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Marking the Centenary of Women's Suffrage at the National Museum of Ireland in 2018

The National Museum of Ireland outline a programme of events and initiatives that will commemorate the centenary of women’s suffrage and universal suffrage in 2018. 

Figure 1 - The 'Votes for Women' badge Francis Sheehy-Skeffington was wearing when he was shot in 1916. HE:EWL.336.2

2018 marks the 100th anniversary of The Representation of the People Act, which enfranchised women over thirty who were ‘householders, the wives of householders, were possessed of a £5 occupation qualification or were graduates’.1. To commemorate this and other events relating to women’s suffrage as well as the impact of the First World War on women’s role in Irish society, the National Museum of Ireland (NMI), in partnership with various groups and organisations, proposes a programme of events and initiatives that will commemorate the centenary of women’s suffrage and universal suffrage in 2018.

The programme will engage with diverse communities from local areas, from around the country and from different parts of the world. The programme will run throughout 2018 and will encourage people to participate and engage in a variety of events and projects, the majority of which will be free of charge.

The National Museum has a wealth of material culture related to themes which relate to women’s suffrage and which will be investigated and reflected on through the public programme. The programme will involve the NMI connecting with communities in a meaningful and dynamic way, using the arts as a means of exploring and interrogating the programme themes.

Programme Themes

While the programme marks in particular women’s suffrage in 1918, it will explore the wider themes of women’s identity and citizenship, the changing role of women over 1000 years in Ireland and the role of women in society today.

The Significance of the NMI Collections

The National Museum of Ireland’s collections encompass a broad range of disciplines, including archaeology, decorative and applied arts, history, ethnography, folklife and natural history.  Together, these are the most extensive, valuable and complex multidisciplinary collections in the State. They hold a unique place in the national consciousness and have local, national and international significance. Many objects are associated with particular places, persons or historical events in Ireland, they are objects with which individuals and local communities have formed a special bond and a sense of ownership. In addition to objects of Irish origin, NMI is also an important repository of global heritage with significant collections of material representing world cultures.

The objects from the NMI collections are a source of inspiration for the public programme given the rich tapestry of stories behind these objects.

The four Museums involved in the programme are the Museum of Archaeology, Kildare Street; Museum of Decorative Arts and History, Collins Barracks; Museum of Natural History, Merrion Street and the Museum of Country Life in Mayo. 

National Museum of Ireland in collaboration with the Houses of the Oireachtas

The National Museum of Ireland welcomes the opportunity to work with the Houses of the Oireachtas  on organising three special events during this historic year. 

We propose that these events will take place in May, September and November 2018. They will be inspired by the NMI collections, in particular, the objects proposed for inclusion in the Houses of the Oireachtas exhibition to mark the centenary of women’s suffrage.

Please contact bookings@museum.ie for further details about these events.

General Overview of the National Museum of Ireland’s Public Programme for 2018 related to Women’s Suffrage and the Role of Women in History

Exhibition of artefacts, images and ephemera celebrating the work of the suffragette movement - Houses of the Oireachtas in partnership with the National Museum of Ireland.

June 2018 – September 2018: In partnership with the National Museum of Ireland, the Houses of the Oireachtas will play host to an exhibition of artefacts, images and ephemera celebrating the work of the suffragette movement, the importance of the Representation of the People Act 1918 and the impact that this has had on modern society. This exhibition will feature, among many other exhibits, the original banner used by the Irish Women’s Franchise League. 

Artist in Residence Project: Róisín de Buitléar 

Join Róisín de Buitléar, artist, educator and collaborator, as she explores the National Museum of Ireland as Artist in Residence in 2018. Róisín will be developing ideas, experimenting and producing new work from her studio in the National Museum for Decorative Arts and History, Collins Barracks, Dublin. View the museum’s collection for a 12 -month period through her unique prism and passion for Irish culture, craft, artistry and heritage. Discover more through her outreach and in-house projects. Listen in on her exchanges with artists, museum personnel, and visitors of the museum. Have your say, as she connects with wider audiences via social media, museum networks, residents, local artists and amongst students.

The Museum has engaged artist and educator Róisín de Buitléar as Artist in Residence throughout 2018. Based at Collins Barracks and at the Museum of Country Life in Mayo, Róisín will be developing ideas, experimenting and producing new work from her on-site studio. Róisín will engage with Museum audiences in a range of ways, through outreach, online social media and on-site through the Museum’s Public Engagement programmes. To coincide with the Residency, Róisín’s exhibition, Caution Fragile! Irish Glass – Tradition in Transition, opens on International Women’s Day, 8th March at Collins Barracks. Róisín will explore the theme of women in history in some of the events planned for the year as part of her residency. 

Culture Club

Museum of Decorative Arts & History, Collins Barracks (Last Friday of every month from Jan to Dec 2018) // Museum of Archaeology, Kildare Street (monthly from Sept to Dec 2018)

The Culture Club programme, organised in collaboration with Dublin City Council, invites participants, especially those from communities local to the Museums,  to explore and enjoy the collections through a series of specially arranged guided tours and activities in the company of museum staff followed by ’Tea & Chat’ and an opportunity to mingle. The Clubs take place on the last Friday of each month. The Culture Club started at Collins Barracks and is now in its second year, while the Clubs at the Museum of Archaeology will start in mid-2018. A number of the events this year will focus on the role of women in history over 1000 years and will take inspiration from the collections.

Audience: Adult, Local communities

Guided Tours

Bonnets, Bandoliers and Ballot Papers Guided Tour for Schools - National Museum of Ireland - Decorative Arts & History, Collins Barracks

Figure 2 - Patrick Pearse and Elizabeth O’Farrell standing in front of British soldiers in 1916

Explore women’s roles at the start of the 20th century, through objects in Decorative Arts and History collections. See how life for women changed through significant period of Irish history including  1916 Rising, WW1, and the Representation of the People Act in 1918, which gave Irish women a vote in the general election leading to the first Dáil. This tour examines campaigns and protests of early 20th Century women through domestic life, war and rebellion. It takes in The Way We Wore: 250 Years of Irish Clothing and Jewellery and Proclaiming a Republic: The 1916 Rising. It also features objects related to women’s suffrage, such as the Votes for Women badge Francis Sheehy Skeffington was wearing at his death in Portobello Barracks

Audience: Adults, Families and Schools


Women in Medieval & Viking Ireland -National Museum of Ireland - Archaeology, Kildare Street, Saturday 3rd February (will be repeated each quarter)

To celebrate St. Brigid’s day, people are invited to learn about Medieval Ireland and what it was like for women living in the Middle Ages. Artefacts associated with women like the shrine of St. Brigid’s shoe will be included in the tour.

Audience: Adults and young people 12+

Online Resources

Irish Women and the Vote Online Resource - National Museum of Ireland - Decorative Arts & History, Collins Barracks

Florence Lea worked in an ammunition factory in Liffey Dockyard Munitions Factory during World War I

This online resource for schools is currently in development.  Linking with key curriculum links at Primary and Post Primary level the resource highlights how key artefacts and documents from the Museum’s collections can be used to explore the history of Irish women’s campaign for Universal Suffrage, which resulted in the Representation of the People Act in 1918. The wider history of the changing role of women in the 20th century will also be explored through a range of objects in the collections and on display at the Museum. 

Women in a Viking World: The Finglas Burial in Context -National Museum of Ireland - Archaeology, Kildare Street, International Women’s Day 8th March 1:00-1:45

Figure 3 - Gold ring brooch: 13th/14th century inscribed in Norman French ‘I am a gift of fine love' included on Women's Tours

To mark International Women's Day, archaeologist Maeve Sikora, Keeper of Irish Antiquities, will talk about a special female Viking burial in Finglas, Dublin. The Viking burial found at Finglas in 2004 was richly furnished and was the first discovered in Ireland for over 100 years. This lecture will explore how gender was expressed through grave-goods and the evidence for female burial among early Viking Age graves in the National Museum of Ireland’s collections.

Audience: Adults


Irish Women Antiquarians: Life and work of Margaret Stokes, Antiquarian and Artist - National Museum of Ireland - Archaeology, Kildare Street, Saturday 26th May & Saturday 15th September at 1pm

Figure 4 - Ardagh Chalice, one of the artefacts drawn and studied by Margaret Stokes

This tour will explore the life and work of Margaret McNair Stokes (1832-1900) one of the leading female antiquarians of the 19th century in Ireland. Margaret wrote extensively on the Early Christian Art of Ireland, producing pamphlets for what is now the Victoria and Albert Museum and delivering lectures to both the Royal Irish Academy and the Society of Antiquaries, London. Many of the iconic artefacts Margaret wrote about, such as the Ardagh Chalice, ‘Tara’ Brooch, St Patrick’s Bell Shrine, and Cross of Cong, are on display in the Museum of Archaeology. This tour will trace Margaret’s life and work through the artefacts she studied and drew.

Adults and young people ages 14+


Irish Women Antiquarians: ‘Enough Danger to make it a very exciting business’ - The Egyptian travels and antiquarian collection of Lady Harriet Kavanagh - National Museum of Ireland - Archaeology, Kildare Street. Thursday 11th October 6.00-6.45pm

Figure 5 - Faience figure of the goddess Isis brought back from Egypt by Harriet Kavanagh

Emmet Jackson, Archaeology Department, Exeter University and ASTENE Trustee will present some of the main Irish characters engaged in travel and antiquaries collecting in Egypt during the eighteenth and nineteenth century focusing specifically on the travels of Lady Harriet Kavanagh. Drawing upon newly transcribed family letters and diary entries along with sketches and paintings this paper will trace Lady Harriet’s journey from Alexandria to the third cataract. It will also examine the ancient Egyptian artefacts that Lady Harriet amassed through her stay, which now forms part of the Egyptian collection at the National Museum of Ireland and compare Harriet to contemporary female travellers.

Places must be booked in advance by contacting, educationarch@museum.ie

Women Scientists Present and Past: ‘She is Sustainable’ Conference - National Museum of Ireland - Natural History, Merrion Street. 1st February 2018

This is a day-long conference taking place on February 1st 2018. It is a conference for women who work in the environmental and sustainability sectors which will focus on career development, overcoming obstacles and working together to achieve a more sustainable Ireland. Attendees will hear from inspirational speakers, network with their peers and participate in workshops; all within the stunning surrounds of the National Museum of Ireland-Archaeology. Speakers will include: Dr Cara Augustenborg – Lecturer in Climate Change and the Environment and Chairperson of Friends of the Earth Europe, Laura Costello – Thinkhouse – the youth marketing agency, Vicky Brown – CEO of the Cool Planet Experience, Natalie Bagnall – Executive coach and mentor, Natalie Bagnall and Associates.

Audience: Scientists, Women, Science Communicators, Educators


Irish Women in Science: Maude and the Jellyfish - National Museum of Ireland - Natural History, Merrion Street. July and August. Time: 11am-1pm

Figure 6 - Summer events about Irish scientist Maud Delap at Museum of Natural History

What does a baby jellyfish look like and why was Irishwoman, Maude Delap, keeping them in her house over 100 years ago? To celebrate her pioneering scientific work, the public is invited to drop into the Discovery Zone at the Museum to learn more about Maude and her homemade aquarium. Audience: Age 8 + 


Making, designing, campaigning: Women’s worlds in 19th and 20th century Ireland as seen through the Museum of Decorative Arts & History - National Museum of Ireland - Decorative Arts & History, Collins Barracks. March – May 2018

In a collaboration with UCD, the Museum will host a four-week course for adults as part of UCD’s Life Long Learning programmes. The course will cover design and history and feature talks and handling sessions and tours with Museum educators Dr Edith Andrees and Holly Furlong; curators Rosa Meehan and Dr Jennifer Goff and artist and educator Róisín de Buitléar.

Audience: Adults, through the UCD Life Long Learning Programme


November Conference 2018 - National Museum of Ireland - Decorative Arts & History, Collins Barracks. 2nd & 3rd November 2018

Figure 7 - Photograph by Underwood & Underwood, New York, of Hanna Sheehy Skeffington

This conference aims to explore women’s roles in the first decades of the 20th century and how world events such as WW1 and national events such as the 1916 Rising, the War of Independence and the Civil War affected women and the legacy and significance of what happened then to contemporary life. Speakers will reflect the international as well as the national context, and focus on how material culture reflects these changes, particularly material held in the NMI collections. The full programme will be confirmed in the next few weeks.

Audience: Adults

Our Irish Women: Irish Community Archive Network (iCAN) Project - National Museum of Ireland - Country Life, Turlough Park, Co. Mayo


iCAN is unique. A community-based, digital cultural heritage project, it is delivered by the Museum in collaboration with local partners and community volunteers. The network plays an invaluable role in supporting local communities to collect, preserve and make accessible their local history and heritage. During 2018, 17 communities will collaborate on the Our Irish Women project by researching women of their local areas, curating their stories on their archive websites, and concluding with a display in The Courtyard Gallery @ Bramble’s Café in the autumn.

In partnership with County Galway Heritage Office

Audience: Adult, Community


The Mighty Women of Mayo - National Museum of Ireland - Country Life, Turlough Park, Co. Mayo. April - December

Figure 8 - The Mighty Women of Mayo - Emily Mc Manus

The dynamic Mayo Genealogy Group (MGG) meets the second Saturday each month to help Museum visitors start their own genealogy journey.  Following on from the successful 101 Mayo People project on www.ouririshheritage.org, a new initiative will feature the stories of a wide variety of women with a Mayo connection, during a regular slot on Castlebar Community Radio.  MGG are searching for new information on previously unknown or unacknowledged women. If you have any information or suggestions email mayogenealogygroup@gmail.com                                          

Audience: CRCfm listenership; General Public; local historians; communities; adults


National Theatre and Museum of Country Life – In Collaboration. National Museum of Ireland - Country Life, Turlough Park, Co. Mayo. September 2018 to March 2019

This intergenerational project is in the early stages of development and will focus the use of

drama and theatre as tools to explore links between the National Theatre’s repertoire and the objects in the Folklife collection at the Museum of Country Life.

Audience:  Schools and community groups in the local area

Electric Irish Homes Textile Art Project - National Museum of Ireland - Country Life, Turlough Park, Co. Mayo. May 2018-May 2019

Figure 9 - Copyright ESB Archive

In 2019, a new Electric Irish Homes exhibition will explore the huge impact of rural electrification on Irish housewives and their homes during the 1950s and 1960s. Launching during Bealtaine this year, the Electric Irish Homes Textile Art Project is an artist-led initiative in which a group of older women explore and respond to the exhibition’s themes.

In partnership with Dr Sorcha O’Brien, Kingston University, and Age & Opportunity, and funded by the Arts & Humanities Research Council, UK. Adults, community groups. 


The People In Your Neighbourhood - National Museum of Ireland - Decorative Arts & History, Collins Barracks. October 2017 to April 2018

This community project examines how women’s roles and place in society have changed in the local area over a century. Final showcase of the work involving artists and the Museum will culminate in a performance at the end of April 2018. This project is being undertaken in collaboration with Dublin City Council Dublin Culture Connects Programme.

Audiences: Adults, local community groups. Autumn.

Handling Collections

Expanding the handling collections

National Museum of Ireland - Decorative Arts & History, Collins Barracks

National Museum of Ireland - Natural History, Merrion Street

National Museum of Ireland - Archaeology, Kildare Street

National Museum of Ireland - Country Life, Turlough Park, Co. Mayo

Across all Museum sites, the collections of handling objects for use in learning and engagement programmes will be developed to increase the representation of women across a wide range of time periods, disciplines and themes. For example, the Museum of Archaeology are sourcing material relating to women in the later medieval period to complement the material relating to Viking medieval history through oval brooches and female Viking dress.

1.  LUDDY, M., Women and Politics in Ireland, 1860-1918 In: M. Luddy, ed. The Field Day Anthology of Irish Writing, Vol. V New York: New York University Press