Unionist women

Published in Issue 4 (July/August 2014), Volume 22

Unionist women had prepared themselves to resist Home Rule by forming a network of Voluntary Aid Detachments (VADs), such as this one from Kingstown, Co. Dublin, which would be ready to tend to wounded loyal volunteers in the event of armed conflict over Home Rule. (Royal Dublin Fusiliers Association)

Unionist women had prepared themselves to resist Home Rule by forming a network of Voluntary Aid Detachments (VADs), such as this one from Kingstown, Co. Dublin, which would be ready to tend to wounded loyal volunteers in the event of armed conflict over Home Rule. (Royal Dublin Fusiliers Association)

Ireland’s largest women’s political organisation, the Ulster Women’s Unionist Council (UWUC), reacted swiftly to the announcement of war, suspending most of its political activities and throwing itself instead into supporting the Empire in its hour of need. Having been established in 1911 to support the work of the entirely male Ulster Unionist Council, it nonetheless grew into a significant organisation in its own right, with an estimated 115,000–200,000 members and an expanding role in the broader unionist movement. From October 1913, the UWUC and the medical board of the Ulster Volunteer Force worked together to establish a central authority that would coordinate nursing, the declared aim being to respond to ‘the possible crisis’ in Irish politics. Unionist women accordingly prepared themselves to resist Home Rule, forming a network of Voluntary Aid Detachments (VADs) that would be ready to tend to wounded unionists in the event of armed conflict over Home Rule. Before war was even declared, therefore, the Ulster VADs had a membership of 3,520. This was more in total than the other three Irish provinces combined by 1918.

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