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Women's and gender studies
This year marks the 30th anniversary of the enlistment of women to the Irish Defence Forces. Whilst Irish women fought in the 1916 Rising and were combatants in the War of Independence and Civil War, they were largely excluded from the newly formed Free State Army of the 1920s. Dr. Bridget Lyons Thornton was an exception to this rule and was commissioned as an officer at the rank of Lieutenant in 1923. She was demobilised in 1924, and aside from the Army’s Nursing Service, the Defence Forces were to remain an all-male preserve for almost sixty years. The ‘men-only’ status of the Irish Defence Forces – which was largely out of step with international military and paramilitary trends in the 1970s – came under increasing scrutiny from the Irish government as the equality agenda took root in wider Irish society during this decade. By 1979, the Defence Amendment Act (No. 2) of 1979, titled ‘An Act to provide for the enlistment of women into the Defence Forces’ was passed. The first cohort of female officer cadets entered the Defence Forces in March 1980. For these women, entering the all-male environment of the Irish Army was something of a culture shock. Initially, there was strong resistance to the concept of female soldiers from within the Defence establishment itself. In a 1978 memo, the Secretary General of the Department of Defence informed the Chief of Staff that female soldiers would simply ‘release male soldiers from certain duties in order that (men) fill more active military functions’. To this end, Irish women soldiers were to be confined to ‘clerical duties’ and the ‘driving of light vehicles’.
Clonan, T., 2010: Women On Frontline Across Irish Defence Forces, Dublin: The Irish Times.