‘I was a young girl dreaming about Ireland when I saw and heard Maud Gonne speaking by the Custom House in Dublin one August evening in 1903… She electrified me and filled me with some of her own spirit.’ –Helena Molony
Helena Molony was a prominent Irish republican, feminist and labour activist. She fought in the 1916 Easter Rising and later became the second woman president of the Irish Trade Union Congress.
Helena was nineteen when she joined Inghinidhe na hEireann (Daughters of Ireland). In 1909 she helped found Na Fianna and became an actress at The Abbey.
In 1911 Helena was arrested during protests organised by Sinn Féin against the visit of King George V to Dublin. She was sentenced to one months’ imprisonment but was released after 14 days.
With experience of editing the feminist paper Bean na hEireann, she began a secretarial job with James Connolly. Helena soon became a member of the Irish Citizen Army and in 1915 became the Secretary of Irish Women Workers’ Union. Through the office of the Union, at 29 Eden Quay, she knew the men who would form the Military Council which planned the Rising.
As a member of the Citizen Army, Helena fought in the Easter Rising of 1916 and was imprisoned following the surrender. After her release she assisted Countess Markievizc who had been appointed to the Ministry of Labour in the new Dáil Éireann and served as a District Justice in the Republican court in Rathmines.
‘Misses Elizabeth O’Farrell and Sighle Grennan and myself were spotted by police. We took to our heels, and were chased through Henry Street, Mary Street and right up to the Markets in Capel Street. We got away clear, as we were young and swift, and the police were hampered by long heavy overcoats. On the whole we feared more the soldiers with their canes.’
Helena visited Russia in 1929 as a guest of the Soviet Trade Union movement and on her return set up the Friends of Soviet Russia. In the 1930’s she became active in the Women’s Prisoners’ Defence League. In 1936 she became president of the Irish Trade Union Congress but was forced to retire due to ill-health in 1946.
Helena continued to work for women’s labour rights, reuniting with her suffragist colleagues in a number of organisations which protested against the social and political conservatism of the new Irish state. She died in Dublin on this day in 1967 and is buried in Glasnevin cemetery.
Image: Helena Molony by Declan Kerr, 1916 Series