Sonja Tiernan's new book: "Irish Women's Speeches: Voices that Rocked the System"

Author: Mary Hendriksen


Sonja Tiernan is the Eamon Cleary Chair of Irish Studies and co-director of the Centre for Irish and Scottish Studies at the University of Otago, New Zealand. Her new book: Irish Women’s Speeches: Voices that Rocked the System was published by the University College Dublin Press in November 2021.

The book is the first publication dedicated to Irish women’s speeches. It showcases 33 inspiring speeches by women of Ireland from the nineteenth century to the present— recounting the stirring contributions that Irish women have made both to modern Irish society and to global development. Each speech includes a detailed introduction explaining the context, importance, and impact of the speech as well as the biographical background of the orator. Taken together, the book is a record of women who, as Mary Robinson noted in her presidential acceptance speech, “instead of rocking the cradle, rocked the system."

Originally from Dublin, Professor Tiernan completed her PhD at University College Dublin. She has had continued associations with the Keough-Naughton Institute, beginning with the awarding of a National Endowment for the Humanities-Keough Fellowship in the 2010-2011 academic year. During that fellowship, Professor Tiernan completed researching and writing Eva Gore-Booth: An Image of Such Politics, the first dedicated biography of the Irish poet and radical social reformer, which was published by Manchester University Press in 2012 and launched by the Institute in a packed reception in Flanner Hall.

Professor Tiernan returned to Notre Dame in February 2020, after winning a Keough-Naughton Library Research Award for Visiting Scholars.

It was research during that visit, just before the pandemic, that forms the foundation of the book.

"I was able to access the impressive Hesburgh Library collections," Professor Tiernan says, "and with the great assistance of Irish Studies librarian and curator, Aedín Ní Bhróithe Clements, that visit led to a volume that includes rallying cries for trade union action, denunciations of apartheid, and calls for independence, unionism, peace, and gender equality. There is an American-Irish dimension to my book as well. Limerick-born Margaret Hinchey became a predominant voice in trade union and suffrage activism in New York. Hinchey, a laundry worker, met with two American presidents during her tireless campaigning. Other Irish women went to America to seek support for their cause—for example, Hanna Sheehy Skeffington, who during her American tour of 1917-1918 addressed no less than 250 public gatherings. While Siobhán McKenna is best remembered as an enigmatic actress and theatre director, she was invited to address a special meeting at the United Nations offices in New York in support of anti-apartheid in South Africa.".

The Museum of Literature Ireland MoLI will launch Irish Women's Speeches in Dublin on December 15.

Read more: 

 A summary of the book in the Irish Times, November 27, 2021

Three Questions with . . . Sonja Tiernan, November 2020