A new play reflecting on the extraordinary life of Hanna Sheehy-Skeffington is to play at Chiswick’s Tabard Theatre this month.
Sheehy-Skeffington, Reminiscences Of An Irish Suffragette is a one woman show, written and directed by Rosalind Scanlon and performed by Ailis Duff. It portrays Sheehy- Skeffington’s fight for Irish women’s suffrage, her time spent in Mountjoy Prison, her work during Dublin’s 1913 Lockout and her harrowing and unforgettable experiences during Ireland’s Easter Rising in April 1916.
Originally produced at The Tabard Theatre in 1987, as a much shorter play, playwright Rosalind Scanlon has expanded the original script to mark the Centenary of Ireland’s 1916 Rising. It is being staged from 19-24 July by Irish Repertory Theatre Company and Hammersmith’s Irish Cultural Centre.
Time Out said: “The Sheehy-Skeffingtons were remarkable and courageous people and it is with great love and care that Rosalind Scanlon has assembled this powerful portrait.” Hanna Sheehy married radical activist Francis Skeffington, thus her double-barrelled name.
The couple, along with Margaret and James Cousins, founded the Irish Women’s Franchise League in 1908 to obtain women’s voting rights. The play focuses on her extraordinary life, and that of her husband who became one of the martyrs of the 1916 Rising.
Tuesday July 19 – Sunday July 24. Starts 7.45pm Tickets £15./ £12. Concs. Book Tickets through Irish Cultural Centre Hammersmith www.Irishculturalcentre.co.uk 020 8563 8232
Although Hanna was only 5 ft. 2, she got into numerous scuffles with the law.
She was jailed in 1912 for breaking windows of government buildings in support of suffrage, as part of an IWFL campaign. That same year she also threw a hatchet at visiting British Prime Minister Herbert Asquith. She lost her teaching job in 1913 when she was arrested and imprisoned for three months after throwing stones at Dublin Castle and assaulting a police officer in a feminist action.
She was visited in jail by Anna Haslam, founder of the Dublin Women’s Suffrage Association. While in jail she went on hunger strike and was released under the Prisoner’s Temporary Discharge of Ill Health Act and soon rearrested.
Being free from her teaching job enabled her to devote more time to the fight for suffrage. She was influenced by James Connolly and during the 1913 lock-out worked with other suffragists in Liberty Hall, providing food for the families of the strikers.
She strongly opposed participation in the First World War which broke out in August 1914, and was prevented by the British government from attending the International Congress of Women held in The Hague in April 1915.
The following June her husband was imprisoned for anti-recruiting activities. He was later shot dead during the 1916 Easter Rising, after having been arrested by British soldiers. Sheehy Skeffington refused compensation for her husband’s death (offered on condition of her ceasing to speak and write about the murder) and travelled to the United States to publicise the political situation in Ireland.
In October 1917 she was the sole Irish representative to League for Small and Subject Nationalities where, along with several other contributors, she was accused of pro-German sympathies. She published British Militarism as I Have Known It, which was banned in the United Kingdom until after the First World War.
Upon her return to Britain she was once again imprisoned, this time in Holloway prison. After release Sheehy Skeffington attended the 1918 Irish Race Convention in New York City and later supported the anti-Treaty IRA during the Irish Civil War.
In 1926 she became a founding member of Fianna Fáil and was elected to the party’s Ard Comhairle. During the 1930s she was assistant editor of An Phoblacht. In January 1933 she was arrested in Newry for breaching an exclusion order banning her from Northern Ireland.
At her trial she said: “I recognize no partition. I recognize it as no crime to be in my own country. I would be ashamed of my own name and my murdered husband’s name if I did… Long live the Republic!” and was sentenced to a month’s imprisonment.
Sheehy Skeffington was a founding member of the Irish Women Workers’ Union and an author whose works deeply opposed British imperialism in Ireland. Her son,Owen Sheehy-Skeffington became a politician and Irish Senator. She died, aged 68, in Dublin and is buried with her husband in Glasnevin Cemetery.