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16.08 6 Mar 2015


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On Sunday night, TG4's Cumann na mBan - Mná na Réabhlóide will examine the vital role played by the women of Cumann na mBan during Ireland's revolutionary period.

Amongst the many names associated with Ireland's revolutionary period, few females stand out. Constance Markievicz, for her actions in the Easter Rising, and Maud Gonne, largely as a Yeats' muse, are the only women who remain household names.

Both were members of Cumann na mBan, an armed organisation of female revolutionaries whose aims were clear. They would "advance the cause of Irish liberty" and "teach its members first aid, drill, signalling and rifle practice in order to aid the men of Ireland."

But this organisation's lack of recognition is not because it was unimportant in Ireland's revolutionary struggles, but rather because women's efforts were largely ignored after independence was achieved.

The Irish Free state was dominated by the Catholic Church and male politics, and in 1937 Bunracht na hEireann explicitly stated that a woman's place was in the home. For all Irish women had done to achieve an independent Ireland, they received no thanks.

They were relegated to second-class status, their sacrifices and achievements airbrushed from historical writings. Quite literally, Elizabeth O'Farrell, who fought in the GPO during the Easter Rising, was removed from the only extant photo of Pearse's surrender to British forces under General Lowe.

Even today, women are grossly under-represented in government: 16 per cent of TDs are female. And that is the highest in the history of the state. Few statues or structures bear the names of female figures, though Dublin's new Rosie Hackett bridge is a welcome exception.

As the centenary of the Easter Rising approaches, we need to remember the important part Irish women played during the period, and make sure they receive the acknowledgement they deserve.

Cumann na mBan - Mná na Réabhlóide airs on TG4 this Sunday at 19.15. It will be repeated on Wednesday at 21.30.

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