Women in UCC recall centenary of suffragettes
More than 70 women dressed as suffragettes to take part in a parade around UCC’s iconic quad to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the vote being given to women in Ireland.
The parade, led by Sabina Higgins, remembered the women, who were aged over 30 and with property, who went to the polling booths for the first time in December 1918. Academics from UCC played the part of prominent suffragettes including Emmeline Pankhurst, Hanna Sheehy-Skefffington, and Constance Markievicz.
Mrs Higgins said they were “strong” and “assertive” and paved the way for groups such as women’ s rights activists of the 1970s.
Speaking in the A ula Maxima, Mrs Higgins stressed the importance of celebrating and understanding our history. She expressed concern about moves to remove history as a core subject of the Junior Certificate.
She said: “Everyone in the country, I think, acknowledges how little we knew of the history of the early 20th century until it came to the centenary of 1916. It hadn’t happened for the 50th anniversary in 1966. I suppose there was so much more knowledge available because of technology. All the wonderful books that came out. And people had been excluded or ignored from history. They were restored to history.”
She said women who had been “airbrushed out of history” during that period, such as Elizabeth Farrell, were rightly remembered for their role.
She said we should not forget the work carried out by our female predecessors to get us to where we are today, and that the onus is on women to continue to campaign for issues such as the environment.
Mrs Higgins was presented with a project on suffragism which was completed by students at St Mary’s Secondary School in Macroom.
Finola Doyle O’Neill, of the UCC School of History, said Ms Markievicz was hugely agitated at the fact the vote was initially only given to women over 30.
“She felt enraged that young women weren’t allow- ed to vote,” said Dr Doyle O’Neill. “She let her thoughts be known in the Dáil chambers in 1922. She was a formidable woman. When they got the vote, then came the Irish Constitution in 1937 and there was a strong sense then that women were firmly put back in to the home. There was a sense of disenchantment and disappointment.”
On history in schools, Ms Doyle O’Neill said: “If we don’t know where we came from we don’t know where we are going to. With the advent of Brexit we really cannot entrench ourselves. We really need to know what our history is. “
Helen Whelton, head of UCC’s College of Medicine and Health, said medicine was one of the first programmes on offer at the campus when it opened in 1849. The course was only available to men. However, 40 years before that, Cork woman Margaret Buckley moved to Edinburgh and studied medicine there.
“But the only way she could study medicine was to be disguised as a boy,” said Prof Whelton. “This disguise she kept up for 56 years until her death. What is truly extraordinary is that she got into the British Armed Forces and they never picked it up.”
Clockwise from main: Dr Jean van Sinderen-Law as Constance Markievicz in the Aula Maxima, University College Cork, during a celebration of women’s suffrage; Sabina Higgins addresses the event; UCC academics and staff playing the parts of well-known suffragettes.