You are on page 1of 25

Rebecca Lewis

Feminism in Ireland: The Road to Equality

Well behaved women seldom make history. Laurel Thatcher Ulrich
The word feminism is often followed by negative connotations especially in
the southern part of the United States. This word can be defined in a number of
ways depending on who is being asked. According to actress and activist Emma
Watsons UNWomen speech on September 20, 2014 in New York feminism is the
belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities [and] it is
the theory of the political, economic and social equality of the sexes. Ireland has an
extensive history dealing with womens rights. The first wave of feminism blew
through Ireland in the 1840s and during that time women gained the right to vote.
The second wave of feminism did not occur until the late 1900s and is ongoing. 1
Women in Ireland in the late 1900s focused more on the laws hindering them rather
than man hating, which has become the stereotypical definition of a feminist. In
order to truly understand the second wave of feminism that spread throughout
Ireland a closer look and emphasis has to be put on how feminism is defined in this
paper and the progression of feminism over time.
Shannon Houvouras and J. Scott Carter conducted a study and wrote an
article in 2008 titled The F Word: College Students Definitions of a Feminist on
270 male and female college students to determine their ideas of the word
feminism and what it meant to them. The participants were sociology students in
both community colleges and universities. According to the article the idea that
women are meant to be in the home has drastically changed beginning in the early
1970s for both men and women. Evaluations from the study resulted in both
positive and negative responses to what a feminist was. Positive responses include:
intelligent, independent, career-oriented, and liberal individuals who promote

1 Mary Cullen, A History of Her Story, Irish Times, October 17, 2012.

Rebecca Lewis
equality and freedom.2 Negative responses define them as stubborn, angry,
opinionated, outspoken, radical, anti-male, and lesbian. 3 In the study the
students were given three categories to describe feminists: beliefs, actions, and
characteristics. The belief responses consisted of the students stating that feminists
have a strong belief in gender equality, the belief that women are superior to men
and often reject gender roles. The actions responses included gender equality,
gender discrimination and burning bras. Fifty-nine percent of participants in the
study labeled feminists as being women. 4
Women have been kept in chains in a multitude of ways throughout history.
The most notable ways are; the lack of education and the use of justification for the
roles of women found in the Bible. These concepts controlled and continue to
control societal order, as well as human thought. According to the patriarchal
concept, men are strong and dominant while women are weaker than, and not as
smart as, their male counterparts.5
The lack of education for women was extensive. Sarah Grimke, an American
woman who fought for the emancipation of women during the early 1800s wrote,
the powers of my mind have never been allowed expansion in a letter to her
friend in response to not being allowed to study law or medicine because she was a
woman.6 She believed that if she had been allowed to receive an education she
would have been a better member of society and instead of being helpless she
2 Shannon Houvouras and J. Scott Carter, The F Word: College Students Definitions
of a Feminist. Sociological Forum Vol. 23 Issue 2 (Jun 2008), 234-256.
3 Houvouras, The F Word.
4 Houvouras, The F Word.
5 Gerda Lerner, The Creation of Feminist Consciousness: From Middle Ages to
Eighteen-seventy (New York: Oxford University Press, 1993), 3-4.
6 Lerner, The Creation of Feminist Consciousness, 21.

Rebecca Lewis
could save those who were actually helpless. She described the lack of education as
being a deprivation of true potential.7
In the nineteenth century education for women in Ireland was the same as it
was for women in America. College level education for women was hard to come by.
Most women either had to manage the home or were not educated enough to be
admitted to a second-level school. However, by 1881 the numbers of women
learning Latin, Greek and mathematics (the courses needed to be admitted to
university) skyrocketed. The women studying Latin rose from 292 to 770. Those
studying Greek went from 35 to 122 and mathematics rose from 510 to 1,082. The
influence of the patriarchy was present in Irish education. Men and women were
often segregated into different classes. Classes were taught based on the economy
and society at the time and because of this it was thought that men and women
played different roles and therefore, needed to be taught different subjects. One of
the subjects taught to women was domestic science, which taught girls everything
they needed to know about the home and marriage life. Convent schools were
created in Ireland in the late nineteenth century in order to increase female
education. Convent schools were controlled by the Catholic Church and because of
this was heavily biased in its teachings.8 Frank Hugh ODonnell, author of The Ruin
of Education in Ireland, quoted an Irish Catholic barrister who stated that the
women the convent schools produced were, fit for nothing under heaven except
casting flowers before the Banner of the Sodality and that, they are clever girls,
and they are pretty girls, and they are well-meaning girls, but the Convent

7 Lerner, The Creation of Feminist Consciousness, 21-22.

8 Margaret hgartaigh, A Quiet Revolution: Women and Second-Level Education
in Ireland, 1878-1930. New Hibernia Review p36-51 Vol. 13 Issue 2 (2009).

Rebecca Lewis
Education has spoiled them.9 He believed that the girls in the Convent schools had
no real future because they were useless and uneducated. Even those of religious
authority believed the education to be sorely lacking.
For centuries the patriarchal society has used the Bible to justify women as
inferior beings. It was also used to determine the roles women should play in the
home life and in society, with the Book of Genesis being the most common outlet
used to justify male authority. These Bible verses were most commonly used to
justify the roles of a woman:
1. This one is bone from my bone, and flesh from my flesh! She will be
called woman, because she was taken from man. Gen 2:23 The
Bible states that woman was taken from man and not from God.
2. The woman was convinced. She saw that the tree was beautiful and
its fruit looked delicious, and she wanted the wisdom it would give her.
So she took some of the fruit and ate it. Gen 3:6 This verse states that
woman was the first to sin.
3. A man should not wear anything on his head when worshipping, for
man is made in Gods image and reflects Gods glory. And woman
reflects mans glory. For the first man didnt come from woman, but the
first woman came from man. And man was not made for woman, but
woman was made for man. For this reason, and because the angels are
watching, a woman should wear a covering on her head to show she is
under authority. 1 Cor 11:7-9 This states that women were deemed
below men by saying that she is under authority.
4. Women should learn quietly and submissively. I do not let women
teach men or have authority over them. Let them listen quietly. For

9 F. Hugh ODonnell, The Ruin of Education in Ireland: and the Irish Fanar (London:
Long Acre, 1903), 152.

Rebecca Lewis
God made Adam first, and afterward he made Eve. And it was not
Adam who was deceived by Satan. The woman was deceived, and sin
was the result. 1 Tim 2:11-14 States that women should be silent.


Other instances include Tertullian, who was deemed a father of the Church during
the second century, stated in regards to Eve: You are the Devils gateway. You are
the unsealer of that forbidden tree. You are the first deserter of the Divine Law. . . .
On account of your desert, that is death, even the son of God had to die. 11 St.
Augustine also stated that a woman without a man is not in Gods image. This
concept was a main factor in the Catholic Church Doctrine and in the Womens
Liberation Movement in Ireland. These were the words that plagued the female
community and kept them in chains. 12
Feminists have been present in every society. A few notable feminists include the
Amazons and Mulan, Queen Elizabeth of England, Malala Yousafzai and Emma
Watson. The Amazons were female warriors who played by their own rules. They
were the leaders of tribes. Mulan, also a female warrior, was born in China around
618 C.E. Her father was called to the military and she took his place for 12 years
clothed in mens apparel.13 Queen Elizabeth was the Virgin Queen who never
married yet still controlled the throne. According to the March 15, 2013 issue of
Vanity Fair titled The Target by Marie Brenner, Malala Yousafzai was discovered
when she was interviewed for a magazine called Dawn. The intense gaze of the little

10 Chronological Life Application Bible (Illinois: Tyndale House Publishers, 1988).

11Lerner, The Creation of Feminist Consciousness, 141.
12Lerner, The Creation of Feminist Consciousness, 141.
13 Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, Well-Behaved Women Seldom Make History (New York:
Alfred A. Knopf, 2007), 40, 50-51.

Rebecca Lewis
girl won the reporter and bureau chief over. Soon after that she was shot while
riding home on the bus because she stood up to the Taliban. Now she is a role
model for young girls education. Emma Watson, who is famous for her role in the
Harry Potter saga has created a movement called HeForShe aimed to decrease
the existence of gender inequality by calling for help from not only women but also
men, according to her speech on September 20, 2014 at the United Nations
Headquarters in New York. This list is only a fraction of the women who dedicated
themselves to ending the inequalities in society.
In Ireland, the conditions were similar to those around the globe. The first-wave of
the fight for womens rights began in 1840 and lasted until the early 1900s. 14
Women over the age of 30 were given the right to vote in 1918 and were finally
awarded full suffrage in 1922. Under the 1976 Maintenance of Spouses and Children
Act the husband is considered the legal head of household and therefore takes on
the responsibility and welfare of his wife and his children. Divorce was prohibited
but judicial separation was allowed on specific grounds. These grounds included
non-observance of marriage, impotence, and non-consent according to the 1870
Matrimonial Causes Act. In 1980, the country of Ireland was brought before the
European Court of Justice for not providing affordable judicial separation. Judicial
separation was made very expensive so it would be almost impossible for a couple
to be separated after marriage.15
The Family Planning Act legalized contraception in November of 1980. Under this
act all agencies had to be registered and were only legally sold to married couples.
The illegal sale of contraceptives was punishable by up to $12,500 or a year in
prison. Most pharmacists did not sell contraceptives because of the Catholic
14 Cullen, A History of Her Story.
15 Morgan, Sisterhood is Global, 341.

Rebecca Lewis
Churchs belief in a more traditional approach to birth control. These methods
included the rhythm method and the mucous method. Abortion was also a main
concern of Irish women. Abortion had not been a major concern until the late 1900s
and was made illegal in April of 1983 when an amendment to the Constitution
asking for the equal right to life of the unborn was proposed and then passed on
September 7, 1983.16 Because of this around 5000 women from Ireland traveled to
England to receive abortions every year. The numbers of abortions in England from
non-residents rose from 1,187 in 1968 to 29,232 in 1980 when the Family Planning
Act was passed.17 Some feminists believe that the right to an abortion can be found
under the double effect principle in the Roman Catholic Church which states that
indirect killing is forgiven if the mothers life is in danger. 18
Marital rape was also not recognized by law. Only 222 cases of sexual abuse
were reported but no data could be found on actual convictions. Physical abuse, or
battery, was also a common problem but no legal action could be filed because it
was not illegal in the eyes of the law for a husband to physically abuse his wife. The
wife could have the husband distanced from her and the children but could not seek
legal action. Physical abuse was common because of alcoholism. 19
There are various laws past and present that govern the Irish Women. The Equal Pay
Act of 1974 stated that equal work would receive equal pay yet a womans wages
were 57.6 percent of a mans in 1979. The 1976 Maintenance of Spouses and
Children Act stated that a man was the head of household not the woman. The
16 Morgan, Sisterhood is Global, 341.
17 Robert Johnston, Historical Abortion Statistics, United Kingdom. September 13,
18 Morgan, Sisterhood is Global, 341.
19 Morgan, Sisterhood is Global, 340-342.

Rebecca Lewis
Family Planning Act of 1980 legalized contraceptives but only for married couples
and still contraceptives were hard to find because pharmacists would refuse to sell
them because of religious beliefs. The Criminal Law Rape Act of 1981 stated that
marital rape was not rape at all and no legal repercussions would ensue.



Contagious Disease Acts of 1860 required women suspected of prostitution to be

tested yet men were not subjected to this act. The Intermediate Education Act of
1878 and the University Act of 1879 at first excluded women until 1908 when all
courses and degrees could be pursued by women. 21
The progression of women in Ireland from housewife to individual was made
possible by the introduction of hot water and electricity. Both of these made
everyday life for women easier. This is where the verse idle hands are the devils
workshop from Proverbs 16:27 comes into play. 22 Because a womans everyday
responsibilities were made easier and faster with hot water and electricity it gave
women more time to spend doing other things. This led to self-discovery and the
fight for equality. This was short lived and only resulted in the legalization of a
womans right to vote.23
Ireland was ruled by the Catholic Church. According to Article 41.1.1 of the Irish
Constitution of 1937, which was based off Catholic Doctrine, the state recognises
the Family as the natural primary and fundamental unit group of Society, and as a
moral institution possessing inalienable and imprescriptible rights, antecedent and

20 Morgan, Sisterhood is Global, 340-342.

21 Cullen, A History of Her Story.
22 Chronological Life Application Bible.
23 Jenny Beale, Women in Ireland: Voices of Change (Bloomington: Indiana
University Press, 1987), 1.

Rebecca Lewis
superior to all positive law.24 The family was defined as a married man and woman
and the Constitution of 1937 related a family to the successes of the nation. It is
also stated in Article 41.2.1 that, the State recognizes that by her life within the
home, woman gives to the State a support without which the common good cannot
be achieved and in article 41.2.2, the State shall, therefore, endeavor to ensure
that mothers shall not be obliged by economic necessity to engage in labour to the
neglect of their duties in the home.25 This article states the responsibilities of a
man are to ensure economic safety for a woman so that she should not feel the
need to work but it also imprisons women because it states that her responsibilities
are keeping the home. Marriage bars were put into place in many job opportunities.
This meant that married women were not hired into these positions and were forced
to be economically dependent on their husbands. Women who were employed
before they were married were usually let go. Most of these women became full
time mothers soon after marriage because contraceptives were illegal. 26 The
marriage bar last from 1933 to 1973. This affected mostly civil service workers such
as teachers but was also present in companies. A pamphlet called Civil Wrongs of
Irishwomen stated that the pay for women was far less than that of men. A woman
would make 5s 3d while a man of the same skill level would make 9s 6d. There were
702,000 workers in Ireland and only one-third of those were women. Out of the
women that did work only six percent worked in managerial roles and twelve
percent were teachers and nurses. Most of the Irish women working force consisted
of working in the factories or waitressing. The employment of women has grown
24 Beale, Women in Ireland, 6.
25 Beale, Women in Ireland, 7.
26 Beale, Women in Ireland, 7-10.

Rebecca Lewis
substantially since the marriage bar was repealed in 1973. In 1981 the percentage
of women looking after the home was 55 percent and now is only 17.5 percent. 27
Although the life of a woman in Ireland was stagnant until the industrialization in the
Many groups were formed during the 1960s to the 1970s to aid in the fight for
womens rights. The Irish Housewives Association, Association of Business and
Professional Women, Altrusa Club, Irish Countrywomens Association, Irish Nursing
Organization, Dublin University Womens Graduates Association, the National
Association of Widows, the Soroptimists Clubs of Ireland, Womens International
Zionist Organization, Irish Council of Women, Association of Women Citizens and the
Association of Secondary Teachers of Ireland banded together to create a
committee called the First Commission on the Status of Women. The goal of this
committee was to use campaigning and lobbying to change or amend the laws
governing women and their rights. Contraception was only a topic on the tongue of
the women deemed radical within the movement. Michael Viney wrote a piece in
1966 for the Irish Times titled Too Many Children where he discussed the
disadvantages and problems that came with having too many children and the need
for change. Two years after his article was published a fertility clinic was created to
counsel families on how to limit the amount of children they had. No form of
contraception (pills or condoms) were brought into these facilities. The word
contraception had been a taboo word but it was a word the Irish Womens
Liberation Movement was not afraid to shout from the rooftops. Although not even
the IWLM was ready to tackle the law on abortion according to a statement from the
27 Pamela Duncan, Women at Work: 40 years of change, Irish Times, June 8,
28 Beale, Women in Ireland, 7-10.

Rebecca Lewis
founder of the IWLM, We didnt discuss abortion at all because we reckoned the
time wasnt right.29 The First Commission on the Status of Women believed in
changing womens rights gradually. The IWLM on the other hand did not. Some
members of the IWLM who were taking part in the womens rights movements in
the United States were seen as the most radical. A quote from the member of the
IWLM states that the, Mary Kennys [one of the most radical members] of this world
were always trying to leap forward at a pace that at least some of us thought was
going to far.30
Grainne Farren wrote an article on about Anne Stoppers book
Monday at Gajs: The Story of the Irish Womens Liberation Movement. In the
article, she describes how the book got its name and the basic storyline and history
of the book. The women of the soon to be Irish Womens Liberation Movement met
at a restaurant in Dublin called Gajs on Mondays to discuss womens rights.
Stopper used this meeting for the title of her book. In the article, Farren states that
the reason the IWLM had so much success was because many of the women were
journalists. This allowed for a more publicized and accurate account of the
movement because the reports were coming first-hand from the women
themselves.31 A trade unionist also details why the IWLM was so successful:
The original founders of the IWLM movement would have been maybe that
little bit
older and professional women journalists and that. And so they had a

29 Linda Connolly, The Irish Womens Movement: From Revolution to Devolution

(New York: Palgrave,2002), 114.
30 Connolly, The Irish Womens Movement, 94.
31 Grainne Farren, Monday at Gajs: The Story of the Irish Womens Liberation
Movement, Independent, May 21, 2006.

Rebecca Lewis
confidence, a skill and a place in the world of work. But the kind of
people their
ideas appealed to were the next generation the young women
coming through the
free education system which I would be part of; women of their age
who were hemmed
in by discrimination and lack of opportunity and to whom their ideas
appealed; and
older women who had come through certain experiences of life, who
had formed a
critical view these ideas of making the aspirations a reality did
appeal to a large
cross section of women. I would say sociologically more from the
unskilled and
unemployed, of whom there were significant numbers but not as many
as now, those
ideas didnt percolate that easy. (Trade Unionist, Nationalist feminist) 32
The success of the IWLM was based on the broad range of audiences they appealed
At the time, contraception and abortion were illegal, women were being paid
far less than men on the same skill level and women who were married were barred
from working in many positions. The IWLM was a beacon of hope for these women.
Farren uses a quote from Stoppers book where Stopper describes the IWLM as
being one of the most radical, peaceful and profound social movements in history.
The major difference between the IWLM and the other groups working towards
rights for women was the way in which they fought for those rights. June Levine,
author of Sisters (a personal account of the movement) and key player of the IWLM,
believed that is was a mistake to ask permission for anything. 33
32 Connolly, The Irish Womens Movement, 113.
33 Farren, Monday at Gajs, Independent.

Rebecca Lewis
A pamphlet was published in March of 1971 called Chains or Change that
demanded basic rights for women. In this pamphlet the IWLM demanded five rights
for women:
1. Equal pay: According to the conditions of service from a broadcasting service
for the position of General Features Officer the rate of pay varied on whether
a man or woman was hired for the position. If a man was hired for the
position he would be paid from 650 to 850 pounds and a woman would be
paid from 500 to 700 pounds depending on qualifications. 34
2. Legal equality: This included the tax structure, the marriage bar, jury duty,
3. Equal education: Higher education for women was hard to come by.
4. Contraception: It was illegal and hardly ever talked about.
5. Rights for wives who had been deserted, unmarried women who became
mothers and widows.35
The founder of the IWLM stated how the need for a pamphlet like Chains or Change
came about:
It was mostly journalists in the first lot We met for a long time. We
didnt plan to go public for a long time because we recognized we
hadnt got a programme; we had to study. We knew vaguely that
women were of a lower class than men, werent on juries, needed their
husbands signature for a passport, child benefit was paid to the man
These were things we knew and learned as we would go along

34 RT, Radio ireann Conditions of Service, 1947.

35 Irish Womens Liberation Movement, Irishwomen: Chains or Change, TCDI,

Rebecca Lewis
What we eventually had was a six point programme. (Founder IWLM,
Left activist)36
Two IWLM members, Mairin de Burca and Mary Anderson, challenged the law
that did not allow women to serve on the jury. As a result, the law was changed in
1975. Farren states that there were three things that the IWLM did not ask for
because it was not talked about: abortion, lesbian rights and divorce. She ends the
article by stating that women today take for granted everything that the women of
the 1970s did to make the lives of women better. 37

image from the

Times article Laying by the Tracks by Mary Minihan written on October 28, 2014.
The image is of the IWLM as they were boarding the train at Connolly Station in
Dublin for Belfast (which was in Northern Ireland and controlled by England) in May
of 1971. In this image the women of the IWLM appear to be holding up
36 Connolly, Irish Womens Movement, 113.
37Farren, Monday at Gajs.

Rebecca Lewis
contraceptives. This movement was called the contraceptive train because they
went to Belfast in hopes of procuring contraception for women in Ireland. Forty-nine
members of the IWLM made the journey to Belfast that day and once they arrived in
Belfast they were informed that contraception could not be bought without a
prescription from a doctor. They were allowed to buy condoms and contraceptive
jelly. Nell McCafferty, a member of the IWLM, recounts that they were not allowed to
bring home a contraceptive pill so the members bought hundreds of aspirins and
passed them off as the pill when confronted by customs officers. 38 A video of the
women buying and coming back to Dublin with the contraceptives portrays that the
women were successful in bringing the contraception back. In the video, however;
the pill shown has no sort of label or identification. It is just a white pill that is
believed to be contraception.39 The IWLM was not successful in bringing back
contraception for women but they were successful in bringing the word and practice
of contraception into light.40
Abortion was a topic hardly any of the IWLM members were willing to touch. A
group of letters discussing abortion and Savita Halappanavars untimely death were
sent to the law makers of Ireland. Savita Halappanavar was with child when she
went to the hospital and found out that she was having a miscarriage. She begged
the doctors to go ahead and abort the baby but they refused. This refusal ended in
her death due to clinical failure. The women of the IWLM sent a letter asking that
women be allowed to have an abortion if the mothers life is in danger. Catriona
38 Mary Minihan, Laying the Tracks to Liberation: The Original Contraceptive Train,
Irish Times, October 28, 2014.
39 RT,Contraceptive Train. Filmed [May 22, 1971]. RT One, 02:18.
40 Minihan, Laying the Tracks to Liberation.

Rebecca Lewis
Flaherty, a pro-life activist, writes a letter proclaiming that it is wrong to force
anyone to vote for this Bill (abortion if the mothers life is in danger). She also states
that she will have respect for anyone who opposes the Bill and calls for them to
have a conscience and know that it is wrong. The last letter is from a group of
doctors declaring that if the Bill is passed then the doctors cannot be blamed for the
results. The doctors who sent the letter believe that abortion is a harmful procedure
that they do not agree with. Abortion is something that is fought against and for in
every corner of the free world.41
Nell McCafferty was a key player in the Irish Womens Liberation Movement.
She came to Dublin in 1970 to work as a journalist. While in Dublin she helped found
the IWLM. She has two published books, The Armagh Women and The Eyes of the
Law. She also wrote a piece titled, Coping with the Womb and the Border in which
she does an excellent job portraying the story of feminism in Ireland to even those
who do not support feminism. In this piece, she begins by describing how the
country is set up. Ireland is fifty-one percent female. Ireland has been separated
into two halves for over eight hundred years. Northern Ireland is under the control
of Great Britain and Southern Ireland is under the control of the Irish government.
This causes many problems in regards to the law. Northern Ireland is controlled by
Queen Elizabeth II and the Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. This led to women in
Northern Ireland living better, freer lives than women in Southern Ireland, or so it
seemed. Women in Northern Ireland had equal pay, equal educational opportunity,
contraception, divorce, abortion, and gay rights. 42 Women in Northern Ireland in
theory had everything the women of Southern Ireland were actively fighting for. This
41 The Abortion Debate, Irish Times, June 21, 2013.
42 Morgan, Sisterhood is Global, 347.

Rebecca Lewis
was all in theory. In actuality the women of Northern Ireland could have these things
but the whole of Ireland was heavily by the patriarchy. Northern Ireland was mostly
Protestant like Great Britain and Southern Ireland was Roman Catholic. Religion
dictated the role of a woman in society. Women who tried to procure these rights
were subject to being killed, maimed or imprisoned. McCafferty goes on to explain
the different legal problems in the south including divorce, abortion, homosexuality,
contraception, unwed mothers and illegitimate children. There were female
politicians in Ireland but they were heavily outnumbered by men. There were only
fourteen female politicians while there were over two hundred male politicians. Only
two of these women were in government posts. These posts were the Minister for
Education and the Junior Minister for Womens Affairs. The word abortion was
taboo. None of these women openly supported abortion even in the case of rape or
incest. McCafferty compares the road to equality for Irish women to the women in
Iran, South Africa and Palestine because the road is difficult but women find ways
around these difficulties.43
The Irish Womens Liberation Movement started in Dublin in 1970 and was
founded by twelve women. These women were mainly journalists which explains
why the movement had a major impact on Ireland and the world. Most of these
women were left-wing and Roman Catholic. McCafferty exclaims that the hardest
decision to make when founding a group like this in Ireland is which part of the
country does the group favor. The IWLM decided to forget that the country was split
and focus on where they were, Dublin, which was in the southern part of Ireland.
The group existed because one of the members had read Sisterhood is Powerful and
was convinced that a sisterhood of this caliber could conquer all that they, as a
group, put their minds to. The obstacles the IWLM were facing were contraception,
43 Morgan, Sisterhood is Global, 347-348.

Rebecca Lewis
equal pay, state assistance for women who were not married, assistance for women
choosing work over the continuance of school and the marriage bar. Women were
allowed to have one illegitimate child (two during wartime) until made to leave the
Civil Service. The names of these women who had children but were not married
were often recited to the public by priests. McCafferty then discusses the infamous
contraceptive train or as she calls it the pill train. 44
McCafferty asks seven questions concerning contraception in Ireland:
First, if contraception was available in Northern Ireland, should one advocate
that the
whole country would be better off, in feminist terms, under the colonial
rule of Great
Britain? Second, if national unity was more beneficial that colonial rule,
should one
admit that womens affairs were by definition of secondary
importance? Third, if
contraception was available in Northern Ireland because the majority
there was Protestant like that of Britain, should one therefore attack
the domination
of the Roman Catholic Church in the South? Fourth, if we did, would we
get the famous
belt of the bishops crozier and never survive to tell the tale? Fifth,
would we all lose our
jobs or prospect of promotion in a country where the State bowed to
the influence of
the Church? Sixth, if we bought contraceptives publicly in Northern
Ireland, would we
be called upon by the media to give our opinion of the political state of
affairs there,
and would our movement therefore be plunged into the classical
Spirit? Finally, and
44 Morgan, Sisterhood is Global, 348-349.

Rebecca Lewis
most important: in a country which can be crossed in a good car in no
more than four
hours, what would our mothers say? And whatever they said, would
our fathers blame
our mothers?45
McCafferty says in this passage that womens rights are often overlooked
because there are more problems in Ireland than just womens rights. She is also
questioning the need for Ireland to separate church and state and it would be better
for the whole of Ireland to be under British control if things do not change.
The intention of the pill train was to be arrested after the women returned
to Dublin. They believed that going to jail would help their movement progress
socially as it did for Countess Markievicz. According to McCafferty, after Markievicz
was arrested she soon became the first woman Minister of Labour and the first
woman commandant of the Irish Republic Army (IRA). When the fourty-nine women
travelled to Belfast they demanded contraception pills, coils and loops from the
pharmacies. They discovered that in order to get contraception a woman had to see
a doctor and be prescribed contraception. They were allowed to bring back
condoms and lubricating jelly. They did bring back aspirin with the intention of
convincing the customs officials and lighting a fire under the movement. The
women were met at the Dublin train station by customs officials, railway officials
and police officers. They tossed the contraceptives to the women waiting at the
train station and cited articles on birth control. They were not arrested at the train
station. They then marched to the police station and confessed that they were in
possession of contraceptives. Again nothing happened to them. The Prime Minister
made a speech two days later declaring that that everything had been handled and
the contraceptives were seized. The IWLM hoped with this act that a fire would be lit
45 Morgan, Sisterhood is Global, 349.

Rebecca Lewis
under the movement and it would excel forward but the opposite happened. This
was the last major act of the IWLM.46
After the pill train the IWLM began to crumble. Various members split up or
resigned. She states that over the next decade they stumbled about not really
accomplishing anything of major importance. Although a spark that quickly
dwindled happened in 1981 with the attempted assassination of Bernadette, a
political activist, in Northern Ireland. Members of the IRA reacted by marking prison
walls with menstrual blood. This further disbanded the IWLM because they could not
decide whether to keep fighting for rights in the south or to go aid the north.
McCaffertys account of the movement is easy to read, easy to understand and it
appeals to feminists and non-feminists alike. 47
Before the fall of the IWLM the main reason for the effectiveness of the group was
the media. One member for the Well Woman Centre stated that they had the media
on speed dial, all we had to do was pick up the phone and we got publicity. 48
Catherine Rose states that the idea to change the lives of women in Ireland started
a decade before the IWLM was founded. Some of the journalist who found the
movement began writing pieces in the womens section of the newspaper about the
injustices women were forced into just because of their sex. Rose declared, Since
the late 1960s they have done their utmost to waken the consciousness of Irish
women to the necessity for upgrading the status of women. 49 This act was
necessary in order to have any kind of accomplishments for the injustices and
discriminations of women. A member of the Well Woman Centre states that the
46 Morgan, Sisterhood is Global, 348-350.
47 Morgan, Sisterhood is Global, 349.
48 Connolly, The Irish Womens Movement, 124.
49 Connolly, The Irish Womens Movement, 125.

Rebecca Lewis
most influential resources were RTE and the Irish Times because they did not filter
the media according to the law of the land (the Roman Catholic Church). The
movement soon began to get positive and negative awareness in the media. The
most radical of the members believed that any publicity was good publicity. 50 The
women of the movement appeared on the Late Late show to discuss the
contraceptive train where one of the founders admitted that she did not go on the
What do I remember coming into the discourse is that we had to go slowly
and step by
step. I wouldnt go on the contraceptive train because I didnt want it
to look as if single
women were looking for contraceptives and we were moving too fast. I
mean I was in
favour of anybody needing them having them. We were always looking
over our
shoulders at rural women and I thought it would give the wrong
impression of all
these single hussies in Dublin wanting contraceptives! I organised the
demo for them
coming home but I wouldnt go on the train. 51
This woman was one of the few members who cared about the public opinion of the
movement and did not want to negatively glorify it by procuring contraceptives. She
also states that the movement was moving too fast. The people of Ireland were not
ready for something previously deemed taboo.
The IWLM did not last very long. The acts of rebellion were less and less radical and
they began to try to expand their reach stretching the IWLM very thin. A member of
the IWLM states:

50 Connolly, The Irish Womens Movement, 125-126.

51 Connolly, The Irish Womens Movement, 126.

Rebecca Lewis
The IWLM was short-lived but it went on to live in other organisations
Womens Aid,
Cherish A lot of them saw being mainstream was the way to go
Nuala Fennel saw a
particular niche . Looking back on it now, at the time I suppose I
didnt feel anything
much about it breaking up because I was too active in other things.
But I suppose if I was
asked I would have said it was a pity. But now I wouldnt I think it did
what it set out to
do. If it had gone on it would have dwindled away or gone into
bickering or different
camps It stayed together for as long as it could have stayed
together and then it broke
up. There was no decline in the womens movement as far as I could
see. (Member
The IWLM made a major mark on the history of Ireland and heavily influenced other
groups of the time to act radically.
Fiona Gartland wrote an article for the Irish Times on Sabina Higgins response to
making women carry fatal fetal pregnancies. The article states that abnormalities
that affect the life of the child can be detected early and if a women in Ireland gets
this news she cannot legally have an abortion on Irish soil. She has to travel to
England to receive the medical procedure. Higgins believes that making a woman
carry a child with an abnormality goes against the world and nature. Her comments
were turned against her and Tracy Harkin, a member of Every Life Counts, believed
her to mean that babies born with abnormalities, or disabilities, are disgraceful and

52 Connolly, The Irish Womens Movement, 128.


Rebecca Lewis
therefore should be terminated. This happened May 9, 2016 so women are still not
completely equal in Ireland.53
Feminism is a word that is often mistaken to mean a woman that hates a man and
believes that they are better than men. Feminism is the call for equal rights. Women
want what should be theirs from the beginning, the same rights a man is born with
just because he is male. The women of Ireland fought tirelessly for those rights.
These rights included voting, the right to divorce, the right to buy contraception, the
right to choose for themselves whether or not abortion is what is right for them,
justice for rape and for abuse, equal pay, equal educational opportunities, and
rights for unwed mothers and illegitimate children. Women in Ireland started out as
they did in almost every part of the world, homemakers. With the introduction of
electricity and industrialization they were able to pursue jobs and this also allowed
them time to think about the different injustices women were subject to just
because they were women. The media also played a very important role in igniting
the fire in these women and bringing them together. The Irish Womens Liberation
Movement played a key role in procuring these rights for the women of Ireland. Two
of their most famous acts were releasing the Irish Womens Liberation Movements
manifesto, Chains or Change, which listed the key injustices they wished to address
and the contraceptive train which had the sole purpose of creating recognition of
the IWLM. The IWLM disbanded soon after it was founded but the legacy and its
accomplishments continue to live on.

53 Fiona Gartland, Sabina Higgins: Making women carry fatal foetal pregnancies
an outrage, Irish Times, May 9, 2016.

Rebecca Lewis

Works Cited

1. Beale, Jenny. Women in Ireland: Voices of Change. Bloomington, Indiana

University Press, 1987.
2. Chronological Life Application Bible. Illinois: Tyndale House Publishers,
3. Connolly, Linda. The Irish Womens Movement: From Revolution to
Devolution. New York: Palgrave, 2002.
4. Cullen, Mary. A History of Her Story. Irish Times, October 17, 2012.
5. Duncan, Pamela. Women at Work: 40 years of change. Irish Times, June 8,
6. Farren, Grainne. Monday at Gajs: The Story of the Irish Womens Liberation
Movement. Independent, May 21, 2006.
7. Gartland, Fiona. Sabina Higgins: Making women carry fatal foetal
pregnancies an outrage. Irish Times, May 9, 2016.
8. Hgartaigh, Margaret . A Quiet Revolution: Women and Second-Level
Education in Ireland, 1878-1930. New Hiberia Review (2009): p 36-51
Vol.13 Issue 2.
9. Houvouras, Shannon and J. Scott Carter. The F Word: College Students
Definitions of a Feminist. Sociological Forum p.234-256 Vol. 23 Issue 2 (Jun
10. Irish Womens Liberation Movement. Irishwomen: Chains or Change.
TCDI, 1971.
11. Johnston, Robert. Historical Abortion Statistics, United Kingdom.
September 13, 2015.


Rebecca Lewis

12. Lerner, Gerda. The Creation of Feminist Consciousness: From the Middle
Ages to Eighteen-seventy. New York: Oxford University Press, 1993.
13. Minihan, Mary. Laying the Tracks to Liberation: The Original Contraceptive
Train. Irish Times, October 28, 2014.
14. Morgan, Robin. Sisterhood is Global: The International Womens Movement
Anthology. New York: Anchor Press, 1984.
15. ODonnell, F. Hugh. The Ruin of Education in Ireland: and the Irish Fanar.
London: Long Acre, 1903.
16. RT. Radio ireann Conditions of Service. 1947.
17. RT. Contraceptive Train. Filmed [May 22, 1971]. RT One, 02:18.
18. Ulrich, Laurel Thatcher. Well-Behaved Women Seldom Make History. New
York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2007.
19. The Abortion Debate. Irish Times, June 21, 2013.