Women in Independent Ireland

Read the following sources A to B and fill in
the details below for each one (or for a selection):
  1. What kind of source is it?
  2. Date (if known).
  3. Evaluate the extract as historical evidence.
  4. Comment briefly on each source under any two of the following headings you consider appropriate:
    a) role or status (if known) of any one person or group mentioned in the source
    b) apparent attitude to women
    c) possible consequences for women of that person holding those views.

A. (A feminist government) is not necessary in our country. The women of Ireland are on full equality with the men and are comrades in everything. Even in ancient times women in Ireland had the right to their own property. We move along with men. When our Republic was formed, women were given equal rights in all things. The men are not disturbed when women are given high offices. We are the only country in the world with a woman in the cabinet of the government. Some day, no doubt, a woman will be president of our Republic.
Mary MacSwiney in an interview with the Washington Times, 11 Dec. 1920 while on her American tour. Quoted in Charlotte H. Fallon, Soul of Fire, a biography of Mary MacSwiney, Cork, 1986, p. 69.


B. Where women were concerned he was almost mediaeval in his attitude. He had excluded women stenographers from the circuit courts and he wished to keep them off juries for the same reason that they would hear things 'one would not wish to discuss with the feminine members of one's family.'
Terence De Vere White, Kevin O'Higgins, Dublin, 1986, p.168.


C. What precisely does a jury do in a criminal case? The immediate function of the jury is to decide the issues of fact, and in particular whether the accused was guilty of the offence or not ... But down the years the assessment of criminality has been an entirely male assessment. It is men alone who have decided on guilt in cases of rape, drunken driving causing death, murder, etc. The male jury has been addressed by male barristers, both for the State and for the particular defendant, and after verdict the sentence has been imposed by a male judge.
Mary Robinson, 'Women and the new Irish state' in Margaret MacCurtain and Donncha O'Corráin (eds.), Women in Irish Society: the historical dimension, Dublin, 1978, p.63.


D. The spectre of undeserving women holding down 'men's jobs', or of married women selfishly depriving young and single people of their right to work, was constantly raised.
Yvonne Scannell, 'The constitution and the role of women' in Brian Farrell (ed.), De Valera's constitution and ours, Dublin, 1988, p.133.


E. During the decade from 1926 to 1936, 1,298 women emigrated for every 1,000 men, the highest ratio ever. Emigration was increasingly directed towards Britain where economic growth was greatest in the service economy and in light industries, i.e., in jobs best suited to women. Women emigrants took positions as waitresses, hospital cleaners and nurses. They also worked in domestic service, jobs they were unwilling to take in Ireland. This outflow continued unabated until the outbreak of World War II when entry into the British labour market was restricted. In fact, the war years proved much more difficult for Irish women than the 1930s.
Mary E. Daly, 'Women in the Irish Free State, 1922-39' in Journal of women's history, Winter/Spring 1995, p.111.


F. [Archbishop] McQuaid told de Valera that it was 'incorrect' to state that 'men and women have equal right to work of the same kind. Men and women have equal right to appropriate work.'
Tim Pat Coogan, De Valera: long fellow, long shadow, Dublin, 1993, p. 497.


G. The Irish Housewives Association ... had an impact on government policy and succeeded in having food rationed on a fair basis during and after the war, in restricting price rises and in having milk pasteurised. They also campaigned, with the Irish Women Workers' Union, for improvement in the conditions of women working in domestic service, of whom there were still considerable numbers, and supported the successful laundry workers' strike in 1945.
Carol Coulter, The hidden tradition Cork, 1993, p. 31.


H. According to Kathleen Delap ... the ICA [Irish Countrywomen's Association] 'successfully fought for a proper advisory service for women on farms (one was already provided, in the form of agricultural advisors, for men), for piped water to all homes, for the widespread use of electricity in the home. The water scheme ran into opposition from the Irish Farmers' Association ... on the basis that 'they had sunk the wells. Why should others get it for free? And why should they (the farmers) have to pay higher rates for it?'

Perhaps the main contribution the ICA made to the lives of thousands of women was the opportunity it gave for them to leave their homes and engage in social activity with other women. Much of this was educational, the teaching of a wide range of skills and crafts ranging from the traditional female skills of cooking and sewing to less traditional ones like carpentry.
Carol Coulter, The hidden tradition Cork, 1993, p. 33.


I. Man needs no 'dressing up'. His face may be rugged and weather-beaten, his nose and eyes common-place, and his hair may lie in a thick, short, uncurling mass, yet he cannot help looking fine if his character be good and his ideals clean.
Woman's Life, 9 April 1938. Quoted in C. Conway, 'Recipes for success in a woman's world', 1997, p.4.


J. The genius of a race is shown in beautiful women as definitely as in any of the achievements of the men.
Woman's Life, 4 July 1936. Quoted in C. Conway, 'Recipes for success in a woman's world', 1997, p.4.


K. From 1970 to 1980 the number of women's organisations in Ireland increased from 17 to over 55. Yvonne Scannell, 'The Constitution and the Role of Women' in Brian Farrell (ed.), De Valera's constitution and ours, Dublin, 1988, p.130.
contents index