June 2020

Decade of Centenaries and Dictionary of Irish Biography are collaborating on showcasing women of the early twentieth century who strove for Irish Independence; for female suffrage; to improve the lives of women in poverty; and to improve the standard of care for children.

These women worked hard throughout their lives to improve the lives of others, but they have not always been accorded their due recognition. 

The three women that have been featured to date are included below. 

As Ireland opens its doors again please try to support local booksellers, walking tours, heritage groups – all those who work to bring our history to you through their work.

The current History Ireland magazine includes articles relating covering the Battle of Fontenoy in 1745, Issac Butt and the Home Rule movement, hurling in Thurles before the GAA, and the Retention of Records Bill.

To subscribe to receive a digital edition of the History Ireland magazine every month, click *here* to see the available options.

This also gives full access to the archive of articles.

There is also a single subscription offer at the moment – for €5 you can receive a digital edition of the current issue.

As always, if you would like to inform us of any suitable material – anything related to the Decade of Centenaries – please feel free to email [email protected].


                 Dictionary of Irish Biography

Decade of Centenaries and Dictionary of Irish Biography are collaborating on showcasing

women of the early twentieth century who strove for Irish Independence; for female suffrage; to improve the lives of women in poverty; and to improve the standard of care for children. These women worked hard throughout their lives to improve the lives of others, but they have not always been accorded their due recognition. 

Hopefully this series will bring their deeds to

a new and wider audience. 

First in the series is Nora Ashe. 

  Ashe, Nora (Honora)

by Frances Clarke

Ashe, Nora (Honora) (1882–1970), teacher, nationalist, and Irish language enthusiast, was born 15 July 1882 in

Kinard, Lispole, Co. Kerry, the third daughter in the family of ten of Gregory Ashe, a farmer, and Ellen (née Hanafin),

of Tobar, Co. Kerry. 

Both her parents were native Irish speakers and, though English was the dominant language in the Ashe home, she was always bilingual. Her father was a significant influence, and provided his children with an interest in Irish music, literature and history.

Educated by the Loreto sisters in Killarney, she taught at the Mercy convent in Kilrush before attending Carysfort College, where she was taught by Eamon de Valera, with whom she often conversed in Irish.

Upon receiving her teaching qualification, she taught in Cappamore, Co. Limerick.

She was in Cappamore during the 1916 rising, in which her brother Thomas Ashe played a significant part. She

was very close to Thomas and through him became well acquainted with Michael Collins, Sean O’Casey, Seán Mac Diarmada and Austin Stack. During Thomas’s imprisonment after the rising, in Ireland and subsequently in England, she visited and corresponded with him and several of his colleagues; it was through her that he kept in contact with his many friends in Ireland.

When she visited him in Lewes prison, she brought messages from Collins; she also met Stack and other penal servitude convicts.

She accompanied Thomas on his return to Kerry, on his release in June 1917. When he was imprisoned in

Mountjoy in the late summer of 1917 she again visited.

She wrote of his death on hunger strike on 25 September that ‘it was the last thing we expected to hear’

(BMH, WS 645).

She was the first family member to arrive at the Mater hospital, and was involved in the arrangements for his

funeral demonstration in Dublin (the family initially wanted to take the body to Kerry).

Ashe moved to Dublin, where she worked in the Central Model School in Marlborough Street. She was later

appointed principal of Scoil Mhuire, and she held this post until her retirement.

She played an active role in the foundation of the Fianna Fáil party in 1926, and in its early years she was a member of its national executive. Her involvement with Conradh na Gaeilge lasted many years; she regularly attended their ard fheiseanna, and was a trustee of Choiste Gnótha (1923–41).

In 1934 she assisted in the foundation of the School Dramatic Society, and was a member of its original committee. She did much to keep the memory of her brother alive and was an important source of information on his life. She died 20 January 1970 in Dublin, and was buried in Straffan, Co. Kildare.

Family photographs are held at the Kerry county library and some correspondence is in the NLI.


BMH, WS 645; Seán Ó Lúing, I die in a good cause: a study of Thomas Ashe, idealist and revolutionary (1970);

Irish Press, 21 Jan. 1970; Ir. Times, 21 Jan. 1970; Beathaisnéis, 1882–1992, iv)

Further reading:

Letter from Seán O’Casey commiserating on the death of Thomas Ashe http://letters1916.maynoothuniversity.ie/item/6630 (Kerry Library)

Witness statement made by Nora Ashe to the Bureau of Military History: http://www.militaryarchives.ie/collections/online-collections/bureau-of-military-history-1913-1921/reels/bmh/BMH.WS0645.pdf  

Mangione, Thomas. ‘The Establishment of the Model

School System in Ireland, 1834-1854’, New Hibernia Review/Irish Éireannach Nua, 7:4 (2003), pp 103-22. 

Walsh, Tom. ‘The National System of Education, 1831-2000’

in Essays in the History of Irish Education, ed. Brendan

Walsh (London, 2016), pp 7-43. 


Second in the series is Harriet Bagwell. 


Bagwell, Harriet

by Frances Clarke

Bagwell, Harriet (Philippa Jocelyn) (c.1853–1937), philanthropist and promoter of local industry, was born in Dunleckney Manor, Bagenalstown, Co. Carlow, eldest child of Phillip Jocelyn Newton (1818–95), DL, JP, and high sheriff, and his wife Emily (d. 1886), daughter of Sir David Toler Osborne.

In January 1873 she married Richard Bagwell, barrister and historian; they had one son and three daughters. 

The early years of the marriage were spent in nearby Innislonagh; in 1884 they settled on the family estate at Marlfield, Clonmel, Co. Tipperary. 

It was here that she became active in several charitable concerns. Possibly drawing on previous efforts made by

her mother-in-law Frances Bagwell (née Prittie), who established a local school for Swiss embroidery, she

founded (1885) her own embroidery cottage industry at Marlfield, which provided work for women in their own


She supplied both the raw materials and the designs (adaptations of Indian and Egyptian artwork) while

organising the workers’ payment and sales of their produce.  Marlfield Embroideries proved highly successful, and

added greatly to the wealth of the local community. Its work was represented at several exhibitions, most

notably the RDS’s Irish stand at the Royal Jubilee Exhibition in Manchester (1887) and the Lancaster Arts

and Craft Exhibition (1897). 

Her elder sister Mrs Anne Vesey (d. 1927), heiress to the Newton family home, founded the Dunleckney Cottage Embroidery in 1889, run along similar principles to the Marlfield venture.

Throughout her years at Marlfield she established a society that provided penny meals for the local poor, a registry office for servants, and (assisted by her daughters) a cookery school for national school girls (c.1900).

She also played an active role in improving health care in the district. She founded the Clonmel Cottage Hospital

(1895), was closely involved in promoting the District Nursing Association, and went on to become an executive committee member of the Women’s National Health Association of Ireland.

Widowed in 1918, she left Marlfield in 1920, after which she lived for some time at Dangan, Carrickmines, Co. Dublin.

In old age she compiled an informal history of the Bagwell family for private circulation, which includes detailed accounts of the burning of Marlfield by republicans in 1923. She died on 12 February 1937 at Birdhill, Clonmel,

Co. Tipperary, home of her youngest daughter, the painter Lilla Perry.


Some Irish industries (Irish Homestead, special issue) (1897); Harriet Bagwell, ‘History of the Bagwell family’ (typescript in NLI; c.1930?) (photo); Constance Smedley, ‘What women have done for Ireland’, The World’s Work

(May 1907), 634–41; Slainte: the journal of the Women’s National Health Association, i, no. 10 (Oct. 1909);

Nationalist and Munster Advertiser, 17 Feb. 1937; Burke, IFR (1976); Paul Larmour, The Irish arts and crafts

movement (1995) )

Additional information on Harriet, taken from

John Dennehy, In a time of war: Tipperary 1914-1918 (Sallins, 2013), p.14

Following the outbreak of the First World War, concerns grew in Ireland about the rising cost of food – some clearly due to disruption in the food chain, some, it was felt, because of profiteering grocers.

John writes:

At Clonmel Asylum, three contractors wrote informing the committee that they could no longer supply bread, butter

and sugar at the contract price. Harriet Bagwell, in a letter

to the Clonmel Chronicle, announced the intention of reopening the Shamrock Rooms (a quasi soup kitchen) because of the distress owing to the war. She pointed out

that as a result of the sharp increase in prices, it will be ‘impossible to carry out the work without help, not only

from those who have given in the past, but from others’.

The Bagwell Estate Papers are held in the National Library of Ireland: http://catalogue.nli.ie/Collection/vtls000789351/


Harriet’s in-laws were deeply involved in Irish politics, one, ‘Old Bags’, or John Bagwell, so deeply involved that he promised to vote both for and against the Act of Union, depending on how much each side was willing to pay.

Following Harriet’s departure from Marfield, the house, like many of Ireland’s Big Houses, was attacked by anti-Treaty forces.

Around the same time, the pro-Treaty Senator John Bagwell was kidnapped

Finally, an insight into the land holding of the Bagwells, from Landed Estate Database in NUIG.


Third in the series is Jane Barlow. 

Barlow, Jane

by Frances Clarke

Barlow, Jane (1856–1917), poet, novelist, and short story writer, was born 17 October 1856 in Dollymount, Dublin, the third child and eldest daughter of the Rev. James William Barlow, history professor and subsequently vice-provost of Trinity College, Dublin, and his wife and first cousin, Mary Louisa (née Barlow) (d. 1894).

Reared from early childhood in The Cottage, Raheny, Co. Dublin, she was educated by the family’s governess and her father.

She became proficient in French and German, and was a talented classical scholar and an accomplished pianist. She travelled much throughout Ireland, and in her twenties visited Italy, France, Greece, and Turkey.

Having written prose and verse from an early age, she began her published career in 1885, with anonymous contributions to the Dublin University Review, then under the editorship of T. W. Rolleston, who was impressed by her work and encouraged her to write more.

These early efforts, like so much of her later work, were inspired by the Irish peasantry, with whom she was familiar from walking holidays along the west coast.

While her first book, History of a world of immortals without gods (1891), which appeared under the pseudonym Antares Skorpios, drew on her interest in the classics, she returned to more familiar ground in 1892 with the publication of Bogland studies. In this collection of verse narratives she attempted to capture the specific qualities of the English language as spoken in the west of Ireland.

This was followed by the hugely successful collection of stories Irish idylls (1892). Running into nine editions, it was read in France, Germany, Britain and America, and led to her being regarded by critics as an Irish version of the Scottish writer William Robertson Nicoll (1851–1923).

Barlow continued to write prolifically, producing a further five volumes of verse, eleven collections of stories and five novels, among them Kerrigan’s quality (1894), The end of Elfinstown (1894), Strangers at Lisconnell (1895) and A creel of Irish stories (1897). She also contributed to numerous magazines and journals such as The NationIrish HomesteadHiberniaDanaThe BookmanCornhill MagazineNational ReviewLiving Age, and, in America, the Literary Digest and Eclectic Magazine.

Her work was generally well received, but she had her critics: W. B. Yeats, for example, noted that she wrote only of ‘old women and hens’.

Her efforts to produce a libretto for an opera by Michele Esposito  were rejected by the composer in 1898, and her only play, a sentimental melodrama entitled ‘A bunch of lavender’, staged by the Theatre of Ireland in 1911, was not a success and remains unpublished.

imilarly her novels Flaws (1911), in which she focused on the lives of the Anglo-Irish middle class, and her fantasy

A strange land (1908), for which she adopted the pseudonym Felix Ryark, did not achieve the same popularity as her more ‘Irish’ works.

Contemporaries such as Katherine Tynan remembered Barlow as a quiet, introverted woman, who led a secluded life centred almost entirely on her family home. However, she was in many ways an active and independent-minded woman.

Throughout her life she remained a keen hill walker, and took regular holidays along the west coast of Ireland. She was also an active member of the National Literary Society.

A regular contributor to their ‘original nights’, in 1897 she was elected its vice-president. From 1896 to 1898 she acted as an examiner in English for the Department of Education. Having rejected organised religion, in later years she became increasingly interested in the Psychical Research Society. She was among the first members of the society’s Irish branch, and became a good friend of its founder, Dr Alfred Russel Wallace.

Despite her family’s unionist background, she considered herself a nationalist from childhood. Inspired by the Young Ireland and Fenian movements, she contributed romantic nationalist verse to the United Irishman of Arthur Griffith, though this was published anonymously, to avoid embarrassing her father.

Similarly influenced by the Gaelic revival, she attempted to learn Irish and in 1900 was elected as an honorary member of the St Columba branch of the Gaelic League. Her lengthy correspondence with Katherine Tynan and Sarah Purser (who painted her portrait in 1894) testifies to these influences, and she often signed herself Sinéad. However, she later became alienated by the radical turn of Irish nationalism, and responded critically to the 1916 rising in verse.

After the death of her father in 1913 she and her siblings moved to Bray, Co. Wicklow. Plagued by poor health and low spirits, she found her work increasingly tedious, though she continued writing up to her death, which occurred on 17 April 1917 at St Valerie, Bray. Her final publication, In Mio’s youth (1917), appeared posthumously.

A very popular and critically acclaimed writer during her own lifetime, in 1904 Barlow became the first woman to be awarded an honorary doctorate from TCD.

Her poetry was included in many contemporary anthologies of Irish writing, but interest in her work was not sustained, and her characterisations of the native Irish subsequently appeared stereotyped.


NLI, MS 8186–8; T. W. Rolleston and Stopford Brooke (eds), Treasury of Irish poetry (1900); Jane Barlow, Between doubting and daring (1916); Ernest A. Boyd, Ireland’s literary renaissance (1916); Stephen J. Brown, Ireland in fiction (1916); IBL, viii (1917), 141–2; Ir. Times (18 Apr. 1917); The Bookman (June 1917), with photograph; Katherine Tynan, Memories (1924); Mary Duane, ‘The life and letters of Jane Barlow’, UCD, MA thesis (1955); John O’Grady, The life and work of Sarah Purser (1996); Rolf Loeber and Magda Loeber, A guide to Irish fiction, 1650–1900 (2006), 117–20)

Coming in June: 

History Ireland Podcasts

The next Hedge School/Podcast will be broadcast on the 6th June and it will mark the bi-centenary of the death of Henry Grattan.

This podcast is funded by Wicklow County Archives Service. 

This Hedge School is also in association with the Bray Cualann Historical Society.


The next June podcast will be broadcast on 28th June:


The Connaught Rangers mutiny in 1920, 1970 & 2020

Tommy Graham in discussion with Cecile Gordon, Kate O’Malley, John Gibney, Brian Hanley.

This Hedge School is supported by the Commemorations Unit of the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht.

The Podcasts will be available across a wide range of podcast platforms, including Spotify. 

So it’s definitely ‘wherever you get your podcasts’!


Irish Times Supplement  (Wednesday 3rd June)

1920 War of Independence 

Contents include:

A month by month timeline of 1920

Advice for Junior and Senior cycle students

Diarmaid Ferriter on the traumatic memories and personal association with the War of Independence.

Sinéad McCoole on how many instrumental women had their part in achieving Irish independence completely overlooked.

Cauvery Madhavan on how the Connaught Rangers mutiny in 1920 inspired her latest novel, The Tainted.

Liz Gillis on Bloody Sunday.

…and much more.


Leave a Comment