Many readers will be aware that I collect Irish stamps which have relevance to Irish History. The strange thing about stamps is that they not only tell the story of an event…for example the Rebellion of 1798…but how such events are commemorated in 1948 and 1998.
The same is very much true of the Easter Rising of 1916.
First commemorated in 1941, the 25th Anniversary during the Emergency (Second World War), war-time limitations meant it was actually commemorated twice…first with a temporary issue and later as a single stamp with a lone volunteer against the General Post Office.
There is something about 1966…the 50th Anniversary of the Rising which marks the beginning of modern Ireland…the eight stamps in the 1966 set featured one each for the seven signatories of the Proclamation and yet within a few years the (then) Department of Posts and Telegraphs became very subdued when issuing stamps to commemorate the War of Independence and the even more problematic Civil War….all against a background of the Conflict in Norn Iron.
Consequently the single stamp issues to mark the 75th Anniversary and 90th Anniversary were almost apologetic. Indeed in 2006, there was a degree of balance as a stamp was issued to commemorate the Battle of the Somme.
But two bicentenaries in 1998 and 2003 (the 1798 and Emmet Rebellions) were more whole-heartedly commemorated. And significantly the role of women was recognised. A generic stamp recognising Women in 1998 and the role of the heroic Anne Devlin in 2003.
As I said in the first paragraph, these commemorations are as much about the date of the commemorations as the events themselves.
At today’s date …10th January…the stamp programme for 2016 has not been published online. It will of course feature stamps relating to the Rising and its aftermath.
We can reasonably anticipate that the role of women will feature heavily. Not only is it right to honour them but our sensibilities in 2016 are different. We might also reasonably expect to see the suffering of civilians recognised and possibly pacifist Francis Sheehy-Skeffington who was murdered in cold blood by the British.
It would be more controversial if the Dublin Metropolitan Police were honoured and outrageous if British Army was honoured.
Yet, I do not think that any individual woman can be held as representative of women as a whole.
The women of 1916 were a diverse group.
Madame Markievicz is of course the best known. She was in active combat with the Irish Citizen Army as a Leader…shot a police officer dead…and initially sentenced to death and later the first woman elected to the British House of Commons. She is already honoured on a stamp.
Probably the second best known woman in 1916 is Grace Gifford, a non-combatant of course, who married Joseph Plunkett in Kilmainham, just a few hours before his execution. Yet her propaganda value in the days after the Rising cannot be under-estimated.
Or Elizabeth O’Farrell…the nurse in the General Post Office and in Moore Street …who would bring the order to surrender to the other garrisons.
Dr Kathleen Lyng was already well known for her work with the Dublin poor.
Maud Gonne was already well known as an outspoken reublican and estranged wife of John McBride who would be executed.
Winnie Carney and Eily O’Hanrahan (sister of Michael who would be executed) were among several others were despatch riders.
The women of Cumann na mBan who fought under Roisin McNamara at Jamesons Distillery and surrendered with the men rather than take the opportunity to melt away as the men wanted.
The only garrison without active women fighters was at Bolands Mills …and surely it explains much of Irish history that followed that the Officer in command at Bolands Mills was Eamonn de Valera. Cumann na mBan veterans never really forgave him for not allowing women within the garrison.
Or is suffragette Helena Sheehy-Skeffington an important figure in 1916.
After all the Proclamation was the first Constitution to guarantee universal suffrage. So it is totally logical that women are honoured.