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“GHOSTS AND REALITIES”:1 FEMALE TDs AND THE TREATY DEBATE JASON KNIRCK The tradition of all the dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brain of the living. —Karl Marx, The 18th Brumaire of Louis Napoleon more than a year after the Anglo-Irish Treaty debates, Free State President William T. Cosgrave sarcastically relayed the story of an Irishman who “went to confession and confessed that he had stolen a goat and the penance he got was to read the Dáil speeches on the treaty debates seven times.”2 As this quip illustrates, the Dáil debates on the Anglo-Irish Treaty seemed tedious and exhaustive, filled with lengthy speech-making, procedural wrangling, and personal invective. Yet the debates cast a long shadow over Irish history and established the contours of Irish politics for decades to follow. Their effect on Irish politics is well known; what is less familiar is how the debates shed light on the intersection of politics and gender in Irish history. The deliberations over the Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1921 turned on many issues, but none aroused such emotion as the duties owed by Ireland’s current representatives to their martyred forebears. This oft-invoked specter of the dead hung over the entire proceeding, as memories of long years of struggle and sacrifice bubbled constantly to the surface. And it was this issue that allowed the six female deputies in the Second Dáil—four of whom were related to recently martyred Irish patriots—to leave an enduring mark on Irish political life. These Republican women traded heavFEMALE TDs AND THE TREATY DEBATE 170 1 The title is from a quote by Desmond Ryan, who called the Treaty debates a “long wrestle between ghosts and realities with all the stored-up spleens of five years flaming through the rhetoric.” 2 Dáil Éireann, Díosbóireachtaí parlaiminte: Tuairisg oifigiúil (Parliamentary Debates: Official Reports) (Dublin: Stationery Office, 1922–), 2: 2162. All volumes of the Free State Dáil debates will hereafter be cited as PD. ily on the legacies of the dead throughout the debates, seeking to boost their own political authority and legitimacy by linking themselves with martyred Irish patriots and at times, it seemed, becoming virtual surrogates for the dead, speaking in the name and with the words of fallen Irish heroes . This reliance on the dead may have given the female TDs an entrypoint into the traditional symbols and images of Irish politics, but it also opened them up to a barrage of criticism. First, this reliance on the dead was attacked as overly emotional, a suitable example of Republicanism’s descent into irrationality. In addition, the women were seen by protreatyites as emblematic of the Republicans’ betrayal of democratic values: the women’s “emotional” and “irrational” references to their dead comrades demonstrated a callous disregard for the living Irish people. At the heart of this dispute was a confusion of constituencies, which was perhaps inevitable in a country with little democratic tradition. The female deputies, at least in the eyes of Free Staters, may have followed their consciences and kept faith with the deceased, but in so doing they had grossly betrayed the interests and desires of their electoral constituents, the majority of whom were in favor of the treaty. All six women elected to the Second Dáil—Mary MacSwiney, Countess Constance Markievicz, Margaret Pearse, Kate O’Callaghan, Dr. Ada English , and Kathleen Clarke—stood firmly in the Republican camp. On the surface, these women had little in common, encompassing different social, economic, and geographic backgrounds. However, several were linked through ties of blood and marriage with prominent Irish nationalist martyrs . Margaret Pearse’s sons Patrick and Willie, along with Kathleen Clarke’s husband Tom, were executed after the 1916 Rising. Terence MacSwiney , Mary’s brother, died on hunger strike in a British jail in 1920. Kate O’Callaghan’s husband Michael, the Lord Mayor of Limerick, had been murdered in his home by a group of marauding Black and Tans. Of the female Dáil members, only Dr. Ada English and Countess Markievicz had not lost any relatives during the long struggle for independence, although the Countess’ close...


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