War on women in Ireland
After the Easter Rising, the Irish Republican Brotherhood,( soon to become the IRA) targeted RIC officials with violence and murder. On the suggestion of Winston Churchill, the Black and Tans were formed in 1918 to assist the RIC to get rid of the IRA, or so they thought. They roamed free looking for vengeance. They committed murder, lead a reign of terror and violence throughout Ireland. The easiest targets were women, especially in the more rural parts of Ireland. To remain secret, they attacked after curfew dragging men and women out of their beds in the middle of the night..
The official name was the Royal Irish Constabulary Reserve Force. Often criminals and drunkards, gun men and petty thieves, they were recruited during the War of Independence to fight the the Irish Republican Army (the IRA). .
With the First World War still raging, uniforms were scarce so a combination of mixed khaki British army with rifle green RIC uniforms gave them their nickname.They acted without mercy, without restrictions or any regard for women other than spreading fear into Irish hearts. More rapes occurred in Ireland during this time than any other era in history.
Hannah Sheehy Skeffington who was active in women’s suffrage as well as Irish freedom wrote a pamphlet entitled Statements of Atrocities against women in Ireland. Her sources were from various newspapers, material from the Women’s Franchise League and from her own personal observations.
Did it really happen? Where was the proof found of these crimes against women?
Sir Hamar Greenwood denied any accusations. He said that over 70,000 British occupied Ireland in the last four years without any charges of major sexual abuse against women, claiming Irish women were protected by British Imperial Forces. An American Commission on the Conditions in Ireland gathered evidence of crimes but it was seen as biased and not taken seriously. The British Labour Party Commission to Ireland also explored the alleged violence finding assaults on women were common.
It was the women themselves more than any other group who took statements, asked questions, and explored the truth in detail. Margaret Connory, a member of the Irish Women’s Franchise League conducted her own investigation which she published in the Irish Exhile, a paper based in England. She spent twenty-nine days listening to first hand accounts of women brutalized, raped, their hair cut off, and humiliated by the Black and Tans.
The violence was not targeted to one side only. People on the other side, British or Free-Staters were threatened as well. RIC barracks were attacked and houses burned. Wives, servants, and girlfriends risked losing their homes or received threatening letters. The wives of constables and their children were sometimes put out in the street while their homes were set alight.
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For more about Women of the Rising go here
Drop me a line for a Free Review copy of Petticoat Rebels of 1916. (coming soon)
A good resource book on Irish Republican Women 1900 – 1922 is Renegades by Ann Matthews.