Start:3 May 2013
Written by Maggie Cronin and Carol Moore and performed by Maggie Cronin, Carol Moore and Laura Hughes,this rehearsed reading of Shrieking Sisters is being performed in the Island Arts Centre on Friday 3rd May.
“Before researching the Ulster suffragettes I was unaware of a suffrage movement in the north, let alone a militant campaign. It’s a fascinating story of bravery, persistence, perseverance and stubborn determination of women who were prepared to serve prison sentences and go on prolonged thirst and hunger strikes to achieve the vote and they need to be written back into the history books. Mrs Metge and the three other accused women proved their metal at the two court hearings in Lisburn, disrupting proceedings by shouting and attempting to leave the court with Lilian announcing “For five years I have used every constitutional means to enable women to obtain the vote and you would not listen!. IT IS YOU MEN THAT HAVE MADE US MILITANT”.”
By 1912 women in Ireland and England had already gone on prolonged hunger and thirst strikes to highlight the question of votes for women, but in Ireland this quest was thwarted by another struggle – that of home rule. Irish nationalists and Ulster Unionists were bitterly opposed with the introduction of the Third Home Rule Bill in 1912 and so the campaign for Irish women’s enfranchisement was compromised because of it.. Although it began as something of a middle class movement, suffragettes attempted to share their message at big open air meetings in places like Ormeau Park, Carlisle Circus and Methodist College, the Grand Opera House and the Ulster Hall. They also stood outside factory gates, trying to enlist the support of the mill workers and attempting to bring together unionist and nationalist women.
As women stepped outside of the traditional gender roles of the era, men of orange and green persuasion for once found something to agree about: opposition to the female vote. Unionists wanted an independent Ulster and stated that women would get the vote in this dispensation. But soon after Edward Carson came out and said no, he did not support votes for women and suffragists declared war on the Ulster unionists.In March 1914, at a time when the Ulster Volunteer Force where drilling troops at Abbeylands House in Whiteabbey, suffragists burnt the building to the ground. They were furious that they were being imprisoned while the UVF, led by Sir Edward Carson, were gun running and preparing for civil war but were unpunished. Other places targeted included the grandstand at Newtownards Race Course, the teahouse at Bellevue Zoo and Cavehill Bowling and Tennis Club and protesters also poured acid on the greens at Fortwilliam Golf Club. These were seen as places of male entertainment and power and therefore, worthy targets.
Notable figures in the Ulster movement were Margaret McCoubrey, a Scot married to an Irish trade unionist from the Ormeau Road, Dr Elizabeth Bell who attended suffragists on hunger strike, Margaret Robinson and Lilian Metge from Lisburn, a moderate, turned militant, who was jailed for her part in an attack on Lisburn Cathedral. Lilian Metge was descended from a prosperous Quaker family. Her father, Richard Cambridge Grubb came from, Co. Tipperary and married Harriet Richardson, daughter of Jonathon Richardson who was MP for Lisburn in the 1850s. Lilian married R.H. Metge from Co. Meath, but on his death in 1900, Lilian found herself widowed before the age of 30. Despite her establishment links with a grandfather an MP and a husband a lawyer she became an activist in the movement founding the Lisburn Suffrage Society. She lived in Seymour Street, a short distance from Lisburn Cathedral and along with 3 other women attempted to blow up Lisburn Cathedral in the early hours of August 1st, 1914.
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