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Regina Dunne with guests at BloomHQ Mountrath for the launch of a new history publication 'Opening a Window on the Past' by Regina Dunne 2019/2020 Laois Historian in Residence and Laois Libraries under the Decade of Centenaries Programme, and supported by Creative Ireland Laois as part of the Creative Ireland Programme (2017-2022) in partnership with Laois County Council. Picture: Alf Harvey.


Opening a Window on the Past A reflection on the lives of two pioneering Laois women: Lucy Franks and Helen Roe

Opening a Window on the Past, a local history publication by Regina Dunne, Laois Historian in Residence 2019/2020 explores the lives of two Laois women: Lucy Franks and Helen Roe, and was launched during Heritage Week 2021.

In recent years there has been an increase in the number of publications and research focusing on the often forgotten  pioneering women of our nation. Opening a Window on the Past contributes to that body of national literature on women’s history.  Lucy Franks and Helen Roe were both pioneering in their work in the area of social work, education and humanities, and this publication acknowledges their impact on the nation’s history both locally, nationally and internationally.

It delves into the lives and times of both influential women, brings to life the unique and fascinating stories and lasting legacies of  both women, and acknowledges their significant roles during an era of change in Irish history.

Gertrude Lucy Maria Franks (1878-1964) of the Castletown United Irishwomen (ICA), was instrumental in reviving the Irish Countrywomen’s Association in the late 1920s and establishing the Country Shop in St. Stephens Green, Dublin.  In addition, Lucy Franks supported attendance at the Spring Fairs in the RDS, helped to establish the annual summer school which still takes place today, and was a founding member of the Association of Country Women of the World.  Her impact on rural women’s associations both nationally and internationally is recognised in this publication.  The publication tells the tale of the early days of the Irish Countrywomen’s Association in Laois and it’s revival through an era of turmoil in Irish history.

Helen Maybury Roe (1895-1988) of Mountrath was the first County Librarian, first female President of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland (RSAI), and a staunch advocate for local history, folklore, and opening the windows of the world to everyone in Laois both young and old through stories, and books.  In her Ford Model T, she travelled the roads of Laois delivering lectures on local history, flora and fauna, recording local folklore, photographing ancient archaeology, and was a firm believer in preserving local history.  Known widely in the area of Early Christian Art and ‘the world of stone’, this publication explores her extensive work on the local history of Laois and her life as the first County Librarian in Laois.

‘Opening a Window on the Past’ is available at all Laois libraries, and local bookstores.

It will ensure these pioneering Laois women take their place in the pantheon of Laois heritage literature, and ensure their contributions are valued and explored into the future.


Image credit: Alf Harvey



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