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Five Irish Women You Should Know

Wearing green or drinking shamrock shakes, how do you celebrate St. Patrick’s Day? To celebrate Irish heritage this year, let’s take a look at the inspirational women who have shaped Ireland’s history. Here are five Irish women you should know this St. Patrick’s Day.

Constance Markievicz (1868–1927)

Constance Markievicz was a member of Sinn Féin, a political party that campaigned for Irish liberation. Alongside fellow party members, she was part of the 1916 Easter Rising, an insurrection against the British government in Ireland. After the surrender, she was the only woman from the uprising to be arrested and court-martialed. The government then sentenced her to death, but instead gave her a lifetime of penal servitude because of her gender.

In 1918, while still carrying out a prison sentence, Constance was the first woman elected to the British Parliament. However, she didn’t take her seat because she wouldn’t swear an oath to the king. Instead, she worked with the Irish republicans to found their own provisional government, Dáil Éireann, where she served as the minister of labour from 1919 until 1922.

Dáil Éireann was then incorporated into the Irish Parliament, and the citizens again elected Constance to the Dáil in 1923. But she once again refused her seat. Instead, she devoted herself to charity work and the founding of the Fianna Fáil party in 1926.

Read Constance Markievicz’s full biography at Britannica.

Rosie Hackett (1892–1976)

Because trade unions of the time didn’t include women, Rosie Hackett co-founded the Irish Women’s Workers Union (IWWU). With Rosie’s tireless efforts, the union organized over 70,000 women and gained one extra paid week of holiday leave per year. She was also actively involved in the 1913 Dublin Lockout, a worker’s strike for better working conditions. This later caused Rosie to lose her job.

In 1914, Rosie became a clerk in the IWWU at Liberty Hall, which connected her with the Irish Citizen Army. Along with Constance Markievicz, Rosie was an integral part of the Easter Rising. Trained as a printer, she was part of the group who printed the first 1916 Proclamation. At the time, many men had complained that a woman had been let into the printing room.

After the Rising, Rosie re-founded the IWWU and continued her work in Liberty Hall for over forty years. The labor movement later awarded her a gold medal for giving sixty years of her life to the trade union movement.

Read more about Rosie Hackett at the Women’s Museum of Ireland.

Mary Robinson (1944–Present)

A lawyer, politician, and diplomat, Mary Robinson was the first female president of Ireland. Committed to human rights, she was the first head of state to visit Somalia after it suffered from civil war and famine in 1992, and she was the first to visit Rwanda after the genocide in 1994. Four months before Mary’s term came to an end, she resigned and joined the United Nations as High Commissioner for Human Rights. There, she changed the priorities of her office to emphasize the promotion of human rights at the national and regional levels.

After stepping down from the United Nations, she founded Realizing Rights: the Ethical Globalization Initiative (2002–2010), a nongovernmental organization that focused on equitable international trade, access to healthcare, migration, women’s leadership, and corporate responsibility. She also was a founding member of the Council of Women World Leaders and served as the honorary president of Oxfam International, a private organization that provides aid to impoverished and disaster-stricken communities worldwide.

Amnesty International awarded her Ambassador of Conscience for her human rights work, and the United States later awarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Read Mary Robinson’s full biography at Britannica.

Mary McAleese (1951–Present)

Mary McAleese was the second female president of Ireland, elected into office directly after Mary Robinson in 1997. However, she was also the first president from Northern Ireland and the first woman in the world to directly succeed a female president. Previous to her election, she had been the director of the Institute of Professional Legal Studies at Queen’s University, which named her its first Roman Catholic pro-vice-chancellor.

Although her presidential campaign was turbulent because citizens accused her of sympathizing with Sinn Féin, the political wing of the Irish Republican Army, she won by a record margin and was unopposed during the election for her second term in 2004. In 2006, Forbes ranked her the fifty-fifth most powerful woman in the world, and when her second and final term ended, she left office as one of Ireland’s most popular and respected presidents.

Read Mary McAleese’s full biography at Britannica.

Edith Anne Stoney (1869–1938)

Edith Anne Stoney is the first woman medical physicist. Following in the steps of her father, a prominent Irish physicist, she won a scholarship to Newham College Cambridge, where she achieved a first in the Part I Tripos examination in 1893. However, not until fifty years later did Cambridge award women degrees, so she did not officially graduate. She later moved on to teach mathematics at Cheltenham Ladies’ College and physics at London’s Royal Free Hospital.

Active in the women’s suffrage movement, as well as the first treasurer of the British Federation of University Women (1909–1915), Edith established the Johnstone and Florence Stoney Studentship. The British Federation of Women Graduates still administers the grant to support women in carrying out research overseas. She also offered radiological services during WWI. Many of her services were denied because of her gender, but alongside her sister Florence, she operated X-ray facilities and stereoscopy to locate bullets and shrapnel.

Edith’s efforts during WWI pioneered the use of X-rays in the diagnosis of gas gangrene, which saved many lives. And later, because of her significant contributions, Trinity College Dublin awarded her both a BA and MA.

Read more about Edith Anne Stoney from Heaton History Group.

To learn about more notable Irish women, read the articles “12 Famous Irish Women You Should Know About” and “Irish Female Scientists You Should Know.”

For more inspirational women, check out our articles “Three Women Scientists Who Changed the World,” and “Five Inspiring Women You (and Your Children) Should Know.”

Children’s Books about Inspirational Women

Shaelyn Topolovec earned a BA in editing and publishing from BYU, worked on several online publications, and joined the Familius family. Shae is currently an editor and copywriter who lives in California’s Central Valley.