The honoured women of Dublin

The honoured women of Dublin

Alison Gilliland and Clodagh Finn

Her Keys to the City: Honouring the Women Who Made Dublin Alison Gilliland and Clodagh Finn (Dublin City Council / Four Courts Press, €19.99/£17.20)

The old Thom’s Directory, which down to the end of the 1960s was the essential reference work for nearly every aspect of Dublin life, used to print a list of the Freemen of the City. As can be imagined most of those honoured there were male political and patriotic figures, beginning with Isaac Butt in 1876.

The first woman was Lady Sandhurst, who had been the first ever woman city councillor in the United Kingdom, but was removed when action was taken against her simply because she was a woman. Dublin honoured her in September 1889 as “a friend of Ireland”, not (as the text suggests) as a mere adjunct to her important husband, who in any case was 13 years dead. A Liberal suffragist she was also an eminent spiritualist, not such an odd combination then as it would be now. She was the first of the handful of women honourees up to June 2022.

Allison Gilliland on becoming Lord Mayor decided with the help of journalist Clodagh Finn to do something about this odd situation by taking public advice on an informal roster of eminent Dublin connected women. The resulting book is not a compendium of Freewomen, but of women who deserved to be honoured in the past and in more recent days. It is a calendar of courageous and talented people. The women indeed are presented as more active, more engaged than that host of male worthies, many of whom seem to have been honoured because they were current celebrities.


These names emerged from a public consultation back in February 2022, so they are very much the “People’s Choice”.

This is the sort of book which should certainly be in every Dublin school library. Every one of them will, in some way, be an inspiration to those young women looking around for role models.

The authors and their collaborators have done a fine job of putting together a book which will be widely read, and which hopefully will have a great effect.