Struggles of local suffragette highlighted in lecture

THE STORY of a genteel Lisburn woman who was jailed for her part in an attack on Lisburn Cathedral during the Suffragette Movement’s campaign to win women the vote is to be recalled next month.

Lillian Metge’s story will be highlighted at a lunchtime lecture given by Dr Margaret Ward about Ulster Suffragettes at the Ulster Hall on March 2 ahead of the 100th Anniversary of International Women’s Day on March 8.

Lillian was a middle-class widow who lived in a comfortable existence in Seymour Street.

However, like many other women in the early 1900s, Lillian was growing increasingly frustrated with the status quo.

She was wealthy and well educated - but did not have the right to vote. She began to take an interest in the Suffrage Movement and started to contribute to the organisation’s newsletter, the Irish Citizen. However, she became increasingly radicalised as time went on.

Women from all backgrounds were joining the fight for equal rights at a time when opportunities for meaningful employment were few, and those in industrial and menial jobs were poorly paid and often ill-treated and Lillian saw it as her duty to do something to make women’s voices heard.

She came up with a plan to blow up the east wing of the cathedral and, with three accomplices, lit dynamite under the stained glass window.

However, their muddy boots left a trail right back to her house and they were caught and put in jail. The outbreak of World War One meant no charges were pressed and Lillian and her fellow Suffragettes were free to go.

When the war ended women over 30, who had a university degree and who were either a member of, or married to someone on the local government register, were allowed to vote. It wasn’t until 1928 that women in Northern Ireland were granted the right to vote on the same terms as men.

It was a century ago the leader of the Suffragettes, Emmeline Pankhurst, spoke to a crowd at the Ulster Hall and it is there, on March 2, author Dr Margaret Ward will deliver a lunchtime lecture on the Ulster Suffragettes.

Her talk: ‘Prison, Protests and Hunger Strikes: the Ulster Suffragettes’ will discuss the leading figures in the movement and the attacks that led to many of them being put in Crumlin Road jail.

Dr Ward will discuss the wider political situation at a time when Ireland was on the brink of civil war over the Home Rule crisis.

The lecture is the final talk in the Anna Eggert Lecture Series which examines the impact of women on Northern Ireland. The series has been organised by the Women’s Resource and Development Agency (WRDA) and funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund.

The lecture is free but space is limited so booking is essential. Contact the WRDA on info@wrda.net or phoning 02890230212.