Celebrating bad, bold and brilliant women

Author Marian Broderick.
Author Marian Broderick.

Arts Week with Judy Murphy

Galwaywoman Professor Sheila Tinney is among the subjects of a new book, Bold, Brilliant and Bad: Irishwomen from History, written by Marian Broderick as a follow-up to her 2001 debut Wild Irish Women: Extraordinary Lives from Irish History.

Featuring 120 women from all walks of life, the aim with this book – as with the first – is “to give readers a feel for the woman”, says Marian.

That’s done via “short, snappy stories” which encourage anyone who is sufficiently interested in individual women to explore further.

Marian certainly gives a sense of Tinney, who was born Sheila Power in 1918 here in Galway where her father, Michael, was Professor of Maths in UCG and her mother Caroline, was a gifted pianist. Sheila was only 11 when her mother died, cutting short her childhood but she inherited a lifelong love of music and maths from her parents.

Sheila did her Leaving Cert in 1935, getting honours in Maths and gaining the highest marks in Ireland in geometry and Latin. After graduating first in her mathematical science class from UCD in 1938, she did a Masters and went to Edinburgh University to do a PhD – the first Irish-educated woman to receive a doctorate in the mathematical sciences.

Sheila began lecturing in UCD in 1941 but, like so many other women before and since, she encountered the glass ceiling. It was 21 years before she was made associate professor of mathematical physics in the college. In 1949, in another first, she was elected of the first female members of the Royal Irish Academy – only after the RAI lost a legal battle to exclude her and three other women who had been elected.

The book also includes a biography of Sarah Clarke, who was born in Eyrecourt, just one a year after Sheila Power. Sarah, a nun and a teacher, worked first in Ireland and then in England where she became a leading civil rights activist and advocate for prisoners’ rights. She later became a key figure in the campaign to free the Guilford Four and Birmingham Six and wrote an account of her life, No Faith in the System in 1995, which was dedicated to Giuseppe Conlon, who died in prison despite his innocence of any wrongdoing. Sr Sarah, who died in 2002, is buried in Eyrecourt.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

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