t was on October 25th, 1910 that the burgeoning battle for women’s rights took to the streets of Greystones.
Which would have taken quite a few of the locals by surprise, given that in January of that year, the local Literary Society had put women’s suffrage to a vote, and subsequently declared Down With This Sort Of Thing.
In truth, it wasn’t the streets of Greystones but the pier, Ireland’s Chief Secretary, Augustine Birrell, having finally trekked out to see if indeed we should get another grant for our badly-repaired harbour.
Having first begun in the 1860s, the campaign calling for votes for women had become militant by the turn of the century, not only here but in London – where Emmeline Pankhurst founded the suffragette movement in 1903 – and beyond. And in among the observers on Greystones’ pier that fateful October day when the Chief Secretary began his stroll were two women, Hilda Webb and Hanna Sheehy Skeffington, two leaders of the growing suffragette movement in Ireland.
They promptly joined Birrell on his walk, standing either side, many present believing the two women to be deep in discussion about the sorry state of Greystones’ pier. It was only as their voices began to raise ever higher that those present began to suspect something wasn’t quite right. Eventually, the Under-Secretary, James Dougherty stepped into the fray, arguing that the question of piers had nothing to do with votes for women. “Indeed it has,” replied the ladies. “We pay our rates for piers, and we are entitled to be heard even here.”
Even when MP William Redmond – brother of Irish Party leader, John Redmond, and sympathetic to the suffragette cause – spoke courteously to Skeffington and Webb, promising them that the Chief Secretary would receive a suffrage deputation within a few days, the satisfied ladies had to depart ‘amidst a good deal of laughter‘.
It wasn’t until eight years later that the Representation of the People Act 1918 gave women over thirty the right to vote in a general election. Four years later, the Free State extended the franchise to all Irish citizens over the age of 21.
To recall that pivotal afternoon in Greystones 108 years ago, and how it impacted the suffragette struggle, we caught up with local historian Rosemary Raughter to talk girl power, pier pressure and paying tribute…
Thanks to Joan Jones for adding some period cool to our photo shoot. You can find out more about Hanna & Hilda’s great Greystones adventure on the Greystones Archaelogical & Historical Society’s website here. You can also check out our chat on Killincarrick House with Rosemary here. There will also be a plaque unveiled at 11am on Thursday, October 25th at 11am, to mark this historic occasion.
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