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Column: A Bridge for Rosie – Dublin should recognise one of its greatest daughters

Rosie Hackett received a gold medal in recognition of her 60 years’ service to the Irish trade union movement yet she is almost forgotten in today’s world, writes Angelina Cox.

Angelina Cox

THE BRIDGES ARCHING over the sleepy river Liffey project the memories of cherished historical and cultural figures; the Butt Bridge, named after the founder of the Home Rule movement in Ireland; the Grattan Bridge, named after Henry Grattan, an 18th century Irish politician, the Sean O’Casey Bridge, named after the enlightened dramatist, and the Fr Mathew Bridge, named after Fr Theobold Mathew, an teetotaller priest from the 18th century.

Every bridge in Dublin city centre is named after an important historical or cultural figure and every bridge in Dublin city centre is named after a man.

Recognising people’s contributions to public life

The practice of naming streets, bridges and other landmarks after cherished historical and cultural figures is an important form of recognition for their contributions. Lamentably, however, women’s contributions to historic struggles for independence, the trade union movement, the arts and culture have not received elucidation in Dublin city’s landscape.

The Marlborough Street Bridge is presently under construction. The naming of this new bridge is a timely opportunity to redress the gender imbalance projected in the architecture and infrastructure of Dublin city centre.

The job of christening the bridge falls to Dublin city council which has produced a shortlist of five names; including two women – Rosie Hackett and Kay Mills. Given the bridge is located near Liberty Hall, naming the bridge in memory of Rosie Hackett, who lived and worked in the area, seems most fitting.

The life and times of Rosie Hackett

Born in 1892, Rosie dedicated her life to the trade union movement and struggle for workers’ rights.

At the time of the 1911 census she lived on Abbey Street with her mother, sister, stepfather, stepsisters and a lodger. She joined the Irish Transport and General Workers’ Union when it was founded in 1909 and worked as a messenger in Jacob’s biscuit factory in Dublin. In 1911, the male workers withdrew their labour in pursuit of better working conditions and Rosie was one of the first women to come out in sympathy with them.

Rosie helped to galvanise and organise more than 3000 women in the Jacobs Factory to withdraw their labour in protest. The women were successful and they received better working conditions and an increase in pay. Rosie was just 18 years old at the time.

Organising strikes against poor working conditions

In 1913, she once again helped to organise the women in Jacobs to strike and protest against poor working conditions. Rosie took part in the ‘Bloody Sunday’ protests on Sunday 31 August, marking the beginning of the 1913 Dublin Lockout, the culmination of five years of increasingly bitter disputes between Larkin’s ITGWU and the city’s employers, led by William Martin Murphy.

Employers demanded that workers sign an undertaking to surrender their membership of the ITGWU or face ‘lock-out’ from their work. The lockout of 20,000 of Dublin’s unskilled workers lasted for almost six months, during which time, the authorities regularly staged violent attacks on worker’s meetings, resulting in the formation of the Irish Citizens Army.

In the end, however, it was the more subtle violence of hunger and deprivation, directed against the workers’ families, which broke the strike. For her part in the lock-out, Rosie lost her job in Jacobs and went on to train as a printer.

Ireland’s struggle for national independence

Rosie also played her part in Ireland’s struggle for national independence; she was a member of the Irish Citizen Army and served with Constance Markievicz and Michael Mallin in the Royal College of Surgeons and St Stephen’s Green Park during the Easter Rebellion 1916.

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She was one of the small group who endeavoured to print the 1916 Proclamation on a faulty printing press and brought the first copy, still damp, to James Connolly. Rosie’s eye-witness account of the Rebellion, documented by the bureau of military history, captures the danger faced by the rebels –

“I was stationed at the first-aid post in the park. It was very exciting there. We were under very heavy fire from late on Monday evening. Even when we marked out the first-aid post with a red sign, they did not recognise it and kept firing on us.”

For her part in the Rebellion, Rosie was sent to Kilmainham Jail, whereupon her release she re-founded the Irish Women Workers’ Union with Louie Bennett and Helen Chenevix; and for years served as clerk in the union which, at its peak, organised about 70,000 women, including bookbinders, contract cleaners, laundry, print and electronic workers.

Hackett is almost forgotten in today’s world

Later she took charge of the ITGWU’s newspaper shop on Eden Quay. In 1970 Hackett received a gold medal in recognition of her 60 years’ service to the Irish trade union movement yet she is almost forgotten in today’s world.

Throughout her life and work, Rosie was intimately connected with the Marlborough Street area. In this year, the centenary of the 1913 Lockout, The Rosie Hackett Bridge would serve as a testament to the struggles hard fought and won, and an important reminder of the battles still raging…

About the author:

Angelina Cox

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