The Visible & Invisible Women – 100 Years on in Donegal seminar has highlighted the overlooked experiences of brave women in our past.
International Women’s Day was celebrated in Letterkenny on Wednesday when women from all over Donegal and the North West attended the Visible & Invisible Women – 100 Years on in Donegal seminar in the Regional Cultural Centre followed by a workshop event in the County Museum.
Up to 70 people attended this event which heard from an array of speakers including Dr. Jennifer Redmond president of the Women’s History Association and lecturer in Modern Irish History at NUI Maynooth.
Dr. Redmond talked about her work on tracing the story of women’s experience of migration and presented a profile of a number of Donegal women who migrated to the UK during the 20th century.
Unheard stories of migration
Dr. Redmond said that women’s experience of migration is often different to that of men.
“For the most part women who migrated worked mostly as domestic servants or went into nursing and in fact they were often more successful as they managed to progress in their careers and were able to blend in and contribute more to their new communities.”
Cathaoirleach of Donegal County Council Cllr. Terence Slowey opened the seminar and talked about how women continue to be under represented in all levels of government and decision making structures in the state.
He said “I am only too aware that at local level, women make up only 16% of elected representatives and that since the foundation of the State in 1918, only a small number of women have been elected in the Republic of Ireland. At the current pace of change it will be 2250 before we can claim balanced political representation.”
Sinead McCoole from the Department of Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural & Gaeltacht Affairs explored the role of women in the 1916 Rising and how women had been literally ‘air brushed’ out of history. She presented a number of familiar images associated with the 1916 Rising which had been ‘air brushed’ to remove women from the photographs.
The seminar also heard from Cécile Gordon, archivist on the Military Service Pension Project who enthralled the audience with details being uncovered from records of applications for awards and pensions from veterans who participated in events from April/May 1916 to Sept 1923.
“Because women had such difficulty in getting their applications approved, there is an awful lot of information on file outlining their activities during this time along with references from various individuals who were supporting their applications”.
“Due to many factors, including the lack of primary sources, the women of the revolution have been cast aside. They were disremembered and as a result their stories have been consistently simplified and their actions were steadily reduced to some bland blanket statements.”
Local women in history and today
Well known local historian Helen Meehan provided the audience with a whistle stop tour of women in the history of Donegal from pre-historic times right up to the 21st century and this was followed by an address from Finola Brennan from the Donegal Women’s Network.
Finola’s address brought the audience back to the present day and introduced the audience to a number of inspirational Donegal based women that she has had the honour of working with over the last 15 years. Finola highlighted the ongoing struggle that women face in Donegal today, from those caring at home, to those making a new life for themselves and their families in Donegal, to those facing ongoing discrimination and prejudices.
There was a special round of applause from the audience for the recent Government decision to officially recognise and acknowledge Travellers as an ethnic minority.
The event continued in the afternoon in the Donegal County Museum. Sinead McCoole curator of the Mná 1916: Women 1916 exhibition, currently on display in the Museum, provided a tour of the exhibition. The event concluded with a number of group discussions exploring the theme of the seminar the visibility or invisibility of women in Donegal and Ireland today.