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War is Women’s Business

because their husbands were in the army

and were away on active duty were called

‘Separation Women’. During the war these

women often paraded behind the Union Jack

but their loyalties were essentially familial

rather than unionist.

My husband’s in Salonika

And I wonder if he’s dead

I wonder if he knows he has

A kid with a foxy head

Now when the war is over

What will the slackers do

They’ll be all around the soldiers

For the loan of a bob or two

But when the war is over

What will the soldiers do

They’ll be walking around with a leg-


And the slackers will have two

And they tax their pound o’ butter

They tax their halfpenny bun

But still with all their taxes

They can’t beat the bloody Hun

But when the war is over

What will the slackers do

For every kid in Americay

In Cork there will be two

For they takes us out to Blarney

They lays us on the grass

They puts us in the family way

And leaves us on our arse

And never marry a soldier

A sailor or a Marine

But keep your eye on the Sinn Fein boy

With his yellow, white and green

Women who received the

Separation Allowance

Irish Volunteers and Citizen Army members paid monthly dues

(as well as providing their own uniform and weapons) indicating

that they had disposable income.

Evidence suggests that the majority of Irish soldiers fighting

in the war came from the poorest of society. Separation money

meant that they contributed close to a labourer’s pay. “A survey

of 169 recruits from Dublin Corporation workers shows just

9, ‘salaried professional’ workers joining up compared to 113

unskilled labourers.” (Padraig Yeates, Dublin 1914-1918, A City

in Wartime) suggesting that economics played a major part in

answering the Redmondite call.

One of the last Cork Volunteers of the Rising was released and


‘The arrival of the train with the prisoners was greeted with

cheers. A procession was formed, at the station and, headed by

the prisoners, marched into town. On the way, the “Separation

Women” did not forget to express their views and needless to say

their remarks were not complimentary’.

Michael Sheehy, Bureau of Military History (BMH)

Witness Statement 989

Of course these marginalized women wanted to

maintain their state funded income and there

were many instances of conflict between them

and volunteer women.

There were suggestions of drunkenness but

figures show that while 50,000 women received

Separation Allowance in Dublin the number

of such women charged with drunkenness

did not exceed half-a-dozen per week. Middle

class women formed patrols to make sure they

were not ‘behaving improperly’ by drinking too

much or ‘consorting’ with soldiers other than

their husbands.

Between 1914 and 1917 food, rent, clothing,

fuel and light costs rose with devastating

consequences for the weekly incomes

of households. In 1918 conscription was

introduced in Ireland. “In Cork city the

Separation women were noted to have

taken part in the anti-conscription rallies.”-

Borgonovo, Dynamics of War and Revolution

The traditional song


puts it very succinctly

(as sung by Jimmy Crowley)