Fallen Angels: The Proclamation’s lost warriors
This week, PhD student Olga Walker (University of Canberra) examines Irish female migration across the four nations.
Excerpts taken from the 1916 Proclamation
“We declare the right of the people of Ireland to the ownership of Ireland and to the unfettered control of Irish destinies, to be sovereign and indefeasible. The long usurpation of that right by a foreign people and government has not extinguished the right, nor can it ever be extinguished except by the destruction of the Irish people. In every generation the Irish people have asserted their right to national freedom and sovereignty; six times during the past three hundred years they have asserted it in arms. Standing on that fundamental right and again asserting it in arms in the face of the world, we hereby proclaim the Irish Republic as a Sovereign Independent State, and we pledge our lives and the lives of our comrades in arms to the cause of its freedom, of its welfare, and of its exaltation among the nations.”
“The Irish Republic is entitled to, and hereby claims, the allegiance of every Irishman and Irishwoman. The Republic guarantees religious and civil liberty, equal rights and equal opportunities to all its citizens, and declares its resolve to pursue the happiness and prosperity of the whole nation and of all its parts, cherishing all of the children of the nation equally, and oblivious of the differences carefully fostered by an alien Government, which have divided a minority from the majority in the past.”
“We place the cause of the Irish Republic under the protection of the Most High God, Whose blessing we invoke upon our arms, and we pray that no one who serves that cause will dishonour it by cowardice, inhumanity, or rapine. In this supreme hour the Irish nation must, by its valour and discipline, and by the readiness of its children to sacrifice themselves for the common good, prove itself worthy of the august destiny to which it is called.” POBLACHT NA HÉIREANN.[i]
My research project consists of a work of fiction and an exegesis on Irish female migration, a topic which has often historically been written in terms of negative stereotypes. As the focus of my research is Irish women and their preparation to leave Ireland, rather than when they arrive in their new host country, the role of the female Irish diaspora in the other three nations does not come within my remit. Consequently, in this blog today I won’t be extrapolating on the experience of Irish women in England, Scotland and Wales. The theoretical underpinning of the project is Hayden White’s argument that historical fiction is able to engage with the past on a practical level, and can function as an ‘alternate’ history.[ii] Applying his argument enables my project to move beyond the often polemic and binary perspectives of the history vs historical fiction debates. It also paves the way to (re)locate Irish women (including Irish female migrants) within the ‘Ireland’ of equal rights and equal opportunities for all its citizens, as promised by the POBLACHT NA HÉIREANN. To do this my project will call for recognition of the contribution made by Irish women (including Irish female migrants) in the light of their sacrifices, big or small, willing or unwilling, to the ‘Ireland’ that followed enactment of the 1937 Irish Constitution; and the struggle towards gender equality. Like men, they did not fail in their efforts to support Ireland in its hours of conflict or need. If they were not directly involved, they were there providing support in whatever way they could.
Irish women and Irish female migrant
I am interested in what is reflected in the stories we tell ourselves.[iii] Yet, however they are written, words on the page are often only a pale reflection of the actual ‘lived experience’. Through ‘national’ storytelling the individual can be lost; official writing can become an act of theft. That said, very few Irish migrants, either female or male, have left more than a footprint of their story and so today we have to ‘create’ their narratives. In essence, all Irish women became ‘lost warriors’ of the Proclamation. ‘The Irish Republic’ of the Proclamation and the 1922 Constitution of the Irish Free State claimed not only the allegiance of every Irishman and Irishwoman, but also their sacrifice and adherence to the obligations of citizenship. Equal rights and opportunities were promised but of course they didn’t fully eventuate. It is perhaps interesting to speculate what the outcome for English, Welsh and Scottish women might have been, had Irish women been considered equal to men following The Proclamation and the enactment of the 1937 Constitution of the Irish Free State. Certainly, their campaigns in Britain for equal pay for equal work might have gained much more momentum.
Nevertheless, there is an example of where a document that can be regarded today as ‘almost official’ could be considered as an act of homage to Irish women. When The Proclamation was read aloud 100 years ago by Patrick Pearse outside Dublin’s General Post Office, it firmly situated Irish women as equal to Irish men. This important document clearly spelled out that Ireland’s children and its people, and the ‘suffrages of all of her men and women’ were to be held in ‘equal’ regard and respect. Thus the position of both men and women was ‘written’ because it was recognised that the Republic of Ireland would need all its people equally for its future endeavours.
Although the Ireland of the Proclamation was never a reality, the 1922 Constitution of the Irish Free State did offer equal rights and equal opportunities to all its citizens’.[iv] However, under the Constitution of Ireland – Bunreacht na hÉireann[v] enacted in 1937, the State was given the power to make subjective qualifications, on a number of grounds, concerning the rights of Ireland’s citizens:
FUNDAMENTAL RIGHTS. Personal Rights.
All citizens shall, as human persons, be held equal before the law.This shall not be held to mean that the State shall not in its enactments have due regard to differences of capacity, physical and moral, and of social function. (Extract from University College Cork: Corpus of Electronic Texts Edition).
Documents from 1948 to 1954, viewed in the Irish National Archives and The Houses of Oireachtas online collections as part of my research predominantly construct Irish female migrants as fallen angels.[vi] By 1948 Irish women were not regarded as the equal of Irish men. Missing entirely is any construct of an Irish female migrant who might successfully find work and make a life for herself and her family, and directly contribute to Ireland in a number of ways, including economically.
Following the Second World War, Eire was ruled by a conservative government whose limited visions for the future would see it remain a patriarchal society for many years. Ireland’s economy was stagnant while other European countries were actively shaping theirs to respond to the demands of post-war rebuilding and growth. Inequality between Ireland’s men and women at the time of, and after, the reading of the 1916 Proclamation, manifested itself in a number of ways, including in the work place. In the Irish Civil Service (1948-1954) for example, there existed a rigid hierarchy. A woman could only rise to certain levels, with many positions, such as typists and writing assistants open solely to women. These were of a much lower status than male positions and therefore attracted lower levels of pay, particularly those that were female-only grades where promotion was not an option. Women working as civil servants in Britain faced similar obstacles. After years of campaigning for equal pay for equal work, a scheme was introduced in 1955 whereby women in the non-industrial civil service doing the same work as men would be paid the same rates. However, those women working in ‘women only jobs/grades’ were deemed ineligible to benefit from an increase in their rates of pay.[vii]
Equal rights and opportunities are major issues across the world and have been for a long time. While numerous scholars have researched Irish female migration over the years, questions still remain about the stories of the individuals. Irish women in the writing and reading of the 1916 Proclamation were on the cusp of achieving equality. It promised women equal rights and consideration and they did not fail in their efforts to support Ireland in its hours of need or conflict.
Although the negative stereotypes of Irish female migrants, such as ‘fallen angels’, remain in the archives, they cannot be held as serious ‘exemplars’ of Irish womanhood. Consequently, Hayden White’s argument that there is a place for historical fiction offers my study the opportunity to tell a story about Irish women in the late 1940s and early 1950s. It is in the intersections between the many questions that remain unanswered about the migration of Irish women, where the magic and the ‘once upon-a-times’ can begin.
[i] C. N Trueman. (2015). “POBLACHT NA H EIREANN”. The History Learning Site. 25 Mar 2015 at http://www.historylearningsite.co.uk/ireland-1845-to-1922/poblacht-na-h-eireann/ (accessed online 14 April 2016).
[ii] Hayden White. (2014). The Practical Past. Illinois: Northwestern University Press, 10.
[iii] Alfred Markley (2005). “Revisionism and the Story of Ireland: From Sean O’Faolain to Roy Foster. Estudios Irlandeses, Vol. 0., 95.
[iv] Caitriona Beaumont. (1997). Women, citizenship and Catholicism in the Irish free state, 1922-1948. Women’s History Review, Volume 6, Number 4, 1997 (http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/pdf/10.1080/09612029700200154) accessed online 20 April 2016.
[vi] A metaphor to describe young Irish female migrants (1948-1954) whose behaviour was considered by the church and others as leading to moral danger, promiscuity, and/or in need of guidance and support from either the church or its welfare agencies.
[vii] Mary Davis. An Historical Introduction to the Campaign for Equal Pay by Winning Equal Pay. The Value of Women’s Work Website. http://www.unionhistory.info/equalpay/roaddisplay.php?irn=820 (accessed online 24 May 2016).
Following a career in financial management in the private sector, and as a financial analyst with the Public Service in Canberra, Olga Walker is now a PhD Candidate with the University of Canberra. She graduated with a BA Arts (Community, Culture and Environment), and has undertaken the following postgraduate studies: Grad. Cert. (Public Sector Management); Grad. Dip. Arts (English); Grad Dip Arts (Research); and an MA (English).