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Irish Women and Street Politics: 1956–1973


Tara Keenan-Thomson

Details the relationship between feminism, civil rights, socialism and republicanism in Ireland   Wide-ranging research, original interviews, media analysis. How did these women demonstrate a new concept of womanhood?

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In 1972 Hibernia cited a female street leader in Belfast who spoke of ‘living women’s liberation – not talking about it like the middle-class sisters in America: not burning bras but rattling bin lids’. It noted that due to their increasing prominence on the streets these women would be seen more and more as a political threat.

Irish Women and Street Politics presents a probing history of radicalism in both parts of Ireland from 1956–1973 by charting the interaction between feminism and republicanism, civil rights advocacy, housing activism, and left-wing politics. It brings together for the first time a comprehensive analysis of women’s roles within the wider spectrum of Irish radicalism throughout Ireland, Britain and the US, and draws on a broad range of source material to do so. Media analysis and original interviews with key activists such as Mary Kenny, Mary Maher, Edwina Stewart and Máirín de Burca, augment comprehensive archival research from Britain, Northern Ireland, Ireland, and the United States to reveal how women on the margins of Irish political opinion worked to change the attitudes of the mainstream. In the Republic the threat involved equal pay and family planning while in Northern Ireland the threat had less to do with issues and more to do with action. The introduction of gendered security tactics like Internment for men ensured that women leaders would emerge. These women created activist networks that redefined their roles as women in Irish society. Together these women presented a damning critique of the traditional gender contract and through their work they demonstrated that a new concept of womanhood was possible.

Table of Contents

  1. ‘Sure, I didn’t do much;: Women, Republicanism and Radical Activism in the 1950s
  2. ‘Surely women aren’t inferior’: A Case Study of Activism in Dungannon, 1963-7
  3. Putting themselves in every story: New Visions of Womanhood and Republicanism in the Irish Republic, 1967-9
  4. [Sic]: Women and Civil Rights in Northern Ireland, 1968/9
  5. ‘The Sinn Féin demand’: Feminism and Republicanism in the Irish Republic, 1968-73
  6. ‘Not burning bras but rattling bin lids’: Women and Militant Republicanism in Northern Ireland, 1970-3

About the Author

Tara Keenan-Thomson holds a PhD from Trinity College Dublin’s Centre for Contemporary Irish History. She has lectured at Fordham University and various community colleges in the New York area while directing the New York Civil Liberties Union’s Nassau Chapter. This is her first book.