Heroine’s of History – Hanna Sheey-Skeffington

Recently a friend returned from a trip to Dublin to inform me she had seen a plaque to Hanna Sheey-Skeffington (1877-1946) Irish Nationalist, Suffragette, Activist, Teacher, Editor, and Politician at Dublin Castle. The plaque commemorated Hanna smashing windows on 13th June 1912 to highlight the right of women to vote and which resulted in Hanna spending a month in prison. I have always been interested in the life of Hanna Sheey-Skeffington and cannot think why I have not featured her in a blog post until now!

Global Lives: Hanna Sheehy Skeffington

Hanna Mary Sheey (born Johanna but known as Hanna) was born in Kanturk, County Cork on 24th May 1877. Hanna was the daughter of Elizabeth ‘Bessie’ McCoy and David Sheey and Irish MP for the Irish Parliamentary Party representing South Galway. Hanna was born into a large family who were encouraged to participate in political debate and the girls were encouraged to continue their education to university level. Hanna moved from Tipperary to Dublin where she eventually graduated in 1899 with a Bachelor of Arts and in 1902 with a Masters of Arts from the Royal University of Ireland (now the National University of Ireland).

After graduation (Hanna is pictured above Kathleen Shannon and Kate Sheedy) Hanna worked as a teacher and an examiner for different school examinations. In 1903 Hanna married Francis Skeffington and in an usual turn they both wore their graduation gowns and took each others last names to become the Sheey-Skeffingtons. After her marriage Hanna worked as a teacher and translator and also founded the Irish Women’s Franchise Group with Margaret Cousins after both women being inspired by the militant suffrage movement in England. Hanna had grown up in a nationalist household with an MP for a father and an uncle who was imprisoned for working with the Land League. 

In 1908 Hanna give birth to her and Francis’ only child, Owen Sheey-Skeffington, and whilst looking after a young child she continued her pursuit for the vote for Irish women. Not content with teaching, being a Suffragette, and a mother Hanna also become one of the founding members of the Irish Women’s Worker’s Union in 1911 and continued to write articles and pamphlets particularly for the newspaper the Irish Citizen where she had the freedom to produce articles highlighting the lives of Irish Women. Eventually Hanna’s political activities landed her in Mountjoy Prison where she undertook a hunger strike before being released later in 1912. 

Suffragettes in Hyde Park on Women's Sunday, 21 June 1908 Broom's ability to seize everyone's attention in the crowd at platform 6 secured a photograph that successfully captured the eagerness of those attending the rally. The woman wearing the mortarboard is Irish Suffragette Hanna Sheehy-Skeffington. The officer€™ beside her is wearing a €˜Banner Captain's€™ sash, reflecting the level of organisation that was key to the success of the event that involved 700 banners.

As the years went by Hanna continued her work in both supporting the right for Irish women to vote but also supported an independent Ireland due to her nationalist politics. In 1908 Hanna attended a mass Suffrage rally at Hyde Park in London and can be seen standing to the centre of the above picture with other Irish and British Suffragettes and Suffragists. The banner held by the women to Hanna’s immediate right has Irish writing on it and possibly has the name of the Irish Women’s Franchise League in Irish on the banner.

Hanna continued to fight for the basic rights of Irish women even after her husband Francis was murdered during the Easter Rising of 1916. Hanna was aghast at the entrenchments suffered by Irish women across the island of Ireland. From the marriage ban to the 1937 Constitution of Ireland and the infamous ‘Article 41.2’ which effectively situates the role of a woman as a wife and mother. Hanna would be aghast that this article is still within the Irish Constitution and that we are still having debates to remove it; as Hanna herself proved women can be more than wives and mothers or if they want to only be a wife or a mother that choice is also okay. It is because of women like Hanna we have the choice as Irish women to effectively be who we want to be, pursue higher education, work after marriage, and continue to hopefully be perceived as equal citizens in Ireland. 

For more on Hanna:

Global Lives: Hanna Sheehy Skeffington | Century Ireland (rte.ie)

Suffrage, equality and Ireland (mayonews.ie)

Hanna Sheehy Skeffington: fighting Ireland’s ‘masculine monopoly’ – The Irish Times

Remembering a Cork suffragette: The ‘ablest woman in Ireland’ (echolive.ie)

Hanna Sheehy-Skeffington | Jeanne Rathbone (wordpress.com)

Militant Irish women fight for the vote | An Phoblacht


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