Sheehy-Skeffington, Hanna


Sheehy-Skeffington, Hanna


Bibliographic Dictionary Entry




O'Toole, Tina


Munster Women Writers Project, University College Cork


Women in Irish Society Project, University College Cork




Munster, Ireland, 1800-2000









Women, Writers, Munster


O'Toole, Tina

Birth Date


Death Date



Kanturk, Co Cork

Place of Association

Templemore, Co Tipperary

Biographical Text

Feminist and pacifist Hannah Sheehy was born in Cork in 1877, but grew up in Co.Tipperary where her father, David Sheehy, was a mill-owner near Templemore. Her earliest memories were "the sound of the mill-wheel and of the waters of the Suir, the smell of fresh bread from the adjoining bakery" (qtd. Levenson and Nattersad, 5). Her grandfather, a native Irish speaker from Co.Limerick, lived with the family and influenced her youngest sister, Kathleen, who later wrote in Irish (Caitlín Ní Shíthigh q.v.). Near the end of the century, the Sheehys moved to Dublin when David Sheehy went into politics as an MP for South Meath and this is the place more usually associated with her life and work. Hannah studied English Literature at TCD, where she took a BA and an MA. <br><br>Her social life centred on her family and home, where the Sheehys entertained a wide variety of guests from her father's political colleagues to her university peers. Guests at the "Sunday evenings" in the Sheehy household included Tom Kettle, Cruise O'Brien, James Joyce, and the pacifist and feminist Francis Skeffington, with whom Hanna fell in love. She agreed to marry him in 1903, despite her serious misgivings about the institution of marriage. As a symbol of their commitment to feminist principles, the couple took each other's names on their marriage.<br>In 1901, she had first met Anna Haslam, then secretary of the Irish Women's Suffrage and Local Government Association, an important influence in her life. She first became involved in the campaign for co-education for women and men,which led to her involvement in the suffrage movement in Dublin - at Haslam's invitation. (Interestingly, her name had been suggested to Haslam by Ester Roper, the Manchester-based trade union activist and partner of Eva Gore Booth.) After their marriage, the Sheehy-Skeffingtons continued the tradition of "At Homes" established in the Sheehy household, and their home became a forum for much radical discussion and networking during the period. Despite her shyness, Hanna Sheehy-Skeffington was much in demand as a public speaker, and she became known as a radical thinker well versed in international as well as national affairs. <br><br>Her involvement at a variety of levels in political activism contributed to her growing militancy. She became disenchanted with the Haslams' more liberal organisation, and she resigned on political grounds in 1906. In 1908, she and Francis formed the Irish Women's Franchise League with Margaret and James Cousins. Hanna started the IWFL's journal The Irish Citizen which she edited until its demise in 1920. The IWFL was to be a militant feminist group, one of the key organisations which campaigned to include votes for women in the Home Rule Bill. In 1913, Hanna was arrested for protesting at Dublin Castle and imprisoned for three months, where she went on hunger strike and was force fed under the "Cat and Mouse" Act. On her release, she was dismissed from her job as a teacher.<br>In 1916, in one of the most famous incidents following the Easter Rising, Francis Sheehy-Skeffington was shot dead in the street by an English army officer, Cpt. Bowen-Colthurst. He had been trying to stop the looting following the uprising, and was shot because of his highly-publicised anti-military stance. Despite her loss, and the fact that she was left to bring up her son alone, Hannah continued with her political activism. She fought the cover-up of her husband's death for years, refusing monetary compensation from the British government. She wrote British Militarism as I Have Known It, but it was banned in Ireland and Britain until after World War I. She travelled to the USA in 1919 to publicise the book, and was arrested and imprisoned in Holloway Gaol on her return. <br><br>Following the foundation of the Free State, she was firmly Anti-Treaty. During the 1930s she was the assistant editor of the Sinn Féin newspaper An Phoblacht and was imprisoned in Armagh Gaol for breaking a Northern Ireland Exclusion Order (she defied a ban on entering the six counties, put in place because of her political record). In 1943 she stood for election to the Dáil as an Independent candidate - in standing she encouraged other Republicans to do the same. Her platform called for equal pay for equal work, equal opportunities for women, the removal of the marriage ban, and the restoration of jury rights, among other demands. The parallels between this agenda and that of the second-wave feminist movement in Ireland in the 1970s illustrates her understanding of the impact of such anti-feminist measures. However, by 1946 a lifetime of struggle and political activism had taken their toll on her body. Up to her death that year, she continued to work on her memoirs, and took a vital interest in the ongoing strike by the Irish National Teachers Organisation.

Writing Genre

Political Writing