Irish Gymnasts on Tour: The Women’s League and Women’s Exercise in 1940s Ireland

  • Conor Heffernan


In 1949 the Irish branch of the Women’s League of Health and Beauty travelled to Stockholm, Sweden to take part in the second annual Lingiad Festival. Created the previous decade to celebrate the gymnastic system of Per Henrik Ling established in the early nineteenth-century, the Festival was a multisporting cultural event open to groups from around the world. One such group was the Women’s League of Health and Beauty. Founded in London in 1930 by the Irish-born Mary Bagot Stack, the League marked the decade’s most expansive form of exercise for women. Owing to the League’s Irish connection, the first League branch came to Belfast in 1930 and was followed by a Dublin branch some years later. Open to women across the life cycle, the League was targeted at both the working woman and the stay-at-home mother. Where previous studies have examined the creation of the League in Ireland, this piece focuses on the League’s appearance at the 1949 Lingiad. Despite numerous appeals for government funding, the League was forced to raise its own funds for the trip, a point which rankled many journalists both before and after the tournament. There was an inherent tension in the League’s involvement. On the one hand, it offered new opportunities for female exercise and provided a fillip for further engagement. That withstanding, the ongoing difficulties experienced by the League in actually making it to Lingiad highlighted the secondary, and often forgotten, nature of women’s exercise in Ireland at this time. Using memoirs, film and newspaper articles, the piece positions the League’s Lingiad trip as symbolic of both the advances and restrictions inherent in women’s exercise in mid twentieth-century Ireland.

Keywords: League of Health, Women’s League of Health and Beauty, Lingiad, Physical Culture, Women’s Gymnastics

How to Cite:

Heffernan, C., (2021) “Irish Gymnasts on Tour: The Women’s League and Women’s Exercise in 1940s Ireland”, Studies in Arts and Humanities 7(1), 131-152. doi:

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Published on
03 Jun 2021
Peer Reviewed