Irish History: Volume XX
Amazing Woman in Irish History, Part 1
While SRL is certainly proud of our male dancers, we’re also all about empowering young women to be strong, confident, and successful leaders in a world that often encourages females to make themselves smaller. Irish dance is certainly full of role models, but Irish dance’s country of origin provides even more examples of women who broke barriers, rocked the system, and didn’t let anything stand in the way of their dreams. There’s too many to cover in one (or two, or three…) parts, but here’s a little sampling of amazing women in Irish history!
Lilian Bland: Aviator
“I had proved wrong the many people who had said that no woman could build an aeroplane, and that gave me great satisfaction.”
When we Americans think of pioneering female aviators, our first thought is Amelia Earhart—but Lilian Bland not only flew Ireland’s first powered biplane, but was the first woman anywhere to design, build, and fly a plane…all while Earhart was only 12 years old! A bit of a tomboy who loved to watch the birds in Carnmoney while growing up, Bland didn’t let the conventions of her time stop her from doing anything she was interested in. She became a sports journalist and press photographer before attending the first official aviation meeting in Blackpool and becoming obsessed with flying, taking detailed notes as she studied the designs and habits of the male aviators that dominated the scene. Through trial and error, she bravely tested her own inventions before landing on a successful design and flight, even selling her planes and gliders for a short time. Bland eventually traded her obsession with planes for one with motorcars, becoming Ford’s first agent in Northern Ireland!
Maria Edgeworth: Novelist
“Those who are animated by hope can perform what would seem impossibilities to those who are under the depressing influence of fear.”
Just as we quote Earhart in aviation, most would call Jane Austen one of the first female novelists—but Ireland’s own Maria Edgeworth published her first novel when Austen was still in diapers (though they did eventually become admirers of each others’ work.) She’s still considered today by many to be one of the primary figures in the evolution of the novel. Edgeworth lived all 81 years of her life with her family, never marrying but devoting her life to her loved ones and good works--including her prolific writing for both children and adults. Her mostly quiet life didn’t stop her from taking a firm stand in her work on economic, educational, and political subjects, or from forming friendships with some of the greatest literary minds of the time--Sir Walter Scott and David Ricardo included. While her work is marked by its clear style and humor, as well as rather straightforward morals, it doesn’t hide from topics that often got her in trouble with censors, such as Irish independence and British absenteeism. The end of her life coincided with the Great Famine, during which she used her privilege to serve her community.
Veronica Guerin: Journalist
"I am letting the public know exactly how this society operates."
Veronica Guerin was truly a modern woman and a jack/jill-of-all-trades: she was an accomplished athlete, playing for both the Irish national basketball and football teams, before starting her professional life as an accountant. She then pivoted into public relations and economic reporting, until settling on the career she’s best known for: investigative journalist. Guerin was known as a bulldog of a reporter, obsessed with getting the first-hand sources, often at a detriment to her personal safety. She used her accounting knowledge to follow the money and was highly respected among both her law enforcement and criminal contacts for her dogged commitment to the facts—though she also made plenty of enemies. There were multiple threats to and attempts on her life between 1994-95, and in 1996, at only 37-years-old, Guerin was taken out in a professional hit by a Dublin drug gang—making her one of 38 international journalists to die in the line of duty that year. Her death caused an uproar all over the country and led to numerous policy changes and even the formation of Ireland’s Criminal Assets Bureau. Her story was made into a film in 2003, staring Cate Blanchett.
Dr. Kathleen Lynn: Medical Doctor, Politician, and Activist
“[E]very child [is] an individual and must know himself, or herself, loved.”
Dr. Kathleen Lynn could make this list simply for the fact she graduated from the Catholic University Medical School to become a practicing physician in 1899, but her contributions to Ireland’s history only begin there. After practicing medicine in both the United States and Ireland for over 10 years, her distant relation, Constance Markievicz (more on her next week,) got Lynn involved in the fight for women’s suffrage, labor unions, and Irish independence, as well as both social and health care reform. Lynn had decided to become a doctor after growing up in the aftermath of the Famine, and it was this same experience that turned her into a revolutionary, using her medical skills to support the 1916 uprising. She was arrested for her efforts, but this didn’t stop her—after a brief deportation to England, Lynn was eventually elected the vice president of the Nationalist Sinn Féin party, and into the Dáil Éireann (though she never took her seat, as a form of protest.) While she eventually became fed up with the lack of change she saw in the political sphere, she refocused back to medicine and established Saint Ultan’s Children’s Hospital, a facility which concentrated on helping Dublin’s inner-city, impoverished mothers and children.
But this is only the tip of the proverbial iceberg when it comes to incredible women in Irish history—check back next week for more!
This post is part of a series. Read our last Irish history post, all about the lack of an Irish Independence day, here. Check out the blog every Monday and Thursday for more posts about Irish history, dance culture, community news, and spotlights on our dancers, staff, and families—among other fun projects! And don’t forget to dance along with us on both Facebook and Instagram.
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