Violence waged against women by both sides in Irish wars

Physical and sexual violence was waged against women during the Civil War and the War of Independence — by Republicans as well as by the Black and Tans, according to a controversial paper to be presented next month.

Violence waged against women by both sides in Irish wars

The lecture, entitled ‘Addressing the Violence Suffered by Women during the Irish Revolution’, will be delivered by Professor Linda Connolly of Maynooth University on Sunday, August 19, at the second West Cork History Festival.

“There was physical and sexual violence waged against women in the period 1916/17 to 1923 and it was carried out by all sides involved in the conflict,” says Prof Connolly.

“There are many examples of forced head-shorning and numerous references to women being humiliated and punished, or being singled out,” she says, noting there were numerous references to such behaviour in both the newspapers of the time and in witness statements in the military archives.

“Women who were seen to be fraternising with or passing messages to the enemy were subjected to forced head-shorning — it was a warning but also a humiliation.”

Prof Connolly says that sometimes the head-shorning was accompanied by physical violence. “There are also some reports of sexual assault against women but to a lesser extent than the head-shorning.”

Existing research has already unearthed the case of a single woman in Longford who, in 1923, was attacked and raped by a member of an armed gang whose members had declared they were the IRA while raiding the family home. “She became pregnant, had a baby and gave it to an orphanage,” says Prof Connolly. “We don’t really know as of yet the scale of sexual violence against women, but we do know it occurred, as we have cases perpetrated by both sides against women.”

Prof Connolly is editing a book for the Indiana University Press, Women of the Irish Revolution 1917-1923, due to be published by the year-end.

“It’s important that the Irish Revolution is not perceived as a war about men. The civilian impact — which is where women come into play — has largely been neglected,” she says, adding that women were subject to night raids, violence, and suffered trauma as a result.

“This has not really been spoken about.”

Prof Connolly’s paper focuses on something that “nobody likes to talk about”, says Simon Kingston, founder of the festival, which will be held just outside Skibbereen, Co Cork, from August 16 and 19, offering a mix of talks and field trips of historical interest.

“This is not an attractive part of the War of Independence and the Civil War. What is quite challenging is who exactly was inflicting violence, including sexual violence, against women,” says Mr Kingston.

The issue is a topical historical subject on the treatment of women and the way they were perceived by both sides, he says, given the wider discussion about the role of women in society today and the way they have been treated by powerful men, he pointed out.

Tales from this period tend to emphasise a very male story and what Professor Connolly has written, and is about to publish a book on, is the ignored experience of women in the course of that period.

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