The Women of the Easter Rising

The Women of the Easter Rising

Courtesy of the National Library of Ireland

“No one likes a woman who yells loudly about revolution,” wrote Rebecca Traister in February. She was writing about the presidential election, of course, but the words stuck with me for months, especially when I was in Ireland this March for the hundredth anniversary of the 1916 Easter Rising.

Of the Rising’s many compelling stories and characters, I always find myself returning to the Countess Markievicz. She was a woman who not only yelled about revolution but helped plan and fight in one. Markievicz was saved from execution as one of the leaders of the failed Rising because she was a woman. Born to the wealth and privilege of the Protestant Ascendancy, she became a socialist after hearing labor leader Jim Larkin speak. She later joined the Irish Citizen Army, a labor-affiliated militia which allowed women to fight equally. Although she was the first woman elected to the English parliament, she was denied her place in history because she refused her post as part of Sinn Féin’s policy of abstention. Later, she was minister for Labour in the first Irish parliament, but died before she could finally take a seat in the Dáil.

She was not, though, the only woman to fight in 1916. This year, after Irish feminists demanded it, the women of the Rising—Markievicz, Margaret Skinnider (who had to fight the Irish Free State for her pension), Kathleen Lynn, Helena Molony, and others, many of whom were socialists, feminists, even lesbians—got at least some of their due. At Sinn Féin’s commemoration in Dublin, I stood on the banks of the Liffey and watched marchers holding as many signs with women’s faces and names on them as men’s. I considered the sacrifices of Irish women and how the Constitution denied them the equality the Proclamation of the Republic promised them, from denying them abortion rights to defining their role as in the home. The women of 1916—and indeed the women who have truly brought about revolutionary change throughout history—have faced much bigger risks than being disliked for yelling.

Sarah Jaffe is co-host of Dissent’s Belabored podcast. Her first book, Necessary Trouble, is forthcoming from Nation Books.