Jeanne Rathbone

Margaretta D’Arcy Galway Woman

Posted in Margaretta D'Arcy Galway Woman by sheelanagigcomedienne on July 14, 2018

Margaretta D’Arcy is the most bolshie and active protesters of the Galway women I have selected and the first on the Notable Galway Women walk starting at the Browne Doorway Eyre square site of protest. The walk would take too long if it started at her home up the hill in St Bridget’s Place.   D’Arcy is one of the 14 Tribes of Galway.

Margaretta

 

 

Darcy crest

 

Margaretta has had decades of playwriting, acting, pageantry, pirate radio, books, peace activism,  protest and imprisonment whilst bringing up her family of boys. She addresses Irish nationalism, civil liberties and women’s rights.

Margaretta was born in London in 1934 to a Russian Jewish mother and an Irish Catholic father. Her father, Joseph, came from a tenement in Henrietta Street, Dublin and was active in the IRA during the War of Independence.  As the daughter of an Irish freedom fighter and a Jewish doctor Miriam Billig, a second-generation refugee from Odessa in the Ukraine, this split identity informed her battles in the theatrical and political worlds she has inhabited. She was the third of four girls in the family who were moved between England and Ireland, and to different addresses in Ireland.

Margaretta darcy 1964

Margaretta  worked in small theatres in Dublin from the age of fifteen and later became an actress. She was an acting ASM at the new, progressive-looking Hornchurch Rep in the early 1950s and graduated to the Royal Court where she became an actress in the heady days of that theatre’s radical resuscitation under the charismatic George Devine. Protest was constant in her life. She joined Bertrand Russell’s Committee of 100 in 1960 as did her husband to be.

Margaretta and John

She met and married the playwright John Arden in 1957. They had five sons: the eldest, Finn, is a film editor; Jacob works for City University in London; Neuss is a safety inspector on the London underground and Adam works in construction in Australia. A fifth son, Gwalchmai, was born with spina bifida and died a few weeks later. They moved to a house on a village green in East Yorkshire next an RAF/US Air Force base housing nuclear missiles and protested by wrote a letter to the American commander of the base saying she and her family felt personally endangered by his weapons and asking him to examine his conscience, then cycled over with a baby on her back to deliver it. The commander’s reply, through the local police, was a threat of 25 years in jail for encouraging a soldier to abandon his post!

She and John were very prolific in their writings.  Her plays include The Pinprick of History; Vandaleur’s Folly; Women’s Voices from W. of Ireland; Prison-voice of Countess Markievicz; A Suburban Suicide (a radio play, BBC3, 1995); Lajwaad (The Good People, play by Abdel Kader Alloula, adapted by M. D’Arcy for readings in London, 1995); and Dublin (Irish Writers’ Centre, 1996).
Plays devised as group productions include Muggins is a Martyr; The Vietnam War-game; 200 Years of Labour; The Mongrel Fox; No Room at the Inn; Mary’s Name; Seán O’Scrúdu; Silence.

Plays written in collaboration with John Arden include The Business of Good Government; The Happy Haven; Ars Longa Vita Brevis; The Royal Pardon; The Hero Rises Up; The Ballygombeen Bequest; The Non-Stop Connolly Show; Keep the People Moving (BBC Radio); Portrait of a Rebel (RTÉ Television); The Manchester Enthusiasts (BBC 1984 and RTÉ 1984 under the title The Ralahine Experiment); Whose is the Kingdom? (9 part radio play, BBC 1987). Her publishers include Methuen, Cassells, Allison & Busby (formerly Pluto Press), all London.

They settled in Galway in the 70s and established the Galway theatre Workshop  in 1976. They had a cottage in Corrandulla a few miles from the city. ( My Dad, as consulting  civil engineer, was involved in some works they had done to it.) We used to see them as we passed their cottage as we had ours nearby in Tonnegurrane and I remember seeing them riding their bikes in the boreen around our cottage. They also had a little ex-corporation house in St Bridget’s Place in Bohermore where her radio station was based. (I had corresponded with her about a women’s festival she was organising in the 80s).

Her four boys lived in London, in India and on an island in Lough Corrib before they were through their teens. They saw their mother imprisoned in Shillong Jail, in northeast India, and, later, in Armagh for refusing to pay a fine incurred during a republican rally. During the Greenham Common women’s peace camp, which existed from 1981 to 1990, she spent two days in solitary confinement at Holloway Prison for refusing to adhere to the strip-search policy.She was jailed in the North for campaigning for political status for the women in Armagh prison and again in London for the Greenham protests against Cruise missiles. In 2014, she was imprisoned after she refused to sign a bond saying that she wouldn’t trespass on non-public parts of Shannon Airport. Her arrest was a consequence of trespassing on airport property during protests over US military stopovers at Shannon. It was then she was dubbed Giuantanamo ghranny which she used as her title in her account of this and her time in Limerick Jail.

Margaretta and John protesting Royal court

Here they are protesting outside the Aldwych Theatre which was staging John’s play The Island of the Mighty.

There some lovely articles about her and John.Timothy O,Grady   https://www.irishtimes.com/culture/books/ireland-s-guantanamo-granny-by-margaretta-d-arcy-innocence-in-pursuit-of-sanity-1.2575306

Jeff O’Connell in the Galway Advertiser.                                                           https://www.advertiser.ie/galway/article/50939/remembering-john-arden?fbclid=IwAR0v1evfSW5MK9i54dxoufwVrUFgmH11Ke8AixkKBSiVoqQLJWmRyjB5xXo#.W9GYLpQPLSQ.facebook

It is interesting to hear about Margaretta and John from their children’s perspective, especially since John died in 2012. Finn admitted their embarrassment when they were teenagers about their parents, which is very normal.  https://www.irishtimes.com/life-and-style/people/behind-bars-with-the-shannon-one-1.1675241 Her son Finn said: “She was always a bit of a rebel really, her background kind of seen to that. The circle she was hanging around in the late fifties would have included Francis Bacon and Brendan Behan, people like that and then she met my Dad.”

Ballad by son Jake with great images about his mother  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d-601HCKYCI

Her friend the film director Leila Doolan said:  “She’s indomitable, really,” Doolan says. “People sometimes think of Margaretta as a person without a sense of humour, but if you read her memoir you see the absolute hilarity with which she views life, while at the same time being very serious about it.”

 

NUI Galway Receives Archive of Margaretta D’Arcy and John Arden. Sabina Higgins wife of the President of Ireland is seen here with her as she is a friend.

Celebrating Margaretta D’Arcy’s Theatrical Activism appraises her contribution to theatrical activism. https://www.contemporarytheatrereview.org/2015/margaretta-darcy/

Here, activists from the brilliant feminist performance group Speaking of IMELDA offer a series of stimulating reflections on the influence of Margaretta D’Arcy on their own agitation for abortion law reform in Ireland. 

IMELDA at Kings Cross 2016

The IMELDA’s when I joined them at Kings Cross

Margaretta has written various memoirs about theatrical activism, Armagh women’s prison, her Shannon Airport protests at American war planes and her pirate radio exploits. She has just kept going despite having Parkinson’s disease now. She is still busy as you can see from her Facebook page. She keeps her passion alive by making everything “fun”.If everything is fun you don’t get bored.

When I emailed her to tell her she was included in this walk and the context of it been a resposnse to the Galway Girl songs she replied; It is great what you are doing exposing the patriarchal myth of passive icons.So, thank you Margaretta. You are definitely Galway’s greatest living political protester, the stroppiest and feistiest of them and a Galway Woman to be proud of.

 

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