Rosie Hackett – Tales from Wo-Fan’s Land

On appearance, Rosanna “Rosie” Hackett looks like a sweet little old Irish woman but by all accounts, she was a furious unionist and influential member of the labour scene. I first found out about her whilst working in Glasnevin Cemetery where she is buried, the genealogist at the museum angrily showed me her death certificate which read her occupation as ‘Spinster’ rather than her true occupation, a trade union leader.

Born in Dublin in 1893 and died in 1976, Hackett joined her first trade union at aged 17 whilst working as a messenger in a factory (where conditions were so bad it was described by activist Jim Larkin as ‘being from a different era’.) [1] At aged 19, Hackett organised a strike involving 3000 women and secured pay rises and better working conditions. Soon after, she founded the Irish Women’s Workers Union with Jim Larkin’s sister, Delia. Hackett played an important role in the 1913 Dublin Lockout where 20,000 workers faced 300 employers for the right to unionise. The Lockout lasted 5 months and caused great hardship for the workers, Hackett set up a soup kitchen to help with the hunger faced by the workers and their families. [2] In 1916 when the Irish independence movement began, Hackett helped to print the Declaration of Independence and occupied St Stephens Green during the Easter Rising alongside the influential and powerful Constance Markievicz (hopefully being written about by someone else as part of this project!). Hackett spent 10 days in jail for her part in the Rising. A year after the Rising, a flag was hoisted about one of the leaders of the Rising, James Connolly (who Hackett had handed the Declaration of Independence to, ink still wet) stating “James Connolly, Murdered May 12th, 1916”, when the flag was removed, Hackett and others raised another one with the same inscription and it remained hanging for many hours, despite the effort of four hundred policemen. Hackett later bragged that four hundred policemen could not stop four Irish women. After her role in the independence movement, Hackett refounded the Irish Women’s Workers Union and worked her whole life to promote workers rights, in the 1970s, the labour movement awarded Hackett a gold medal for her contributions and in 2014, a Dublin bridge was named after her.

The main reason I want more people to know about Rosie Hackett is because of that death certificate I was shown nearly 5 months ago. It broke my heart to know that a woman so powerful and so brilliant will be remembered as a spinster simply because she didn’t marry. Rosie proved that no matter your size (honestly look her up, she was a very short woman) and no matter your background (she lived in tenements and did not come from an educated household), you can make a change and affect the conditions of people’s lives. The Irish Women’s Workers Union is still a functioning union and still works to improve lives. It is brilliant that a bridge is named after her but it is not enough, Rosie Hackett must not be forgotten. So, if you’re ever in Dublin, visit her grave at Glasnevin (and see the other inspirational women buried there, Maud Gonne, Hanna Sheehy-Skeffington and Constance Markievicz just to name a few!) and walk over the bridge and please, talk about her. She was not a spinster, she was a revolutionary.

Written by Eilish Calnan (she/her) from Hampshire, England. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram! This project, Tales from Wo-Fan’s Land, is a series of stories written by Frank Turner fans, inspired by his new album No Man’s Land.



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