Illuminations: Rosanne “Rosie” Hackett

By Mike Finn

“It took four hundred policemen to take down four women.”

Often you run into characters from Irish history that make you wonder, “Why don’t we know more about this person?”  Rosanna “Rosie” Hackett is one of those characters. She dedicated her life to improving pay and working conditions for Irish women.

Rosanna “Rosie” Hackett was born in the Dublin inner city on July 25, 1893, to Joseph Hackett and his wife Rosanna Mary Dunne. Rosie’s father, who was a barber by trade, died September 19, 1895 when Rosie was only two years old.

In 1901, Rosie was living in a two-room tenement at 27 Bolton Street with her mother, her two uncles, her aunt, her younger sister Christina, and a male lodger. Her mother, who worked as a housekeeper, was the principal earner of their household.

From an early age Rosie was involved in the trade-union movement, and was one of the first members of the Irish Transport and General Workers’ Union (ITGWU), founded by James Larkin in January 1909. As a teenager she worked as a packer in a paper store. In 1911, she moved to a job as a messenger at Jacob’s Biscuit factory on Bishop Street.

In 1911, the men at Jacob’s bake-house went on strike, and Rosie was one of the main organizers of the women’s sympathy strike on August 22, 1911. Jacob’s was the principal employer of women in Dublin at the time. Over 3,000 female employees went on strike. With the women’s help, the men secured better working conditions and a pay raise.

On September 5, 1911, Rosie, at the age of 18, co-founded the Irish Women Workers Union (IWWU) along with Delia Larkin, sister of James Larkin. Among those who spoke at the first meeting were James Larkin, Hannah Sheehy-Skeffington, and Constance Markievicz. From its outset the IWWU was linked to the ITGWU.

Over the next two years, Rosie Hackett became a leading member of the IWWU, which played an important role in the fight for the rights of women workers. On May 1, 1913, she, along with other representatives from the IWWU, marched in Dublin for the first time. Rosie was also among the crowd that gathered on Sackville Street (now O’Connell Street) to hear James Larkin speak on Bloody Sunday (August 30, 1913), during which the crowd was charged by the Dublin Metropolitan Police, and two people were killed and over 300 were injured.

Photograph of Rosanna "Rosie" Hackett

1913 Dublin Lockout

During the Lockout, Rosie helped mobilize the Jacob’s workers to strike in solidarity with other workers. The striking workers were locked out by their employers.

This did not stop Rosie’s work to help others, and she along with several of her IWWU colleagues set up soup kitchens in Liberty Hall (the headquarters of the ITGWU), to help feed the strikers and their families. In 1914 she was fired by Jacob’s due to her role in the Dublin Lockout.

Rosie began work as a clerk in the print shop in Liberty Hall, and it was here she became involved with the Irish Citizen Army (ICA), a military unit founded to protect strikers from police violence. Rosie was also involved in preparations for the 1916 Rising helping with printing and making first-aid kits and knap-sacks. The preparations in which Rosie was involved were first-aid training given by Dr Kathleen Lynn and night-time route marches.

Proclamation of the Irish Republic

Through her experience of working in the Liberty Hall print shop, she was the only woman who helped print the Proclamation of the Irish Republic. She subsequently told family members of handing the still wet proclamation to James Connolly before it was read by Patrick Pearse outside of the General Post Office on Easter Monday.

At 8 o’clock on Easter Monday morning (April 24, 1916), Rosie was sent for by Dr Kathleen Lynn to report to Liberty Hall. She was given a white coat and dispatched as a nurse to the Citizen Army garrison stationed at St Stephen’s Green under Michael Mallin and Constance Markievcz. They came under heavy fire and moved to occupy the Royal College of Surgeons, where Rosie continued her first-aid work.

Another first-aider, Nora O’Daily, later reported that during those days: “I have a very kind remembrance of Little Rosie Hackett of the Citizen Army, always cheerful and always willing. To see her face about the place was a tonic itself.”

After the surrender of the St. Stephen’s Green garrison Rosie and the others were arrested and marched to Dublin Castle. At the castle, the women were separated from the men, and first brought to Richmond barracks.

Later that evening they were moved to Kilmainham jail. Rosie Hackett spent ten days in Kilmainham, after which she was freed.

In 1917, on the anniversary of James Connolly’s execution, the ITGWU decided that to commemorate it they would hang a banner from Liberty Hall that read, “James Connolly, Murdered May 12th, 1916.” According to Rosie, the sign was only up for about and hour before the police took it down.

Rosie, along with Helena Molony, Jennie Shanahan and Brigid Davis, decided it was important that everyone knew it was the anniversary of Conolly’s execution. The group printed out another banner, climbed to the roof of Liberty Hall. They nailed the access doors shut and placed coal against the door and proceeded to hang the new banner across the top of the building.

Rosie said the police mobilized from everywhere, but it took them hours to get in. The poster remained in position until six o’clock that evening. 

Rosie later bragged, “It took four hundred policemen to take down four women. I always felt that it was worth it, to see all the trouble the police had in getting it down.”

After the signing of the Anglo-Irish Treaty in 1921, Rosie continued her trade union activities and helped re-establish the Irish Women Workers’ Union, which at its height in the 1940s organized 70,000 women. In 1970, she received a gold medal in recognition of her 60 years of service to the Irish trade union movement.

Rosie never married and lived in Fairview with her brother Tommy until her death on July 4, 1976 at the age of 83. At her funeral, she was honored with a full military salute and her coffin was covered with the Irish flag. She was buried in Glasnevin Cemetery next to her mother Roseanna and her stepfather.

Rosie Hackett also has the distinction of being the first woman to have a Dublin bridge named after her, in recognition of her lifetime’s work in the trade union movement. The Rosie Hackett Bridge in Dublin opened on May 20, 2014.  It spans the river Liffey, joining Marlborough Street to Hawkins Street.

Find this column and others from the October 2023 issue here!

Picture of J. Michael Finn

J. Michael Finn

*J. Michael Finn is the Ohio State Historian for the Ancient Order of Hibernians and Division Historian for the Patrick Pearse Division in Columbus, Ohio. He is also past Chairman and Life Member of the Catholic Record Society for the Diocese of Columbus, Ohio. He writes on Irish and Irish-American history; Ohio history and Ohio Catholic history. You may contact him at [email protected]

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