Hanna Sheehy-Skeffington

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Hanna Sheehy Skeffington in 1916
Hanna Sheehy Skeffington. The bronze statue in Kanturk

Johanna Mary (Hanna) Sheehy Skeffington, (née Johanna Mary Sheehy) (24 May 1877 – 20 April 1946) was a suffragette and Irish nationalist. Along with her husband and Margaret Cousins and James Cousins she founded the Irish Women's Franchise League in 1908 with the aim of obtaining women's voting rights.[1] She was later a founding member of the Irish Women Workers' Union.


Hanna Sheehy was born in Kanturk, County Cork, Ireland, the eldest daughter of Elizabeth McCoy and David Sheehy, an ex-Fenian and Irish Parliamentary Party Westminster MP. One of her uncles, Father Eugene Sheehy (known as the Land League Priest, whose activities landed him in prison) educated Éamon de Valera in Limerick. Her sister Mary married the writer and politician Thomas Kettle. Another sister, Kathleen married Frank Cruise O'Brien, and was the mother of Conor Cruise O'Brien.[2] The fourth of the sisters, Margaret, married a solicitor, John Culhane, and later the poet Michael Casey. Their two brothers worked as lawyers.

David Sheehy was MP for South Galway and the family moved to Drumcondra, Dublin in 1887.[2]

Sheehy was educated at Dominican Convent, Eccles Street where she was a prize-winning pupil. She then enrolled at St Mary's University College, a third level college for women established by the Dominicans in 1893, to study modern languages (in her case, French and German). She sat her examinations at Royal University of Ireland (later University College, Dublin) where she received a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1899 and a Master of Arts Degree, with first-class honours in 1902. This led to a career as a teacher in Eccles Street and an examiner in the Intermediate Certificate examination.[3]

Sheehy married Francis Skeffington in 1903, and they both took the surname Sheehy Skeffington (which they did not hyphenate but used as a double name). In 1908, she founded the Irish Women's Franchise League, a group aiming for women's voting rights. She lost her teaching job in 1913 when she was arrested and imprisoned for three months after throwing stones at Dublin Castle in a feminist action. She was visited in jail by Anna Haslam, founder of the Dublin Women's Suffrage Association. While in jail she went on hunger strike and was released under the Prisoner's Temporary Discharge of Ill Health Act and soon rearrested.

Being free from her teaching job enabled her to devote more time to the fight for suffrage. She was influenced by James Connolly and during the 1913 lock-out worked with other suffragists in Liberty Hall, providing food for the families of the strikers.[4]

She strongly opposed participation in the First World War which broke out in August 1914, and was prevented by the British government from attending the International Congress of Women held in The Hague in April 1915. The following June her husband was imprisoned for anti-recruiting activities.[5] He was later shot dead during the 1916 Easter Rising on the orders of a British army officer, Captain JC Bowen-Colthurst, a unionist from Cork.

Frank Sheehy Skeffington had had no involvement in the Rising, and had been arrested while trying to prevent looting in Dublin. Bowen-Colthurst, following court martial in June 1916, was sent temporarily to a Canadian hospital after being adjudged insane, and was released after a few months with a pension to settle in Canada.[1]

Sheehy Skeffington refused compensation for her husband's death (offered on condition of her ceasing to speak and write about the murder), and travelled to the United States to publicise the political situation in Ireland. In October 1917 she was the sole Irish representative to League for Small and Subject Nationalities where, along with several other contributors, she was accused of pro-German sympathies.[6] She published British Militarism as I Have Known It, which was banned in the United Kingdom until after the First World War. Upon her return to Britain she was once again imprisoned, this time in Holloway prison. After release Sheehy Skeffington attended the 1918 Irish Race Convention in New York City and later supported the anti-Treaty IRA during the Irish Civil War.

During the 1930s she was assistant editor of An Phoblacht, a Sinn Féin newspaper. In January 1933 she was arrested in Newry for breaching an exclusion order banning her from Northern Ireland. At her trial she said: "I recognize no partition. I recognize it as no crime to be in my own country. I would be ashamed of my own name and my murdered husband's name if I did… Long live the Republic!" and was sentenced to a month's imprisonment.[7]

Sheehy Skeffington was a founding member of the Irish Women Workers' Union and an author whose works deeply opposed British imperialism in Ireland. Her son, Owen Sheehy-Skeffington became a politician and Irish Senator.

She died, aged 68, in Dublin and is buried in Glasnevin Cemetery.


  1. ^ a b Boylan, Henry (1998). A Dictionary of Irish Biography, 3rd Edition. Dublin: Gill and MacMillan. p. 397. ISBN 0-7171-2945-4. 
  2. ^ a b Ellmann, Richard (1982). James Joyce, 1st Revised Edition. Oxford: Oxford University Press. pp. 51–53 et passim. ISBN 0-19-503381-7. 
  3. ^ Online biography of Hanna Sheehy Skeffington
  4. ^ Luddy, Maria (1995). Hanna Sheehy-Skeffington. Dublin: Historical Association of Ireland. p. 22. ISBN 0-85221-126-0. 
  5. ^ Luddy, Maria (1995). Hanna Sheehy-Skeffington. Dublin: Historical Association of Ireland. p. 27. ISBN 0-85221-126-0. 
  6. ^ "QUIT CONVENTION FOR SMALL NATIONS". The New York Times. 29 October 1917. Retrieved 5 March 2010. 
  7. ^ Irish Freedom by Richard English (ISBN 978-0-330-42759-3), page 343

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