Role play exercise 3. Hanna Sheehy Skeffington
Instructions for teachers, lawyers and witnesses 4. John Redmond
Form to be filled in 5. Herbert Asquith
Opening procedures 6. Edith Somerville
1. Anna Haslam 7. Mary MacSwiney
2. Margaret Cousins 8. Maud Gonne

Role play exercise

Tactics of the Irish suffrage movement.

The class role play an imaginary Tribunal of Inquiry.


That students may:

Copies of worksheets on the main characters.

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    Instructions for Teachers

    Introduce the topic.
  2. Explain the roles to be taken by witnesses and lawyers. Sample questions for lawyers, personal submissions and lists of questions may be prepared for homework. Some sample questions are included with this lesson.
  3. Choose witnesses carefully, as they have to master the material, deliver clearly and answer off-the-cuff questions.
  4. The number of witness called is optional according to class numbers. Assist one student to decide on the order in which witnesses will be called and to inform the witnesses when they will be called.
  5. Organise a practice session with witnesses.
  6. Teachers may find it necessary to intervene with a question where important ideas are missed by the investigators.
  7. Students who have no specific role form the jury.

Instructions for Lawyers

  1. Read about the subject beforehand.
  2. Listen carefully to all the submissions.
  3. Make notes of important pieces of information, particularly noting any conflicting evidence which is given.
  4. Use your prepared questions where appropriate. Jot down further questions as you hear the evidence.
  5. Questions must be asked only with the permission of the chairperson. They must be asked one at a time and answers carefully noted. If appropriate, investigators may have a secretary to help them.

Instructions for witnesses making submissions

  1. Witnesses must not lie or make up facts. They should try to make their submissions lively and interesting by becoming the character.
  2. Witnesses should know their roles well, though not necessarily off by heart. They can refer to their notes during questioning. Preparatory reading would be a great help.
  3. Witnesses should make the investigators work at getting the evidence.
  4. Witnesses can provide themselves with props, such as costume, etc., if they wish.

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Name .................................................................

Occupation ...........................................................

Role in the suffrage movement ......................................


Militant/Non-militant ........ .......................................

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That the tactics used by Irish suffragists interfered with, or damaged, the pursuit of the claim to national independence.

Opening address by the Chairperson of the Tribunal

This Tribunal has been set up by the Provisional Dáil. The Representation of the People Act (1918) has just been passed, granting the parliamentary vote to many women over the age of 30 and to men over the age of 21. Unfortunately, we have been left with a legacy of charge and counter-charge about the passing of this Act and about the effect that the suffrage movement has had on the struggle for national independence. Since the suffrage movements in Ireland and England were inevitably linked - as are our histories - we shall have to extend our work to cover both sides of the Irish Sea.

I propose that we:

  1. Look briefly at the extent and aims of the suffragist movement.
  2. Call witnesses to make submissions to the Tribunal.
  3. Present our conclusions in writing to the Provisional Dail.

We will now call on our first witness to come forward and make a submission to this Tribunal.

Information for witnesses

The following information should be given to individual witnesses in advance to help them prepare their roleplay.

A small selection of characters is included, but these can be extended if desired.

Further research by each student is recommended.

Call first witness - Anna Haslam

1. Anna Haslam

You are ninety years of age and for the first time in your long life, you have just had the privilege of using your vote. While the first suffrage society was founded in Belfast in 1872 by Miss Isabella Tod, you founded the first Dublin Women's Suffrage Society in 1876. You later changed its name to The Irish Women's Suffrage and Local Government Association. You were most influenced by two men to take up the cause of women's suffrage. The first was, of course, your dear husband, Thomas, who was a long-time supporter of women's rights. He had already produced the first Irish suffrage journal called the Women's Advocate in 1874. The aims of your society were to obtain the vote for women on the same terms as men and generally to achieve reforms of various legal and social measures discriminating against women. You used all the acceptable methods to achieve your purposes, concentrating on drawing room and public meetings together with petitions and letters to members of the House of Commons and to the Press.

You have to admit that these methods achieved little success in the short term. Mr. Johnson's Poor Law Guardians Bill in 1896 did allow women to become members of Boards of Guardians. 'Thirteen ladies of the very highest character immediately responded to the call, with one or two ladies triumphantly at the head of the poll.' In 1898 the Local Government Act was passed and this allowed women ratepayers to become District Councillors. You saw this Act as 'the most significant political revolution that has taken place in the history of Irishwomen.'

As to the actual charge made against the suffrage movement, you would draw attention to the fact that you were a suffragist, not a suffragette. In fact, many people said that your methods in obtaining the parliamentary vote were too gentle to impress male masters. Your society was eventually overtaken by women who were much more militant. A group of younger women came to you to say that they wanted to start a new suffrage society on militant lines. You were very disappointed, knowing that they were splitting the movement. Nonetheless, you understood why the young women wanted to try other methods when the men would not listen to more gentle voices.

[Your importance lies in the fact that you founded one of the earliest women's suffrage societies and you witnessed the entire suffrage campaign. Your interests were broader than just women's suffrage; you were deeply concerned with women's social and economic issues. Above all, you represent the non-militant side of the suffrage movement.]

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2. Margaret Cousins

You came from a middle-class Protestant family in Boyle, Co. Roscommon. It was at a meeting of the National Council of Women in Manchester in 1905 that 'your eyes were opened to the injustices and grievances which were taken for granted as the natural fate of your sex.' On your return to Ireland you joined the IWSLGA, Anna Haslam's movement. By 1908, you and your friend Hanna Sheehy Skeffington had become impatient with the slow rate of progress on the issue of votes for women and so together you decided to form a new society, the Irish Women's Franchise League.

You admit that you were influenced by the British suffrage movement through reading their pamphlet Votes for Women. You became more and more attracted by the daring actions of the Women's Social and Political Union - the suffrage group founded by Mrs Emmeline Pankhurst in 1903. You decided that the methods used by the IWFL were to be both constitutional and non-constitutional. Its aims were to educate the public on the issue of votes for women, to lobby Irish MPs to support bills in the House of Commons and to include votes for women in any Home Rule bill.

You most certainly did not want to be thought of as a branch of the English suffrage movement. You cannot understand how you could be accused of being anti-national. You were nationalists and in your own words, 'we were as keen as the men on the freedom of Ireland but we saw the men clamouring for amendments which suited their own interests, and made no recognition of the existence of women as fellow citizens. We women were convinced that anything which improved the status of women would improve, not hinder, the coming of real national self-government.' The IWFL was not working to wreck Home Rule, as some Nationalists believed, but was upholding the demand of all patriots for the right of the people to govern themselves. 'If we did not see to it that 'people' included women as well as men, we were only perpetuating the idea that woman is only property and not a person in her own right.'

You and your husband left Ireland in 1913 before the vote was achieved. You went first to England and subsequently to India where you became a founder member of the Indian Women's Association in 1917.

[Your importance lies in your ability to write and to argue extremely well on behalf of women. You were the most outspoken in the defence of the Irish suffrage movement and its independence from its British counterpart.]

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3. Hanna Sheehy Skeffington

Like Anna Haslam, you first came to take an interest in the suffrage movement when you met your future husband, Francis. He made you realise just how inferior was the position of women in society. Your father was a Home Rule MP and other members of your family were ardent nationalists. The advantages of education which you received helped you to feel a sense of duty to your countrywomen. You also joined the IWSLGA and, being impressed by the Pankhursts, you joined Margaret Cousins in forming the IWFL in 1908.

Prior to 1912, the IWFL were strictly suffragists and were quite happy to use the slogan 'Home Rule for all Irishwomen, as well as Irishmen.' 'We took an office, held weekly meetings, organised country branches, took our stand on soap-boxes in the Phoenix Park, Foster Place and Beresford Place, heckled politicians, and got thrown out of meetings with such frequency that the male organisers shortly banned all women from their gatherings. We made use of feminine ingenuity, of many publicity devices and stunts, and became a picturesque element in Irish life.' In fact, you were determined not to use militant tactics unless absolutely necessary. It was only after the rejection of the Conciliation Bill in 1912 and the exclusion of women from the Home Rule Bill, that Irishwomen flung the first stone. You couldn't believe that so many Irishmen would go back on their promises and the written pledges which they had given you. You finally declared war on the Home Rule Party only after a peaceful parade of suffragists was 'wantonly assaulted' in Dawson Street on Home Rule Sunday. You adopted the slogan 'Suffrage first, before all else' only as a last resort.

Can you imagine what it was like to hear the issue of votes for women described by Irish Members of Parliament as a 'pestilential red herring'? There was a provision in the Third Home Rule Bill that no change could be made to the franchise for three years. You were not prepared to wait so you decided to try to get women's suffrage out of a British Parliament and you do not feel that you have to apologise for that. You would also claim that your militancy was largely symbolic (such as smashing windows in Government buildings), directed against property whereas the suffragists were subjected to quite an amount of personal violence. On one occasion your cap was torn from your head, you were spat upon and manhandled by policemen!

You would also like to draw the attention of the Tribunal to the fact that suffragists were often unjustly accused of using personal violence. For example, when Mr. Asquith came to visit Dublin in 1913, a hatchet was thrown at him, but that came from the hands of two members of the WSPU who came over from England and did not leave the heckling in Irish hands. The Press worked up a fine hysteria. Irish suffragists were all put in the same boat as the hatchet-thrower. In any case, 'the hatchet was blunt and was meant symbolically!'

When the war broke out in 1914, the suffragist movement split into those who believed women's energy should be directed towards the war effort and those who believed that this was an opportunity for Ireland to achieve complete independence. Through your newspaper, the Irish Citizen, you and your husband preached a pacifist stand when war began. During the Easter Rising your husband was brutally murdered by a drunken British Officer. Not surprisingly, you became more extreme in your views and actions after this horrific event.

When you are accused of being anti-national, you can only say that the Irish Home Rule Party did nothing to forward women's cause. The Representation of the People Bill was a British initiative and you think it was due mainly to changed attitudes to women as a result of their war effort. If there is any charge to be made in relation to the women's suffrage movement it should be that the national struggle overshadowed all else.

[You are one of the most important characters in the suffrage movement, both because of your personal qualities of independence and stubborness, and because of the organisation which you co-founded with Margaret Cousins, the IWFL. You were contradictory in that you were a pacifist when it came to the First World War but a militant when it came to votes for women. You refused to be tied down by what were portrayed to be conflicting claims of nationalism and feminism. You wanted women's right to freedom to be embedded within the fight for national freedom.]

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4. John Redmond, MP

You were elected MP for Waterford and became leader of the Irish Parliamentary Party in 1900. After the general election in 1910, your party held the balance of power in Westminster, and Home Rule became a real possibility. But it would not be easy to achieve a Home Rule Bill and get it accepted by parliament. There were Unionists who strongly opposed a separate government for Ireland. There was Sinn Féin, a new political party which had as its objective nothing less than an independent Irish Republic. After 1912, there were various militant organisations such as the Irish Volunteers, the Ulster Volunteers and a revitalised IRB movement. Meantime, you had to maintain a close relationship with the Liberal Party in England who had promised Home Rule in return for your support in parliament.

Into that melting pot came the women's movement demanding that you should pressurise Mr. Asquith to include women's suffrage in the proposed Home Rule Bill. 'These Irish suffragists were asking that the vote be given to women on the same basis as men, i.e., on the basis of a property qualification, and they were copying the ideas and methods of English suffrage groups whose demands had been firmly rejected by both the Liberal and Conservative parties in Britain.'

Personally, you did not favour female suffrage especially as you could not be sure what effect it would have on your party at election time. John Dillon, who was a senior member of your Party got a letter from the Chief Secretary for Ireland, telling him that the Cabinet was split on the issue and that if female suffrage was accepted, both Asquith and he, Augustine Birrell, would resign. So you saw it as your duty in the interests of Home Rule to save the Liberal government from the disruptive effects of women's suffrage and to vote against such bills when they came before Parliament. In this you were supported by most members of the party when it came to a vote. It was true that some members of the Home Rule Party pledged to support women's suffrage, but all of them came to their senses when it came to actually voting for it in 1911.

In 1912, you received a deputation from the IWFL and you made your views quite clear. You would not support female suffrage either in the Home Rule Bill or after Home Rule was established.

The IWFL declared war on your party. They brought shame on our country by demonstrating against Mr. Asquith who was gracious enough to come to Dublin to explain the Home Rule Bill. Fortunately, when a hatchet was thrown at Mr. Asquith, it veered in your direction and your ear took the brunt of it. These were the kind of wild women who were asking you to give them the responsibility for voting in the government of this country.

[Your importance lies in the fact that as leader of the Home Rule Party, you could have provided one solution to the problem of how to get votes for Irish women. The suffrage could only be obtained either by its inclusion in a Home Rule Bill, a course that was favoured by more nationally minded women, or directly by Act of the British Parliament.]

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5. Herbert Asquith

You became leader of the Liberal Party and Prime Minister of Great Britain in 1908. After the general election of 1910, the Irish Party held the balance of power between the Liberals and the Conservatives/Unionists. As a condition of their support the Irish Party asked the Liberals for another Home Rule Bill to which you agreed. 'We kept our promise and introduced the Third Home Rule Bill in 1912, which was passed by the Commons and would have become law in 1914.'

For many years the idea of female suffrage had surfaced in the British parliament without success. You had to contend with a bunch of women who seemed to think that women's suffrage was a human right and that any form of militancy was acceptable in achieving their goal. These women hectored and hustled you all the time. One day when you were motoring to Stirling in Scotland, you were stopped by women lying across the road. As the car slowed down, others emerged from behind the hedgerows on either side of the road, jumped on the running boards, and proceeded to hit you over the head with whips. Luckily, your top hat provided a surprisingly adequate degree of protection. They even went so far as to oppose Liberal candidates at bye-elections, something that was not appreciated by many people in Ireland, who feared it would lead to the defeat of the government and, therefore, of Home Rule.

Personally, you opposed the idea of votes for women, and in fact you threatened to resign if such a measure was passed during your term of office. Since suffrage was based on a property qualification at that time, you estimated that most women of property would be likely to vote for the Conservative Party.

You think that you were very reasonable when in 1910 you set up a committee from all political parties to try to draw up a suffrage bill which would be satisfactory to all. This committee produced several 'Conciliation Bills' over the next few years, but all of them were unsuccessful in parliament.

Looking back now, you see that there were only two obstacles to female enfranchisement before 1914. The first was the excesses of militancy; the second was you, the Prime Minister. You occupied a commanding position in the House of Commons and you remained unconvinced by the women.

In the 1918 General Election, you had to seek the votes of women to support your election. You said 'there were about 15,000 women on the Register - of whom all that one knows is that they are for the most part hopelessly ignorant of politics, credulous to the last degree.'

[Your importance lies in the fact that as PM you could block bills in the House of Commons. This you did on many occasions. You seem to be proud that you never changed your views on this subject.]

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6. Edith Somerville

You grew up in an Anglo-Irish ascendancy family, and as you got older you quickly became bored by the limits placed on women by society. For want of an alternative occupation, you started to write what you sarcastically called 'a very original book' called My trivial life and misfortune by a plain woman.

You were president of the Munster Women's Franchise League that was formed in 1912. Your organisation soon had 300 members in Cork alone and branches in Limerick and Waterford. Neither you nor your vice-president, Violet Martin, supported the Home Rule movement nor militant suffragism.

7. Mary MacSwiney

You were a member of the Munster Women's Franchise League and up to 1913 you were of the opinion that women must acquire the vote even if it compromised separatist national aspirations.

However, after you joined Cumann na mBan in 1914, you changed your mind and resigned from the Munster Women's Franchise League. You decided that you no longer would put suffrage first. You said, 'I put Ireland first. I quite agree that there can be no free nation without free women: but the world - women included - has taken some thousands of years to realise that fact. Three years more in our very exceptional circumstances will not hurt us.'

8. Maud Gonne MacBride

You were actually born in England but you were of Irish descent. You came to Ireland when you were sixteen and by the turn of the century you were involved in the Irish nationalist movement and the women's movement. In 1900 you formed Inghínidhe na h-Éireann (Daughters of Erin) in protest against the exclusion of women from national organisations. The main aims of the Inghínidhe were to re-establish the complete independence of Ireland and to spread Irish culture amongst the young. In 1908, you launched Bean na h-Èireann, the first nationalist-feminist journal to be produced in Ireland.

You said that 'Like all Sinn Féiners we believe that agitation and organisation in this country is the only way to force England to restore us our national freedom. We are not therefore going to turn to the Parliamentary Party as the people who can get us what we want. The women of Irish Ireland have the franchise, and it would only be humiliating ourselves and our country to appeal or even demand the endorsement of a hostile parliament. They stand on equal footing with the men in the Gaelic League, in Sinn Féin, and the Industrial Movement. We should be content to regard these as representing the Irish Government'.

[Your importance lies in the fact that you were vehemently opposed to the idea of 'suffrage before all else'. Nothing was more important than securing the freedom of Ireland from foreign domination. You thought that freedom for Irish women would come with freedom for Ireland.]

Closing speeches for each side should be prepared after hearing all the evidence and a written report must be submitted to the Provisional Government.

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