Women Rising: Embracing, Negotiating, and Reinterpreting Gender Roles in Revolutionary Ireland, 1913-1923

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Southern New Hampshire University
This thesis examines the Irish revolutions (1913–1923) through the eyes of the revolutionary women who fought in them. The historiography on the period largely ignores and or downplays the contributions of women, often relying on a few exceptional examples of their participation to censure the work of all. The majority were nameless, faceless foot soldiers who took on traditionally male roles as spies, snipers, and dispatch carriers, but also traditionally female roles as mothers, wives, mourners, and caretakers. Revolutionary women did not reject their femininity so much as realize its possibilities. Recognizing revolutionary women’s experiences were unique and deeply personal, the thesis focuses on using the women’s own words to tell their stories. The research uses Defense Forces Ireland Bureau of Military History witness statements, memoirs, diaries, correspondence, and speeches to draw much-needed attention to the ordinary women who did the extraordinary. It traces women’s participation through four phases: their rise (1913-1916); reaction to their participation (1916-1919); their reinterpretation of the ways in which they would participate (1919-1921); and the ultimate reversal of their agency as Irish Free State political leaders decided women more important as symbols of the nation than active participants in it (1922-1923). Chapter five orients the Irish revolutionary woman’s experience within the larger international context. Women have always been involved in war and revolution; female participation in combat is neither new nor novel. Women were present and did participate in both socially-accepted and circumstantially-allowed roles during the Irish revolutionary period. Historians can no longer confuse women’s exclusion from the Irish revolutionary narrative as non-participation.