10 Things Women in Ireland couldn’t do 100 (‘-ish) years ago

Today Ireland is a vibrant and modern country – we’ve had 2 female presidents (first Mary Robinson in 1990, succeeded by Mary McAleese in 1997)  and we are proud to have been the first country in the world to have gay marriage legalised by democratic vote of the people. However, Ireland has not always been such a liberal country, for women anyway!

It’s hard to believe that as little as 100 years ago (and much less in some cases) that, either by law or because it was deemed socially unacceptable, women could not:

1. Vote

Thanks to the efforts of Irish suffragettes like Anna Haslam and Isabella Tod and the Irish Women’s Franchise league which was founded by Hannah Sheehy-Skeffington and others, women secured the right to vote in Ireland.

1918 legislation gave a limited group of women the right to vote in parliamentary elections for the first time – the right was effectively limited to women over 30 who were university graduates, householders or the wives of householders (men could vote from aged 21 without any qualifications).

The full right to vote was granted to all women in 1922.

(Source: http://www.irishtimes.com)

Propaganda supporting the women’s vote:

Source: The National Library

The kind of propaganda from the anti-suffragettes at the time:

2. Work after Marriage

A law was introduced in Ireland  in 1933 banning married women from working in the public service or banks, in response to high unemployment levels (apart from teachers who were allowed to work return to work from 1957 in response to a shortage of teachers). 

Ireland was not alone in introducing such a rule but while the law disappeared from other countries in the 1950’s, the law remained in Ireland until 1973.

(Source: http://www.thejournal.ie)

I remember my mother telling me how she and her sisters all immediately left their jobs on marriage – my mother in law is very proud (and rightly so) that she was the second married woman permitted to return after her marriage to her place of employment which was the Central Bank.

At least the women who came back to work, once they were permitted to, in 1973 would have been paid equally to their male colleagues. Hmmmmmm – note the sarcasm……

3. Serve on a Jury

Under the  1927 Juries Act, women were made automatically exempt (but not legally prohibited)  from serving on a jury. If a woman wanted to do jury service, she had to apply to be included on a panel, from which her selection would then be possible.

(Source: http://www.theirishtimes.com)

It was thought that, requiring women to serve on juries would compete with her duties at home. I mean, what if she was late serving her husband’s dinner????

I really would not have made a good little wife of the time. I would have been less of this wife:

And more of this wife:

4. Own the Family Home

Only from 1976, under the Family Home Protection Act, did Irish women have the right to share ownership of the family home with her husband. Up until then, her husband could sell the family home without her consent.

In fact an Irish wife did not really have many rights in her own marriage at all – keep reading……

It was only from 1976 legislation that courts could grant a wife a barring order against a violently abusive husband (divorce legislation not being passed following public referendum until 1995).

Prior to this 1976 legislation, women could only be granted a legal separation on the grounds of “cruelty.”

However “cruelty” was notoriously difficult to prove  as some level of domestic violence was largely seen as a legitimate way of a husband correcting his wife.   (Source: http://www.irishlegal.com)

I can’t believe that that this time period reflects my own Mum and Dad’s marriage. I can assure you that there is no way my Mum put up with any such behaviour! In fact, I don’t doubt that many wives were the Boss at home. But equally, for many wives, I’m sure it was a very different existence.

Furthermore, consent was not an issue for the law when it came to marital sex. It took until 1990 for legislation to define marital rape as a crime. (Source: http://www.irishlegal.com)

5. Buy Contraceptives

The majority of women had no access to contraceptives as the sale, import and distribution of contraceptives was made illegal in 1935 (the law applied to men too). The Pill was sometimes prescribed by doctors as a “cycle regulator.” (Source: www.irishcentral.com).

In 1971, in a landmark moment for the Women’s Movement, members of the Irish Women’s Liberation Movement, in protest of the law, travelled by train to Belfast to purchase contraceptives. On the train’s return to Dublin, the ladies expected that the custom officials would take the contraceptives from them but they didn’t. (Source: RTE Archives).

Watch the news report here (nothing wrong with your sound, the first approx.. 10 seconds are silent).


These women stood up and demanded the right to their own bodies and their brave and very public stand was an important factor in the eventual change of the legislation.

In 1980,legislation was passed allowing contraceptives to be sold by pharmacists for family planning purposes, but the purchaser had to have a doctor’s prescription to buy them.

New legislation in 1985, made non-medical contraceptives available without prescriptions to people over 18 at pharmacies. Contraceptives could also be distributed by doctor’s offices, hospitals and family planning clinics.

Though it was still illegal to advertise contraceptives and use of the birth control pill remained restricted, the vote marked a major turning point in Irish history– the battle between the State and the Church.

(Source: http://www.history.com)

As late as 1991 Virgin Megastore was prosecuted for selling condoms, not having a pharmacist present. It took until 1993 for condoms to be on open sale in chemists, pubs and other outlets. (Source: www.independent.ie)

6. Earn the Same Wage as a Man

After Ireland joined the EEC (European Economic Community) in 1973, it was compelled to address the issue of payment inequality whereby women were being paid less than men for doing the same job.

A law on equal pay was introduced in 1974.

(Source: http://womeninhistory.scoilnet.ie)

Glad that one has all been sorted out now – Hmmmmmmmm!

7. Collect the Children’s State Benefit

Legislation was introduced in 1944 that meant only fathers could collect the state child benefit money (this was the state allowance given to all families for each child they had).

Mothers had to wait until 1974 before they obtained the right to collect the benefit for their children. 

I think I could safely hazard a guess that there were not many fathers in Ireland in the 1940’s,50’s, 60’s and 70’s changing nappies, feeding the children, buying the clothes for the kids or any of that practical child rearing stuff and yet they were the  only ones allowed to collect the child benefit for the children. Go figure.

Don’t forget that women that worked in the public service or banks had to quit their jobs when they got married (they weren’t allowed buy contraceptives either but we’ll come to that) and yet they were not allowed to collect the state child benefit for their children!

8. Drink a Pint in a Pub

In 1970, many pubs refused to serve women pints of beer with some pubs refusing entry at all to females.

It wasn’t illegal for women to drink pints in pubs but rather that it was deemed socially unacceptable and the rule was laid down by the pubs themselves.

How dare brazen women try to invade the inner sanctum of man!

My Mum tells me how when she and he sisters would go to dances with the boys (that would later become their husbands), that the boys would go to the pub for a drink before the dance. While they waited for them , the girls would walk the streets window shopping at the closed shops – it just wasn’t the done thing for girls to go to pubs.

The women of Ireland stood up for their right to  be served a pint, should they so desire one. Nell McCafferty famously led a group of 30 women to a Dublin pub where they ordered and were served 30 brandies. They then ordered one pint of Guinness which they were refused so they left without paying for their drinks since their order was not served.

Guiness were using women to advertise Guinness (this add I think comes from the 1950’s) but yet, by 1970 it was socially unacceptable for a woman to drink the said pint…….

9. Join the Police

Pre-1959, there were no ban gardai (female police officers) in An Garda Síochána (the Irish police force) as it was not a career option for women.

After a long run campaign by civic groups, the first 12 women began their training to become ban gardai in July 1959.

The First 12 ban Garda

Currently, there are 3,780 female Gardai, representing 27% of Garda members.

(Source: http://www.rte.ie)

One of the challenges with having women guardai was, of course, that they would be required to leave their jobs if they got married. The problem was raised in the Dáil (our parliament) and the  following was actually suggested as a solution  by Independent TD (member of parliament) in1958:

“Finally, I would suggest to the Minister that while recruits should not actually be horse-faced, they should not be too good-looking: they should be just plain women and not targets for marriage” (Source: Oireachtas.ie)

 Wow – I’m not going to even go there!

10. Be a Competitive Boxer

Women were only allowed to compete in the boxing ring at the 2012 Olympic Games for the first time – Ireland’s Katie Taylor won the gold medal in the lightweight division. While Katie stole Irish hearts at the Olympics, it was different growing up. In order to compete, she had to pretend to be a boy,  hiding her ponytail under a hairnet and competing under the name K Taylor.

Even before Katie came Deidre Gogarty. Because Deidre was not allowed to compete in Ireland, her career was based in the US. She was the world champion in her division who could not box in her own country.

Source:  https://www.balls.ie/boxing/katie-taylor-legacy-411522

Boxing as a sport may not be everyone’s cup of tea but everyone should have the right to pursue the sport if they choose to, regardless of their gender. Much credit goes to the strong team Katie had supporting her growing up – her family, especially her father, were firmly in her corner helping her to push doors open to help her achieve her dreams.

Katie Taylor


Interestingly, in ancient Ireland, women had equal status in marriage with their husbands and Irish legends are full of fierce female warriors, powerful queens and wise druids – Queen Medb led armies into battle against her husband, Macha fought alongside her husband Nuada in battle and stood over him trying to protect him when he was struck down, Heroes Cuchullain and Fionn Mac Cumhall were both taught their warrior skills by women.

There are many strong women in our ancient legends that would not be messed with.

Unlike much of the rest of the ancient world, where women were considered pretty much as their husband’s property, the women of Ireland enjoyed equal status in marriage with their husbands.

(Source: http://www.irishcentral.com)

Something went very wrong for Irish women between ancient Ireland times and the 1900’s! 

Thank you Irish giants like Anna Haslam, Isabella Tod, Hannah Sheehy-Skeffington, Katie Taylor, Mary Robinson, Mary McAleese and our own mothers for standing up, blazing trails and forcing change.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s