Northern Ireland news

Ireland's hidden lesbian figures who fought for revolution

Kathleen Lynn and Madeleine ffrench-Mullen lived together for 30 years

THE hidden history of lesbian figures involved in Ireland's late 19th and early 20th century revolutionary movements will be explored at Aras Uí Chonghaile this weekend in a lunchtime talk.

Republican feminist and lesbian activist Claire Hackett will discuss "the activism, partnerships, networks and connections" of lesbian women in the suffrage and labour movements, as well as the cultural revival and the fight for national self-determination.

Among those to be featured in the talk on Falls Road are Kathleen Lynn and Madeleine ffrench-Mullen.

Born in 1874 in Co Mayo to a Church of Ireland clergyman, Lynn left school at 16 to become a doctor.

She joined the executive committee of the Irish Women's Suffragette and Local Government Association in 1903 and was member of the radical British Women's Social and Political Union from 1908 through which she forged a friendship with suffragist Sylvia Pankhurst.

Among her activism was participation in a mass meeting in 1912 demanding that women's suffrage be included in the Third Home Rule Bill.

Elizabeth O'Farrell was selected by Patrick Pearse to seek surrender terms for the rising from Brigadier-General Lowe, accompanying him to the subsequent surrender and later delivering the order to the republican forces

She met Constance Markievicz in Dublin's soup kitchens and was converted to the `national movement', joining the Irish Citizen Army (ICA) where she was chief medical officer during the Easter Rising.

She lived in Rathmines with life partner Madeleine ffrench-Mullen for 30 years.

ffrench-Mullen was born in 1880 in Malta, the daughter of a Royal Navy surgeon who was a committed Parnellite.

She was a radical feminist and republican, joining Inghinidhe na hÉireann, the precursor toCumann na mBan - through which she met Lynn - and during the rising was an ICA lieutenant.

Academics now regard them as part of a network of lesbians living in Dublin who met through the suffrage movement and later became involved with the national and trade union movement.

Ms Hackett's talk also touches on others in that group, Elizabeth O'Farrell and Julia Grenan.

Helena Molony fought in the Easter Rising and later became the second woman president of the Irish Trade Union Congress

O'Farrell joined Inghinidhe na hÉireann alongside lifelong `friend' Grenan and was selected by Patrick Pearse to seek surrender terms for the rising from Brigadier-General Lowe, accompanying him to the subsequent surrender and later delivering the order to the republican forces.

She is buried in the Glasnevin Cemetery next to Grenan - one of the three last women to leave the `headquarters' during the Easter Rising - in the republican plot, with modern historians considering them romantic partners, due to their "significant closeness" and 30 years of cohabitation.

Helena Molony fought in the Easter Rising and later became the second woman president of the Irish Trade Union Congress.

She never married, but from the 1930s had a close relationship with doctor Evelyn O'Brien, with whom she lived until her 1967 death and is buried in the republican plot at Glasnevin Cemetery.

The audience will also hear about Eva Gore-Booth and Esther Roper.

Encouraged by William Butler-Yeats, Gore-Booth wrote poetry based on Irish folklore but with women at the centre of the story.

A member of the executive committee of the National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies, she became co-secretary of the Manchester and Salford Women's Trade Union Council which united the union movement with the suffragist cause.

Eva Gore-Booth and Esther Roper are buried together in St John's churchyard, Hampstead, with a quote from lesbian icon Sappho carved on their gravestone

She met activist Esther Roper in Italy in 1896, and the pair "formed a strong attachment", remaining partners until Eva's death 30 years later.

Letters and poems dedicated to Roper by Gore-Booth suggest a romantic relationship.

Just weeks after the rising, the pair travelled to Dublin and played a key part in winning a reprieve Gore-Booth's sister Constance Markievicz's death sentence and attended Roger Casement's infamous trial.

The couple are buried together in St John's churchyard, Hampstead, with a quote from lesbian icon Sappho carved on their gravestone.

The talk will be held on Saturday between 1-2pm.

Claire Hackett

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