The Spirit of Two Irish Rebelwomen, 1918 & 2018

One hundred years ago,   Mother Jones and Irish feminist rebel Hanna Sheehy-Skeffington spoke at a what was considered a subversive meeting in San Francisco, on a mission to free an Irish-American labor activist. War had created revolutionary stirrings across the globe. These women, both born in County Cork, carried on in a rebel tradition.

This year their memories will be joined in two events in Ireland.

It was my pleasure to meet Hanna’s granddaughter Micheline at the Chicago Irish American Heritage Center last fall, and see how much the rebel spirit of her grandmother is with her. Micheline is a retired Galway botanist who took on university discrimination against women; she sees it as her duty to pass the torch along.

Micheline was touring the U.S. in a whirlwind retracing of Hanna’s campaign for Ireland’s independence a century ago. She brought a small film crew with her; you can learn a little more about that project here. Earlier this year, Micheline sought to put women back into the celebration of the Irish independence by reenacting one of the more dramatic moments of her mother’s activism in the suffrage campaign.

Left: : Micheline studies some of the exhibit displays from Cork at the Irish American Heritage Center, Chicago, Illinois, October 2017. “I wonder if Hanna and Mother Jones met,” she asked. Credit: Eddie Mullarkey

One of the first questions Micheline asked me, on seeing the exhibit on Mother Jones at the Irish American Heritage center, was, “did they meet?” I didn’t know but speculated that the campaign to free Tom Mooney would have been one way they would have met up. I did a bit of research and checked my archive of materials, and sure enough, found at least this instance.

First, a little information about how Mother and Hanna shared the stage. Hanna Sheehy-Skeffington was on a tour of the U.S. to publicize the cause of free Ireland. She spoke to packed audiences across the United States. Two years before, her pacifist husband had been brutally assassinated in the Easter Rising. Hanna and her husband Frank were also close friends of Mother Jones’ friend, James Connolly, and they had participated in the 1913 Dublin workers lockout/uprising. Like Connolly, she connected workers issues with the struggle for a republic. And Connolly was influenced by her and her husband to include women’s suffrage in the proposed constitution for the new republic.

But in this case, she sought to join the cause of labor’s political prisoners who were also Mother Jones’ special cause.