Letters

Civil War outcome led to misogyny in Irish society

January 30th, 2021 5:10 PM

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SIR – Your editorial on the Mother and Baby Homes was spot on. Your first point on forced adoption is borne out by the evidence of former Tánaiste Joan Burton in The Independent (January 11th):

‘One of the stories that Bridie (her foster mother) always told me was that I was meant to go to America but wasn’t strong enough and the arrangements for my adoption to the US fell through twice. When I asked about this, it was vehemently and repeatedly denied, until finally in the late 1990s I was called to another meeting with St Patrick’s Guild. Lo and behold, what was taken from my file but an Irish passport for me as a child with an entry visa to Newfoundland and the US.’

Were passports simply granted on request to the homes without question? Who broke what laws here, even before we ask about what money changed hands, who got it and what crimes were committed and are some of these criminals still alive? No wonder the cover up goes on.

Eoghan Harris has no doubt that Irish society is primarily to blame for this appalling misogyny, rural Ireland and the strong farmers worried about inheritance and only then are we to blame church and state, who merely reflected the social attitudes of these monsters. Likewise Harris continually pours scorn on the Easter Rising and Sinn Féin as a threat and insult to northern unionists.

A letter in the Sunday Independent on January 17th, from one Paddy McEvoy goes one better, one truth he wishes to challenge is ‘the judgment on the 1916 Easter insurrectionists in forcing Ireland out of the Union / Empire … had this sundering not happened as it did, could the Catholic Church have got away with the reign of overlordship it exerted?’

The exact opposite is the truth. The Ireland that produced the appalling misogyny was not caused by the revolutionary era between 1916 and 1922, in which great women were in the forefront and the mass excommunications of the IRA by the likes of Cork’s Bishop Danny Coughlan had no effect on the struggle – not all priests obeyed the bishops on this anyway. However, the counter-revolution of the Civil War (June 28th, 1922 to May 24th, 1923) put him and the likes of Cardinal McRory in the saddle.

The terrible Kerry atrocities and the executions of the 77 prisoners of war, like Erskine Childers on November 24th, 1922 and Rory O’Connor, Liam Mellows, Richard Barrett and Joe McKelvey on December 8th, were surely on British urgings. They supplied the guns to bombard the Four Courts and there is overwhelming evidence that the British gave active military support to the Treaty supporters and even got a departing British regiment to join in bombarding the Four Courts themselves, as a parting gift to Michael Collins.

Cardinal McRory directly participated in the raising of Eoin O’Duffy’s brigade to fight for Franco and fascism in Spain in 1936. That defeat enabled Ireland’s reactionary social attitudes to women to be forged from the altar by priests naming and shaming women, always leaving the fathers of the illegitimate children off scot-free.

All six female TDs, Constance Markievicz, Kathleen Clarke, Ada English, Mary MacSwiney, Kathleen O’Callaghan and Margaret Pearse, voted against the Treaty in the Second Dáil. Constance Markievicz (‘mad bitch’ the Treatyites called her) was Minister for Labour from April 1919 to January 1922, the only woman to be a cabinet minister in Ireland for 60 years; Máire Geoghegan-Quinn was the next when she was appointed Minister for the Gaeltacht for Fianna Fáil in 1979.

Surely it’s time to end the ‘straight-washing’ of her sister Eva and Esther Roper, her life’s companion. The LGBT History Month blog from February 2014 explains: ‘In 1916, along with transwoman Irene Clyde, the couple (Eva and Ester) co-founded a privately circulated journal promoting their pioneering views on gender and sexuality.’ How long has it taken before such issues could be discussed again in Ireland?

The other powerful revolutionary female republicans were Mary MacSwiney, sister of Terence MacSwiney, and Margaret Pearse, mother of Pádraig and Willie. The all-female Cumann na mBan was the most steadfast republican organisation of all.

When the Civil War ended, Grace Gifford, the widow of Joseph Mary Plunkett, elected to Sinn Féin’s executive in 1917, was penniless, hounded and socially ostracised like all defeated Republicans. Her legal case, based on Joseph Plunkett’s will, against Count Plunkett and his wife got her just £700, plus costs in 1934.

Anne Devlin, Robert Emmet’s political co-thinker and cousin of Michael Dwyer, similarly died penniless in Dublin in 1851, after the 1798-1803 counter revolution.

This is Margaret Pearse’s contribution to the Treaty debates, which proves that the Ireland of the gombeen man, the pork-barrel politicians and the tyranny of the Church with its sex-abusing priests, a small minority of course, but defended on high, so long above the law, stems not from 1916 but from its defeat in the Civil War:

‘I rise to support the motion of our President (De Valera) for the rejection of this Treaty. My reasons for doing so are various, but my first reason for doing so I would like to explain here to-day is on my sons’ account. It has been said here on several occasions that Pádraig Pearse would have accepted this Treaty. I deny it.

‘As his mother I deny it, and on his account I will not accept it. Neither would his brother Willie accept it, because his brother was part and parcel of him. I am proud to say today that Pádraig Pearse was a follower and a disciple, and a true disciple, of Tom Clarke’s. Therefore, he could not accept this Treaty.”

These revolutionary women understood that was coming and that was why they fought against it so heroically. It is pleasing to see some of their ideals vindicated.

Gerry Downing,
96 Melrose Avenue,
Cricklewood NW2 4JT,
London, England.

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