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 Francis Sheehy-Skeffington, 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.

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.


Hanna Sheehy was born in Kanturk, County Cork, Ireland, the eldest daughter of Elizabeth McCoy and David Sheehy, an ex-Fenian and an MP for the Irish Parliamentary Party, representing South Galway. One of her uncles, Father Eugene Sheehy, was known as the Land League Priest, and his activities landed him in prison. He was also one of Éamon de Valera's teachers in Limerick.[2]

When Hanna's father became an MP in 1887, the family moved to Drumcondra, Dublin.[2]

When Hanna was a teenager, the Sheehys held an open house on the second Sunday night of each month, at 2 Belvedere Place near Mountjoy Square in Dublin. They encouraged young people to visit them and their six children. James Joyce, who was a student at the nearby Belvedere College, and his younger brother Stanislaus, were regular visitors in 1896-1897. Joyce was good friends with Hanna's brother Richard, and nursed a secret love for her sister Mary, the prettiest girl in the family (and later Mrs. Tom Kettle). The Sheehys were fond of singing and playing games, and would ask their guests to sing.[3]

Hanna was educated at the Dominican Convent on 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 for examinations at Royal University of Ireland and 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.[4]

Hanna 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, they founded the Irish Women's Franchise League, a group aiming for women's voting rights.

Although Hanna was only 5 ft. 2, she got into numerous scuffles with the law. She was jailed in 1912 for breaking windows of government buildings in support of suffrage, as part of an IWFL campaign. That same year she also threw a hatchet at visiting British Prime Minister Herbert Asquith. She lost her teaching job in 1913 when she was arrested and imprisoned for three months after throwing stones at Dublin Castle and assaulting a police officer 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.[5][6]

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.[7]

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.[8] He was later shot dead during the 1916 Easter Rising, after having been arrested by British soldiers.

Sheehy Skeffington refused compensation for her husband's death [9](offered on condition of her ceasing to speak and write about the murder),[citation needed] 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.[10] 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.

In 1926 she became a founding member of Fianna Fáil and was elected to the party's Ard Comhairle.During the 1930s she was assistant editor of An Phoblacht. 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.[11]

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. Sheehy Skeffington was a close friend of trade unionist and fellow suffragette Cissie Cahalan.[12]

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


  1. ^ Boylan, Henry (1998). A Dictionary of Irish Biography, 3rd Edition. Dublin: Gill and MacMillan. p. 397. ISBN 0-7171-2945-4. 
  2. ^ a b c Ellmann, Richard (1982). James Joyce, 1st Revised Edition. Oxford: Oxford University Press. pp. 51–53 et passim. ISBN 0-19-503381-7. 
  3. ^ Richard Ellman, James Joyce, Oxford University Press 1983, p. 51-52.
  4. ^ Online biography of Hanna Sheehy Skeffington
  5. ^ Diarmaid Ferriter, A Nation and not a Rabble: The Irish Revolutions 1913-1923, Overlook Press, 2015, p. 103.
  6. ^ Marian Broderick, Wild Irish Women: Extraordinary Lives from History, Dublin: O'Brien Press, 2012, p. 170.
  7. ^ Luddy, Maria (1995). Hanna Sheehy-Skeffington. Dublin: Historical Association of Ireland. p. 22. ISBN 0-85221-126-0. 
  8. ^ Luddy, Maria (1995). Hanna Sheehy-Skeffington. Dublin: Historical Association of Ireland. p. 27. ISBN 0-85221-126-0. 
  9. ^ Remembering Hanna Sheehy Skeffington, a truly independent Irish woman Irish Central, May 27, 2016
  10. ^ "QUIT CONVENTION FOR SMALL NATIONS". The New York Times. 29 October 1917. Retrieved 5 March 2010. 
  11. ^ Irish Freedom by Richard English (ISBN 978-0-330-42759-3), page 343
  12. ^ Therese Moriarty (2012-10-17). "Cissie Cahalan (1876-1948)". Irishtimes.com. Retrieved 2016-09-14. 

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