Dr. Jennifer Redmond, Helen Meehan, Sinead McCoole with Cécile Gordon, Judith McCarthy, Cathaoirleach Cllr Terence Slowey and Fionnuala Brennan, at yesterdays event in the Regional Cultural Centre marking International Women’s Day
International Women’s Day was celebrated in Letterkenny on Wednesday when women from all over Donegal and the North West attended the Visible & Invisible Women – 100 Years on in Donegal seminar in the Regional Cultural Centre followed by a workshop event in the County Museum.
Up to 70 people attended this event which heard from an array of speakers including Dr. Jennifer Redmond president of the Women’s History Association and lecturer in Modern Irish History at NUI Maynooth who talked about her work on tracing the story of women’s experience of migration and presented a profile of a number of Donegal women who migrated to the UK during the 20th century.
Dr. Jennifer Redmond, President of the Women’s History Association and Lecturer in Modern Irish History at NUI Maynoot speaking at yesterdays event
“I believe that it is important to tell the story of women and their experience of migration. Too often their stories go unheard. They just don’t think their stories are interesting enough but women’s experience of migration is often different to that of men. For the most part women who migrated worked mostly as domestic servants or went into nursing and in fact they were often more successful as they managed to progress in their careers and were able to blend in and contribute more to their new communities.”
Cathaoirleach Cllr. Terence Slowey making the opening address
In his opening address Cathaoirleach of Donegal County Council Cllr. Terence Slowey said that he was honoured to be opening this seminar and to be celebrating International Women’s Day in this way. He said that this event is about examining and celebrating the often overlooked achievements of women in our history and we are being challenged to explore the visibility and invisibility of women in today’s society. He talked about the role of women in society and about how women continue to be under represented in all levels of government and decision making structures in the state.
He said “I am only too aware that at local level, women make up only 16% of elected representatives and that since the foundation of the State in 1918, only a small number of women have been elected in the Republic of Ireland. At the current pace of change it will be 2250 before we can claim balanced political representation. As a local representative I am supportive of efforts to increase the number of women playing a role at both local and national level and would welcome the views of those present here today on how this change can be affected.
Sinead McCoole from the Department of Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural & Gaeltacht Affairs provided a brief introduction to the seminar and talked about her work on exploring the role of women in the 1916 Rising and how women had been literally ‘air brushed’ out of history. She presented a number of familiar images associated with the 1916 Rising which had been ‘air brushed’ to remove women from the photographs.
She thanked her Department and in particular Minister Heather Humphrey’s for her ongoing commitment to this project and for ensuring that the role of women in this important period of our history is now acknowledged which will lead to a richer and more layered remembering of women’s history.
Cécile Gordon Archivist at the Military Service Pension Project
The seminar also heard from Cécile Gordon, archivist on the Military Service Pension Project who enthralled the audience with details being uncovered from records of applications for awards and pensions from veterans who participated in events from April/May 1916 to Sept 1923.
“Because women had such difficulty in getting their applications approved, there is an awful lot of information on file outlining their activities during this time along with references from various individuals who were supporting their applications”.
“Due to many factors, including the lack of primary sources, the women of the revolution have been cast aside. They were disremembered and as a result their stories have been consistently simplified and their actions were steadily reduced to some bland blanket statements. The Military Service Pensions Collection helps us address the work of the women differently. The collection navigates between the personal story and its wider context.”
Well known local historian Helen Meehan provided the audience with a whistle stop tour of women in the history of Donegal from pre-historic times right up to the 21st century and this was followed by an address from Finola Brennan from the Donegal Women’s Network.
Finola’s address brought the audience back to the present day and introduced the audience to a number of inspirational Donegal based women that she has had the honour of working with over the last 15 years. Finola highlighted the ongoing struggle that women face in Donegal today, from those caring at home, to those making a new life for themselves and their families in Donegal, to those facing ongoing discrimination and prejudices.
There was a special round of applause from the audience for the recent Government decision to officially recognise and acknowledge Travellers as an ethnic minority.
The event continued in the afternoon in the Donegal County Museum. Sinead McCoole curator of the Mná 1916: Women 1916 exhibition, currently on display in the Museum, provided a tour of the exhibition. The event concluded with a number of group discussions exploring the theme of the seminar the visibility or invisibility of women in Donegal and Ireland today.
Cécile Gordon with members of the 28th Infantry Battalion and Cathaoirleach Cllr. Terence Slowey at yesterdays event.