Inside the campaign to name Galway’s new bridge after 1916 hero Julia Morrissey

Galway's new pedestrian bridge, currently under construction across from the Salmon Weir bridge

The O’Brien, Salmon Weir, and Wolfe Tone. Galway has plenty of recognisable bridges. With a new one joining their cohort soon, many are hoping its moniker will honour one of Galway’s own 1916 heroes.

Éirígí For A New Republic has launched a campaign to name the city’s newest pedestrian bridge, currently under construction across from the Salmon Weir, after Athenry woman Julia Morrissey.

Undoubtedly most people hearing that will ask, who is Julia Morrissey?

But, according to Éirígí representative Ian Ó Dálaigh, that is precisely the point.

“Part of the campaign is that there isn’t a whole lot known about Julia Morrissey. Which is part of why we chose her as a figure we wanted to honour,” he explained.

Julia Morrissey
Éirígí For A New Republic representative Ian Ó Dálaigh at their public meeting on naming the bridge after Julia Morrissey

A forgotten part of history

Ms Morrissey was an Athenry woman and an important figure during the 1916 Easter Rising in Galway.

A founding member of Athenry’s Cumann na mBan, she was heavily involved in the Irish fight for independence.

Ms Morrissey, along with 50 other female volunteers, fought in the Galway Rising leader, Liam Mellows’ army in Oranmore and Clarenbridge, even managing to capture the town of Athenry.

But despite her contributions during the Rising, Ms Morrissey received little recognition for her part in history. In fact, after the Irish Civil War, she was essentially hidden away due to her grief after losing many of her fellow volunteers.

As Mr Ó Dálaigh explained: “She was sent to what they called the asylum at the time, in the 30s in Ballinasloe and lived there until she died.”

Ms Morrissey and Mr Mellows were incredibly close, having fought together and lived together. So when he died in 1922, she was distraught.

“When Liam Mellows, the overall leader of the rising in Galway, moved to Athenry, she was his landlady.”

“The free staters executed him in 1922. She apparently was so heartbroken that she never recovered. And she spent a lot of time with Ouija boards trying to contact him and other comrades who had been killed.”

“It’s quite symbolic of the Ireland that was formed out of treaty treated veterans and treated women in general.”

Sparking a conversation about women revolutionaries

But while Ms Morrissey is the focus of their campaign, their mission doesn’t end with her story. They hope it may serve as an acknowledgement for many women whose stories were written out of history.

“The campaign does what it says on the tin, in terms of we want to honour a Galway woman who was a veteran of 1916. But we also want to spark the conversation about the history of the foundation of the state since the treaty, how they treated women, and a wider movement for justice and equality and how the state shut it down,” he said.

Mr Ó Dálaigh also stressed that although Galway City already has several monuments dedicated to Irish revolutionaries, none of them are women.

“In Galway alone, you’ve got the Mellows Statue in Eyre Square. You’ve got the Hurley club named after Mellows. You’ve got the barracks named after him, as well.

And again, I’m not taking anything away from Wolfetone’s or Mellows’ contributions. But there’s just not enough recognition of women as a whole but also the individual woman,” explained Mr Ó Dálaigh.

Julia Morrissey
Éirígí For A New Republic representative Ian Ó Dálaigh at Julia Morrissey’s grave

Remembering Julia Morrissey

While the main focus of the campaign is to honour Ms Morrissey by naming an important part of Galway’s infrastructure after her, the driving force behind it is really to make people aware of her contributions. This is a goal which, in many ways, has already been achieved as more people have been introduced to the veteran through their campaign.

“A lot of people just didn’t know who Julia Morrissey was, and were asking questions. So that in itself is a victory. We’ve got more people aware of who she is.”

Even those involved in the campaign have learned more about Miss Morrissey since beginning their mission. “I discovered after we started the campaign that there was another group in Athenry, her hometown, where her grave was in 2017. And she died in 1974,” Mr Ó Dálaigh shared.

“So that’ll show you how forgotten she was.”

The campaign launched a petition earlier this year, which has reached over 600 signatures and will soon be handed into Galway City Council.

The group has also held a public meeting on the subject, during which they received positive feedback from the community.

They are also planning more public outreach in the coming weeks.

More Galway news here

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