New documentary sheds light on hidden sexual violence of the Irish revolution
"Sexual violence didn’t suit the narrative of the revolution."
Cogadh ar Mhná is a new TG4 documentary aiming to shed light on the hidden sexual abuses carried out against women during the Irish revolution.
Featuring the work of historians and sociologists such as Mary McAuliffe and Linda Connolly, the documentary details the abuses suffered by women during the War of Independence and the subsequent Civil War - and considers why their stories were kept in the dark until now.
Director Ciara Hyland says that she first became aware of this sexual violence while watching a documentary on Cumann na mBan, when one of the historians featured said: "Of course the sexual violence against these women during this period has never been discussed."
"That line struck me because that was the first time I’d ever heard anyone even mention sexual violence during the revolution," Ciara tells Her. "It’s a whole topic that I had never been considered."
Deciding to dig a little deeper, Ciara soon discovered that there were multiple Irish historians who had uncovered firsthand accounts of sexual violence against women during this time.
There were diaries, letters, witness statements and more, all written in the survivors' own words. "The evidence was there," says Ciara. "But now 100 years on it's been rediscovered and brought into the light."
Cogadh ar Mhná uses dramatisations to tell these stories in the survivors' own words.
Stories like the woman from Westmeath who was raped by a band of Republicans and later became pregnant. Or the one where two girls were assaulted by members of the Free State Army in Kenmare, only to have the attack covered up by the newly formed government.
British soldiers weren't well behaved during the wars, but as it turns out, neither were many Irish soldiers. But how come the violence was covered up at the time, and why haven't we heard about it until now?
“As the Free State moved into the 1920s, it didn’t suit the image of Ireland," says Ciara.
"Sexual violence didn’t suit the narrative of the revolution, which was seen as a heroic fight for freedom fought by very good Catholic men.
"But that’s what happens where you have armed bands of men raiding houses in the middle of the night, angry and hyped up on conflict. It happens everywhere, we were blind to think it didn’t happen here."
Much work has been done on women's roles as fighters and activists amid the War of Independence and the Civil War.
Despite this, Ciara says very little has examined the regular people who just happened to live in a conflict zone.
“History concentrated on the leaders and military but where do they think the female population went?" she says. "They were there and they experienced the conflict. But very little attention was paid to them.
"They were consigned to the domestic roles of mothers and daughters. And as time passed, their voices got lost."
Even the ones who did report, says Ciara, got nowhere. Cogadh ar Mhná features two stories from women who did report being raped by members of the Free State Army and the British Army. They were, unsurprisingly, silenced.
"That shame and the difficulties faced by survivors, that was even more magnified back then," says Ciara. "There was a lot of pressure to stay quiet."
Ciara is hopeful that Cogadh ar Mhná will shed light on these women's experiences, but also on the incredible research that historians have been doing on this largely unheard of topic.
"Historians have successfully built their own platform but I hope the film amplifies that," she says. "These stories deserve to be told, there needs to be recognition of what happened.
"This is just the tip of the iceberg. Who knows what else is going to come out."
Cogadh ar Mhná airs on TG4 on Wednesday, September 23 at 9.30pm.