Rallying cry for women to fight for their rights

Young women stand up and fight — that is the rousing cry of barrister and owner of Lissadell House, Constance Cassidy.

Every generation faces its own battle. For Countess Markievicz, who also claimed Lissadell as her home, that fight was for women to be given the right to vote; in 2018, it is the Eighth Amendment.

But this generation, Constance fears, does not have that same fire, a bravery and fight that was possessed by all of the 100 women who look out from the walls of an exhibition that was launched yesterday.

As crowds gathered yesterday for the launch of ‘The Voice of Women — 100 years of achievement?’ exhibition at Lissadell, its current owner and her family were a ball of energy.

In between welcoming guests with her daughter Eleanor, giving guided tours and seating everyone for lunch, which she later helped serve out, the barrister also had time to dole out some strong words.

 

For Constance and her husband Eddie Walsh, putting a question mark at the end of the exhibition title was extremely important.

“My husband insisted on putting the question mark there because he said, ‘Well what has been achieved? What have women achieved over the last 100 years?’

“So one has to look at pay gender discrimination, which is shocking, I blithely assumed, as a women in 2018, that everyone was paid equally,” said Constance.

Warm and welcoming to the many people who turned up for the launch of the exhibition in the former coach house, Constance regularly stopped her passionate discussion to give directions to the exhibition space upstairs or to point people in the direction of lunch.

“I have four girls myself and I wonder do they realise how hard the fight was fought and are we now just sitting back and not fighting for proper rights,” she said.

Choosing just 100 women who have shaped this little country was a long and arduous task and there is talk of a ‘part two’ to include a further 100.

The pictures, artefacts, and documents start with “fantastic women” such as Gráinne Mhaol and St Brigid, moving on to Sisters of Mercy founder Catherine McAuley and Sr Agnes Morrogh-Bernard, who, in the aftermath of the Great Famine, set up the Foxford Woollen Mills to give young women employment.

Prominent women involved in the 1913 Lockout and the 1916 Rising are included in the exhibition.

Also present is Countess Markievicz, whose signature can still be seen scratched into a window pane in the Drinks Room of Lissadell, with that of her younger sister, Mabel, scratched beneath.

The faces in the exhibition are not all historic. It features Mairin de Burca, who fought to give women the right to sit on juries, and Mary McGee, who sought the right to marital privacy and contraception, along with Sonia O’Sullivan, Katie Taylor, and Maeve Binchy.

For the three girls from sixth class in nearby Grange Primary School who were at yesterday’s launch, Saoirse Ronan (also included in the exhibition) is the female they see as a modern-day inspiration.

Eleanor Walsh-Cassidy chose Queen Méabh, viewing her as the “original badass”.

Meanwhile, Bridie Durkan, who will soon celebrate her 100th birthday and, like the residents of Lissadell, grew up in the shadow of Benbulben, was just happy to be back in the estate where she spent many happy days playing by the shore as a child.

Constance said she hopes the exhibition, which will run throughout the summer, will inspire a new generation of females.

“Women fought and fought and fought and yet we still have inequality. We have inequality when it comes to political representation.

“It seems amazing that all of those strong hardworking women fought and what did they fight for?

“Why are young women not standing up there and fighting like Constance Markievicz and like Eva Gore-Booth when they were young women and they were in a little school in Drumcliff telling everybody that we have a right to vote?”

Constance sees the repeal of the Eighth Amendment as the fight of this generation. 

“I do think older women, a lot of older women, are suddenly seeing the difference, seeing the chance, and I think their minds have changed.

“I think this is a fight. I do think this is very, very important that people are conscious of the restriction that is there.

“But there are other restrictions and we need to have the same passion and the same feeling of fighting that those women fought and we are not fighting. We should be.”

Constance continued: “I want the older women who come here, I want them to realise that this is an acknowledgement of what they have done for their country, as mothers, as homemakers, as the backbone of our country — because that is what they are.

“I want men to acknowledge that as well.

“I want young women to be fired with enthusiasm and fight for a better country, fight for the homeless, fight for injustices in society, and fight to gain control over their future and their own destiny.”


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