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Response to Review of Irish Nationalist Women 1900-1918

I wish to thank Dr Moulton for her generous and thoughtful review of my book, and the editors of Reviews in History for inviting me to respond. Dr Moulton’s insightful comments made me think again about the difficulty of integrating women’s history into broader historical accounts and also about the need to keep insisting on such integration. I was delighted to read that she shared my views on this and that she found my attempts to do so useful – especially in the context of Ireland’s decade of commemorations.

As well as engaging in debates about the efficacy or otherwise of the First World War and reflecting on the ways in which we have come to understand it, Irish historians have recently been deeply involved in a wider commemorative project. Stretching from 1912 to 1922, this period witnessed a number of political crises which helped to propel Ireland towards partition and independence. As Dr Mouton explained, my book was an attempt to revisit some of the seminal events of this period in an effort to show how fundamentally they were shaped by the women’s movement. The participation of women in Ireland’s most acute political crises in the early 20th century is a story worth telling in and of itself, but also because it encourages one to think differently about the way we ‘do’ political history and how much there remains to be discovered about even the most extensively researched episodes of modern Irish history.

While conferences and commemorations have been and will be organised to mark the anniversaries of the Home Rule Bill of 1912, the Lockout and the Easter Rising, and the ‘women’s story’ will most likely be included in any such events, the prospect of the integration of their story into the broader national narrative remains, unfortunately, rather dim. One antidote to this might be to study in further detail the profound effect of the Irish Question and the Irish women’s movement on the eventual enfranchisement of women. The 1918 legislation was the most democratic adjustment to the British constitution to have taken place during the 1912–1922 period, but its impact on Irish politics – though profound – has hardly been explored. This is partly because most discussion of it has been dwarfed within the Irish historiography by analysis of the conscription crisis and of the 1918 General Election. Yet all three were connected in important ways, not least by the critical role of women in each of them. This is just one of a number of ways we might think about adjusting how we define and rank political and thus how we understand Irish nationalism in the early 20th century. I am very grateful to Dr Moulton for prompting me to think further about this.