Wed, Jun

From Ireland: Dr Micheline Sheehy Skeffington Irish Activist


'Hanna and Me' takes on 100 years of Ireland-US connection

Irish activist re-creating grandmother's 1917 tour to speak in Chicago about film
(Pictured above) Dr. Micheline Sheehy Skeffington photo byo Joe O'Shaughnessy

During Easter Week 1916, Irish pacifist Francis Sheehy Skeffington was shot without trial by British firing squad. A year later, his widow, Hanna, escaped to the United States under a false passport, giving speeches across the country exposing the truth about her husband's death and Ireland's fight for independence. This year – 100 years later – their granddaughter is bringing the historic tour back to life, shining new light on past and current struggles for justice in Ireland.

Beginning in September, activist Dr. Micheline Sheehy Skeffington, granddaughter of Francis and Hanna, will commemorate the courage of her grandparents with her own US tour and speeches that will document the role her grandmother played in developing Ireland as a nation as well as her own battles for gender equality in today's Ireland. Micheline is scheduled to speak at iBAM! Chicago in late October. Exact dates will be announced Here

It's a fascinating piece of history that deserves to be honored and a remarkable story that deserves to be told. Parts of Micheline’s US tour will be filmed as part of a documentary about the story of the two journeys. "Hanna and Me: Passing on the Flame" will be a thought-provoking film about fighting for human rights from 1917 to 2017 through the lives of one family in Ireland and the support of Irish-Americans. An online fund-raising drive has been started Here to allow a film crew of two to travel with Micheline for two separate weeks.

Hanna Sheehy Skeffington with her son, Owen (Micheline's father)

“Both my grandparents were prominent feminists and Hanna is well known in Ireland for her suffrage activities, but her political career and her contribution to the Irish struggle for independence are largely forgotten, possibly in part because she was a woman. She was to be sidelined by the Sinn Féin political party on her return to Ireland, as were most women," said Micheline, a plant ecologist who recently took early retirement from the National University of Ireland, Galway (NUIG). "This is why I want to give as much publicity as I can to her epic journey 100 years ago.”

Just as her grandmother did, Micheline will travel by ship to New York, sailing from Britain on August 31st. She will locate Hanna and her 7-year-old son Owen’s (Micheline's father) false names registered at Ellis Island and visit the archive section of Carnegie Hall, where Hanna gave her first speech to a full Hall on January 6th, 1917. She will then visit and speak in other larger cities that Hanna spoke in, including Boston, Chicago, St. Louis, Seattle and San Francisco, as well as smaller cities, such as Butte, Montana, where Hanna was given huge hospitality and residents there still have a collective memory of her visit. 

Frank and Hanna Sheehy Skeffington on their wedding day. (It was unusual for a woman to be educated so wearing a graduation gown was significant and a sign of pride. Frank wore his in solidarity. They also joined their names together as a symbol of equality. Thus, Frank Skeffington and Hanna Sheehy became Frank and Hanna Sheehy Skeffington. (NOT hyphenated)

Micheline is well known in Ireland for her own stand against authority, having won a landmark gender discrimination case in 2014 against her former employer, for lack of promotion. She subsequently donated her €70,000 award to five other women who are currently embattled in similar gender discrimination cases against the university. 
“My grandparents inspired me to take the case," said Micheline. "It is their legacy and the knowledge that Hanna went to jail and was on hunger strike in the fight for women’s right to vote that kept me going through the twists and turns of my five-year case."

During Hanna's 18-month tour, she gave around 250 speeches in 21 states and filled venues such as 8,000-capacity Dreamland Auditorium in San Francisco in addition to Carnegie Hall. She was the only Irish representative to meet President Woodrow Wilson to argue Ireland’s case for Independence. The British did all they could to silence her during her trip and even tried to abduct her to Canada. On her return to Ireland, Hanna was arrested and imprisoned by the British government.

John Devoy, head of the Friends of Irish Freedom in the United States, which funded and supported most of Hanna's tour, wrote in the Gaelic American that “Mrs. Skeffington has done more real good to the cause of Ireland during her short stay in America than all the Irish orators and writers...[over] the past twenty-five years.”

Micheline, who spoke at two official events in Ireland last year commemorating the centenary of her grandfather's death, will speak to Irish-American and feminist groups about her grandparents, using illustrations from family archives and tracing the development of their thinking through their family experiences and education. As well as ardent feminists, Frank, as he was known, and Hanna were highly principled regarding nationalism and pacifism, both being jailed for their political activism.

Micheline will connect her grandparents' struggles for justice to her own fight for equality, which is ongoing. NUIG has the lowest promotion rate of women to senior positions of all the universities in Ireland – and Irish universities have the second-worst promotion rate of women in all of Europe. Only Malta has a poorer record of promoting women and it has only one university.

Micheline will arrive in Brooklyn on the RMS Queen Mary 2  at 7am on Sept. 7 and will visit Carnegie Hall on Sept. 8. From there, she will travel to Connecticut; Boston;  Albany, N.Y.; St. Louis; Chicago; Butte, Mont.; Milwaukee; Seattle; and San Francisco. She will also be keynote speaker for the American Conference for Irish Studies (ACIS) in Bangor, Maine, and a branch of the World Affairs Council (SECWAC).

Micheline Sheehy Skeffington is available to speak to Irish-American and human rights organizations as well as to associations and groups with an interest in history and women's rights. For more information or to book Micheline as a speaker, please contact Rose Foley, press assistant, at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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Follow Micheline on Twitter at @MichelineShSk.