Galway activist retracing grandmother’s 1917 tour of United States in documentary film

Dr Micheline Sheehy Skeffington

Dr Micheline Sheehy Skeffington

A Galway feminist and activist is commemorating the centenary of her famous grandmother’s US tour for Irish independence with her own speaking tour this autumn.

Beginning in September, Dr Micheline Sheehy Skeffington, granddaughter of Hanna Sheehy Skeffington, will tour the United States to honour and follow her grandmother’s epic journey. She plans to film key places associated with her grandmother as part of a documentary film to retrace the 1917 journey during which her grandmother spoke to sell-out crowds from New York to San Francisco about the killing of her husband and Ireland’s battle for independence.

It was during Easter Week 1916 that Irish pacifist Francis Sheehy Skeffington was shot without trial by British firing squad. In December that year, his widow, Hanna, escaped to the United States under a false passport, giving speeches across the country exposing the truth about her husband’s death and Ireland’s fight for independence.

Exactly 100 years later, Micheline will speak in some of the same cities that her grandmother spoke in and she hopes the film footage will become part of a documentary shown on Irish TV.

“The original production company had to pull out at the last minute, so we decided to crowd-fund to film the tour,” Micheline said. “We’ve done really well. We have two-thirds of the €21,000 we need – mostly from lots of small donations.”

She said another production company wants to make the documentary, which will be called Hanna and Me: Passing on the Flame. About €6,000 is still needed to fund the project. Anyone who would like to contribute can donate online at https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/hanna-and-me-passing-on-the-flame.”

“Hanna is well known in Ireland for her suffrage activities,” Micheline explained, “but her political career and her contribution to the Irish struggle for independence are largely forgotten, probably because she was a woman. This is why I want to publicize her epic journey 100 years ago.”

Micheline is a plant ecologist who is known for winning a landmark gender discrimination case in 2014 against her former employer, NUI Galway, for lack of promotion. She subsequently donated her €70,000 award to five other women who are currently involved in gender discrimination litigation.

“My grandparents inspired me to take the case,” she said. “It is their legacy and the knowledge of Hanna’s amazing courage that kept me going through the twists and turns of my five-year case.”

Just as her grandmother did, Micheline will travel by ship to New York, leaving Britain on August 31st. She will locate Hanna and her 7-year-old son Owen’s (Micheline’s father ) false names registered at Ellis Island and visit the archive section of Carnegie Hall, where Hanna gave her first speech to a full hall on January 6th, 1917. Over three months she will then visit and speak in other large cities that Hanna spoke in, including Boston, Chicago, St. Louis, Seattle and San Francisco as well as smaller places, such as Butte, Montana, where residents still have a collective memory of Hanna’s visit.

She will connect her grandparents’ struggles for justice to her own fight for equality, which is ongoing.

During Hanna’s 18-month tour, she gave around 250 speeches in 21 states and filled venues such as 8,000-capacity Dreamland Auditorium in San Francisco in addition to Carnegie Hall. She was the only Irish representative to meet President Woodrow Wilson to argue Ireland’s case for Independence. The British did all they could to silence her during her trip and even tried to abduct her to Canada. On her return to Ireland, Hanna was arrested and imprisoned by the British government.

John Devoy, head of the Friends of Irish Freedom in the United States, which funded and supported most of Hanna’s tour, wrote in the Gaelic American that “Mrs. Skeffington has done more real good to the cause of Ireland during her short stay in America than all the Irish orators and writers...[over] the past twenty-five years.”

The details of Micheline’s tour, with the places she will speak, are on her Facebook page “Hannas US tour” at: https://www.facebook.com/hannasUStour/. She is happy to undertake press interviews and appear on radio and TV shows to talk about the tour.

For more information, including photos and press clippings from Hanna’s US tour, contact Rose Foley, press assistant, at rosefoley29@gmail.com.

More details about Micheline and the fight for women’s equality at NUI Galway can be found at: https://michelines threeconditions.wordpress.com/

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