Would you like to be associated with a unique event in Irish history? Hanna Sheehy Skeffington (pictured with here son, Owen) is Ireland’s most famous suffragette. When her husband Francis was shot by British firing squad during the Easter Rising, despite him being a pacifist, Hanna undertook an epic lecture tour of the US, publicising what had happened. This autumn her granddaughter, (pictured above) Micheline, also known for her fight for gender equality and justice, is repeating Hanna’s tour and we plan to film it for a documentary.
A message from Micheline:
"This autumn, 100 years on, I will retrace my grandmother, Hanna Sheehy Skeffington’s epic lecture tour of the US. This tour was so important for Ireland’s fight for independence, yet has largely been forgotten. I want to publicise what she did by making a documentary of my trip. I will spend three months speaking in the places she visited and, like her, my tour will be funded by the organisations and communities that host me. But I also want to film the tour and the people and places I encounter. To do this, I need your support.
This tour will make for a thought-provoking and revealing documentary film because Hanna’s own story, the challenging of authorities, and the people and ideas she encountered in the US, continue to be relevant to us today.
Hanna’s prime motivation to go to America was to tell how her husband, Francis Sheehy Skeffington, had been shot without trial in Portobello Barracks, Dublin during Easter Week 1916. She’d met Prime Minister Asquith in London to demand a full public inquiry. Instead, he offered her £10,000 ‘hush money’ (€750,000 today) which she refused. When the ensuing enquiry proved a travesty, Hanna resolved to go to the US and ‘tell the truth and nothing but the truth’ about what happened to her husband and to the Irish people at the hands of the British. Giving the authorities the slip, she sailed from Glasgow with her seven year-old son, Owen (my father), using false passports.
A century later, I want to recreate that tour, sailing this autumn into New York as she did. I will locate their names registered at Ellis Island and stand on the stage at Carnegie Hall, which she filled at her first engagement in January 1917. I plan to speak about her in cities where she also spoke, like New York, Boston, Chicago, Seattle and San Francisco. I’ll go to the train station where British agents attempted to abduct her across the border into Canada so they could arrest her.
I will visit venues she spoke in which still exist today like the Knights of the Red Branch Hall in San Francisco and to smaller cities and towns, like Butte, Montana which still has a vibrant memory of her visit.
And of course I will visit places associated with her feminist friends, like Jane Addams, Elizabeth Gurley Flynn and Emma Goldman.We’ll film key sections of the tour to provide a basis for the production of a full documentary on Hanna’s journey. We hope to have this broadcast during 2018, the anniversary of Irish women getting the vote – which happened because of the actions of suffragettes like Hanna. We are seeking funding simply for the filming of the tour so that the eventual documentary can weave the thread between Hanna’s epic journey then, Irish-Americans and feminist activism today, and Hanna’s suffrage activity in Ireland. It resonates with what my father, Owen, did to champion the cause of human rights in 20th century Ireland, as well as my own recent fight for gender equality.
Hanna’s epic eighteen-month journey, undertaken as a leap of faith, when newly widowed and travelling with her young son, was incredibly courageous. I hope you can help us to honour her courage and give due recognition to what she did both for Ireland as well as for Irish women".
We need €21,000 to cover the costs of filming the highlights of Micheline's journey, for equipment, film crew time and associated travel.
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Dr Micheline Sheehy Skeffington is a plant ecologist with an interest in terrestrial ecosystems, especially wetlands including turloughs, peatlands, heathlands, river flood-meadows and salt marshes. Interests also include sustainable agriculture in the tropics, with publications on Indonesian and Cuban sustainable forest and agricultural management. Most of her academic work has been concerned with protecting the wonderful wildlife habitats of the west of Ireland. She and her students have worked on over-grazing in the uplands, the flora of the Burren and how to protect it, the wetland grasslands of the Shannon callows and how to put right recent damaging changes, and turloughs which are fascinating temporary lakes nearly unique to the limestone of western Ireland. She has been on The Heritage Council, and has chaired its Wildlife Committee as well as numerous other appointments.
Micheline took an equality case against her employers, NUI Galway in 2009 which she won. The University had not promoted her from Junior Lecturer to Senior Lecturer for twenty-four years. In the promotion round of 2008/09, only one out of 17 successful candidates was a woman even though more than 52% of Junior Lecturers were women. Her win was the first by any female academic in Ireland or the UK proving gender discrimination in promotion. It resulted in extensive media coverage which was then doubled when she announced she was offering her €70,000 award to the five other women who were shortlisted and not promoted in that round so they could take High Court actions, as they were by then out of time to go to the Irish Equality Tribunal.
Ever since Micheline has been campaigning both for the five women and to highlight the atrocious promotion prospects for women in Irish Universities and colleges. One European report showed that only Malta was worse in Europe.
Micheline’s campaign has resulted in her university, NUI Galway, adopting a quota system for all future promotion rounds, mandatory numbers for women for all boards and committees and the creation of the new post of Vice President for Equality to ensure the changes are adopted. The Irish Higher Education Authority set up an inquiry and has now made future grant funding dependent on universities improving the promotion prospects for women. However the five other academic women who were not promoted in 2009 have still not been promoted by NUI Galway and Micheline continues to support their fight.
This short promotion video, made by Eddie Mularkey who will be filming the tour, was for a recent demo at the Irish High Court in Dublin. It includes footage from a benefit concert the campaign organised in Galway, the interrogation of NUI Galway president by the government Public Accounts Committee based on info from Micheline’s campaign, television news footage about her original win, plus a fabulous diatribe against the university by Tommy Tiernan, a famous Irish comic. Check it out!
Dr Joanna McMinn
A previous CEO of the National Women's Council of Ireland, Joanna is helping organise the tour, with logistics and research; traveling with the film crew as a producer, sound recording, and doing all of this for expenses only.
Eddie Mullarkey started out writing, directing and acting in plays at NUIG Dramsoc and went on to do an MA in Acting with Contemporary and Classical Text at The Royal Conservatoire of Scotland. Presently he works with Ishkafilms as a producer and writer.
Eddie made the excellent promotion videos for the campaign such as the one above. He will be both cameraman and director for the US filming, and working with an independent production company to complete the documentary on our return to Ireland.
What the money will be used for
We are seeking funding to pay for the two of us to fly to the US for two key parts of Micheline’s tour. Micheline’s arrival in New York by boat, and the first part of the tour, which includes New York, Boston, Harvard, Ellis Island, Carnegie Hall, the railway station where the British agents tried to abduct Hanna, and other important lectures and events. Then later we will film in Chicago, where Micheline will be a star turn in a large Irish American festival, and the Mid West including Butte, Montana. The money will pay for transatlantic flights, car hire, accommodation in Air B&B and other expenses. In addition we will hire local camera and sound people to supplement Eddie for important events where two angles are needed, and for other parts of the tour where the expense of us flying out to the US is not justified, such as Micheline’s visit to San Francisco.
What next with the documentary
Once this fund raising is under way we will be working with an independent film company on an application for funding from the state broadcaster RTE to help produce a documentary which they will have the right to broadcast. This will pay for filming about Hanna in Ireland, on Micheline’s return, and the editing.
Finding out more
Micheline’s tour has its own Facebook page Hannas Us Tour which will have updates on the preparations and then from the tour.
Micheline is on twitter and will tweet from the US throughout her tour Twitter
The campaign Micheline's Three Conditions has an excellent web page run by supporters.