Sheela-na-Gig aka Jeanne Rathbone

Galway Women

Posted in Galway women by sheelanagigcomedienne on June 6, 2017

I am writing this series of blogs featuring Galway women piece in reaction to the two songs entitled Galway Girl – one written by Steve Earle and the latest by Ed Sheeran in the Irish tradition of songs about women from a male perspective. They are often fetishised descriptions of hair colour, wearing black velvet band, rosy cheeks or lily white skin, wearing bonnets, carrying baskets, tripping along, called Mary, Rose,  Eileen and, of course, place naming Galway, Tralee, Mooncoin etc.  This fetish is exemplified by the Rose of Tralee beauty pageant where the Roses parade in front of the Prime Minister – an Taoseach ogling the cailini.

 

My original blog was in response to the blow-in Earle who has returned to the states but when I heard that Sheeran had written one also with the same title, was happy to admit that 400 million people of Irish descent would be interested in it, shamelessly acknowledging that he did it for financial reasons and not bothered by a plagiarism challenge.

The hype in Ireland, particulaly in Galway,  about it was OTT especially when the video starring Saoirse Ronan as the Galway Girl appeared.  saoirse ronan

http://www.dailyedge.ie/galway-girl-video-implausible-3373033-May2017/

The Earle black-haired/blue-eyed disappeared after the one night fling after they had a walk on the Salthill prom presumably because she didn’t fancy him in the sober light of day. Stewart Lee, cynical comedian, has sung it on the grounds that his wife’s folk – comedienne Bridget Christie – hail from Galway. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qfAJAG6dgQI

There is a version as ghaeilge.  A cover version of the song by Mundy and Sharon Shannon reached number one and became the most downloaded song of 2008 in Ireland, and has gone on to become the eighth highest selling single in Irish chart history.

So Ed Sheeran thought he could cash in the popularity of a song called Galway Girl.   The Sheeran Galway girl it turns out was based on fiddle player Niamh Dunne who is a member of Antrim-based folk group Beoga that collaborated with Sheeran on the track.  However, she is not his love interest nor married to an Englishmen and is from from Limerick. But they did spend a night on the tiles in Dublin Irish dancing, Guinness, two Irish whiskeys – Jameson and Powers, Van the Man, a rendition of Carrickfergus, Grafton Street – the usual kind of ingredients of a commercial modern Irish song.  Of course, he is eligible for an Irish passport, ginger hair etc. And that makes him Irish. He even has a photo of him as a teenager busking in Galway next to the statue of Oscar Wilde.Ed Sheeran in Galway

 

 

So now I feel compelled to write about Galway women. The first thing to note about Galway women is that they are women not girleens. I am one.  There is some interesting imagery of women in Galway songs. For a start, you had the women making hay and probably in the uplands digging pratees speaking a language that the English do not know. The woman featured in the song a Galway Shawl wears ‘a bonnet with a ribbon on it’ but ‘she wears no paint nor powder,  no none at all’.

Further name check of Galway songs produces the Queen of Connemara which transpires is a boat, Sweet Marie refers to the name of a horse in the Galway Plate race of the Galway Races. There’s the Lass of Aughrim which featured in James Joyce’s Dubliners. There is Pegeen Litir Mor telling how she attracts not only the poet but men from different districts. And so it goes on.

Even our bard Seamus Heaney got in on the act with his Girls Bathing Galway.

No milk-limbed Venus ever rose
Miraculous on this western shore;
A pirate queen in battle clothes
Is our sterner myth.

…in swimsuits, Brown-legged, smooth-shouldered and bare-backed
They wade ashore with skips and shouts.

This will always remind my generation of the proclamation of disapproval by the very conservative Bishop Browne about women in Salthill wearing two piece bathing costumes which prompted a letter in response from some Galway women inquiring which piece of the swim suit did his Lordship wish them to remove.

Galway women come in varying shapes, sizes, temperaments, ages and colours. They are emigrants, daughters, mothers sisters, wives, lovers, poets, authors, entrepreneurs, singers, dancers, artists, politicians, teachers, workers, lawyers, doctors, nurses scientists, administrators, shop assistants, etc

I would like to introduce you to a few Galway women.  I have decided on fourteen reflecting the number of the tribes of Galway. It is a random choice from poets, to Nationalist activists. I emigrated in 1965 when I was still a teenager and so my choice of women of Galway reflects that as I am now an old pensioner, pagan stranger in the City of Tribes. I have selected Nora Barnacle, Rita Ann Higgins, Michelle Sheehy Skeffington,  Siobhain Mac Kenna,  Lady Augusta Gregory, Patricia Burke Brogan, Garry Hynes, Alice Perry Civil Engineer, Ada English psychiatrist 1903 UCG, Alice Cashel Irish nationalist,   Margaretta Darcy author and activist , Maureen Kenny bookseller, Dolores Keane singer and Una Taafe Galway legend. A younger person would have chosen a different set of Mná na Gaillimhe and it would go on fb and I hope they do.

I will feature each one individually.

  1. Nora Barnacle    https://sheelanagigcomedienne.wordpress.com/tag/nora-barnacle/
  2. Maureen Kenny Bookseller extraordinaire https://sheelanagigcomedienne.wordpress.com/2018/04/29/maureen-kenny-galway-bookseller-extraordinaire/
  3. Lady Augusta Gregory dramatist, folklorist and theatre manager https://wordpress.com/post/sheelanagigcomedienne.wordpress.com/12149
  4. Rita Anne Higgins poet https://wordpress.com/post/sheelanagigcomedienne.wordpress.com/12172
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