Women in Ireland (Connolly, 1915)

1.250-77. James Connolly, The Re-Conquest of Ireland, (Dublin: Published at Liberty Hall and Printed by Trade Union Labour on Irish Paper, 1915), pp. 37, 38, 40-41. BL X.709.52044

Extracts from James Connolly, The Re-Conquest of Ireland (1915), on the position of women in Ireland.

In these extracts from the sixth chapter of his book, ‘Woman’, Connolly discusses the traditional position of women in Irish society, a position he sees as having gone from bad to worse through industrialisation. He ends with the hope that, in the Irish state to come, the drudgery and “starvation of the intellect” traditionally the lot of Irish women will be remedied by those women themselves:

¶¶The recent dispute in Dublin also brought out in a very striking manner the terrible nature of the conditions under which women and girls labour in the capital city . . . Consideration of such facts inevitably leads to reflection on the whole position of women in modern Ireland. . . . The awakening amongst women of a realisation of the fact that modern society was founded upon force and injustice, that the highest honours of society have no relations to the merits of the recipients and that acute human sympathies were rather hindrances than helps in the world, was a phenomenon due to the spread of industrialism and to the merciless struggle for existence which it imposes.
¶¶Upon woman, as the weaker physical vessel, and as the most untrained recruit, that struggle was inevitably the most cruel; it is a matter for deep thankfulness that the more intellectual women broke out into revolt against the anomaly of being compelled to bear all the worst burdens of the struggle, and yet be denied even the few political rights enjoyed by the male portion of their fellow-sufferers.

¶¶The worker is the slave of capitalist society, the female worker is the slave of that slave. In Ireland that female worker has hitherto exhibited in her martyrdom an almost damnable patience. She has toiled on the farms from her earliest childhood, attaining usually to the age of ripe womanhood without ever being vouchsafed the right to claim as her own a single penny of the money earned by her labour, and knowing that all her toil and privation would not earn her that right to the farm which would go without question to the most worthless member of the family if that member chanced to be the eldest son.

¶¶Just as the present system in Ireland has made cheap slaves or untrained emigrants of the flower of our peasant women, so it has darkened the lives and starved the intellect of the female operatives in mills, shops and factories. Wherever there is a great demand for female labour, as in Belfast, we find that the woman tends to become the chief support of the house. Driven out to work at the earliest possible age she remains fettered to her wage-earning — a slave for life. Marriage does not mean for her a rest from outside labour, it usually means that to the outside labour she has added the duty of a double domestic toil. Throughout her life she remains a wage-earner; completing each day’s work she becomes the slave of the domestic needs of her family and when at night she drops wearied upon her bed it is with the knowledge that at the earliest morn she must find her way again into the service of the capitalist, and at the end of that coming day’s service for him hasten homeward again for another round of domestic drudgery. So her whole life runs — a dreary pilgrimage from one drudgery to another; the coming of children but serving as milestones in her journey to signalise fresh increases to her burdens. Overworked, underpaid, and scantily nourished because underpaid, she falls easy prey to all the diseases that infect the badly-constructed “warrens of the poor.” Her life is darkened from the outset by poverty and the drudgery to which poverty is born, and the starvation of the intellect follows as an inevitable result upon the too early drudgery of the body.
¶¶Of what use to such sufferers can be the re-establishment of any form of Irish state if it does not embody the emancipation of womanhood. . . . None so fitted to break the chains as they who wear them, none so well equipped to decide what is a fetter. In its march towards freedom the working class of Ireland must cheer on the efforts of those women who feeling on their souls and bodies the fetters of the ages have arisen to strike them off, and cheer all the louder if in its hatred of thraldom and passion for freedom the women’s army forges ahead of the militant army of Labour.
¶¶But whosoever carries the outworks of the citadel of oppression the working class alone can raze it to the ground.