Date of Award


Document Type


First Advisor

Lara Vapnek

Second Advisor

Timothy Milford

Third Advisor

Susie Pak


This paper studies the involvement of republican women in the Northern Ireland conflict, a struggle which defined life in Northern Ireland from 1969-1998. Too often, the Troubles, as the conflict is known, has been conceptualized as a struggle of men, while women are seen to be little more than suffering wives, girlfriends, and mothers. The image of “Mother Ireland” reinforces this notion: in this trope, Ireland is a woman begging for her sons to save her from British subjectivity. Similarly, contemporary feminist critics did not consider republican women to be equal to men. It was their belief that republican women were manipulated by their male counterparts to participate in a movement that did not recognize sexual equality. Neither of these images, however, reflected how republican women perceived themselves. My thesis, based on the research and study of newspaper articles, memoirs, interviews with republican women, and prison reports, shows that many women were active participants in the republican struggle for a united Ireland free of British control. Women joined the IRA, were elected to parliament, and organized political protests. They were arrested, imprisoned, and sometimes killed; they were harshly criticized by the press and the public, abandoned by the larger feminist movement, and often misunderstood by their families and communities. This paper is based primarily on the experiences, memoirs, and interviews of three republican women of the Troubles: Brigid Sheils Makowski, the activist; Bernadette Devlin McAliskey, the politician; and Mairead Farrell, the soldier. Though these women participated in republican cause in different ways, their paths overlapped, and their ideologies were similar. These three women were representative of republican women in general. They did not see their position as being one of having to choose between republicanism or feminism; rather, they demonstrated their feminism through their republicanism. They refused to sit idly by in their homes and wait for their menfolk to save them; they were eager and willing to save themselves, no matter the risk. Sheils, Devlin, and Farrell— and the women they represented— were republican feminists.

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