The mobilization of women as combatants at the climax of the Irish struggle for independence in the early 20th century is both an under-researched and misunderstood phenomenon. In the aftermath of the conflict there was an immediate effort to minimize attention on the participation of women in the conflict, which has become a longstanding marginalisation of their roles and actions. Whilst there have been a number of individual biographies and collective studies of politically and militarily ‘active’ women in recent years these have often lacked acknowledgement of their lives whilst imprisoned. We should remember that the Irish Civil War was the first time women experienced mass imprisonment for political reasons by the state.
This project aimed to uncover the intimate and broader realities of female experiences of the conflict and subsequent political imprisonment at this delicate juncture of Irish history through examining, recording and interpreting the material remains of the Irish Civil War within Kilmainham Gaol, Dublin. In particular the currently decayed graffiti that the women etched on the walls offers a valuable means of materially exploring the interconnection between national self-determination and Irish women’s female identity at this time and was utilized alongside the other material remains connected to the women that remain in the prison archive (primarily autograph books). As the autograph books had been located, studied and interpreted as the basis of existing research, including Sinead McCoole’s Guns and Chiffon (1997) and No Ordinary Women: Irish Female Activists in the Revolutionary years (1900-1923) (2003) – this project had two specific aims. It focused on recording surviving graffiti in the West Wing of the prison, which largely dates from the civil war period, in order to identify how it could be used to further understand experience. It used the autograph books and graffiti to extract names and addresses of women imprisoned to create an alphabetised list of female prisoners from the civil war. These two outcomes are used to further understand what it was to be a female political prisoner at this time.
This website is primarily conceived as a freely-accessible, public, open access resource that will allow both interested members of the public and researchers to access materials located during the course of this project relating to the women held in the gaol during the civil war. Autograph books passed between the women whilst they were held in the prison and graffiti that remains in the cells and corridors of the West Wing of the prison are the primary sources. As much of this graffiti is in a delicate state, and is not accessible to the public, this website will allow many members of the public to view this material for the first time.
Under the heading ‘WOMEN PRISONERS’ one of the central focusss of the website is an alphabetic list of women’s names – retrieved from both graffiti and autograph books – complete with information provided on their home address and prison address(es) and some initial analysis. There will be two separate lists displayed: one with names in English and the other in Irish. This information is particularly important as no prison records for the women exist and we can currently only estimate how many women were even held during this period. This will go some way to providing information on who those women were, where they came from and which prisons they were moved around.
Under the heading ‘GRAFFITI’ will be devoted to exploring a number of themes salient to female imprisonment at this time that have been retrieved primarily from interpreting the graffiti. These themes will include the importance of geographical origins, the significance placed on the Irish language, the role of food (and Hunger Strikes), the role of Republican memorialisation and commemoration, marking the passing of time, and the use of portraits and relationships. These themes will be added to over time as further analysis is completed on the 6000 images that have been taken as part of this project.
McCoole, Sinead. 2003. No Ordinary Women: Irish Female Activists in the Revolutionary years (1900-1923) University of Wisconsin Press.
McCoole, S. 1997. Guns and Chiffon. Dublin: Stationery Office Books