UCC broadcast historian, Dr Finola Doyle O’Neill, is very much flying the flag for Irish women who won the right to vote 100 years ago.
Finola attended the launch of Votáil 100 in Leinster House, launched by Senator Ivana Bacik, during the week.
Finola’s play, Walking With Ireland Into The Sun, which focuses on seven women rebels of 1916, was performed at Cork City Gaol in 2016. It was such a success that it was performed again on Culture Night that year. And it sparked an idea which led to a radio series that is now on the Oireachtas website.
“I realised that people are really interested in Irish women’s history but not necessarily through reading books,” says Finola. “I was trying to look at the subject through a different prism and it struck me that I should do a radio series celebrating the 100th anniversary of the female franchise in Ireland.”
Finola scripted, presented and produced The Road To The Vote —The Fight For Female Suffrage in Ireland which won the 2017 Community Radio CRAOL Award for the best audio dramatisation. A workshop on the series was organised by Finola, inviting schools in the Munster area to take part.
“In the end, we were so overwhelmed by the response that I had to limit it to Cork schools. I gave copies of the radio series and accompanying booklets to 50 schools in Munster. Last year, about 24 schools used the material and there’ll be more using it again this year. Believe it or not, female suffrage forms part of the Leaving Certificate curriculum.”
Also, last year, Finola organised a schools’ second level competition for fifth and sixth-year pupils called My Favourite Irish Suffragette.
“There was a great response to that. The most popular suffragette was Helena Moloney followed by Kathleen Lyn.”
Kathleen Lyn, from Mayo, was one of the first female medical graduates from UCD. She went on to found St Ultan’s Children’s Hospital.
“She was a Protestant gay woman. She fascinated the school girls. Archbishop Charles McQuaid took away a lot of her funding. Kathleen was also the medical officer for the Irish Citizen Army.”
Helena Moloney was recruited by the republican and socialist leader, James Connolly.
“She was involved in a women’s newspaper and went on to become a socialist. She was the woman who took the 1916 Proclamation off the printer and put it under her pillow to make sure (it didn’t get into the wrong hands). There’s great history there. A lot of these women were in my radio series,” said Finola.
Glucksman University in New York, which has a radio station affiliated to it, broadcast Finola’s radio series. She is delighted that the Oireachtas has put the series on its website.
“It’s one way of popularising female history and it’s a way of teaching it,” she said.
Later this year, on December 7, marking the 100th anniversary of Irish women’s right to vote, Finola is organising a special event. Groups of ten women, dressed in costumes representing ten decades, will gather at the quad at UCC where people will say a few words on the status of women in each of the decades.
“The quad will be closed off for an hour for the event and I have also booked the Aula Maxima where Ivana Bacik will speak.
“I’ve also asked Anna Geary (camogie player and broadcaster) and Deirdre Clune to speak and I have a couple more very interesting people in mind who haven’t confirmed yet.
“The event is about looking at the advances women have made in 100 years, from all different fields. I don’t want it to be overly academic. it’s going to be something that everyone can share.”
While Irish women have made great strides in public life, Finola says: “There’s still the unconscious bias we’re dealing with which has been brought up again by the Kerry Babies case. Nobody is mentioning Jeremiah Locke (the married man with whom Joanne had an affair).”
Finola also points out that the history department at UCC, where she works has only three female staff members out of a staff of 31.
“Basically, there’s still a lot to do. My big thing is that women need to be more collegiate. I think men do that very well. I always try to get my female colleagues involved in anything I’m doing and don’t take ‘no’ for an answer. We have to make sure it’s all done in a nice way. I don’t think stridency gets us anywhere. I hate even using the term ‘women’s history’ because it’s everybody’s history.”
She adds that it is fortunate that the 1916 commemorations acted as an impetus to generate interest in Irish women’s history: “I wrote in my play that women were not martyred because we lived for Ireland rather than died. That martyr element is not part of the narrative.”