The Cathaoirleach of Sligo County Council Councillor Hubert Keaney performed the official opening of a commemorative exhibition Mna: Women of 1916 by Author, Curator and Historian Sinead McCoole.
In his address, the Cathaoirleach said it was an exhibition ‘which enlighten, inspire and challenge. It will also provide the context to reflect on the role the women of Ireland played in the 1916 Rising, and to consider the broader issue of celebrating the role of women in Irish society. The role played by the women in the 1916 Rising may have been under-stated by historians and academics, and we are greatly indebted to Sinead McCoole for her exemplary work in researching, publishing and exhibiting material on the Rising, the War of Independence and the Civil War.
The original research carried out by Sinead shines a new light on the very important contribution made by the women in the Irish society of 100 years ago. Women were imprisoned, had their houses destroyed, collected fund for the relatives of the deceased, travelled to visit prisoners in English jails, organised remembrance masses. This is only a snap-short of the many activities undertaken by the women both during the Rising and in its aftermath. But at a deeper level it should not be forgotten that these women were also fighting to uphold the ideals set out in the 1916 Proclamation, and they posed the very relevant question – what the new Republic would mean for the ordinary people from the poorer parts of Irish society.
The exhibition is part of the 2016 Centenary Programme based on information from the Military Archives, the National Cultural Institutions and private collections. The exhibition has a wide scope, featuring many of the 300 women who took part in the Rising. History will show that the women of 1916 played much more than a ‘support role’ in the conflict; At least 90 women took an active role in the Dublin City events, 60 of them as members of Cumann na mBan . Sinead noted that while the women of the Rising came from diverse backgrounds, they united around such causes as the promotion of workers’ rights, and the revival of Irish language and music.
Soldiers and heroines
There are countless stories and images, including that of Winifred Carney,who entered the GPO during the Rising with a revolver and a type-writer. It was Dr Kathleen Lynn, as the only officer present, who met with the British Forces to arrange the surrender of Dublin City Hall. There are many other soldiers and heroines whose stories remain un-told, but this exhibition will enable us to get a true perspective on this hugely important aspect of our history. These discussions will also facilitate the wider celebration of women in Ireland, a topic that has prompted debate and divided opinion for generations. Perhaps the contribution of Irish women in 1916 would be a useful starting point for this discussion, as the bravery, courage and resilience of the women of that era continues to inform and inspire to this day.’