Retracing the steps of feminist and republican hero Hanna Sheehy-Skeffington

Micheline Sheehy-Skeffington is retracing the footsteps in the US of her campaigning grandmother, who was widowed in the Easter Rising.

Micheline Sheehy-Skeffington on her voyage to New York this week.

More than €24,000 has been crowd-sourced to make a documentary about Micheline as she follows part of Hanna Sheehy-Skeffington’s journey a century ago.

Hanna sailed to the US at the end of 1916, less than a year after her fellow feminist and pacifist husband Francis was shot illegally by a firing squad at a Dublin military barracks.

She made more than 250 speeches about the case and about British actions in Ireland during her tour between January and June 1917. She also put the case for Irish independence to US president Woodrow Wilson, before being imprisoned briefly on her return for her anti-British sentiments.

Sticking as much as possible to a similar itinerary, Micheline sailed from Southampton and arrived yesterday in New York to find her grandmother’s and father Owen’s assumed names in the register at Ellis Island. Her father was only seven when the pair left Glasgow aboard the Cameronia using false identities of Mary and Eugene Gribbin from Scotland.

During her journey this week, Micheline wrote: “What a contrast with what Hanna and little Owen must have endured in their 10-day journey from Glasgow in December 1916. Owen, recovering from diphtheria, was sea-sick and Hanna kept a low profile.”

Hanna Sheehy-Skeffington, originally from Kanturk.

Her first engagement was a speech last night to the American Irish Historical Society, and she will be filmed at hotels and venues where her grandmother visited over the coming week before travelling by train to other US cities.

While much of her focus is to be on the work of her grandparents, and Irish and women’s history, the plant ecologist will also be highlighting continuing gender inequality in Irish academia. She has offered her €70,000 award in a gender discrimination case against NUI Galway to support five other women who, like her, were not promoted in 2009.

It is hoped to have a documentary ready to be screened in 2018, which will be the centenary of some women in Ireland getting the right to vote as a result of the work of campaigners such as Hanna and Francis Sheehy-Skeffington.

Her 1917 tour of the US feature in historian Margaret Ward’s book, Hanna Sheehy Skeffington, Suffragette and Sinn Féiner: Her Political Writings, out this month from UCD Press. She was to have been a member of the provisional government in the event that the Rising had been a success, and she remained an active republican.

Hanna returned to the US in 1922 promoting the anti-Treaty cause and raising funds for Civil War prisoners’ families.

She campaigned against Éamon de Valera’s 1937 constitution because of its clauses about women.

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