Her Keys to the City – Honouring the Women who made Dublin by Alison Gilliland and Clodagh Finn

Eoin Meegan

This book is a too-long overdue roll call of gifted, intellectual, artistic, patriotic and heroic women who contributed in no small way to life in Dublin, and in many cases the nation.

As well as names you would expect in any honours list of Irish women; Constance Markievicz, Hanna Sheehy Skeffington, Madeleine ffrench-Mullen, Kathleen Behan, Anne Devlin, and Speranza (Jane Wilde) there are many names here which may not be so familiar, such as: Kathleen Clarke, first female Lord Mayor of Dublin, Louie Bennett, suffragist and trade unionist, Katharine Tynan, novelist, poet, and women’s rights campaigner, Maura Scannell, botanist, Pat Crowley, one of the first Air Lingus air hostesses, Mary Harriet Jellett, abstract painter, Nora Herlihy, one of the founders of the Irish Credit Union movement, Esther Steinberg, seamstress and victim of the Holocaust, and many, many more. It’s also nice to see some modern day achievers being acknowledged: Marian Finucane, Máire Mhac an tSaoi, Eavan Boland, Maeve Binchy, and a personal favourite, Christine Buckley. Written and collated by 2021-22 Dublin Lord Mayor, Alison Gilliland, and journalist and author Clodagh Finn, Her Keys To The City, is a testament to the enormous civic contribution made by these women.

As Gilliland pointed out, of the 86 people to have received the Freedom of the City since the honour was inaugurated in 1876 only seven were women. A damning indictment of our patriarchal onesightness.

At the book’s launch back in June the then Lord Mayor said: “The genesis of this book lies in wanting, in some way, to address the very obvious gender imbalance in recipients of the Freedom of the City and to showcase a variety of the very many accomplished women who lived before us. These women were central to major social and political changes in our country’s history, excelled across diverse disciplines and realised major achievements in many different fields. I’m delighted to be able to acknowledge them and their achievements in this book and hope that they will become better known to the public as a result. I am particularly grateful to Clodagh whose dedication, commitment and passion epitomises that shown by the women in this book, those who contributed to realising this very special book and Dublin City Council for publishing it.”

Author Clodagh Finn commented: “We have tried to capture something of that variety in Her Keys to the City by holding up a light to the women who made a difference to the city of Dublin, and by extension Ireland, in so many walks of life – in business, culture, science, education, sport, innovation and technology. Her Keys to the City is full of under-told stories of how the women who lived here before us made the impossible possible. I hope this book will act as a key to open up a discussion of a past that is full of such under-celebrated women.”

Her Keys to the City – Honouring the women who made Dublin by Alison Gilliland and Clodagh Finn is published by Dublin City Council and distributed by Four Courts Press (2022) and is widely available at book shops and online.