Johanna Mary (Hanna) Sheehy-Skeffington, (née Johanna Mary Sheehy) (24 May 1877 – 20 April 1946) was a suffragette and Irish nationalist. Along with her husband and Margaret Cousins and James Cousins she founded the Irish Women’s Franchise League in 1908 with the aim of obtaining women’s voting rights. She was later a founding member of the Irish Women’s Workers’ Union.
Hanna Sheehy was born in Kanturk, County Cork, Ireland, the eldest daughter of David Sheehy, an ex-Fenian and Irish Parliamentary Party Westminster MP, who was also the brother of Father Eugene Sheehy (known as the “Land League priest”, whose activities landed him in prison) a priest who educated Éamon de Valera in Limerick, and Elizabeth McCoy. One of her sisters, Mary, married the writer and politician Thomas Kettle. Another sister, Kathleen, who married Frank O’Brien, was the mother of Conor Cruise O’Brien.
Hanna’s father was MP for South Galway and the family moved to Drumcondra, Dublin in 1887.
Sheehy was educated at Dominican Convent, Eccles Street where she was a prize-winning pupil. She then enrolled at St Mary’s University College, a third level college for women established by the Dominicans in 1893, to study modern languages (in her case, French and German). Women were not allowed to attend lectures at either University College Dublin or the University of Dublin. She sat her examinations at Royal University of Ireland (later University College, Dublin) where she received a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1899 and a Master of Arts Degree, with first-class honours in 1902. This led to a career as a teacher in Eccles Street and an examiner in the Intermediate Certificate examination.
Sheehy married in 1903, becoming Sheehy-Skeffington and in 1908 founded the Irish Women’s Franchise League, a group aiming for women’s voting rights. She lost her teaching job in 1913 when she was arrested and put in prison for three months after throwing stones at Dublin Castle. Whilst in jail she started a hunger strike but was released under the Prisoner’s Temporary Discharge of Ill Health Act and was soon rearrested. However, being free from her teaching job enabled her to devote more time to women’s suffrage activities. She was influenced by James Connolly and during the 1913 lock-out worked with other suffragists in Liberty Hall, providing food for the families of the strikers.
Hanna strongly opposed participation in the First World War that broke out in August 1914. She was prevented by the British government from attending the international women’s peace conference in The Hague in April 1915. The following June her husband, Francis Sheehy-Skeffington was imprisoned for anti-recruiting activities.
In 1916 Francis Sheehy-Skeffington was shot dead during the Easter Rising on the orders of a British army officer, Captain J C Bowen-Colthurst. Sheehy-Skeffington had had no involvement in the Rising and had in fact been arrested while trying to prevent looting in Dublin’s city centre. Bowen-Colthurst, following court martial in June 1916, was sent temporarily to a Canadian hospital after being adjudged insane, but he was released with a pension to settle in Canada.
Sheehy refused any kind of compensation for her husband’s death, and soon afterwards she travelled to the United States to publicise the political situation in Ireland. In October 1917 she was the sole Irish representative to League for Small and Subject Nationalities where, along with several other contributors, she was accused of pro-German sympathies. She published British Militarism as I Have Known It, which was banned in the United Kingdom until after the First World War. Upon her return to Britain she was once again imprisoned, this time in Holloway prison. After being released Sheehy attended the 1918 Irish Race Convention in New York City and later supported the anti-Treaty IRA during the Irish Civil War.
During the 1930’s she was assistant editor of An Phoblacht, a Sinn Féin newspaper. In January 1933 she was arrested in Newry for breaching an exclusion order banning her from Northern Ireland. At her trial she was defiant stating “I recognize no partition. I recognize it as no crime to be in my own country. I would be ashamed of my own name and my murdered husband’s name if I did . . . Long live the Republic!”, and was sentenced to one month’s imprisonment. Sheehy was also a founding member of the Irish Women’s Workers’ Union as well as an author whose works deeply opposed British imperialism in Ireland. Her son, Owen Sheehy-Skeffington became a politician and Irish Senator.
She died, aged 68, in Dublin and is buried there in Glasnevin Cemetery.
POSTED ON BEHALF OF : Derry Sceal
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