Irish Women Workers Union

Ireland

Freedom’s Martyrs Project

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As part of the IWWU Commemoration Committee’s work to tell the union’s story and celebrate its achievements we undertook to try to identify as many of the women in the iconic “Freedom’s Martyrs” photograph as possible.

Given the amount of time that has passed, progress was always going to be difficult and slow but we have had some interesting leads since the picture was published in The Irish Times last October.

We knew, of course, that number 18 is Delia Larkin and the firmest piece of information that we have since is that number 12 is a woman called Lily Kempson who started work in Jacob’s in 1911 when she was 14 year-old. She was subsequently jailed for two weeks in connection with her trade union activity.

Like many IWWU activists at the time, she subsequently served in the Irish Citizen Army in the Rising of 1916.
Later, around 1917, she emigrated to the USA and died in Seattle aged 99 in 1996. We are grateful to her grandnephew, Declan Baird, who obtained information about Lily from his mother and aunts, for passing it on to us.

In other instances, there is some disagreement or confusion over who particular women in the photograph might be. Several people point to number 17 as most likely being Helena Molony, who would go on to lead the union for many years, but Helen Shaw feels this may be her grandmother Lizzie Connolly.

Others suggest that Molony may be number 10, a spot that had been claimed for Sheila Conroy, the first women ever to be elected to the NEC of the Transport and General Workers Union but sadly Conroy, who passed away in 1912, does not seem to have been old enough to have featured in the picture.

Thanks to the Inisfree blog, we also have a list of names of women who are believed to be in the photograph although with no numbers attached. These are: Kathleen Lynn, Jennie Shanahan, Bridget Brady, Mollie O’Reilly, Bridget Davis, Annie Norgrove, Emily Norgrove, Bessie lynch and a Ms Connolly – quite possibly Lizzie.

Though we don’t know which of the women they are, it is said that the Norgrove sisters subsequently saw action in 1916 in City Hall where their father, Alfred George, was the commander.

The work continues and if you can help with it in anyway, we’d be delighted to hear from you at info@womenworkersunion.ie