The 77 Women Commemoration Quilt was designed to create a conversation between the women of 1916 and women living in Ireland today. To begin our conversation, select a tile below and listen to a recording from our Mondays at the Mess talks about the women of the quilt.
Julia Grenan was born in inner city Dublin; she was the daughter of Patrick Grenan and Elizabeth Kenny. Her father was a joiner and the family had a two room flat in a tenement house in Lombard Street. In 1911 she was already in the home of Elizabeth Farrell. The 1901-1911 censuses were great, because if you could get the parents names. You could find them in 1901 & 1911. She is living with Elizabeth, they were educated both of them by the Sisters of Mercy. But from 1906 they are involved in Inghinidhe na hÉireann, they are involved in Irish Women Workers’ Union, among the first members of Cumann na mBan, they also were involved in the Irish Citizen Army. So their politics are very radical they are also first rate feminists, members of the Irish Women’s Franchise League. So all of those archives, and all of those records come together to form a picture of two women who spend their lives together but also spent their lives as political activists. And they are true to their ideologies, ideologies that they form in their youth. And this is what we see among these women and the stories that their families told.
When I came to Rosie first, years and years ago, all I knew about Rosie is she was an activist in 1913, she fought in 1916, she gave the bureau of military history witness statement. That was it.
In the course of doing the research on these women particularly firstly on the bridge campaign and then she is one of the 77 women. We found her family, her nephew, John McGray, a lovely man, discovered that they have lots of stories about Rosie Hackett, they also have an old taped interview with Rosie that John had done with her about her life. She spent her life in the trade union she ran the SIPTU shop or the ITGWU first shop beside Liberty Hall until she retired in the 1970’s she was given a gold medal by the Trade Union for her long service. But everybody thinks that Rosie was a 1913 Jacobs factory girl that went out on strike and a 1916 fighter, rebel in the royal college of surgeons. And she was so much more than that and she deserved to have the bridge named after her. She was one of the reorganisers of the Irish women’s workers union after the rising, the reorganiser of the Irish citizen army after the rising. In 1917 she and Jennie Davis and Helena Maloney and Jennie Shanahan, Rosie and Jennie best of friends. On the 12th may 1917 they barricaded themselves into what was left of liberty hall, it had been pretty much damaged in 1916 and hung a big banner off the wall saying “James Connolly murdered 12th May 1916” and held off, Rosie says in her witness statement, 400 police men, maybe that’s a slight exaggeration, but they held off the police for 4 hours and a huge crowd gathered on the other side, so you could say that Jennie Shanahan, Rosie Hackett, both of them ex Jacobs factory workers, inner city working class women who had very basic education went out to work at 14/15 took on the might of the policing power in Dublin City for hours on the 12th May 1917 and made one of the first commemorative actions, that was the first commemoration of 1916. They were also a part of a whole crowd of women at Easter 1917 who tried to go round the city and put tri-colours at various places where the rising happened, GPO, College of Surgeons. They were all in Kathleen Lynn’s car, she was one of the few women who had a car and they did that.
Rose McNamara was the commander of the Inghinidhe na hEireann branch of the Cumann na mBan which was based on the south side of the city, actually in this area. This was their area from which many of their recruits came. she would have been one of the older ones born in 1885 her mother was a shop keeper, she joined Inghinidhe na hEireann in 1906 and she went into Cumann na mBan in 1914. Inghinidhe na hEireann were more organised along military branches than the other branches of Cumann na mBan, they had commandant, a quarter master, they had section commander, Rose McNamara was vice commandant, she is the one that brings the Inghinidhe na hEireann branch of Cumann na mBan to Marrowbone lane in 1916, there were 22 of them. And when the surrender comes in 1916, they were told by the commander to put down their guns and sneak away, so they won’t be arrested they refused. Then when the British officer comes, he doesn’t know what to do with them they refused to disperse, they march along to Richmond Barracks, they are not really arrested. They just come along with the arrested soldiers from Marrowbone Lane. They still have their guns on them because they weren’t searched and actually when they come into the married quarters here apparently the stories in the family histories from the women of Marrowbone Lane are that they put the guns up the chimney. They tell the story of comradery and sisterhood. McNamara continues to be active in Cumann na mBan after 1916 fundraising for the national aid and volunteers dependants. During the war of independence, she was promoted captain of Inghinidhe na hEireann, she becomes one of the organisers of a vital thing that Cumann na mBan did during the war of independence, they set up first aid stations in hidden places around the city, they had one in the Dublin mountains as well. They were told by leaders of the IRA of impeding actions that were going to happen, ambushes etc, of course people would get injured, men would get injured, and they can’t really be taken to hospitals because they would be arrested. They were taken to these first aid stations where the Cumann na mBan women are ready to deal with injuries caused by these actions.