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Ní Saoirse Go Saoirse Na mBan. - No Freedom Until the Freedom of Women

In this week's Letter from Ireland, Ciarán Quinn looks back on the life of Sidney Gifford and forward to the role of women leading the struggle for a new and united Ireland. Never miss a Letter from Ireland sign up to our free weekly newsletter.

Front Row Ailing Reilly, Michelle O'Neill, Ciara Ferguson

a Chairde,

In the days following the Easter Rising, the tricolor of the newly proclaimed Irish Republic was flown in New York thanks to Sidney Gifford and her sister Ada who had sewn the flag to fly in solidarity with the 1916 rebels.

“We introduced the flag to New York by flying it at the top of a Fifth Avenue bus, and it was quite startling to see that the cops already recognized it and at every intersection of the streets they stood to attention in salute” - Sidney Gifford

Who were the women behind this extraordinary act? The two Gifford sisters were part of a large middle-class establishment family. They and their other sisters became involved in the revolutionary movement in Ireland in the lead-up to the Rising. There were gifted artists, activists, feminists, revolutionaries, and writers.

Despite their activism, the most famous of the sisters are remembered in terms of their relationship with men. Muriel and Grace Gifford are best known as the widows of executed 1916 leaders Thomas McDonagh and Joseph Plunkett. Grace Gifford is the subject of the famous Irish Ballad “Grace”.

Sidney Gifford, a gifted writer, adopted the pen name “John Brennan”. At the time a woman journalist would not be taken seriously

She moved to New York in advance of the Rising to build a career and continue her activism. She found resistance from the male-dominated organizations and set about recruiting for the Irish Republican militant organization Cummann na mBan. She found like-minded radical allies in the Ladies Auxiliary of the AOH.

“The Ladies Auxiliary of the AOH proved to be some of our most valuable workers and the foundation of that first branch of the Cummann na mBan”

I was reminded of the Gifford sisters this week. When Sinn Féin appointed a new member to the Assembly in the North.

The latest appointment is Aisling Reilly, a community activist, gaeilgeoir, and former world champion handball player. The appointment means that just over 50% of the Sinn Féin Assembly team are women.

Our party is led by the Sinn Féin President Mary Lou McDonald and Deputy President Michelle O’Neill. The two are the foremost political leaders on the island.

With this team the future is bright. The women leaders of today will be remembered on their terms.

As the old Irish saying goes, "Ní Saoirse Go Saoirse na mBan"

Is mise Ciarán

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