“It took four hundred policemen to take four women” - Rosie Hackett
The formation of the Republic of Ireland as an independent country is a long story and though many cite the Easter Rising of 1916 as it's birth, it was not until thirty three years later that the country was legally recognized as its own Republic. Indeed the struggle for independence began centuries before the Easter Rising, as the people of the island tried time and again to be free of colonial oppression.
One aspect of the Irish struggle for independence that rarely receives enough mention in the history books is the role Irish women played in this struggle, and not just within the home but also in demonstrations, activism, unionization and, when all other avenues failed, radical militant action. The Easter Rising was carried forward on the brave actions of not just Ireland's men, but its women also.
One warrior of the rising was Rosie Hackett, a long time activist and advocate for women's rights. At the early age of eighteen she orchestrated a labour walk out from the Jacob's biscuit plant where she worked. Three thousand Women downed tools that day and won themselves an improvement in their working conditions. This early activism led her to become a founding member of the Irish Women Workers Union.
Yet the Dublin Lockout in 1913 did a lot to push back against the formation and growth of unions. Many people found themselves out of work from 26 August 1913 to 18 January 1914, and faced a very tough winter during what is often viewed as the most severe industrial dispute in Irish history. During this time Rosie marshalled all the support she could for the workers including setting up a soup kitchen in Dublin's Liberty Hall.
Yet it was no more than three year later that the Irish people took direct military action in what is known as the Easter Rising of 1916. Here we again find Rosie as, along with Constance Markievicz' forces, she occupied Stephens Green and the Royal College of Surgeons, denying the British forces this key strategic location at the top of Grafton Street. With her experience in printing she was among the group that printed the first 1916 Proclamation and came to hand it to James Connolly one of the leaders of the Rising. For all of her work she still faced sexism as she recalled how the men with Connolly complained that a woman had been let into the room. At the end of the Rising she was taken and imprisoned in Kilmainham jail, but was freed with the initial general release. Many of the leaders of the uprising, including James Connolly were executed by firing squad and others never left the jail alive.
Rosie never forgot the experiences she had gone through, but also did not let it dull her passion for independence. On the anniversary of the Rising in 1917, Rosie along with Helena Maloney, Jinny Shanahan and Brigid Davis barricaded themselves in Liberty Hall so that they could display a poster which read; ‘James Connolly, Murdered May 12th, 1916’. The combined might of the police was mobilised to try remove the women but it took many hours before they could breach the barricade. The poster remained on display until six in the evening so that the people would not forget the importance of those who fought for their freedom.
It was Rosie Hackett herself who bragged that "it took four hundred policemen to take four women."
The Republic of Ireland owes a lot to its women heroes for their deeds, their passion and their resilience.