Sheehy-Skeffington imprisoned for assaulting policeman at Unionist meeting in Dublin
Hanna Sheehy Skeffington, pictured in The Irish Citizen in 1913

Sheehy-Skeffington imprisoned for assaulting policeman at Unionist meeting in Dublin

Alleged attack took place as as Bonar Law and Carson emerge from meeting on St. Stephen’s Green

Published: 28 November 1913

The suffragist campaigner, Hanna Sheehy-Skeffington has today been imprisoned on a charge of striking a policeman during a protest organised to coincide with the appearance at a Unionist gathering in Dublin of Conservative Party leader, Mr. Andrew Bonar Law.

The Irish Citizen newspaper had recently called for a campaign of pressure to be applied to Mr. Bonar Law to make clear his position, and that of his party, on the question of votes for women, especially in light of a recent unfavourable decision by unionist associations with which he is aligned.

Mr Bonar Law's refusal to be drawn on the issue of votes for women was the reason for Mrs Sheehy-Skeffinton's presence outside Lord Iveagh's house. This picture of him was drawn by Sir Francis Carruthers Gould. (Image: © National Portrait Gallery, London)

The refusal of Mr Bonar Law to meet with any delegations while in Dublin did nothing to deter local suffragette campaigners. Two Dublin suffragettes societies - the Irish Women’s Franchise League and the Irishwomen’s Reform League - organised for the distribution of handbills bearing detailed ‘Questions for Mr Bonar Law’ at a small number of targeted locations: outside Lord Iveagh’s house (where Mr Bonar Law and Sir Edward Carson were staying as guests), outside the Conservative Club, where they lunched, and outside their meeting at the Theatre Royal.

The incident involving Mrs Sheehy-Skeffington and the policeman occurred outside Lord Iveagh’s House on St. Stephen’s Green. As Mr. Bonar Law and Sir Edward Carson emerged to pose for photographs, one of the protestors, Mrs Connery, rushed forward to thrust leaflets in his direction. Mrs Connery was stopped by a policeman and as she was being removed, though not arrested, Mrs Sheehy-Skeffington  approached from another side when, according to The Irish Citizen, she was seized ‘with great violence’ by a Sergeant Thomas, who twisted her arms. Mrs Sheehy-Skeffington broke free of his clutch but was later arrested and charged with assaulting him.

Cartoon from The Irish Citizen, 30 August 1913. It deals with the treatment of suffragist campaigners in prison. The text on the sword states, 'Cat and Mouse Persecution', while the caption reads: 'That weapon always wounds the hand that wields it.'

Within hours, Mrs Sheehy-Skeffington was brought before the police court where, in front of Mr Swifte, she was charged with assaulting Sergeant Thomas. The policeman swore that the defendant had ran at him and struck him on the chest with her elbow, adding that she had punched him several times on the arm. 'I feel the pain still', he remarked some three hours after the incident occurred. This part of the Sergeant’s testimony elicited laughter in the court-room, where the contrast in size between Mrs Sheehy-Skeffington and the ‘gigantic’ sergeant was all too apparent. The Irish Citizen reported that the constable who accompanied the sergeant and who corroborated his evidence did so with a ‘marvellous identity of phraseology’.

Throughout the court proceedings, Mrs Sheehy-Skeffington pressed, in vain, for the counter-charge to be heard and for the opportunity to take to the witness box herself.

Mr Swifte held that the assault on the sergeant had been committed, and ordered Mrs Sheehy-Skeffington to find bail to be of good behaviour, or go to jail for seven days. She chose the latter and as a further protest against her conviction announced her intention to go on hunger-strike.

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