‘Revolutionary Ireland’

The term ‘Revolutionary Ireland’ has become common parlance to describe the period from c1912 until either the end of the War of Independence in 1921 or the end of the Civil War in 1923. The term is described on Wikipedia as focusing on the move of Irish nationalism from mass support of the Irish Parliamentary Party to Sinn Féin (or in less specific terms from mass support of constitutional nationalism to revolutionary republicanism) and can include the various actions, reactions and responses of Ulster Loyalism and trade unionism. These definitions are flexible and can include (or exclude) seminal events such as the signing of the Ulster Covenant in 1912 or the Dublin Lock Out of 1913. The period has multiple central events and figures with World War I (1914-1918) acting as an ominous backdrop. If we look at 1916, it has a huge significance for nationalists due to the Easter Rising but this is mirrored in how the Battle of the Somme is conceived by unionists. Such perceptions of importance do not necessarily reflect how they were perceived at the time but may have developed and give some indication of the competing perspectives and even overshadowing focal points that have emerged from this important period.

As Ireland entered the protracted and difficult period leading to the formation of the Free State in the South, and the retained British status of Northern Ireland in the North through the Government of Ireland Act (1920), the War of Independence (1919-1921) and the partition of Ireland are hugely important events. However, the Civil War (1922-1923) is as often excluded as included from common definitions of ‘Revolutionary Ireland’. The unwillingness to include the civil war is in some ways understandable. It stems from the inevitable difficulties that some politicians, historians, commentators and members of the public have with reopening the divisive and painful splits associated with civil conflict. This has ensured that the Civil War is still a largely under-discussed, if not underresearched, event in Ireland’s recent history, particularly in comparison to its immediate predecessors.

The importance of ‘revolutionary Ireland’ today is due to the critical mass of centenaries occurring at this time, creating a so-called ‘Decade of Commemoration’. Such timing ensures that the events that led to partition and the formation of the Irish State are high in public memory, civic discourse and popular histories. Our ideas about this period are increasingly being challenged, rewritten and reconsidered with new aspects forwarded for public consumption. This project aims to explore issues of gender and in particular to examine the fact that women became mass imprisoned for political reasons for the first time in the early months of the Irish Free State. Whilst many of the women involved are still household names – including Countess de Markievicz, Mary MacSwiney, Maud Gonne MacBride – the vast majority moved back from the public domain. They went back to their previous lives, struggled on, were forgotten, abandoned, migrated and were largely excluded from broader public memory. This project primarily aims to provide insights gained from fieldwork recording graffiti in Kilmainham Gaol to try to better understand how imprisonment impacted on these women. This website is freely accessible, open access format and aims, in a small way, to put these women’s experiences central to the Decade of Commemorations.


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