Sheela-na-Gig aka Jeanne Rathbone

Notable Galway Women

Posted in Notable Galway Women by sheelanagigcomedienne on June 6, 2017

I am writing this series of blogs featuring Notable Galway Women 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 – the male gaze.

I am celebrating and commemorating 14 Notable Galway Women in the centenary year of some women women getting the vote. This is in parallel with my Notable Women of Lavender Hill Walks which came about because none of the Wandsworth Heritage Societes/Groups were planning any activities in the centenary year as they had already decided on the theme of ‘open spaces’ . This is why my talk on International Women’s of Significant Battersea Women became my walk Notable Women of Lavender Hill.

In my preface I explain that as a Humanist Celebrant I have been writing brief biographies for funerals and memorials and this is an extension of that tendency. I have also been involved with the Battersea Society commemorative blue plaques and believe so much in this kind of commemoration. I have even gone a step further in campaigning for a statue of Charlote Despard 1844-1939 socialist, suffragette and Sinn Feiner to be commissioned in the regenerated Nine Elms Battersea. So, I am on a mission to have real women commemorated as they are so under represented visibly in the public domain with plaques and statues.

Getting back to the Galway Girl songs.  They are often fetishised descriptions of hair colour, wearing black velvet band, rosy cheeks, lily white skin, wearing bonnets, carrying baskets, tripping along, called Mary, Rose,  Eileen and, of course, place naming Galway, Tralee, Mooncoin etc.  This is the typical objectifying of women as the ‘comely maidens’ of De Valera’s imagination. The Lovely Girls contest in Father Ted refers to the annual cringe fest of the Rose of Tralee beauty pageant where the Roses parade in front of the Prime Minister every summer – an Taoseach ogling the cailini – only in Ireland or an oligarchic Whatistan.

The other role of Irish womanhood is, of course, in the home and enshrined in the constitution. The reference to a woman’s “life within the home” rather than work in the home, and the desire to prevent mothers from engaging in the labour force “to the neglect of their duties in the home” is insulting,  Catholic inspired and patriarchal.

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 imagined black-haired/blue-eyed women disappeared after the one night fling after their a walk on the Salthill prom. Presumably she fled 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

Teenage Sheeran busking 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, in the uplands digging pratees whilst chatting in Irish- 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, engineers, scientists, administrators, shop assistants, etc.

I would like to introduce you to a few Galway women.  It is a random choice from poets, to Nationalist activists. I have included Mary Devenport O’Neill (1879 – 1967) poet and dramatist. She wrote the poem Galway which I suggested to Tom Kenny should feature in the Galway Poetry Trail. He said it was too long!

Galway

I know a town tormented by the sea,
And there time goes slow
That the people see it flow
And watch it drowsily,
And growing older hour by hour they say,
‘Please God, to-morrow!
Then we will work and play,’
And their tall houses crumble away.
This town is eaten through with memory
Of pride and thick red Spanish wine and gold
And a great come and go;
But the sea is cold,
And the spare, black trees
Crouch in the withering breeze
That blows from the sea,
And the land stands bare and alone,
For its warmth is turned away
And its strength held in hard cold grey-blue
stone;
And the people are heard to say,
Through the raving of the jealous sea,
‘Please God, to-morrow!
Then we will work and play.’

There are powerful Galway women like Catherine Corless who has worked tirelessly to expose the secret and shame of the neglected babies who died and were buried in unmarked graves and their unfortunate mothers who were incarcerated by the Irish state and the Catholic Church whilst the silent population looked on. There was Bridie O’Flaherty , Mayor and founder member of the Progressive Democrats, Anita Leslie 1914-1985,  biographer and writer and there is Leila Doolan Producer /Director,  Patricia Burke Brogan, playwright, novelist, poet and artist who exposed the the Magdalene Laundries scandal in her play Eclipsed, Jessie Lendennie founder of Salmon Publishing which has championed women poets, Vanda Luddy artist, Mary Coughlan, chanteuse and Galway character that was Una Taaffe etc.

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 and stranger in the City of Tribes. I have selected Nora Barnacle, wife and muse of James Joyce,  Rita Anne Higgins poet, Michelene Sheehy  Skeffington, botanist and gender equality campaigner, Siobhain McKenna, actor,  Lady Augusta Gregory, playwright and Abbey Theatre founder,  Garry  Hynes, Theatre Director, Alice Perry, Civil Engineer, Ada English, Psychiatrist 1903 UCG, Alice Cashel, Irish nationalist,  Margaretta D’Arcy, author and activist, Maureen Kenny, bookseller, Mary Devonport O’Neill poet Dolores Keane singer and Clare Sheridan sculptor and writer. A younger person would have chosen a different set of Mná na Gaillimhe  and I hope they do and continue the celebration of significant Galway women.

I hope that some Galway woman/women will pick up this idea and even do a walk entitled Notable Women of Galway Trail to the places lived in or associated with these women. I think this should happen for 2020 Year of culture. I certainly hope so and it is part of my intention in embarking on this. I also hope that

I will feature each one individually.

Nora Barnacle (1884 -1951)  Wife and Muse of James Joyce Nora Barnacle

https://sheelanagigcomedienne.wordpress.com/tag/nora-barnacle/

Maureen Kenny (1918-2008) Bookseller extraordinaire Maureen K

https://sheelanagigcomedienne.wordpress.com/2018/04/29/maureen-kenny-galway-bookseller-extraordinaire/

Lady Augusta Gregory (1852-1932) Dramatist, folklorist and theatre manager Augusta,_Lady_Gregory_ alter life

https://sheelanagigcomedienne.wordpress.com/2018/04/29/lady-augusta-gregory-galway-woman-2/

Rita Anne Higgins  Poet, Bard of Galway Rita-Ann-Higgins-2

https://sheelanagigcomedienne.wordpress.com/tag/rita-anne-higgins/

Alice Cashel (1878-1958) Irish Nationalist Alice_Cashel

https://sheelanagigcomedienne.wordpress.com/tag/alice-cashel/

Garry Hynes      Theatre Director Garry Hynes

https://sheelanagigcomedienne.wordpress.com/2017/06/20/galway-women-part-2/

Alice Perry (1885-1969)  First Woman  Civil Engineer 

https://sheelanagigcomedienne.wordpress.com/2018/05/02/alice-perry-first-european-female-engineering-graduate-galway-woman-6/Alice_Perry_1885-1969

Michelene Sheehy Skeffington    Botanist, NUIG Gender Discrimination     

https://sheelanagigcomedienne.wordpress.com/tag/michelene-sheehy-skeffington/

Michelene

Margaretta D’Arcy Author, Political Activist Theatre 

https://sheelanagigcomedienne.wordpress.com/2018/07/14/margaretta-ddarcy-galway-woman/

Margaretta D

Margaretta Darcy

Ada English (1875-1944) Psychiatrist and Irish Nationalist

https://sheelanagigcomedienne.wordpress.com/2018/07/20/ada-english-psychiatrist-galway-woman/

Ada biography

Mary Devonport O’Neill (1879-1967)  Poet and Playwright https://sheelanagigcomedienne.wordpress.com/2016/07/28/mary-devenport-oneill-poem-galway/

Mary Devenport O'Neilll

Dolores Keane Singer https://sheelanagigcomedienne.wordpress.com/…/dolores-keane-singer-and-notable-ga…

Dol

Siobhán McKenna (1923–86)         
https://sheelanagigcomedienne.wordpress.com/category/siobhan-mckenna-renowned-actor-and-notable-galway-woman/
Siobhan Dr Z
Clare Sheridan (18  -190 Sculptor, Author and Traveller
https://sheelanagigcomedienne.wordpress.com/category/clare-sheridan-author-sculptor-and-notable-galway-woman/
Clare by Anita
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