2022 Anna Parnell Travel Grant and MacCurtain/Cullen Essay Prize

Submissions for the 2022 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 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.

WHAI 2022 Conference CFP

We are delighted to announce that the 2022 WHAI conference will be a virtual event held on 1-2 April and 8-9 April 2022, jointly hosted by the University of Limerick and Mary Immaculate College. The broad theme for this year’s conference is ‘Irish women’s and gendered networks and communities from the medieval to the early modern period’. Please submit abstracts of 250-300 words and a short bio to WHAI2022conference@gmail.com on or before 17 December 2021. Panel proposals are also welcome.

WHAI President Awarded James S. Donnelly, Sr Prize


WHAI president, Professor Diane Urquhart of Queen’s University Belfast has been awarded the American Conference of Irish Studies (ACIS) James S. Donnelly, Sr. Prize for Books on History and Social Sciences for Irish Divorce: A History (Cambridge University Press, 2020). The ACIS judging panel deemed Irish Divorce as ‘gender, legal, and social history of the highest caliber.’

Be sure to check out the review of Irish Divorce: A History in our Book Reviews section.

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.

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.