nation that cherished its children equally must needs look at these over-determinations that are reinforced for capitalist reasons.

And Sinead Kennedy spoke, talking about the Repeal the Eight Amendment campaign and “IMELDA” activism.   She described the way in which Governments have interpreted the 8th selectively and hypocritically and how this Amendment serves to redefine and exclude citizenship.   The state may claim to “protect” but the extension of power implied by this protective agenda is directed coercively and has the direct result of serious endangerment.  With eleven women every year leaving not just the state but the island for legal abortions, the Eight Amendment is also a kind of flight from the responsibilities of governance, as well as an Amendment that disproportionately threatens those who are already economically disenfranchised, since they’re unable to travel.

I had to run at lunchtime.  After lunch there was apparently a general wide-ranging discussion.  And I bet it was marvelous.  Marvelous in that “inspiring and chastening at the same time” sense.  I bet it was.




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