Women's fight for independence in 1916

Last week Longford Women’s Link manifesto Group in conjunction with Templemichael College introduced its new play commemorating the women of 1916.  

.In the play we meet Cumann na mBán  members who tell the story of  Dr Brigid Lyons, Rose McGuinness, the Ní Riain sisters and Ms Doyle from Kenagh.  

The women were stationed at rebel strongholds during the Rising and the production took the  form of a dialogue between the women of 1916 and their counterparts of 2016.

‘The Unsung Heroines: Longford Women and the 1916 Rising’ provided an interesting perspective on the events of 1916 and how life has changed for the women of 2016 as a result of their input.  

Indeed this theme is very evident when Brigid Lyons’ voice bellows across the stage to the modern woman as she questions them about women’s rights in a modern Ireland after the efforts of the women gone before them.

“For us, it was worth fighting for a better and independent Ireland,” she tells the women.

“I remember Padraig Pearse outside the GPO reading from the Proclamation and all the talk about equal rights for men and for women.

“What have ye done with all that.”

Looking for one to the other, the modern women are unsure of themselves but none-the-less one suddenly announces that the country elected two women presidents and appointed a lady garda commissioner in recent times.  

“We even got marriage equality,” she smiled.

When Rose McGuinness asks about the role of women in modern day Ireland’s political system,  she hears that this is an area that women are still working on.

“I’m afraid politics is still seen as jobs for the men,” adds one of the women, before pointing out that a recent election did indicate that inroads were being made with regard to women’s input.

“We have a long way to go though,” the women admitted.  

Meanwhile, Noirín Clancy, Coordinator, Longford Women’s Manifesto Group said the whole experience served as wonderful learning curve for everyone involved.

The play incidentally was directly by the highly renowned Gus Hanley who is very well known in local theatre circles.  

“There has been so much talk about the 1916 Rising and because the Manifesto Group is all about highlighting the role of women and trying to get women into decision making roles - we thought to ourselves - well what are we going to do in relation to 1916?,” Ms Clancy smiled.

“So, when we were looking at women’s history we realised that women didn’t feature all that much and we thought why don’t we do something to write women back into history.”

From that point, the seeds for ‘The Unsung Heroines: Longford Women and the 1916 Rising’ were sewn and everyone got onboard.

There were two performances at Barney’s in Longford town last Thursday afternoon and the production raised the roof on the day.  

“We did some research and then we got the witness statement from the Bureau of Military Archives and the script began to take hold,” added Noirín who was speaking about how the ideal for the play developed.  

“It was very exciting for all of us who were involved and what was particularly good about all of this was the inspiration for all of us that emerged.

“Women back then were far more militant than we are today and I think that they have really taught us a lot about tactics.

“Maybe we could do with a lot more radicalism and militancy to try and change things more quickly.  All of this makes you start to think about yourself more and indeed our own role as women; it is easy to take from their strength and be inspired.”