Writing History: Stories of Waterford Women in 1916

It’s hard to escape the 1916 Rising in Ireland at the moment. It’s being commemorated in all sorts of ways. And I’ve decided to play my own small part, with a project that tells the stories of ordinary women in Waterford City during the Rising. The idea planted itself in my head when I went to a meeting in Waterford City Library announcing a funding programme for projects commemorating 1916. It occurred to me that creative writing can be used to give a fresh perspective on history. It gives you the freedom to imagine what it was like to live in another time, and it fills in the gaps that facts miss.

I felt that in particular, the voices of ordinary working women were absent from history and that the women who fought in the Rising did not necessarily represent the majority of women. I came up with an idea for an exhibit that would use various creative techniques to tell their stories. For various bureaucratic reasons, it made more sense to do the project under the umbrella of a community group.

Women and the Rising
Telling the stories of ordinary women during the 1916 Rising

Pic from Ireland.ie

1916 Creative Exhibit

I knew that there were women’s groups at St Brigid’s Family and Community Centre in the heart of Waterford city. I approached them and they were receptive to the project. We worked together to fill in the application form, to define the project, outline a budget and give a timeline for completion. The project would be an exhibit about Waterford women in 1916, comprising diary entries, crafts, photographs and other artefacts. The participants would be woman of all ages and backgrounds in Waterford City.  

In December, we were delighted to discover that we had received funding from Waterford Council for our exhibit. The diary entries will form the centrepiece of the exhibit, and the other exhibit items will be decided upon by the women. I’m hoping the exhibit will play to their strengths. They may be interested in crafts or art, in which case they might like to create art or craft items inspired by the Rising. Or they may enjoy research, so they may want to collect artefacts from the time, or bring in items that belonged to their ancestors.

Writing Diary Entries

I will be responsible for helping the women create the diary entries, and we will do this through six 90-minute workshops. During the workshops, the women will create characters, ordinary women like themselves, who may have different perspectives on the Rising from the traditional historical one. They were the ones who stayed at home and kept the show going while the men fought, in the Rising itself or in World War One. They may have wished to fight themselves, but not be allowed. The participants may choose to write about their own ancestors and imagine what their lives were like. The women will also time travel to 1916, getting a sense of the atmosphere of the times and what was important to people who lived at that time.

After the participants have done all this, we will have a session devoted to the creation of diary entries. Aside from the chance to look at history in a new way, the participants will experience the sense of achievement that comes from creating their own piece of original writing. And they will learn a new skill, the skill of storytelling. The beauty of this project is that the participants won’t need an extensive knowledge of the 1916 Rising to take part. They just need to be able to imagine what it was like to live through it.

Do you think that using fictional and creative techniques offers a fresh perspective on history? Or do you prefer historical accounts based on solid fact?

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