A Century of Protest: Hanna Sheehy Skeffington in the US
Hanna Sheehy Skeffington was Ireland’s most famous suffragette. When her husband Francis was shot by British firing squad during the Easter Rising, despite him being a pacifist, Hanna undertook an epic lecture tour of the US, publicising what had happened. This autumn her granddaughter, Micheline Sheehy Skeffington, also known for her fight for gender equality and justice, is repeating Hanna’s tour of the US all which will be filmed for a documentary. We are truly excited to welcome Micheline to at AIHS on Thursday, September 9, 2017.
Micheline Sheehy Skeffington:
“This tour will make for a thought-provoking and revealing documentary film because Hanna’s own story, the challenging of authorities, and the people and ideas she encountered in the US, continue to be relevant to us today.
Hanna’s prime motivation to go to America was to tell how her husband, Francis Sheehy Skeffington, had been shot without trial in Portobello Barracks, Dublin during Easter Week 1916. She’d met Prime Minister Asquith in London to demand a full public inquiry. Instead, he offered her £10,000 ‘hush money’ (€750,000 today) which she refused. When the ensuing enquiry proved a travesty, Hanna resolved to go to the US and ‘tell the truth and nothing but the truth’ about what happened to her husband and to the Irish people at the hands of the British. Giving the authorities the slip, she sailed from Glasgow with her seven year-old son, Owen (my father), using false passports.
A century later, I want to recreate that tour, sailing this autumn into New York as she did. I will locate their names registered at Ellis Island and stand on the stage at Carnegie Hall, which she filled at her first engagement in January 1917. I plan to speak about her in cities where she also spoke, like New York, Boston, Chicago, Seattle and San Francisco. I’ll go to the train station where British agents attempted to abduct her across the border into Canada so they could arrest her.”
Micheline took an equality case against her employers, NUI Galway in 2009 which she won. The University had not promoted her from Junior Lecturer to Senior Lecturer for twenty-four years. In the promotion round of 2008/09, only one out of 17 successful candidates was a woman even though more than 52% of Junior Lecturers were women. Her win was the first by any female academic in Ireland or the UK proving gender discrimination in promotion. It resulted in extensive media coverage which was then doubled when she announced she was offering her €70,000 award to the five other women who were shortlisted and not promoted in that round so they could take High Court actions, as they were by then out of time to go to the Irish Equality Tribunal.
Ever since Micheline has been campaigning both for the five women and to highlight the atrocious promotion prospects for women in Irish Universities and colleges. One European report showed that only Malta was worse in Europe.
Micheline’s campaign has resulted in her university, NUI Galway, adopting a quota system for all future promotion rounds, mandatory numbers for women for all boards and committees and the creation of the new post of Vice President for Equality to ensure the changes are adopted. The Irish Higher Education Authority set up an inquiry and has now made future grant funding dependent on universities improving the promotion prospects for women. However the five other academic women who were not promoted in 2009 have still not been promoted by NUI Galway and Micheline continues to support their fight.
This short promotion video, made by Eddie Mularkey who will be filming the tour, was for a recent demo at the Irish High Court in Dublin. It includes footage from a benefit concert the campaign organised in Galway, the interrogation of NUI Galway president by the government Public Accounts Committee based on info from Micheline’s campaign, television news footage about her original win, plus a fabulous diatribe against the university by Tommy Tiernan, a famous Irish comic. Check it out HERE.
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