3rd Year: The Role of Women in 20th Century Ireland

Main Page: Social Change in 20th Century Ireland

1st row (l to r): Hanna Sheehy-Skeffington, Countess Markiewicz, Sinéad de Valera, Dana
2nd row (l to r) Bernadette Devlin, Maureen Potter, Mary Black, Anne Doyle
3rd row (l to r) Mary Robinson, Mary Harney, Sonia O'Sullivan, Miriam O'Callaghan
4th row (l to r) Veronica Guerin, Mary McAleese, Joan Burton, Katie Taylor

You've probably noticed that women don't seem to feature very much on the History course. That's History's fault. Men have always tended to take centre stage, no matter where the place or time. There have been important women throughout History, of course: you studied the lady of the manor in First Year, who might not seem like much, but then in Second Year you learned about Queen Isabella of Spain, and Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth I of England, who both ordered plantations of Ireland. Marie-Antoinette was an important figure in the French revolution, while Martha Washington is just as famous as her husband George.

Going forward in time, you learned about life and work in Queen Victoria's industrial England, and in more recent decades you learned of Countess Markiewicz in the 1916 Rising and the role Margaret Thatcher played as British Prime Minister at the height of the Troubles.

This part of the course concerns how life has changed for women in Ireland since the beginning of the 20th century. A hundred years ago, women in Ireland were not allowed to vote. Even fifty years ago, women could not be employed as teachers if they were married. Several Irish women (such as those in the picture above) have made their mark on history, from the independence struggle to today. The role of women has come a long way in a hundred years.

Continue to Sport, Entertainment and Leisure in 20th Century Ireland



  • Women as second-class citizens.
  • Women in the workplace (then)
  • Votes for women.
  • Restrictions on women after independence. (marriage ban, pay, the constitution)
  • Recent times.
  • Women in politics.
  • Women in the workplace (now)




Click here for exam questions you can be asked about this topic. (Higher and Ordinary)

A poster campaigning for votes for women. Click on it to make it bigger.



Hanna's House
Hanna's House is a group which works for women's rights. It is named for Hanna Sheehy-Skeffington and it has a page dedicated to her and the history of the suffragette movement, which is what this link will bring you to.

UCC: Hanna Sheehy-Skeffington
A UCC biography of Hanna Sheehy-Skeffington.

Countess Markiewicz
Read a biography of Countess Constance Markiewicz here.

Overview of the Women's Liberation Movement
This was a feminist group set up in 1970s Ireland in the wake of the report of the Commission for the Status of Women in 1972. Scoilnet provides an overview.

Uachtaráin: Mary Robinson (TG4 - YouTube)
A full-length documentary on Ireland's first female president. Mary Robinson served for one term between 1990 and 1997. (Irish with English subtitles)

Uachtaráin: Mary McAleese (TG4 - YouTube)
The documentary series also has Mary McAleese, who served two terms from 1997 to 2011. (Irish with English subtitles)