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Women’s day of action raises anti-conscription temperature
Anti-conscription handbill produced by Cumann na mBan advertising a rally to be held in Dublin on St. Colmcille's Day, 9 June 1918. Photo: National Library of Ireland, EPH C32

Women’s day of action raises anti-conscription temperature

Dublin, 10 June 1918 - Heavy rainfall failed to dampen the enthusiasm of thousands of women who turned out in protest against conscription across the country yesterday.

In Dublin city and suburbs alone, an estimated 40,000 women participated in signing a pledge not to fill the workplaces of men let go from their employment for refusing compulsory military service.

The vestibule of City Hall was the main signing centre for the city itself and here almost 15,000 signatures were collected, the first three hours being devoted to the members of various women’s societies.

Left: women signing the pledge not to take conscripted men's jobs (Image: Freeman's Journal, 10 June 1918). Right: women marching against conscription (Image: Cork Examiner, 12 June 1918)

There were 700 members of Cumann na mBan and 1,400 Irish tailoresses, but the largest number from any single group to sign the pledge came from the Irish Women Workers Union (IWWU), who marched from Denmark House to City Hall headed by Louie Bennett.

In all, about 2,400 members of the IWWU signed, including a large number of protestant labour women.

Praying protestants
These protestant anti-conscription women met at Christchurch Cathedral at 10am to start the day with silent prayer and had written to the Dean to request that the cathedral be opened early to facilitate them. No reply was received.

On arrival they found the cathedral locked and they were required to conduct their prayer service outside in the pouring rain. Between 60 and 70 women were locked out, among them well known public figures like Alice Stopford Green, Alice Milligan, Nelly O’Brien, Susan Mitchell and Sarah Cecelia Harrison.

Excerpts from the Inspector General's report on Ireland in June 1918. Reference is made to the ongoing anti-conscription crisis and the growing strength of the labour movement. (Images: National Archives UK, CO 904 106)

Around the country
The impressive scenes in Dublin were replicated in towns and villages throughout Ireland.

In Limerick, where the protests were predominantly religious in nature, a shrine was erected in St John’s Square. The Dominican Fathers permitted the removal of their Virgin and Child statue from St Saviour’s Church to be temporarily placed at the shrine.

In Tipperary, there was also a religious dimension with up to 3,000 women and young girls, accompanied by the local clergy and Kickham band marching from St Michael's Church through the town to the grotto of Our Lady of Mercy in the Convent of Mercy grounds.

And in Waterford, 1,500 women were reported to have marched through the city’s principal thoroughfares behind a banner inscribed with the message ‘The women of Waterford will not have conscription’.

In Arklow, Co. Wicklow, 1,200 women paraded. A similar number assembled on the Callan Road in Kilkenny. 600 paraded in Ballinasloe, Co. Mayo where 800 signed the pledge. 700 women paraded in Athlone behind a ‘God Save Ireland from Conscription’ banner.

There was a strong turnout in Strabane, Co. Tyrone where 2,000 women carrying flowers paraded to the local church, where they decorated the statue of the Blessed Virgin in the church grounds. A similar number protested in Cootehill, Co. Cavan.

Reporting on this ‘splendidly organised’ nationwide day of protest the Irish Independent is convinced that it ‘cannot fail to have due effect’.

[Editor's note: This is an article from Century Ireland, a fortnightly online newspaper, written from the perspective of a journalist 100 years ago, based on news reports of the time.]

RTÉ

Century Ireland

The Century Ireland project is an online historical newspaper that tells the story of the events of Irish life a century ago.