Home | Contact NUI  


23 July 2024  

Political Voices: the Participation of Women in Irish Public Life, 1918-2018


Political Voices Banner

Bean na hÉireann, ©BMH-CD-005-3-09 – Geraldine Dillon collection, Defence Forces Ireland, Military Archives.

Political Voices:
the Participation of Women in Irish Public Life, 1918-2018

12th December 2018,
The National Gallery of Ireland,
Merrion Square West, Dublin 2
Time: 9.15am – 5.15pm

As part of our Decade of Centenaries commemorations, the National University of Ireland in collaboration with Maynooth University Social Sciences Institute hosted a symposium Political Voices: the Participation of Women in Irish Public Life, 1918-2018, on the 12th December in the National Gallery of Ireland. The symposium was generously supported by the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, and Minister Josepha Madigan delivered the Opening Address.

2018 marks the 100th anniversary of the Representation of People Act 1918 and the Parliament (Qualification of Women) Act 1918, which granted limited voting rights to women. This symposium was timed to coincide with the anniversary of the first General Election in Ireland, as it set out, in particular, to explore the participation and activism of women in the political and public life of the State from 1918 to 2018.

The symposium comprised three sessions, each with three papers, and culminated with a plenary paper by Justice Catherine McGuinness.

  1. Revolutionary Women 1910-1930, examined how women navigated the key issues of the day: revolution, nationalism and suffrage. It explored how (political) women found a voice both before and after the foundation of the new state.
  2. After the Vote: Women and Politics in Post-Independent Ireland 1930-1970, examined how women came to political life in the aftermath of the foundation of, and as citizens of, the new state. It discussed their familial connections to political men, and how this influenced, or not, their campaigns and political philosophies.
  3. Contemporary Feminism and Political Activism 1960-2018, looked at the issues which women of all generations and socio-economic backgrounds faced, but which became central to the women’s movement: the right to contraception and equal employment rights.

To some extent the same questions apply across the generations: how did women find their voice? What motivated and/or prevented them from engaging in political life? How is their voice heard within their own political party and within the executive and legislative houses? How do women campaign around the major issues in their society? This conference provided a platform from which to compare and contrast the experience of historical and more contemporary female politicians and activists over the course of the last century and as such presented a unique opportunity to recognise the voices of Irish women.

"2018 marks the centenary of the first
General Election held in Ireland, when women
were eligible to vote for the first time (admittedly
with restrictions). In this centenary year, the National University seeks in this symposium to highlight the central contribution of women to the foundation of the State and to focus on their ongoing role in Irish public life and politics. I might mention that from its earliest days, NUI statutes have provided that women are ‘eligible equally with men to be Members of the University or of any Authority of the University, and to hold any office or enjoy any advantages of the University."

Dr Maurice Manning,
Chancellor of NUI

"I am delighted that the centenary of the
1918 General Election had been adopted in this symposium as an occasion to focus on and celebrate the role of women in Irish political life.
That election was a watershed for women, being the first time any women in these islands could vote. While there has been progress in the hundred years since then, we still have a way to go before we achieve gender equality in Irish politics. Until then it is important that we recognise the significant contribution of women to Irish political life over the past century."

Minister Josepha Madigan

Speakers included:

  1. Dr Caitríona Beaumont, London South Bank University;
  2. Dr John Borgonovo, UCC;
  3. Professor Linda Connolly, Maynooth University;
  4. Senator Alice Mary Higgins;
  5. Ms Claire McGing, MU;
  6. Professor Senia Paseta, University of Oxford;
  7. Dr Ailbhe Smyth, UCD;
  8. Dr Margaret Ward, QUB;
  9. Dr Pádraig Yeates.

After the plenary paper, Dr Attracta Halpin (Registrar, NUI) and Dr Sarah-Anne Buckley, NUI Galway and President of the Women’s History Association of Ireland read in both Irish and English from Eavan Boland’s poem, Our Future Will Become the Past of Other Women. This poem was commissioned by the Government of Ireland and the Royal Irish Academy to commemorate suffrage. Eavan herself read the poem at the United Nations on 5th December. The symposium concluded with closing remarks by Dr Attracta Halpin.

Organising Committee
Professor Linda Connolly, Director of Maynooth University Social Sciences Institute
Dr Attracta Halpin, Registrar of the National University of Ireland
Ms Claire McGing, Athena Swan Project Officer/Research Assistant, MUSSI
Dr Emer Purcell, Publications Office, NUI

Full programme details are available here.

Images from the event

1 / 10
NUI celebrates European Day of Languages

Further information contact:
National University of Ireland
49 Merrion Square, Dublin 2.
E-mail publications@nui.ie
T:    353 (0)1 4392424  
Twitter: @NUIMerrionSq
Facebook: National University of Ireland


« Previous