WHAI Accepting Entries for 2021 Prizes


Submissions for the 2021 Anna Parnell Travel Grant and MacCurtain/Cullen Essay Prize are now being accepted.

The Anna Parnell Travel grant was established in 2011 to promote research among early stage scholars in Irishwomen’s and Gender History. Due to limitations placed on travel during 2021 due to Covid-19, it has been decided to award three smaller grants this year. Grants of up to €170 will be available. These can be used to cover the costs of acquiring scanned/digitised copies of archival material or other online research costs as an alternative to travel costs

The MacCurtain/Cullen Prize in Irishwomen’s History is awarded annually in recognition of the outstanding contribution to Irish women’s history by Margaret MacCurtain and Mary Cullen. The prize is offered for the best original essay in the field of Irish women’s or gender history by a current or recent BA or MA/MPhil student.

Please see our Grants and Prizes page for more details.

‘Too Many Children’? Family Planning and Humanae Vitae in Dublin, c. 1960- 1972 by Deirdre Foley


On 7 October 1960 Mrs Bridget Maguire, a street trader from Cabra, a working-class suburb of Dublin, gave birth to her twentieth child in the Rotunda maternity hospital. The birth of baby Thomas was reported in many newspapers not due to his myriad siblings, but because at the age of fifty-one, his mother was the oldest woman to give birth in the Rotunda since records began.[1]The phenomenon of high parity, or frequent pregnancy, was familiar to Irish obstetricians. The problem was so common for decades in Dublin that the term ‘dangerous multipara’ was coined by Dr Bethel Solomons, Master of the Rotunda from 1926-1933.[2]

Under section 17 of the Criminal Law Amendment Act, 1935, the import, sale and advertisement of artificial contraception was banned in Ireland. Additionally, the production, sale, and distribution of any publication advocating contraception was outlawed under section 16 of the Censorship of Publications Act, 1929. Consequently, many Irish people were without the necessary knowledge with which to plan their families. However, as the 1960s progressed, Ireland’s long-established demographic pattern of large families and late marriage began to break down slowly. While a rise in the number of marriages and births occurred from about 1963, the average family size nonetheless began to decrease for the first time, as did the age at which couples tended to marry.

The contraceptive pill arrived in Ireland in 1962, and evaded a ban by means of classification and prescription as a ‘cycle regulator’; at least 15,000 Irish women were taking it by 1966.[3]A survey of Irish obstetricians in the same year revealed that 75% were prescribing the pill ‘for social reasons’, rather than for the purpose of regulating a woman’s cycle. 1967 was the biggest year of growth for the pill in Ireland; sales increased by about 50%.[4]In July 1968, the papal encyclical Humanae Vitaere-iterated the Pope’s ban on artificial contraception. Use of the ‘safe’ or infertile period, also known as the rhythm method, was the only acceptable option for Catholics. The encyclical also stated that Catholic obstetricians should make themselves fully proficient in this method.[5]At a time when family planning had just started to develop at maternity hospitals, the encyclical complicated the situation for Catholic patients and doctors alike.

Drawing on a range of medical and diocesan sources, as well as diverse material from the news media, my essay explores how family planning developed in Dublin from 1960-1972. It is demonstrated that whilst the medical and social work community, as well as their patients, began to exhibit a more liberal shift in views on the issue of artificial birth control, the Catholic hierarchy was compelled to re-promote official teaching on the subject after the publication of Humanae Vitae. Two of the three largest maternity hospitals in Dublin operated with a Catholic ethos, and the Archbishop of Dublin, John Charles McQuaid, was particularly mindful of how medics operated within these hospitals with regard to birth control. Consequently, the encyclical created new difficulties for medical professionals working in Catholic maternity hospitals who wished to develop more sophisticated programmes of family planning therein. Prescription of the contraceptive pill, which had occurred on a case-by-case basis, was no longer possible in these hospitals. Even prior to the encyclical, the issue of access to artificial birth control was viewed increasingly by many medical and social care professionals – as well as many of their patients – as a private issue of health and welfare, rather than a moral problem.

Additionally, my essay demonstrates that family planning was a class issue.As the annual reports of the maternity hospitals demonstrated repeatedly during this period, the health and welfare of working-class women – those who were least likely to access contraception – often suffered greatly as a result of multiple births. A strong, patriarchal network of authority, made up of the Irish Catholic hierarchy and an obeisant section of the medical profession, sought to re-affirm control over Catholic women’s bodies in the wake of Humanae Vitae.


Deirdre Foley, a PhD candidate in the School of History and Geography at Dublin City University, is the recipient of the 2018 WHAI Mac Curtain/Cullen essay prize.


[1]Irish Press, 8 October 1960; Irish Examiner, 8 October 1960;Irish Times, 10October 1960.

[2]L. Earner-Byrne, ‘Moral Prescription: The Irish Medical Profession, the Roman Catholic Church and the Prohibition of Birth Control in Twentieth-century Ireland’ in Catherine Cox and Maria Luddy (eds), Cultures of Care in Irish Medical History, 1750-1970 (London, 2010), p. 215.

[3]C. Hug, The Politics of Sexual Morality in Ireland(New York, 1999), p. 86.

[4]Ibid., pp. 86-87.

[5]Dublin Diocesan Archive (hereafter DDA), AB8/B/XX/2, English translation of Humanae Vitae, July 1968.

WHAI accepting entries for prizes

The WHAI offers important prizes in the field of Irishwomen’s/gender history

1. The MacCurtain/Cullen Essay Prize in Irishwomen’s History

The Women’s History Association of Ireland awards an annual MacCurtain/Cullen Prize in Irishwomen’s History in recognition of the outstanding contribution to Irish women’s history by Margaret MacCurtain and Mary Cullen. The prize is offered for the best original essay in the field of Irish women’s or gender history by a current or recent BA or MA/MPhil student.

Eligible candidates for the MacCurtain/Cullen Prize in Irishwomen’s History should be current or recent BA or MA/MPhil students.   Original essays of 6-8,000 words (including footnotes) should be based on a dissertation or research essay in the area of Irish women’s or Irish gender history submitted to any university on the island of Ireland between 2012 and 2019. Submissions can deal with any chronological period, any historical subject relating to women/gender, any geographical location on the island of Ireland, and can be in English or Irish.  Membership of the WHAI is a requirement for entry.

To enter, send one electronic copy of your article to the Secretary of the WHAI, Dr Maeve O’Riordan at womenshistoryassociation@gmail.com  Informal enquiries should also be sent to this address.  Entries will be adjudicated by a special committee of the WHAI. To facilitate anonymity, please include a separate cover sheet with your personal information, academic affiliation and contact details, as well as a statement of original work.  Closing date for receipt of entries is Wednesday 31 October 2019.  Late entries cannot be considered. Since the purpose of the prize is to encourage and support emerging scholars in the field of Irish women’s and gender history, previous winners of the MacCurtain/Cullen Prize in Irishwomen’s History are not eligible to re-enter. The winning entry will receive a bursary of €150 and the prize will be awarded at a WHAI event (usually the annual conference) and acknowledged on social media and our website.

Anna Parnell

Anna Parnell

2. The Anna Parnell Travel grant

The Anna Parnell Travel grant was established in 2011 to promote research among early stage scholars in Irishwomen’s and Gender History.

Anna Parnell was the fifth of eleven children born to John Henry Parnell, an Irish Protestant landowner, and Delia Tudor Stewart Parnell. Michael Davitt’s proposal to establish an Irish Ladies’ Land League led him to propose Anna as its organiser as he had previously worked alongside Anna Parnell in New York and recognised her administrative ability. Anna Parnell’s life provides a vivid illustration of the immense difficulties faced by intelligent and energetic women in the nineteenth to find a role and have their voices heard.

The travel grant is named in her honour to reflect her vigorous campaigning which saw her travel widely and her intellectual and political contributions which were largely ignored in her lifetime.  One travel grant will be awarded per year and applications are now open for the 2020 Anna Parnell Travel Grant.

The amount for the travel grant is valued at up to €500. Please note that 50% of costs will be issued by cheque to the successful applicant in advance of the proposed trip, and 50% will be issued upon submission of receipts (to cover the entire amount of the award). If receipts total less than €500 the lesser amount will be issued to the applicant. The grant can be in whole or in part towards research related travel and can be combined with other awards. Travel must take place in 2020 and awards cannot be carried forward. 

The Anna Parnell Travel Grant Award is intended to support travel for research or conference presentations related to the field of Irish women’s and gender history in any historical era. Applicants must complete the application form in full outlining their intended use of the funds. Postgraduate students must also attach a letter of support from their supervisor confirming their student status and topic of research. The travel grant cannot be used to support conference attendance without presentation. Successful applicants must credit the Women’s History Association of Ireland award in their presentations and any subsequent publications arising from the Anna Parnell Travel Grant. The travel grant is open to any scholar living in Ireland who is a member of the Women’s History Association of Ireland (with current dues paid at time of application). The award is not limited to those with institutional affiliations – independent scholars are most welcome to apply.

The successful applicant must provide a 500 word account of their use of the travel grant to appear on the WHAI website within three months of the completion of travel. The cheque reimbursing the remainder of the expenses will not be issued until this report has been received. Preference will be given to applicants without access to institutional support for research related travel.  The competition for the award will be judged by a select panel of the WHAI Executive Committee.

Please email us at womenshistoryassociation@gmail.com with any queries and please email this application form to the Secretary at that address by 31st January 2020.

Click here to download the application form..  The prize will be awarded at the annual WHAI conference.

If you would like to donate to the prize fund, you can do so by clicking on the PayPal button below
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Sex, Sexuality and Reproduction conference report

The 32nd Irish Conference of Historians took place in University College Cork from 26 – 28 April. The theme of this year’s conference ‘Sex, Sexuality andReproduction’ was one which was propitious and opportune as the country surged towards a momentous and historic referendum on the Repeal of the Eighth Amendment. As my taxi pulled up outside of UCC, the driver asked me what conference I was attending. When I told him the title I think he nearly blushed! “Oh!” was his response.

What was particularly memorable about this conference was the wide range of themes. Over the three dayperiod, topics from 1960’s sex advice and pornography, to motherhood and breastfeeding were presented.

The unlimited timeframe allowed for a conference for both early and modern historians alike. There was fascinating keynote presentation from Ruth Karras exploring the ‘myth of masculine impurity’ in the Middle Ages followed by panels focusing on sex and sexuality in medieval and early modern history. Other panels included nineteenth century midwifery, marriage and marital status, and religion and repression. The panel on sex and the Irish revolution shifted from the usual focus on women’s activism and rebellion. Mary McAuliffe’s argument questions the sexual orientation of some of the main female figures during the Irish rebellion. Thursday ended with a keynote lecture by Shelia Rowbotham who spoke about the life of William Bailie in the 1880s and 1890s.

On Friday morning there was a very interesting and timely panel on ‘Abortion and Assisted Human Reproduction in Ireland’ which included Mark Benson’s research on abortion in Northern Ireland, Linda Connolly on abortion in the Republic of Ireland and the research of Don O’Leary on the Vatican regarding assisted reproduction. Other panels included: ‘sexology and sexual science’, ‘eugenics and feminism’, and ‘maternal bodies’.

There was a keynote lecture by Michael Cronin who discussed the politicisation of sexuality and women’s bodies. He argued that there was a re-assertion of male power with the forming of the Irish Free State. Women who were considered sexually trangressive were punished. Abstract categories of respectable and non-respectable women were defined depending on class and social status. This tied in with the panel entitled ‘Free State?’ in which Sandra McAvoy discussed the push for legal contraception, Síle Healy Hunt explored the Public Dancehalls Act 1935, and Conor Heffernan discussed the sexually restrictive 1930s.

Although, papers on adverse topics such as infanticide, historical child sex abuse, and rape and sexual violence made for extremely interesting discussion, there were also aspects of humour in many of the research papers. In his paper on social purity work, Martin Walsh informed us on “how to occupy the mind” when one is tempted to feed into their sexual desires, the advice coming from social purity workers in early twentieth century Ireland and Britain. Laura Kelly presented research on grassroots activism in the push for legal contraception with some youths dressing as condoms outside the court house in 1991 during the ‘Condom Counter’ Case.

Keynote Jeffery Weeks led the conference to a close. In his paper he argued that there are moments of agency; moments of resistance and moments of change when looking at sexual history. He urged us as historians to be mindful of identity histories and generational sexualities. People of the same generation do not necessarily have the same experiences as we are subject to our social surroundings- important information for all historians to remember.

The only criticism I can allude would be the four panels running at the same time as it made it very difficult to choose which one to attend. Thank you to the Women’s History Association of Ireland for the scholarship to attend the conference.Finally, I would like to say congratulations to Donal Ó Drisceoil and his team for putting together afantastic and really enjoyable conference.


Lorraine Grimes, BA., MA.,

PhD Candidate and Tutor,

Department of History,

NUI Galway


Irish Conference of Historians report

ICHSThe Women’s History Association of Ireland contributed towards my participation at the 32ndIrish Conference of Historians at University College Cork, April 26th-28th2018. This year’s conference theme was, ‘Sex, Sexuality and Reproduction: Historical Perspectives’. The conference included a broad range of panels covering topic’s such as: ‘eugenics and feminism’, ‘maternal bodies’ ‘infanticide, foundling hospital and social purity work’, ‘pornography’, ‘sex advice’, and ‘LGBT Irish history’, amongst many others. Renowned scholars in the field of sexuality and feminism: Ruth Mazo Karras, Sheila Rowbotham, Michael G. Cronin and Jeffrey Weeks provided four stimulating keynote lectures. Their lectures covered topics such as ‘The myth of masculine impunity: male adultery and repentance in the Middle Ages’, ‘Doing Sexual History’ and ‘Sex, class and hegemony in twentieth-century Ireland’.

Two particularly interesting papers were Judy Bolger’s ‘Breastfeeding in nineteenth-century Ireland’ and Rachel Bennett’s ‘Inmates of an entirely different class’: regulating the maternal body in the nineteenth-century Irish prison. Bolger’s paper sought to determine whether upper – and lower-class women in nineteenth century Ireland had similar or different breastfeeding experiences. Bolger concluded that upper-class Irish women were afforded flexibility in their mothering abilities as their decision to breastfeed was often based upon personal choices. While, lower-class, or poor Irish women’s innate ability to mother was often capitalised on through the employment of wet-nursing, this in turn, Bolger argued, meant that lower-class women’s decision to breastfeed was often for financial reasons, rather than maternal responsibility. Bennett’s paper explored what it was like to be pregnant, to have a baby and to be a new mother in a nineteenth-century Irish prison. Bennett concludes that the maternal body was a source of concern for the authorities but also a vehicle for resistance on the part of the prisoner as it could act as a barrier to discipline. These papers and the many others presented resonated quite strongly with current debates and events in Irish society today. In particular, Linda Connolly’s ‘Abortion Politics in the Republic of Ireland, 1970-2018’, and Ciara Molloy’s, ‘The Politics of Rape in 1980s Ireland’.

My paper, entitled; ‘The circumstances peculiar to organising gay people in the West are indeed a quare lot’: Gay and Lesbian Activism in 1980s Galway’ was presented on the third day of the conference as part of the panel, ‘Queering Irish History: revealing, persevering and sharing LGBT histories’. The paper focused on the hitherto ignored activities of provincial gay and lesbian activists in 1980s Galway. By focusing on Galway, my paper made two key arguments. Firstly, it sought to demonstrate the extent to which lesbian women were not passive agents in the efforts to improve the situation of Irish gay and lesbian citizens pre-1993 and decriminalisation of sexual activity between males. Rather, they were active agents in seeking to provide a social space for gay and lesbian individuals to meet others like themselves and become more confident in their sexuality. This, I argue, has been ignored in Irish historiography as an important form of resistance and activism, which contributed to the wider recognition and toleration of homosexuality in the latter period of the twentieth century in Ireland. Secondly, the paper sought to move the current narrative on Irish LGBT history outside of Dublin to include provincial regions where resistance and activities were taking place to challenge the discrimination of Ireland’s homosexual community. Only by broadening the current narrative, particularly to include the other forms and locations of resistance can we really begin to contextualise the dramatic transformation in attitudes towards LGBT citizens in Ireland in the recent years.

The conference provided a wonderful opportunity for scholars of sex, sexuality and reproduction, to meet and discuss topics which hitherto have been marginalised in Irish historiography. This conference may well mark a watershed moment in bringing greater attention to these issues and further contribute to the promotion of research/collaborations in these areas, and with it our understanding of Irish history. In particular, as a scholar of Irish Queer history, I was extremely pleased to be part of a panel which explored some of Ireland’s LGBT (hidden) history. In particular, topics such as gay fathers in Ireland, Ireland’s transgender community, gay and lesbian activism in Cork, and queer identities on Irish documentary film. Two documentaries shown at the conference, Outitude and A Different Country, offered viewers an insight into life as an LGBT citizen in twentieth century Ireland, discussing issues such as identity, homophobia, activism, and community. The study of Ireland’s LGBT history is still in its infancy, but this year’s conference has brought a wider attention to its significance and place in twentieth-century Irish historiography.

The Irish Committee of Historical Sciences, along with its many constituent societies, and the organising committee, in particular, Donal O’Driscoll deserve our appreciation and thanks for putting together such an important conference, which has given a voice to many hidden histories. I would also like to thank the Women’s History Association of Ireland for providing me with a bursary to attend this conference. The WHAI was strongly represented at the conference with a number of its members presenting papers.

Patrick James McDonagh

European University Institute, Florence


Thesis-in-three symposium

The WHAI Thesis-in-Three Symposium will take place at University College Cork on 23 March 2018 between 3.15 and 5pm. Postgraduates/early career academics working on women’s/gender history are invited to give a 3 minute presentation about their research using a maximum of 3 PowerPoint slides.
If you are interested in participating, please contact Elaine Sugrue, WHAI Postgraduate Representative, at e.m.sugrue@umail.ucc.ie by 19 February 2018.

WHAI Spring Seminar 2018: New Directions in Early Modern Irish Women’s History

The WHAI is delighted to announce its annual Spring Seminar which will take place at the Moore Institute, NUI Galway on Friday 16 February 2018 between 11am and 5pm.

Keynote addresses will be delivered by Professor Mary O’Dowd (QUB) and Professor Jane Ohlmeyer (TCD).

The seminar is free to attend but advance registration is necessary.

To register via Eventbrite, click here.

For more information and to view the programme, click here.

Anna Parnell Travel Grant Awardee Report: Angela Byrne

Anna Parnell Travel Grant Awardee Report: Dr. Angela Byrne

Research Trip to London


– Graveyard in Rathcooney, Co. Cork where Anna Maria Chetwood’s father, Revd John Chetwood, is buried. He was rector of that parish until his death in 1814. Photo: Angela Byrne.

The WHAI Anna Parnell Travel Grant funded a five-day research visit to London in September 2017, where I consulted archival material in the British Library and Senate House Library, University of London.

My research is on Anna Maria Chetwood and her extended social circle of Anglo-Irish writing women. The circle had a strong Cork connection, as Chetwood was born and raised near Glanmire, and was a friend and sister-in-law of Martha and Katherine Wilmot, who are best known for their posthumously published accounts of their residence in Russia in 1803–08. The circle was varied, and included Margaret King, various genteel women living in Munster, and Anglo-Irish families who had removed to Clifton near Bristol.

My first task was to search for further evidence relating to the authorship of two anonymous novels – Blue Stocking Hall (first published 1827; 2nd edition 1829) and Tales of my Time (1829) – both of which were published by Henry Colburn. The authorship of these works has been in question since the time of their publication, having previously been commonly attributed either to Barbarina, Lady Dacre or to the Unitarian minister William Pitt Scargill, even though in 1839 the Cork antiquary John Windele publicly identified Anna Maria Chetwood as the author of Blue Stocking Hall, and indicated that she may have written other novels. However, Windele’s short account of Chetwood’s life was rife with errors, so his attribution of the novels to Chetwood cannot be taken as accurate. The vast archives of the Bentley and Colburn publishing house can be consulted on microfilm in the BL. While the collection has been indexed, the index is not without gaps. The archive is extremely patchy for the period prior to 1829, but I did find evidence that helps to clarify the authorship question. I am still analysing this material and it must be considered in conjunction with other evidence, so I am reluctant to draw any firm conclusions for the purpose of this short report. My findings will, in due course, be published in a journal article.

thumbnail_Martha Wilmot

– Portrait of Martha Wilmot, taken in Russia by an unknown artist. First published in E. Stewart and H.M. Hyde (eds), The Russian Journals of Martha and Katherine Wilmot (London: Macmillan, 1934). 

Chetwood also wrote poetry, and her talent seems to have been valued by those close to her. Her unpublished poems survive as part of the Wilmot collection in the Royal Irish Academy, and in a commonplace book held at Senate House Library. This commonplace book belonged to Elizabeth Wilmot, née Chetwood – Anna Maria’s sister, and sister-in-law to the Wilmots by marriage to their brother Robert. The book’s 135 leaves brim with original compositions as well as excerpts from the works of celebrated Irish poets of the day, including Thomas Moore and Eyles Irwin. The book is also of interest as an intergenerational and extra-familial conversation, with original contributions from Elizabeth, Anna Maria, and their father, as well as pieces by friends of the extended family, including at least half-a-dozen original pieces by Frances Sally Irwin, daughter of Eyles Irwin. Elizabeth copied most of the content into the book herself. Some of the pieces were epitaphs for friends and family, such as Chetwood’s brother John (1779–1805); Anne Christian, Baroness Hompesch (1775–1803), “written at the request of the Baron”; and James Currie, biographer of Robert Burns and likely a friend of Chetwood’s father, Reverend John Chetwood, a man of literary turn in his own right. One of the most interesting of Chetwood’s compositions is an epitaph “To the Memory of the Late Unfortunate Robert Emmet” – Chetwood and the Wilmots were friends of Sarah Curran, and Chetwood’s father wrote her epitaph upon her untimely death in 1808.

My ongoing research will not only establish the extent and importance of Chetwood’s network, but will also correct some serious and repeated errors in Chetwood’s biography. I have established her (heretofore unknown) dates of birth and death (7 Feb. 1774–12 Dec. 1870), and can remove the tentative parentheses placed around her given names in the Dictionary of Irish Biography. I have ascertained that she never married, and that she lived in Cheltenham from at least 1833, until her death. Contrary to John Windele’s oft-repeated assertion of 1839, Chetwood never travelled to Russia as a guest of Princess Ekaterina Romanovna Dashkova – that wonderful experience belonged to Martha and Katherine Wilmot. I hope that my research will correct the record of Chetwood’s life and literary imagination, to add a forgotten and misrepresented author to the existing bibliography of Irish women writers – and one whose corpus of work has so much to say about the political, literary, and aesthetic concerns of a rural but internationally well-connected group of nineteenth-century Anglo-Irish writing women.

London is expensive, so I opted to stay in the YHA hostel on Euston Road, directly across from the BL. In addition to the hostel’s affordability and convenient location, the other guests in the dorm proved pleasant company, and I shared Chetwood’s story with them. Sincere thanks to the WHAI for their support in making this research possible.

Dr Angela Byrne is Research Associate in History at the School of Arts and Humanities, Ulster University.


About the Women’s History Association of Ireland

WHAI LogoWelcome to the website of the Women’s History Association of Ireland (WHAI). Founded in 1989, the aim of the WHAI is to promote research into the history of women in Ireland. We are an all-island body and our membership is open to anyone, inside or outside of Ireland.

The WHAI sponsors an annual conference and circulates regular news bulletins to members about upcoming publications, conferences, seminars and other events related to the field of women’s history. You can browse our previous conferences on our website. Members enjoy access to the e-bulletins and reduced registration fees at WHAI events. Members are also eligible to enter our essay and travel grant competitions. We also review books of relevance to our membership. Please get in touch if you have published in the area and would like your book to feature. The WHAI is affiliated to the International Federation for Research in Women’s History.

See further details on our events on our Facebook page.

Our next event is our Spring Seminar: New Directions in Early Modern Irish Women’s History, taking place at the Moore Institute, NUI Galway on 16 February. For more information click here.