DISTURBING and previously untold stories of sexual violence against women in Kerry and other parts of Ireland during the War of Independence and the subsequent civil war will emerge in an important new documentary, following ground-breaking research, to be screened on TG4 next week.
Cadagh ar Mhná features the findings of historians Mary McAuliffe and Lindsey Earner-Byrne, sociologists Linda Connolly and Louise Ryan and writer-historian Ann Mathews. Taking a fresh look at old sources and new material, they are uncovering many unnerving matters.
While stories of sexual violence against women have been such an integral part of every other war – including World War I and world War 11 and, later, the Bosnian War, the documentary makers set about examining why similar stories were missing from the Irish Revolution?
“For years, Ireland has been seen as being exceptional in that these acts didn’t occur here. But was Ireland really so special?
“Was the nature of war here so very different from war everywhere else? And did our men really behave so well? This documentary argues that the answer is no,” they said.
One grim episode uncovered during the research is a Kenmare incident where two girls were assaulted by members of the Free State Army only to have it covered up at the highest echelons of the newly formed government.
Or a long letter highlighting the plight of Norah Healy from Cork who was pregnant when raped by the Crown Forces. On reporting it to the RIC, she spotted one of her attackers in the police station and was told “Never mind, don’t say anything now” by the sergeant-in-charge.
These stories uncovered in the documentary tell of women in their homes being targeted by armed bands of men from all sides of the conflicts who took their anger and their frustration out on them when they could not find their brothers, husbands and fathers who were on the run or in hiding.
These raids were mostly at night could result in the women being dragged from their beds, beaten and having their hair cut off. Sometimes they were separated from the rest of their families and sexually assaulted.
“No side of the conflict is exempt – Crown Forces, Republicans and Free Staters – there are stories of violence against women committed by them all,” the documentary team stressed.
Cogadh ar Mhná takes these new, untold stories and dramatises them in an incredibly evocative way using the words of the women from first-hand accounts.
It allows these women’s voices in their own words to be heard for the first time in a hundred years and it redresses the balance of the history of the period that has been largely focused on fighters and military tactics.
Written and directed by Ciara Hyland, with support from the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland, Cogadh ar Mhná will be broadcast on TG4 on Wednesday, September 23 at 9.30pm.
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