On the 100th anniversary of women in Ireland gaining the right to vote, Micheline re-created her defiant grandmother Hanna Sheehy Skeffington’s act of civil disobedience against patriarchy by smashing window panes at Dublin Castle.
The day was perfect. Cold, but with bright blue skies. Micheline arrived early at the Castle Ship St entrance to meet her film crew and actor Rob McCarthy for rehearsals in a near-empty street. It was to be filmed for the documentary she’s making about her grandmother’s US tour. Cameraman Eddie Mullarkey and Director Sé Merry Doyle of Loopline Films were in attendance. By the time 11am came around, the place was mobbed with journalists wielding cameras and microphones all jostling to get her attention.
Gradually, a crowd of supporters turned up and, at 11.30, it was ‘Action!’ Micheline, dressed as a suffragette, walked down the steps at the side of the castle entrance, strode past a ‘policeman’ (in period costume) and, armed with a stick in her left hand, proceeded to smash a series of sugar glass panes in one of the nearby windows, to whoops and cheers from the crowd. She was promptly ‘arrested’ by the police officer. This deed was in conjunction with the erection of the plaque to honour the brave action taken in 1912 by her grandmother, who was jailed for two months for her vandalism.
All photos copyright Julien Behal/Courtesy of OPW
(Above photos and directly below, copyright Julien Behal/Courtesy of OPW)
The City Council kindly provided an excellent facsimile of the plaque which was on display next to the smashed window. The Irish version of the wording is even more
(Photo of plaque by Mary McCoy)
graphic and got approving comment!
Micheline (having been ‘released’) then made her soap-box speech to a large attentive crowd (and some bemused tourists), reminding people that Hanna was very courageous in 1912 as it was 5am, she was virtually alone – and the Castle was full of British military. She explained why this re-enactment was arranged for Feb. 6, as it was exactly 100 years since, in 1918, the Representation of the People Act allowed women over 30, who had property rights or a university education to vote for the first time in Ireland (and Britain). It wasn’t until independence in 1922 that women gained equal voting rights with men in Ireland – six years before they did in Britain.
Micheline spoke of how women have made gains in 100 years, but more change is needed.
‘It is the courage of people who take a sometimes unpopular stance that we celebrate today,’ she said, and then referred to the female lecturers at NUI Galway who are still fighting for their right to be promoted. She highlighted their bravery in standing up to their employer.
“There is a sea change happening with movements like Waking the Feminists and MeToo, but it takes enormous courage to stick with it,” she said.
But what was especially striking was the level of interest from the media, which was well represented in all outlets the following day. “It felt like being in an ongoing film,” said Micheline, “with the battery of cameras flashing off and the array of mikes with questions fired at me from all sides.” Although she was overjoyed with the success of and interest in the re-enactment , another aspect shocked her.
‘Why was there nothing else at all planned for this centenary date?’ she asked.
She also questioned why there was no exhibition in the National Museum, though the Oireachtas is planning one later this year. “And why are there no stamps? An Post has none listed for their 2018 programme. Why not have a series with Hanna, but also Meg Connery, Margaret Cousins, Marguerite Palmer, Kathleen Houston, Hilda Webb and more?” And these were just the militants! “Ironically, John Redmond is to get a stamp — John Redmond whose Irish Party steadfastly opposed the women’s vote. Can you credit that?” she asked the crowd.
She gave an illustrated talk at a reception hosted by the Lord Mayor at the Mansion House and told about her grandparents’ exploits, but questioning again the lack of national interest in the day. Certainly the Office of Public Works (OPW), which suggested and coordinated the re-enactment, and Dublin City Council, which approved the slightly esoteric plaque and whose Mayor was hugely supportive of the commemoration, deserve all the credit for enabling the day to be marked. “This is to commemorate all courageous women who refuse to be treated unfairly. I’m so grateful to all who helped make it happen,” Micheline said.
The best bit of media coverage of the window-smashing event we could find is here: https://www.gettyimages.ie/detail/video/micheline-sheehy-skeffington-grand-daughter-of-one-of-news-footage/915264736
And Micheline, along with writer and journalist Nell McCafferty, historian and UCD lecturer on gender studies Dr Mary McAuliffe and feminist historian Dr Margaret Ward, spoke about women’s progress since gaining the right to vote on ‘Sunday with Miriam’ on RTE Radio. Listen to their conversation here at: http://www.rte.ie/radio1/sunday-with-miriam/podcasts/