The grandmother I never knew was born in 1916. For most people, when 1916 is mentioned, images of men shelling bullets in to the walls of the GPO, and indeed, at each other, lurch in to mind. For me, the year reminds me that my grandmother was born without the right to vote.
While recently Ireland and the UK celebrated the centenary of suffrage- giving the vote to women over the age of 30 and men over the age of 21- it wasn’t until 1928 that women received the same rights as men to have the right to ink the ballot paper at 21 years of age.
Until the age of 12 my grandmother grew up in society that wouldn’t allow her to fully take part in that society or permit her to give her opinion.
They quietened her. They kept her down.
I often wonder what message this would have sent my grandmother, Mary. She was only 12 when the law was changed. Maybe she wasn’t aware of the law at all or perhaps she didn’t care. She wasn’t going to get a push notification on her phone from Sky News of: “Women get the vote” on her smartphone. There weren’t any televisions. They would’ve been lucky to own a radio.
My grandmother died in 1987. She wasn’t alive to witness her fellow Mary, Mary Robinson “rock the cradle” in 1990 when she stood in the centre of a sea of men dressed in black, clad in a purple suit to receive her seal of office for the Irish presidency.
She similarly didn’t see her other namesake, Mary McAleese from north Belfast take up reign in the Aras in 1997.
From the snippets I know of Mary Fox. I know that she was part of an Irish Countrywomen’s Association team in north Cork that won a debating final. I know that she did the crossword in the Irish Examiner every week.
She even got married in a double wedding ceremony in 1944 with her sister- if that’s not ahead of it’s time, I don’t know what is! She was 28 too. Unlike her friends and neighbours, she didn’t rise to pressure and marry in her late teens. She lived her life.
Last week I listened to a podcast which featured Micheline Sheehy-Skeffington, the grand-daughter of Hanna Sheehy-Skeffington, Ireland’s leading suffragette of the 1900s.
Micheline said on the show that she wondered whether her grandmother would be disappointed that we still have haven’t had a female Taoiseach.
I too wonder would my grandmother feel the same. She was forward thinking after all and may have been disappointed that we haven’t moved faster, when the likes of the UK, Germany, New Zealand and Northern Ireland all have female leaders.
Then again, she was of a gritty generation who didn’t sweat the small stuff and who were doing their best just to survive day-to-day, milking five or six cows and tending to some hens and pigs.
For Micheline and I these thoughts will only ever be wonderings on the wall of imagination. We can only keep fighting the good fight.
It is frustrating that we haven’t moved faster and that we haven’t had a female Taoiseach. I can only hope that in 100 years time, that an ancestor of mine won’t be wondering or musing like myself, that she’ll be saying we had not just one female Taoiseach, but numerous successful women leaders who held out a hand and let down the ladder for others women to follow in their path, that’s the only way things will change.