A woman’s world


MAKING HISTORY Ballina’s Mary Robinson, pictured signing the Oath of Office at her inauguration ceremony on December 3, 1990, features prominently in the Mná 100 project.  Pic: RTÉ Archive/Matt Kavanagh

‘Mná 100’ project highlights the role of women in the Decade of Centenaries celebrations

Áine Ryan

CLEARLY she was the real inspirational mammy for Brendan O’Carroll, of Mrs Brown’s Boys fame. For many of us the Galway native’s connection to Mayo is not known widely. Now Maureen O’Carroll is among the many less well-known Irish women celebrated in ‘Mná 100’, a recently launched exhibition to mark the role that women played in our society over the last century. It has been curated by Dr Sinéad McCoole, who also curated the Jackie Clarke Collection, housed in the former Provincial Bank, on Pearse Street, in Ballina.
Interestingly, Maureen O’Carroll’s education at Jesus and Mary Convent, Gortnor Abbey, Crossmolina, was directly related to the War of Independence and monies raised by women in the US for the Irish White Cross Fund. It was set up in 1921 to help families impoverished by the war. Born in Galway in 1913, the fund enabled her to be educated at the Mayo school, to which she returned as a novitiate for a time. However, political and married life beckoned and she was elected a Labour TD for the constituency of Dublin North-Central in 1954. Also Chief Whip of the party during this time, she gave birth to her famous comedian son and tenth child, Brendan in 1955.
Mná 100 is a veritable treasury of information about the multi-layered legacy of Irish women over ten decades, from the election in 1920 of 43 women to city, county and borough councils, to the enactment of the Equal Status Act in 2000. By the first decade of the 21st century there were several women in top positions of political power, including Mary Harney, as Tánaiste and leader of the Progressive Democrats, and Fianna Fáil’s Mary Coughlan was appointed the first female Minister for Agriculture in 2004.
Indeed, former Progressive Democrats TD Geraldine Kennedy became the first female editor of The Irish Times in 2002. Of course, there were two women as presidents during these years also, the first of whom, Mary Robinson was a Mayo woman, pioneering barrister, academic and a significant innovator regarding the parameters of the role of Uachtarán na hÉireann.
The exhibition documents how, during the intervening decades, many aspects of cultural and social repression of women by an autocratic Catholic Church were steadily, if not slowly challenged, as various women’s groups progressed towards equality.
As Sinéad McCoole explains, the ‘100 Year Journey’ on this website (www.mna100.ie) traverses the world of Cumann na mBan and Cumann na Saoirse in the 1920s; Mná na Phoblachta, the Blue Blouses, in the 1930s; the Irish Housewives’ Association and the Lower Price Council of the 1940s;  the National Association of Widows formed in the 1960s, to the Women’s Political Association, as well as other groups such as Cherish, and Irishwomen United, formed in the 1970s. As structures developed for a variety of women’s campaigns, the 50:50 Group was formed in 2010, for example, with the objective of achieving equal representation in Dáil Éireann.
She notes how in 1912 women did not have the vote and how in the 1930s, Louisburgh native, Bridget Mary Rice, a TD for Co Monaghan, was for a time the only woman in the Dáil.

New audiences
“We hope that Mná100.ie will bring the stories of these women to new audiences through the medium of film, podcast, articles, exhibitions, photo essays and webinars. The website will offer another online primary source to serve as another resource for people of all ages who have an interest in this period of commemoration,” Dr McCoole says.
She adds: “During the Decade of Centenaries Programme, we have witnessed widespread engagement with events of the past, all across the country, which can be described as a renaissance of contemporary memory making.”
Another important element of this pioneering exhibition has been encapsulated by Catherine Martin, Minister for Culture.  
Whilst referring in particular the revolutionary period from 1912 to 1923, she observes: “As we navigate through the most complex and sensitive period of commemoration, which includes the centenaries of Partition, the Civil War, and the Foundation of the State, I want to ensure that this important work continues. 
“My objective is to highlight the experiences and influence of the women who lived during this period of immense change. Some are well known and have contributed significantly to Irish political life and public service. The voices of others have never before been heard or have long since been forgotten. I am delighted that they are now taking their rightful place in our history.”

See www.mna100.ie for in-depth coverage of the War of Independence and the role women played. Also, see The Mayo News dedicated supplement on June 1.