Date of Award
Rev. Dan Shea
Rev. Jeremiah Sullivan
I discovered the University of Delaware held a manuscript collection containing letters from Irish women to American author Kay Boyle. Boyle was of Irish descent, a world traveler, a professor, and short-story writer who had won the prestigious O. Henry Award, twice, early in her career. Bom in 1902, she spent the first part of her adulthood in France as an active member of the avant-garde movement in the 1920s and 30s.1 Her colleagues and associates were Peggy Guggenheim, Gertrude Stein, and Samuel Beckett, in her later years, her closest friend was peace activist and musician Joan Baez.”
In addition, Boyle was a political activist. She protested and marched for and against many causes throughout her life. She spent some time in prison in her late sixties for her protests against the Vietnam War and was a member of the Black Panthers. She was a woman who loved a good fight and never backed down from her opinions even when those opinions seemed contradictory. In 1974, Kay Boyle went to Ireland, the country of her ancestors, because she “wanted to meet Irish women who had been jailed for their beliefs.”111 She never produced a book on her research; she did, however, publish one short- story in the Atlantic Monthly, “St. Stephen’s Green.”lv Boyle worked on her book for ten years, but a finished product never came together. Biographer Joan Mellen recounted in her book, Kay Boyle: Author of Herself. “Sitting down to write about the Irish women, Kay discovered she had arrived at an impasse. ‘Isn’t it the women more than the politics who are important?’ her friend Joan Baez asked her when Kay seemed blocked by the fact that their politics were less than satisfactory.”v For Boyle, who believed all people should have equal civil rights—regardless of gender, class, race, or any other identifying demographic, and she felt the fight the women in Ireland were fighting was feminist, and Boyle, perceiving feminism as misandry (the hatred of men), would not be defined as a feminist. She was unable to produce a work that supported politics she disagreed with.
The country and the women had made an impression on Boyle, however. In a 1978 peace protest, she marched carrying the tricolor flag of the Irish Republic/1 She would spend the next few years corresponding with the women; she discussed with them and others about buying a home in Ireland and living there part-time/" The relationships Boyle had with Mairin de Burca and Margaret MacCurtain, as seen through their letters to her, initially began as the polite correspondences of people who were acquaintances; however, they developed over the years as the women became friends with common causes.
It is this research of Boyle’s did that caught my eye. I contacted the University of Delaware and received copies of the letters she received from two women in Ireland: Mairin de Burca and Margaret MacCurtain. De Burca was a member of the Sinn Fein and the Irish Women’s Liberation Movement. MacCurtain was a nun and preeminent historian at the University in Dublin, who specialized in Irish women’s history. It is my goal, with this thesis, to complete Boyle’s work and expand on it in my own way. The figures of de Burca and MacCurtain will be included later. It is necessary first to tell the story of Irish women from the beginning to build the foundation of why their work in the latter half of the 20th century was so vital to Irish history and Irish society today.
Kelly, Page, "Freedom Fighters: Lessons From Irish Women A Study In Irish Gender History" (2007). History Undergraduate Theses. 33.