2016 has been an important year for the Irish people as we commemorate the centenary of the 1916 rising. Unfortunately, for far too long, Irish women have been pushed to the background, despite them being prominent leaders and activists during the rising. History has even gone so far as to actually erase women from pictures in order to minimise their role in Irish history.
While Constance Marckievicz and Maude Gonne might be household names in Ireland right now, many other women who were crucial to the Irish effort don’t have the same benefit.
Kathleen Lynn was a woman who played a significant role in Irish history, and was important in paving the way for Irish women. However, she is not a household name and there are few that know her story. She was a Sinn Fein politician, a suffragette, and a medical practitioner. She played an important role in the 1916 rising, and continued to be an important figure for Irish people long after the rising.
Lynn was a member of the Irish Woman’s Suffrage movement. She worked alongside women such as Hanna Sheehy-Skeffington and Jenny Wyse Powers in order to advocate for women’s full rights as citizens. Not only did she advocate for women’s rights, but she also fought for worker’s rights. She played an important role in the 1913 lockout, alongside John Connolly.
Lynn was prominent in Irish politics since before the 1916 rising. When the Irish Citizen’s Army was established, she was appointed Chief Medical Officer. She also ranked as a captain. It’s unsurprising, therefore, that Lynn was involved in the planning of the Easter Rising, working with both the Irish Citizen’s Army and Cumann na mBan. During the rising itself, Lynn worked under Séan Connolly in Dublin City Hall. After Connolly was shot, Lynn took command of the garrison until surrender. She was taken captive and held prisoner, before being deported to England in June.
In the aftermath of the Easter Rising, Lynn was elected as a member of the Sinn Féin executive, and was appointed to be its Director of Public Health. She was elected as a TD in 1923, but did not take her seat.
Lynn decided to be a medical practitioner at an early age. She was one of the earliest women to be admitted to medical school. She was one of the first female medical graduates from University College Dublin.
Lynn faced much discrimination attempting to find a job in the medical field. She was turned away from a student residency in Adelaide Hospital due to her gender. However, Lynn proceeded in her education by completing a postgraduate in the United States, and being awarded a fellowship at the Rotunda Hospital Dublin. Though her privileged position, and her father’s job as a doctor, allowed her entry into these fields that were otherwise barred for women, Lynn’s contributions to these fields can’t be ignored. She was, in many ways, a pioneer for women in the medical field.
After the rising, Lynn, along with fellow activist Madeleine French-Mullen, set up St. Ultan’s; a children’s hospital. St. Ultan’s went on to define Lynn’s career; as she spent the rest of her life dedicated to its work. It was revolutionary in being the only hospital in Ireland to be entirely managed by women.