Purging the Revolutionary Women of Ireland


On 28 April 1916, after Pádraig Pearse announced his intention to surrender, the Cumman na mBan nurse Elizabeth O’Farrell made her way under a white flag to the end of Moore Street in Dublin to give notice to Gen. William Lowe. O’Farrell was one of about ninety women who participated in the uprising. The women of Cumman na mBan acted as auxiliaries, nurses, and active insurgents, but in the years since 1916 their role in the events of the Easter Rising have been muted, their requests for military pensions were denied, and their presence was quite deliberately edited-out of history. One hundred years on and women are still being erased from Ireland’s social resistance.


Elizabeth O’Farrell, for those not from Ireland or otherwise unfamiliar with her story, was sent back to 16 Moore Street by Gen. Lowe with the undertaking to send Pearse, as commander-in-chief of the Irish Republican Army, out to him with an unconditional surrender. Having found himself in an untenable position and seeking to avoid further civilian casualties Pearse agreed to the unconditionally of the capitulation and accompanied O’Farrell to offer his sword. A photograph was taken by an unknown British Army photographer of the meeting, and not wishing to be a focus of what she knew was a significant moment in Irish history O’Farrell pressed backwards so as to be obscured by Pádraig Pearse.

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Ten days later the picture was featured in the Daily Sketch newspaper with a number of notable alterations. The presence of O’Farrell – her cape and coat, along with her feet – had been completely airbrushed out. In a possible attempt to ennoble the scene the expressions on the soldiers’ faces were subtly changed and the cigarette in the younger officer’s mouth, Lowe’s son in fact, was removed. Elizabeth O’Farrell, who played such an instrumental role as a militant, a nurse, and a dispatcher, and who opened up the parley with the British command at huge personal risk, was removed from the photographic record and from the later mythologised story.

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A century later, in Austerity Ireland, the image of the surrender has been adopted as a symbol of the struggle against a new type of national oppression – corporate imperialism. At some point over the past week a piece of Banksy-esque street art tagged to suggest it was the work of Banksy (which the real Banksy has denied), featuring Pearse surrendering to property developers, appeared on Moore Street. In spite of the prominence of many brilliant anti-austerity female politicians and activists in Dublin and around the country, the as yet unknown pseudo-Banksy opted to reproduce the infamous historical injustice and left out our warrior women. So much for the proclamation’s “Irishmen and Irishwomen!”

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Putting Elizabeth O’Farrell back in the picture.


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