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The Mothers of Martyrdom: Women in Early 20th Century Irish Drama

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  1. Introduction
  2. What the old woman represents
  3. The Easter Rising
  4. Conclusion
  5. Bibliography

In the early quarter of the 20th century men of Ireland struggled for freedom; forming leagues and brotherhoods and secret organizations of resistance, unionizing labor and creating a more cohesive political resistance, arming themselves and training for armed conflict, eventually fighting the English starting in 1916 and later each other in the Irish Civil War until 1924. Even when not involved in some sort of political upheaval, the men of Ireland were seldom at home; if fortunate to find work, they slaved away and often times spent their evenings in pubs. Whatever the source, there has traditionally been a large amount of absenteeism on the part of Irish fathers and men in general. This leaves the mothers of Ireland to rear the children, keep the house and hold the family together through the unceasing barrage of crisis. Time and time again, they were left to sit by and watch as their brothers, sons and husbands went off to die for some reason or another.

[...] Certain lines in the play hint at the Catholic practice of holy communion; of God forgive us, Nora, we're after forgetting his bit of bread,? while others evoke the image of Christ on the cross; . we didn't think of the nails.? One could argue that here, Synge is reminding the people of Ireland of the sacrifice that Christ made to save mankind and that Ireland must make its own sacrifice in order to be free. Having lost all the men in her family, Mauyra at one point turns the tragedy around to become a strength with the lines, ?They're all gone now, there isn't anything more the sea can do to me . [...]

[...] The roles played here by women in this play are both the abandoned lover and the mythic inspiration to the romantic notion of sacrifice. This romantic concept of sacrifice would play a major role in the 1916 Uprising where the leaders understood that their revolt could only end in failure but that it might serve to inspire the rest of Ireland into rebellion. When fifteen of the leaders of the Easter Rising were executed, their sacrifice came full circle enraging much of previously neutral Irish citizens into taking up arms against the English. [...]

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