Cloth, gender, politics: the Armagh Handkerchief, 1976

Louise Purbrick

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This article examines a handkerchief decorated by female members of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) imprisoned in Armagh Jail, Northern Ireland, in 1976. It attends to the materiality of a gendered and politicised object. The stenciling, colouring, signing and exchanging of this piece of cloth took place at the end of an early phase in the conflict ‘in and about’ Northern Ireland, a period known as ‘reactive containment’ and characterised by political imprisonment. Stitching upon cloth, a feminine pursuit, was adapted by male prisoners to become widespread republican practice in the 1970s. The Armagh handkerchief considered here, represents a contradictory and borrowed form but one in which the gendered properties of cloth persist. Thus, the article also attends to the meanings of cloth itself.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)105-123
Number of pages24
JournalClio. Women, Gender, History
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2014


  • cloth
  • material culture
  • prison handkerchiefs
  • republican women prisoners
  • Armagh Jail
  • Northern Ireland


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