Liberty of the Nation
April 2, 1914 — Inaugural speech, first meeting of the Cumann na mBan, Wynns Hotel, Dublin, Ireland
We have called this meeting of Irishwomen to meet the present national crisis, and to take measures for the liberty of the nation. We have here women of various opinions in national life, but they are ready, we believe, to merge their divergent views in fact of the common danger…
We may be told that it is not the business of women to interfere. Is anyone so stupid as not to se that the liberty or the enslavement of the nation affects every home and every individual, man and woman and child in the country?
Are the women to stand idly by whilst the dearest and most sacred tings in life are at stake? Is the independent of the men of Ireland of no consequence to those who share their hearts and homes? If it is not our busines then, in the name of Heaven, whose business is it?
Is not the liberty of the children of Ireland the life-blood of the nation, at stake? Is not our own liberty — the liberty of the women of Ireland — wrapped up with the common liberty of the nation? Is not the interest of the men of this country our interest? With them we stand or fall . . .
Recent events following rapidly on each other show us clearly that the time has come for the Irishwomen to back up by every legitimate means the efforts of their countrymen. . . .
We have, therefore, come here today to declare for the integrity of the nation, and for its inalienable right to self-government. We have come here to pledge ourselves to advance in every way in our power the liberty of Ireland. We offer our homage o the integrity and patriotism of the men who have given up the best years of their life to the fight initiated by Moore and Butt and Parnell; e offer o homage to the men who on Irish soil are forming the nucleus of a great Volunteer force for purposes of national defence and to back up and add the crowning triumph to the work of our representatives . . . What can we women do to help, or must we allow our liberties and our future to be bartered to the Imperial interest of the moment? Our Provisional Committee in framing the rules of the Cumann na mBan or Irishwomen’s Council, have outlined a scheme of work the details of which can be elaborated by the various branches of the organisation which, we have no doubt, will be at once formed throughout the country. Indeed in many centres the women are clamouring to be allowed to take a share in the long-drawn out struggle for liberty and nationhood. The hearts of the women are in the work. They only want to be organised. Wherever the men of Ireland are fighting for liberty they will not hesitate to help them. From the very nature of things the role of the women will be different from that of the men, and rightly so. It is not ours to undertake physically and directly the defence of the nation except in a last extremity an din the direct stress of war; yet, if such call were to come, I have no hesitation in saying that the spirit which animated the women of Limerick when they took the place of the men in the undefended breach is as much alive in Ireland to-day as it was two hundred years ago. Our first duty is to give our allegiance and support to the men who are fighting the cause of Ireland, whether in the British House of Commons or at home here in Ireland organising the National volunteer corps. . . .We have considered ways and means to that end, and our Provisional Committee have come to the conclusion that our first and immediate duty is to help toward the National Volunteer movement in our midst. We see plainly that an untrained and unarmed people are but a weak and defenceless mob, and it is due to our national self-respect to organise and equip those Volunteer companies which have arisen almost spontaneously as the outward and visible expression of a long dormant idea. . .. Let this be distinctly understood. We shall do ourselves the honour of helping to arm and equip our National Volunteers. Each rifle we put in their hands will represent to us a bolt fastened behind the door of some Irish home to keep out the hostile stranger. Each cartridge will be a watchdog to fight the sanctity of the hearth. We shall start first-aid classes, and later on, if necessary, ambulance corps. Our constitution which will be formally placed before you embodies that idea and makes clear that the interests and the liberty of the nation we love and reverence will come first with us in this organisation.
Source: “Woman’s work: In the National Cause,” Irish Volunteer, 18 April 1914, p. 2.
Also: In Their Own Voice: Women and Irish Nationalism, ed. Margaret Ward (Dublin: Attic Press) 2001, pp. 38-41.
Also: Irish Women’s Speeches: Voices That Rocked the System, ed. Sonja Tiernan, (Dublin: University College Dublin Press) 2021, pp. 57-59.