Amazing Women in Irish History, Part 2
Catch up with Part 1 here!
At SRL, we pride ourselves on helping shape our amazing dancers into incredible young women both in the studio and outside of it. Irish dance is a disciplined artistic sport that helps our dancers learn skills they’ll use their entire lives to succeed in whatever they put their mind to: goal setting, perseverance, and resiliency, to name a few. But it’s not just Irish dance that provides role models—Ireland itself is full of incredible women who broke barriers, went against the odds, and never gave up. Here’s a few more to inspire you:
Teresa Deevy: Dramatist, Nationalist, and Women’s Rights Activist
“I don’t think we can start fresh. I don’t think anyone can. Wont we bring ourselves with us?”
Often called “Ireland’s Chekhov,” Teresa Deevy spent her life not only adding to the cultural life of Ireland, but to social reform, as well. Deevy was raised in Waterford before going on attend University College Dublin—though she was forced to transfer to university in Cork at the age of 19 when the progression of Méniére’s Disease caused her to go deaf. While Deevy received treatment in Cork, there is still no known cure of the disease and the writer remained deaf for the rest of her life. She pivoted from her original goal of becoming a teacher to becoming a writer instead, all while being heavily involved in the Irish War of Independence, particularly in women’s groups. However, her most lasting contribution to the both the nationalist and feminist efforts came through her writing. Deevy’s plays (and eventually short stories and radio plays) were quietly subversive critiques of the limited options for women, even in supposedly modern society. She was highly critical of the way the Irish Catholic state repressed women, and continuously censored literary works—always making the political into the personal to help the audience connect. While her subversive views lead to her being largely unknown for a time after her death, interest had been revived and her genius has been celebrated in recent decades.
Margaret O’Carroll: Queen and Patron of the Arts, Roads, and Bridges
"[T]he best woman of the [Gaels] and the one who made the most causeways, churches, books, chalices and all articles useful for the service of a church…”
Definitely the most historical figure on this list, Margaret O’Carroll lived so long ago that her birth date has been lost in time. What hasn’t been lost is what she devoted her life to: the betterment of Irish society on a number of fronts. Nicknamed “Mairgréag an Einigh” aka “Margaret the Hospitable” as our first records of her speak of the incredible banquets she hosted, including two in particular in 1433 with over 2,700 people in attendance—reportedly including orphans she was fostering. She also used her elaborate social events to lift up bardic artists, becoming a patron to many herself. Despite being an extremely wealthy queen (as she was the daughter of a queen and as she married the chief of the chief of the Offaly region of Ireland,) O’Carroll humbled herself to complete a traditional pilgrimage during which she commissioned a number of roads, bridges, and other public works projects to improve the lives of the people she passed. On top of all this, she was also a budding ambassador—she successfully negotiated (on her own accord, her husband knowing nothing of her plans,) the exchange of Irish prisoners from British forces in 1445.
Kathleen “Kay” McNulty Mauchly Antonelli: Computer Programmer
“Irish immigrants could be just as good, if not better, than anybody.”
Born in the midst of the Irish War for Independence, Kay McNulty was a rebel from the start—her father was arrested the night of her birth for his role in the IRA. When McNulty was 2 and her father was released from prison, her entire family immigrated to Pennsylvania. Despite only being able to speak, read, and understand Irish when she arrived, she immediately excelled in school, particularly math—leading a scholarship to attend Chestnut Hill College, where she graduated (with a degree in Math) in 1942. WWII was raging all over the globe, and McNulty immediately contributed her smarts to the war effort—initially in a role known only but the moniker “Computer” where she predicted ballistic trajectories. It wasn’t long before her incredible intelligence distinguished her and she was moved on to a new, top-secret project with five other females “Computers”: programming the ENIAC, aka one of the world’s first electronic computers. McNulty and her cohort, all women, are considered some of the world’s first computer programmers, though they didn’t received almost any recognition for their contributions until 1997 when they were inducted into the Women in Technology Hall of Fame. McNulty continued to program most of her life, all while raising 7 children, though most of her work was under her first husband’s name.
Mary Robinson: Ireland’s First Female President
“I was elected by the women of Ireland, who instead of rocking the cradle, rocked the system.”
On December 3rd, 1990, Mary Robinson was inaugurated as the 7th president of Ireland, making her the first female president in the country. Before her turn to politics, Robinson received her law degree from Harvard and became a distinguished law professor, as well as a practicing human rights and constitutional lawyer. When elected, she expanded the role of the Irish president further than any of her predecessors, committed to reforming Ireland into a modern country. Robinson did more for the rights of women and other oppressed classes than any Irish president before or since, including decriminalizing homosexuality and contraception, legalizing divorce, and enabling female citizens to sit on juries—leading to her becoming (and remaining) the most popular president Ireland has ever had, with a 93% approval rating. After serving 7 years as president, Robinson stepped down to concentrate on human rights all over the world by serving as the United Nations High Commissioner on Human Rights. She is still alive today and continues to concentrate on good works--as of 2019 she is the Adjunct Professor for Climate Justice at Ireland premiere university: Trinity College Dublin.
But we’re not done yet—there’s just too many incredible Irish women to cover! Check back next Monday for a few more role models to add to your list.
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.
Find all of our latest news on our Scoil Rince Luimni Facebook page!