Maggie Cronin and Carol Moore tell the story of Ireland’s militant suffragettes
‘There is only so long one can ask for something politely.’ So speaks the character of Lillian Metge in Shrieking Sisters at the Linen Hall Library in the wake of International Women’s Day, celebrated each year on March 8.
The play or rehearsed reading in this case, written by Maggie Cronin and Carol Moore and today performed by both with Laura Hughes, tells the story of Ulster and Irish suffragettes in the early years of the 20th century, a period in history which is very much the focus of commemorative events at the moment.
Between the Easter Rising, the Home Rule Crisis and the First World War, it was a period of extraordinary upheaval, and it is almost understandable that the struggle to win the vote for women has not been so much in the forefront of memoralising events.
Shrieking Sisters goes some way to redress the imbalance, portray-ing as it does a host of significant characters in the early women’s movement in Ireland and elsewhere. Emmeline Pankhurst makes an appearance, as do lesser-known but no less important figures in Irish suffrage.
The story revolves around Lillian Metge, who, like Pankhurst, was born into a family of some privilege and wealth. She fought, nonetheless, for a woman’s right to vote, initially supporting passive action to make the point, until nothing less than militant, illegal action got the attention of the male-dominated governing establishment. They threw stones, damaged property and burned buildings.
Fortwilliam Golf Club was targeted with an acid attack on the green and Abbeylands House in Whiteabbey was destroyed by fire. A bomb attack on Lisburn Cathedral in the early hours of August 1, 1914 is described in some detail, as is the subsequent trial of the alleged bombers, one of whom was Metge. For her efforts, she and a number of other female protesters were thrown into Crumlin Road Gaol.
The play uses a variety of media to tell the story. Music and recorded sound augment the actors onstage. We hear a ballad of women’s suffrage sung by an opera singer and also sounds connected with the force-feeding that was a practice of prison doctors when women prisoners went on hunger strike.
By Andrea Rea