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Power, Gender, and ΙοÎμντπϕ in the Irish Free State Maryann Gialanella Valiulis In 1932, Eamon de Valera, leader of the Irish Free State, dehvered the eulogy on the death of Margaret Pearse, mother of the famed 1916 revolutionary leaders, Patrick and William. In it, he described the dominant Irish male pohtical behef of the period concerning the ideal Irish woman and began his eulogy by noting: But for the fame of her sons the noble woman at whose grave we are gathered would, perhaps, never have been heard of outside the narrow circle of her personal friends. Her modesty would have kept her out of the pubhc eye. Yet it was from her that... [her sons] learnt that ardent love for Ireland and for Gaelic culture and tradition that became the passion of their hves. It was from her that they inherited the strength of soul that made them resolute and unshrinking in the career they foresaw would end in death.1 De Valera then went on to say that Margaret Pearse must have known long in advance of her son Patrick's desire for martyrdom and must have: suffered in advance the sorrow of his death. When the time of parting came she too was prepared. This loving and tender woman resisted the promptings of her mother's heart; she did not seek to hold her sons back. She bade them go... she bore bravely the sorrow of their death. As she once said, she knew that her boys had done right and that she too had done right in giving them for their country.2 After the death of her sons, Margaret Pearse, de Valera commented approvingly, saw her role as being "to hold what they upheld." She fulfiUed this role, he claimed, not with bitterness and complaint but rather with courage, charity, and cheerfulness.3 Here was the ideal Irish woman. She was first and foremost a mother who inculcated in her chüdren, her sons in particular, a love of country, of Gaelic culture and fradition, of freedom for Ireland. This was the Irish version of Republican Motherhood which surfaced after both the American Revolution and the French Revolution: women's role was to produce and educate sons in the nationalist fradition to be good and virtuous citizens of the new state.4 But de Valera goes beyond this image, delineating the particular self-sacrificing attributes that make up the Irish Republican Mother, like Mary who understood that her son Jesus must die, so too did Margaret Pearse understand that her sons must die, putting the good of the nation above her own motherly desires. Indeed, de Valera © 1995 Journal of Women-s History, Vol 6 No. 4/Vol 7 No. ι (Winter/Spring) 118 Journal of Women's History Winter/Spring paints the picture of the Irish Pieta, the noble suffering mother holding the dead son—in this case two dead sons.5 De Valera's ideal woman was also passive. She has no work of her own to do but rather fulfUls the wishes of her sons or husband or brothers.6 She performs her role in pubhc, not with an agenda of her own but rather as a living vessel through which the dead may speak. AU of this bespeaks an air of self-effacement, of meekness, of indirectness. What it lacks is passion, vitality, independence, and assertiveness . What it does not incorporate is a pubhc identity for women. De Valera's aUusion to the Virgin Mary was important and revealing. In constructing the ideal Irish woman, politicians received the enthusiastic support of the Cathohc Church. Ecclesiastical leaders legitimated and sanctioned both the limited vision of women's role in the state as weU as the restrictive legislation which politicians proffered. The prelates agreed that women should be denied access to the pubhc arena. This idealized picture also represented a consensus among pohtical leaders which reached across the nationalist divide separating the two major pohtical parties, Cumann na nGaedheal and Fianna FaU.7 For example , in 1925 the Cosgrave government restricted women's access to the upper levels of the civü service. In 1935 the de Valera government enacted legislation which gave it the power...


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