Irish women trade union pioneers

TO MARK International Women's Day (March 8) in 2007, the European Year of Equal Opportunities for All, the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU) and SIPTU, have produced a pack of postcards depicting some of the women 'pioneers' of the labour and trade union movement.

The postcard set is intended as the first in a series to honour the contribution made by working women, north and south and features women who have, for example, held officerships in Congress and/or their own unions during the 20th century.

Louie Bennet, Helen Chenevix, Betty Sinclair, Cissy Cahalan, May Clifford, Sheila Conroy, Kay Fallow (Geraghty), Mary Galway, Delia Larkin, Catherine Mahon, Inez McCormick, Patricia O'Donovan, Helena Moloney and Padraigin Ni Mhurchu are all featured.

The union bodies stress that the next series will focus on women who have contributed as activists and/or officials in their trade unions.

Labour historian Teresa Moriarty carried out the research and sourced most of the photographs for the project.

The packs are available from ICTU at or SIPTU at

Some of the women trade unionists featured in the postcard set published jointly by ICTU and SIPTU :


PADRAIGÍN NÍ MHURCHÚ was the last serving general secretary of the Irish Women Workers' Union, 1982-84, before its amalgamation with the FWUI.

She then became the first woman member of the Labour Court. (Its first woman Chairperson was EVELYN OWENS of the LGPSU.)

Padraigín had been a FWUI official from 1973-81, and IWWU assistant general secretary, 1981-82.

Her predecessor as IWWU General Secretary was MAURA BRESLIN (1970-1982), who was President of the IWWU in 1956 and served on the executive council of Congress, 1971-74.

The first woman to be elected onto the executive council of the new ICTU, in 1959, was KAY McDOWELL of the IWWU; Kay was general secretary of he IWWU, 1957-70.

Louie Bennet & hen Chenevix

LOUIE BENNETT, 1869-1956, and HELEN CHENEVIX, 1890-1963, began their long association with the Irish Women Workers' Union in 1916.

Louie Bennett served the union for 38 years, as general secretary, as Irish Trade Union Congress executive committee member, 1927-31 and 1944-50; and was the first woman president of the ITUC in 1932 and again in 1948.

Helen Chenevix was IWWU general secretary (1955-57); on the Congress executive (1949-56); and Congress president in 1951.

Helena Moloney

HELENA MOLONY, 1883-1967, was appointed organiser of the Irish Women Workers' Union by James Connolly in 1915.

She was a member of the Irish Citizen's Army in the 1916 Easter Rising.

She was an IWWU official; on the Dublin Trades Council until 1939, and an Irish Trade Union Congress executive member in 1921 and 1933-37, becoming its second woman president in 1937.

Cissy Cahalan

CISSY CAHALAN, 1876-1948, was a member of the Irish Drapers' Assistants' Association, now MANDATE. She worked in Arnotts, Dublin and in 1912 she formed a women's committee in the Dublin branch.

She was president of her union in 1921, and was elected to the Irish Trade Union Congress executive, 1922-23.

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This document was last modified by David Granville on 2007-05-17 17:44:06.
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