Culture History News

New Film on Mná100 Exploring Violence Against Women During Irish Civil War

Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media, Catherine Martin welcomes a new short film by Mná100 and Professor Lindsey Earner-Byrne, titled ‘Mary M. and Sexual Violence: Ordinary Voices and the Irish Civil War’, as part of the Decade of Centenaries Programme 2012-2023.

As we begin the final year of the Decade of Centenaries Programme, Lindsey Earner-Byrne, Professor of Gender at University College Cork, looks at the topic of violence against women, in January 1923, during the dark days of the Irish Civil War. In this specially created centenary short film, she focuses on a first-hand account – an eight page letter, which she discovered in the Dublin Diocesan Archives in the 1990s.

Minister Martin said, “as Mná100 examines women’s experiences during the Decade of Centenaries, the Civil War has emerged as a particularly important part of that history. This new short film builds on that important scholarship by focusing on a powerful and harrowing first-hand account written by Mary M. about her personal experience of sexual violence during the Civil War. The film and the transcription of Mary M.’s letter, can be found on Mná, together with a range of source material that has been created by other scholars on this topic. These additional readings and sources can be explored to deepen our understanding of this difficult and challenging subject matter. I encourage the discourse on this important topic to continue beyond the centenary period.”

“I would like to acknowledge the important work of Professor Earner-Byrne and all of the historians, and custodians of material who help us understand more fully the lives of people who lived during this conflict – civilians, as well as military leaders and politicians. This approach has been a cornerstone of our exploration of the period 1912-1923.”

As Lindsey Earner-Byrne states in the film, this is a ‘very unusual first-hand account’. The letter which gives us this unique insight, was, in fact, written ‘to silence an account of what had happened to her.’

Using Mary’s own words, Lindsey Earner-Byrne skilfully examines the deeply moving contents of this letter which reveal that Mary M. was raped. The birth of Mary’s son was a result of that rape. These events led her to write this letter the following year to the Catholic Archbishop of Dublin, Dr Edward Joseph Byrne, requesting the money she needed to have her son adopted, as official adoption was not in place in Ireland until the 1950s.

Personal accounts such as letters and diaries detailing rape are rare. As Lindsey Earner-Byrne describes: ‘when we encounter rape it is usually in the official records’. The testimony of Mary M., combined with, Lindsey Earner-Byrne’s thoughtful historical analysis, makes this a very compelling piece. The context of the Irish Civil War and how the new State’s justice system and policing force were not yet in place are explained. Morality and religious beliefs are also described, in a masterclass format, which respectfully looks at this most intimate and difficult of subject matters.

As Lindsey Earner-Byrne brings us through the ‘detailed reading of one person,’ we hear the unfiltered words of Mary M, so eloquent in her own testimony. Her account is overlaid by Lindsey Earner-Byrne, explaining the context… that Mary did not write the letter to seek ‘justice or an understanding of the consequences of the rape’. In this piece, through the words of Mary M., we gain an understanding of how male sexuality was perceived through the Catholic teaching of that time. Lindsey Earner-Byrne documents how this view on male sexuality lasted well into the 20th century, as she gives an understanding of the context of the events of 1923 and the decades that followed. For further context, see Mná100 Timeline .

The short film, “Mary M. and Sexual Violence: Ordinary Voices and the Irish Civil War” can be viewed here.

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