Hanna Sheehy was born in Kanturk, County Cork on the 24th of May 1877. She was one of seven children born into a politically minded family. Her father, David Sheehy was a former MP in the Irish Parliamentary Party, and her uncle Father Eugene Sheehy was famously involved in the Land League. When Hanah was 3 years old, the family left Kanturk for Tipperary, and when she was 10 they moved again, this time to Dublin to facilitate her father's political career.
Hanna attended the Dominican Convent School on Dublin's Eccles Street where she was a star pupil. She went on to study languages at St Mary's University College and graduate with an Arts degree in 1899 after which she worked in Paris as an au pair until she returned to Dubling to obtain a Masters in 1902. She was then employed as a teacher at her former school on Eccles Street.
The acclaimed author James Joyce was a close family friend of the Sheehys, and it was he who introduced Hanna to Francis Skeffington. Francis was a confirmed atheist and an ardent feminist and was highly involved in the fight for women's suffrage. The two quicky became close and were known to meet in the famous Bewley's café where they would discuss politics and religion. They were married on the 3rd of June 1903 and rather than wear a suit and dress for the ceremony, the pair were wed in their graduation robes. They also shunned tradition by combining their two surnames and henceforth styled themselves as the Sheehy-Skeffingtons.
The Sheehy-Skeffingtons were both highly engaged in political activity. Together they published a feminist newspaper called 'The Irish Citizen' as well as founding the Irish Women's Franchise League (IWFL) which was an organisation dedicated solely to the fight for women's rights. She was also a founding member of the Irish Women Workers' Union along with Delia Larkin. The IWFL eventually grew to roughly 1,000 members. Their main goal was to have women's right to vote included in the Home Rule Bill. Hanna's involvement in the IWFL mostly involved convening rallies and meetings, but she was also involved in disruptive protesting, including one incident where she and her fellow members smashed the windows of Dublin Castle, an act which saw them imprisoned in Mountjoy. Her feminist activity cost her her job in Rathmines where she worked as a teacher.
During the 1913 Dublin Lock-Out Hanna was to be found at Liberty Hall helping the families of strikers by providing food. She was also involved in the 1916 Easter Rising when she ran messages to and from the GPO. Francis was also active during the rising, but in another capacity. He was attempting to organise a civil defence group to stop looting when he was wrongly captured by British military forces and taken prisoner. While out on a raid as a captive, he was shot and his body hastily buried behind the Barracks yard in Rathmines (though his body was later exhumed and reinterred in Glasnevin). His killer was later brought to justice when he was found guilty of the murder and placed in an asylum, having been deemed to be of unsound mind.
After her husband's death, Hanna continued to fight for the causes in which they both so fervently believed. She entered into the political sphere and joined Sinn Féin. The same year as her husband's death, she travelled to America where she gave a number of talks regarding the Irish bid for independence. Her political activity saw her imprisoned more than once. Not one to shy away from controversy, Hanna published pieces of writing on the treatment of the Irish by the British military. During the Irish Civil War she alligned herself with the anti-treaty IRA.
Hanna Sheehy-Skeffington never gave up the fight for what she believed in. She worked tirelessly for gender equality and Irish independence, even losing her husband in the battle. Her contribution to the position of women in Ireland has been memorialized by a statue in her home town of Kanturk, a plaque on Dublin Castle commemorating her famous breaking of the windows, and in the 1990's, the renaming of the Gender Studies building at her husband's alma mater UCD.
She died on the 20th of April 1946 and is buried with Francis in Glasnevin Cemetery.