Irish History: Volume XX
Amazing Women in Irish History, Part 4
Missed the first parts? Check them out: Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3!
Here we are, at part 4 of 4 of our series all about the incredible women in Irish history (and into modern day!) However, this is hardly the end of the list in real life. If you or your dancer are interested in learning more about the amazing, groundbreaking women Ireland has produced, check out one of these lists of books that all explore the topic. But for now, drumroll please, as we bring you our last 4 revolutionary women:
Countess Constance Markievicz: Ireland’s First Female MP and Revolutionary
“But while Ireland is not free I remain a rebel, unconverted and unconvertible.”
While technically born in England, Markievicz’s family has Irish ancestry and always owned land in County Sligo—and it was Ireland where she eventually made her home. Never comfortable in the society life she was born into, she escaped to Paris to become an artist and met her husband, the Polish Count. Together, they settled in Dublin where Markievicz founded (along with future Irish President, Douglas Hyde) the United Arts Club, the goal of which was to preserve Irish culture and lift up modern Irish writers and artists. Her aims soon turned political—by 1908 she was a known proponent for Women’s Rights and during the 1913 Lockout she sold her jewels to help feed protestors. All this revolutionary action led to her being at the forefront of the 1916 Rising—and a death sentence (she was granted mercy due to her gender, the notion of which she found ridiculous.) When released, she used her second chance at life to continue to support Irish Independence by becoming the first female MP in Ireland’s first government, and later serving as the Minister of Finance (making her one of the first women in the world to hold a cabinet position—and the only women in Ireland until 1979.) By the time of her death at the age of 59, she was penniless (despite having just won reelection,)—having given all her wealth to the poor of the country she fought for until her last breath.
Sinéad Burke: Writer, Designer, and Disability Activist
“Disability is articulated as a struggle, an unnecessary burden that one must overcome to the soundtrack of a string crescendo. But disabled lives are multi-faceted—brimming with personality, pride, ambition, love, empathy, and wit.”
With Sinéad Burke we’ve officially come to the youngest woman on this list, but her relatively young age hasn’t stopped her from making her mark. Born with achondroplasia (a genetic condition that affects bone growth) in Dublin, Burke started using her voice for good at just 16-years-old, when she created a blog that discussed exclusivity in the fashion industry. At 3 feet, 5 inches tall, Burke works tirelessly to open the conversation in the design community (in clothing and beyond) to better include people of all sizes and those with disabilities. Her work hasn’t gone unnoticed—Burke visited the White House at President Obama’s invitation, won the 2012 Alternative Miss Ireland, has given a TED talk, was the first person of her stature to attend the MET Gala in 2019, and has been featured in British Vogue—among numerous other honors. Additionally, Burke serves as an Ambassador for the Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children and the Irish Girl Guides, as well as Council of State for the Irish President. Her first book, Break the Mould (a best-selling children’s book that teaches lessons about celebrating peoples’ differences,) was released in 2020, and her hit podcast (As Me with Sinéad) has been running since 2019 (with an impressive list of celebrity guests,) discussing each guest’s life to challenge biases.
Dr. Dorothy Price: Physician and Vaccination Advocate
“[I]n the last few years the political and professional position of women in the world has changed.”
Dr. Dorothy Price lived an extraordinary life—after being born in Dublin she lived through both World Wars, the Spanish Influenza pandemic, the 1916 Rising from the British side, and the formation of a new Irish state from the Irish side. And she was extraordinary as well—after beginning work in charitable social services and art, she pivoted to medicine at the age of 25 after reflecting on the death of her brother as a child from typhoid fever. Price then became instrumental wherever she went in the care for the sick through multiple waves of illness and the injured through multiple kinds of conflict. But Dr. Price’s most lasting mark came in the form of her vaccination advocacy. When she began her work at St. Ultan’s Hospital in Dublin in 1923, she was able to travel throughout Europe to research medical innovations to bring back to Ireland, including the tuberculin test to diagnose tuberculosis and the BCG vaccine to prevent it. Dr. Price threw herself into learning everything she could about tuberculosis and implementing these preventive measures throughout Ireland despite stiff political opposition—which saved at least tens of thousands of children from death (or at the very least, debilitating illness) and is now credited with ending the mid-20th century Irish tuberculosis epidemic, which had largely affected the young.
Dr. Norah Patten: NASA Scientist and Future Astronaut
“I got a letter from a little girl recently and it meant so much to me. It included a picture of her in a rocket with me and the caption, 'Here's me and Norah going to space.' That's more than I could have ever asked for."
Though one Irish man has technically been to space…it was on a private expedition that cost him upwards of $100,000, so we’re not counting it. In contrast, Dr. Norah Patten, a County Mayo born aeronautical engineer, STEM advocate, and NASA scientist, is currently on track to become the first Irish woman to go to space. Dr. Patten has been fascinated by space ever since she was a little girl and followed her dreams from the time she was 11-years-old: from school projects to begging to visit NASA multiple times, all the way to pursuing her degrees in Aeronautical Engineering and Aerodynamics (concurrent with a work study job at Boeing.) Once she graduated with her PhD, Dr. Patten continued her work in the field that led to her being one of only 12 people in the world chosen for the Polar Suborbital Science in the Upper Mesosphere project, where she’s done all the preparatory work to become a full-fledged astronaut. Outside of training to literally leave earth, Dr. Patten is big on community outreach and science communication, including her first children’s book Shooting for the Stars (all about her journey, the science of space, and encouraging other young women to pursue their passions.)
All rebels in their own way, these women of Ireland represent the resilient and revolutionary spirit we’re so proud to cultivate in our own SRL dancers. We hope Irish dance, much like these amazing Irish women, encourages our dancers to work hard, dream big, and never give up on themselves. From world champ or astronaut to politician or artist—SRL dancers can do anything they aspire to!
This post is part of a series. Read our last Irish history post, all about other amazing women in Irish history, 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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