“Dishonesty magnificent in its proportions, and climbing into high places, became at the same time so rampant and so splendid that there seemed to be reason for fearing that men and women would be taught to feel that dishonesty, if it can become splendid, will cease to become abominable.” –Anthony Trollope
De Valera’s 1937 constitution (Bunreacht na hÉireann) evoked a passionate rebuke of the articles defining the role and rights of women. The aspirations of 1916 had been eroded to the extent that the rights of half of the State’s citizens were reduced and effectively became second-class citizens. In 1936, while formulating the new constitution, Éamon de Valera established a civil service committee to assist him. They were all men. He also took extensive advice from the president of the Supreme Court, and the High Court. Both were men. Archbishop of Dublin, John Charles McQuaid, also heavily influenced the final text. There were only three women TDs at the time, none of them said a word in the Dáil debates on the draft.
Women were told that marriage should be there highest aspiration, child rearing there only creative outlet, and that economic dependence their civic duty. That in its turn produced levels of misogyny, emotional sterility and civic immaturity.
Article 41.2.1 became famous as ‘a woman’s place is in the home’ statement:
“the State recognises that by her life within the home, woman gives to the State a support without which the common good cannot be achieved”.
Many women protested in public and in private during the drafting of de Valera’s constitution. The Irish Women Workers Union, many of whose members had been involved in the 1916 Rising, expressed outrage; a letter from the secretary to de Valera, quoting the clauses which referred to the position of women, said: “it would hardly be possible to make a more deadly encroachment upon the liberty of the individual”. The constitution was accepted and a combination of revisionism and isolationism in the years that followed left the majority of Ireland’s citizens ignorant of the legacy woman had been denied.
The fundamental principle of the 1916 proclamation, which guaranteed religious and civil liberty, equal rights and equal opportunities to all citizens, echoed by the 1922 constitution, guaranteeing those rights to every person “without distinction of sex”, had been changed.
As commander of the Boland’s Mill outpost in 1916, de Valera had been the only leader to refuse women’s participation in the Rising. As with many of the woman who fought in the Rising; in the same streets where Elizabeth O’Farrell walked through gunfire, now with Article 41 of the Constitution, de Valera closed the door on women’s progress in a more definitive way.
Photo: Women of the National Aid Association—comprised of members of Cumann na mBan, Clan na Gael and the Irish Citizen Army—in the garden of Mr and Mrs Ely O’Carroll in the summer of 1916.
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