Remembering the forgotten women of honour

A petition is gaining momentum to name the city's new pedestrian bridge in honour of Julia Morrissey. Who? Some may well ask.

Morrissey, a 1916 veteran, has been the subject of several historical accounts, not just because of her friendship with Liam Mellows and her passion for politics, but her steadfast support of Irish independence. Having founded an Athenry branch of Cumann na mBan, Morrissey was an Irish republican to the core, and is just one of thousands of forgotten women who helped pave the way for Ireland’s freedom. Few are recognised for their part, and the slings they have suffered.

While Morrissey lay in an unmarked grave; her trusted friend Liam Mellows was buried in Castletown where, in 2016, some 200 people turned out for the unveiling of a new Liam Mellows commemorative stone, led by Micheál Martin TD.

Yet Morrisssey and Mellows, two great friends, shared the same values - devotion to home and country - but have been remembered so differently. There are thousands among us who would never have heard of Julia Morrissey, but for today’s campaign to have her memory honoured. And the campaign is so much more because it represents the many more women whose rich contributions to life have been airbrushed, forgotten or simply ignored.

Yes, we have Alice Perry, one of the first women in Europe to to graduate with a degree in engineering, whom the University of Galway has duly acknowledged in the proper manner. But there are many more whose contributions to Ireland and the world have been erased. Worse, some have been treated as fun figures - women whose contributions have been acknowledged but have also acquired dishonourable nicknames - we need only think of the Tart with the Cart, or the Floozie in the Jacuzzi.

Few females have been recognised for the part they have played in Ireland’s history, but no one is more significant than Countess Constance Markievicz who was the first the woman to be elected to Dáil Éireann in 1919. She was definitely not a mythical or immortal figure so often depicted of women in statues of the past. She was a devotee in the fight for Ireland’s freedom, and she paid the price.

Ireland is referred to as 'she' and 'her' throughout the Proclamation, but even on a wider cultural scale in Irish literature, song, and propaganda, Ireland is portrayed as a mother honouring her sons in their fight for her and the right to self-determination.

'For what died the sons of Róisín?' sang Luke Kelly, lamenting the loss of lives for Irish freedom, a battle that was fought not only by sons, but by daughters, mothers, fathers - the lives given to create the formation of the Irish Free State were not discriminately based on gender, but on courage and determination. Yet women found themselves in this new Ireland - one they had bled and wept for - resigned to the sidelines.

Most women of Ireland only seem to have mattered in history when they were fictional figures. Women such as Julia Morrissey, Margaret Skinnider, Rosie Hackett, Helena Molony and countless others have been lost to obscurity, while the men they fought alongside have been lauded is a something we must change.

Times are changing, but there still remains a lack of recognition for women who have contributed to Ireland’s rich history - whether in politics, art, culture, or sports - in street names, sculptures, and buildings. Naming the new pedestrian bridge after Julia Morrissey could just be the start.

Linley MacKenzie

 

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