Jeanne Rathbone

Olive Morris black activist

Posted in Olive Morris 1952-1979 Black activist Brixton by sheelanagigcomedienne on March 4, 2019

Since I started my Notabale Women of Lavender walks I discovered this vibrant young black activist lived on Lavender Hill when she first came over from Jamaica to join her parents in 1962 aged 9. I am still trying to discover the exact address from Olive’s family as I wish to include her in my Notable Women of Lavender Hill walk. I have spoken with her nephew Ferron Morris.

It was not unusual for the Windrush generation for parents to come ahead leaving the children with grandparents till they could sort out accommodation and jobs. I knew the name from Olive Morris House 18 Brixton Hill which is Lambeth’s Customer Service Centre. There one can make inquiries about benefits, council tax, rents and repairs, housing , school admission documents, Freedom Pass and parking permits.  It was remodelled in 2009 when the revamped building was renamed the Civic Centre but Olive’s name was reinstated. There is currently some controversy about its future.


Olive was an amazing fiery activist from her teens and packed so much into her short life.  She died tragically young in 1979 aged 27. I went to see the Olive Morris Archive at the Minet Library in Camberwell. Seeing the photos, letters flyers and papers etc forty years on, inevitably, makes one think what she might have done and what role would she have played in British political life.

The main sources I have used for details of Olive’s life come from the Remembering Olive Collective, thanks to the wonderful work of artist Ana Laura Lopez de la Torre and Liz Obi, who as another young activist and friend of Olive’s, who established the Remembering Olive Collective. In 2009 ROC launched the Olive Morris Collection at Lambeth Archives..

Beverley Bryan, Stella. Dadzie, and Susanne Scafe, eds., The heart of the race: black women’s lives in Britain (1985),

Olive Morris collection, Lambeth Archives, and some great photos from photographer Neil Kenlock. The collection consists of contributions from her friend Liz and Mike McColgan her partner.  This was launched in October 2009

Dr Angelina Osborn,   rememberolivemorris

Olive on Brixtonpound BrixtonPound1

Olive was born on 26 June 1952 in Harewood, St Catherine’s, Jamaica, the daughter of Vincent Nathaniel Morris and his wife, Doris, née Moseley. When she was nine years old, she and her brother, Basil, left their maternal grandmother and joined her mother and father in Lavender Hill,  Battersea in 1962. There were four further siblings. Olive’s father became a forklift operator and her mother was a factory shop steward.

Olive attended Heathbrook Primary School and then Lavender Hill Girls’ Secondary School which was close by to where the lived. She finished her secondary education at Tulse Hill Secondary School. She was obviously a very able pupil but she experienced all the inequalities and injustices of the British education system. She left at sixteen with no qualifications, but undeterred, she went on to college to study ‘O’ and ‘A’ levels while at the same time holding down a full-time job. She studied at the London College of Printing.

I lived at 108A Lavender Hill (one-time home of John Burns MP) briefly at this time with my sister and her husband in 64/65. In the seventies I was a Labour Governor of the school and became aware of how these girls were not been properly served by the education system. I can but wonder if I ever passed Olive in the street.

The late 1960s and 1970s were a particularly challenging time for Britain’s post-war African, African-Caribbean, and Asian communities. There was increased tension between police and the black community (epitomized by the ‘sus’ laws, that is, the laws allowing police officers to stop and search people on mere suspicion that they intended to commit a crime), and attacks by fascist groups such as the National Front, as well as discrimination in housing and employment.

Olive became a tireless organizer and fighter against racism, and also sexism and other forms of oppression. In an early example of her political activism she intervened in the arrest of a Nigerian diplomat Mr Clement Gowalk for a parking offence in Brixton in 1969. Olive came upon the scene when Mr Gowalk had already been taken away but intervened when her friends who protested .  She was physically assaulted and racially abused by the police and arrested, along with six other people, fined £10, and given a three-month suspended sentence for two years. The charges comprised assault on the police, threatening behaviour, and possession of dangerous weapons.

Olive’s account of this is quite shocking to read about the treatment, brutality and abusive racist and misogynist language used by the police against a teenager. The vulgarity, misogyny, and physical violence turned into a full-fledged sexual assault. Olive’s account was printed in ”Black Panther News Service in May 1970 and analysed in this article by Anne-Marie Angelo ‘Any name that has power’.

“They all made me take off my jumper and my bra in front of them to show I was a girl.” After Morris disrobed, “The one with the truncheon said, ‘Now prove you are a real woman.’ He pointed at the truncheon in front of me and said, ‘Look it’s the right colour and the right size for you. Black cunt!’  Olive who, “was crying because I was in terrible pain,” asked to see a doctor. A police doctor appeared and told Olive that she was bruised and gave her two pills to take.

It seems extraordinary that a police doctor could accept this clear evidence of the assault of a teenage girl and then walk away and leave her with those who had assaulted her knowing that she was going to be charged. Olive said they  “continued arguing about my sex. Another said I should strip and get on the table and give them a little demo.”  At the end of this harrowing episode of physical, emotional, and sexual violence, Olive remembered, “My particulars were taken and I was charged with assaulting a policeman. I was then told to plead guilty when the case was called; and I was let out through the back way of the station at about 6 o’clock”.

Downtrodden but not defeated, Olive  found her way to nearby King’s College Hospital where she obtained treatment for her injuries. As she received treatment at King’s College that night, Black Panther photographer Neil Kenlock headed to the hospital where he took a photograph of Olive which provided evidence of her tenacity. She saved the photograph, scrawling a note on the back: “Taken at about 10 PM on 15 Nov 69 after the police had beating me up (at Kings College Hospital.)

As the newspaper later reports on Olive’s sentencing, “During the melee Miss Morris kicked a police officer and hit him on the jaw.” Olive’s handwriting on the reverse of the photo tells a different story, not related in the newspaper account: “Taken at about 10pm on 15th Nov 69 after the police had beaten me up.”

I think I know which version we believe.

This awful experience of the police and their racist, misogynistic, bigoted attitudes and sheer brutality surely propelled Olive into action in fighting racism and injustice. She seemed to become fearless in confronting the police.

In the early 170s she became a member of the youth section of the Black Panther movement (later the Black Workers movement), along with others such as Linton Kwesi Johnson, Clovis Reid, and Farrukh Dhondy.

From the Heart of the Race:  ‘ it was here that she began to develop the political ideology which would determine her future actions. She gave a total commitment to the organisation’s work and development, and participated in nearly all of the battles which formed part of the community’s everyday life. She was in tune with the needs of the people, and always showed herself willing to take the initiative and act’…  She became well known in the community for her willingness to help other Black people who were facing difficulties, whether with the schools, the police, housing, social security officials or the courts – whatever the issue, she was never too busy to offer support. For Olive, it was not just a case of doing things for those who couldn’t do it for themselves: it was her way of involving people in the struggle, showing by her own example the will to resist and to challenge.”

But teenage Olive was also curious about the world and she liked fashion. She loved jewellery, especially bangles. Ana Laura said : Of the many things that Liz had to say about Olive, there were two that stood out for me. The first was Liz description of Olive, and how she always visualised her whenever she thought of her: silver bangles on her arms and forever riding her bike. The second had to do with what Liz had learned from Olive: never to be afraid of anything.

She was  interested in traveling as she was an internationalist. She visited Germany in 1971. In August 1972 she and her friend, Liz Obi, planned to visit the American Black Panther leader, Eldridge Cleaver, who was in exile in Algeria, but they became stranded in Morocco. There is an account of this trip in the archives.

The Brixton Black Women’s Group was started by Olive Morris and other women who had been active in the Black Panther Movement. The Group was formed to address the specific issues faced by Black women, and to offer advice and support to those in difficulties. It originally operated from Olive and Liz’s squat at 65 Railton Road. With the years, the BWG developed and transformed into the Black Women Centre, relocating its premises to Stockwell Green.

Gail Lewis talks about the the group and the similarities and differences with mainly white feminist groups, especially the wider focus of  poverty, racism, housing, education suss laws etc

Olive along with Liz Obi played a major role in the squatting movement in Brixton which is why we now have the iconic photo of her climbing back in after eviction in the squatters handbook from that time.

She squatted at 121 Railton Road, Brixton, with Liz in 1973. The squat became an organizing centre for community groups such as Black People against State Harassment as well as housing Sabaar Bookshop, which was one of the first black community bookshops. 121 Railton Road remained a social centre and a centre for the squatting movement until it was closed in 1999.

Olive and squatter book


The 1979 Squatters’ Handbook published by the Advisory Service for Squatters with chapters on law, moving in and eviction. The cover shows the black community activist Olive Morris scaling a building. Olive actively campaigned for squatting and opened the 121 Railton Road squat in 1973 with Liz Obi, which later became the Sabaar Bookshop and an anarchist centre in the 1980s.

There is an account of the squatting movement and a section on Brixton.

Despite living side by side and having cordial relations, Black and White squatters did not organise themselves together. Liz Obi remembers that when they squatted 121 Railton Road, some white squatters came to help them turn on the gas and the electricity. During evictions some women from the “White Women Center” also came to show support, but that was as far as the relationship went. Black activists at the time were focused on the many specific issues affecting the Black community (police violence, discrimination in education and workplace, etc). The absence of joint activity might explain why in most accounts of the Brixton squatting movement written in later years, there are no references to the early Black squats of the 1970s.

In July 1974 Morris returned to Jamaica for six weeks.

Olive in Jamaica

The following year she began a degree in economics and social science at Manchester University.

Heart of the Race :In 1975, she went to Manchester University to study for a social science degree. This in itself was an important step for Olive, who believed in education for the people. For her, going to university was not a status symbol, but an example to many young Black people of how to fight and win against a system which tries to push us to the bottom of the education pile and force us to compete against each other.
Unlike many students, Olive did not separate her work at the university from the struggles which were being waged in the rest of the community. In her work with the Manchester Black Women’s Co-operative and the Black Women’s Mutual Aid Group, which she helped to set up, she participated fully in the black community’s battles in Moss Side. Committed to furthering education rights for Black people, she campaigned with Black mothers for better schooling for their children and helped to set up a supplementary school and a Black bookshop in the area. Because she was an internationalist, she also worked at the university within the National Co-ordinating Committee of Overseas Students. She provided an essential link between international, community and women’s organisations, drawing the parallels between our experiences here and in the Third World.

She visited Italy and Northern Ireland in 1976. In 1977 she visited China and wrote a piece entitled ‘A sister’s visit to China’ which explored the role of China in anti-imperialist struggles. It was published in Speak Out!, the Brixton Black Women’s Group newsletter.

The Heart of the Race ”  In 1978, Olive visited China. The trip was of great significance to her, for she saw China as one of the countries which Third World peoples could learn a lot from, and which could serve as a model for us in self-help and self-reliance. The lessons she learn there were shared with everyone she worked with on her return. Sharing knowledge was always her practice.
Olive had always identified the relationships between the struggles of people in the Third World and those of the white working class. She recognised that it was a fight which had to be won through the contribution of both groups, and that we would need to work together if we were to bring about any meaningful changes. It was this awareness which was her greatest contribution to the political development of those she worked with.”

In 1978 she, along with Stella Dadzie and other women, founded the Organization of Women of African and Asian Descent (OWAAD). OWAAD held its first conference at the Abeng centre on Gresham Road in Brixton, a centre that Olive had helped to establish along with Elaine Holness and other members of the community.

This is a video of Beverely, Stella and Suzanne…stella-dadzie-and…-/10156672848924470/

This article from the Guardian in 2014 sets out the experiences of women from the West Indies. the context for the story ere was th

Olive graduated in 1978 and returned to Brixton, working in the juvenile department of the Brixton Community Law Centre where she was involved in the campaign to scrap the ‘sus’ laws. She lived at 2 Talma Road, Brixton. She was also a burgeoning writer and co-wrote a piece on the Anti-Nazi League with her partner, Mike McColgan. ‘Has the Anti-Nazi League got it right on racism?’ was published in a flyer for the Brixton Ad-Hoc Committee against Police Repression in 1978 and criticized the strategy of focusing on fighting fascism, while largely ignoring the impact of institutionalized racism: the role of the police, the education system, and so on.

Olive became ill during a trip to Spain in 1978. On her return to London, she was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and underwent treatment which was unsuccessful. She died on 12 July 1979 at St Thomas’s Hospital, Lambeth, and was buried in Streatham Vale cemetery. She was survived by her partner, Mike McColga. Her premature death was a shock to her friends, family, and political colleagues.

Beverely Bryan :“Olive and I went to the same school. Even then she had that streak in her – in school, they would have called it rebelliousness or disruptiveness, but it was really a fearlessness about challenging injustice at whatever level. This made others very weary of her, she was so obviously a fighter. I saw her once confronting a policeman – it might have been when she was evicted. She went at him like a whirlwind and cussed him to heaven. And this policeman looked really taken aback, he didn’t know how to deal with someone who had no fear of him. He was meant to represent the big arm of the law. But because she was angry and she knew he was in the wrong, she didn’t hesitate.

She would take anybody on like that, even people in organisations if she thought that someone needed to expose their hypocrisy for mounting slogans and living a lie. Because of that, a lot of them saw her as a pain in the neck and she was too! She’d fight them physically, if it was necessary. If you moved with Olive, you couldn’t be a weak heart. She gave a lot of support to so many sisters though, when they came under pressure from the brothers at meeting or wherever. She was a real example, You didn’t see it then, of course, but that fearlessness of hers, and that genuine commitment she showed to the work she did made her stand out, made her special.

Olive Morris on the Brixton Pound     Several people asked how Olive Morris came to feature on the first edition Brixton Pound note. The reason for this is very simple. When we began designing the currency back in 2009 we asked lots of people from Brixton who they thought should go on the notes. We had a stall at the Lambeth Country Show and on online voting poll. Olive’s name kept coming up.

As we looked into it more, it seemed Olive Morris was a brilliant choice to be the first person to go on a Brixton Pound. She was an activist – campaigning on many social justice issues including racism, unemployment, police violence and squatters rights. She was also a member of the British Black Panthers and a socialist and she supported anti-colonial struggles internationally. 

Money and power are at the heart of many of the issues that Olive campaigned on. Just take a look at our national currency, sterling, and look at the images that are chosen and the symbols they represent. If you go to the British Museum you can also see notes issued by the British Government in the British Colonies and they look very similar to the notes that we still use today.

The Brixton Pound deliberately chose images and symbols that break tradition with this colonialist past. Olive Morris was a disrupter and we are proud to put her image on the first issue of the notes in the place that is usually reserved for the Queen. We hope this may encourage more people to look at the inequalities sustained and perpetuated by our current financial system and challenge them, just as Olive Morris did. 

Since putting Olive Morris on the Brixton Pound we have had many people come and talk to us who remember Olive. They have told us a bit about her and her life. We hope that, alongside organisations like the Remembering Olive Collective, we can help keep her legacy alive.

Let us spread the word about the inspiring black activist Olive Morris who came to live in south London as a nine year old to Lavender Hill, then as an activist in Brixton and at university in Manchester but whose legacy is global.

Black Power Women of Brixton Walk

Sun Mar 10 2019 at 10:00 am to 12:00 pm

This walk last two hours and 15 mins approx .Meet point sent upon booking. Private group bookings for schools, staff groups, birthdays possible .Above photo by Neil Kenlock taken in Balham 1972 outside Martin Luther King employment agency.

Black people in Britain fought for civil/equal rights as hard as their American counterparts. The role of women in this struggle has been severely marginalised. This walk will show the life, times, and activities of numerous African/Caribbean women in Brixton. From the 1950’s to the 1980’s Black women supported and led the anti-racist fight in housing, education, employment, media and politics. We will cover:.

Black Panther Women of Brixton
How the British school system made Black children ‘Educationally Sub Normal’
The rise and importance of Saturday Schools and Black teachers
Olive Morris, radical, revolutionary and the fight for decent housing in Brixton
The legendary Claudia Jones ,1950’s newspaper publisher and campaigner
How Dame Joceyln Barrow smashed the job colour bar in Oxford street and Brixton
The Organisation of Women of Asian and African descent.
The Depo Provera scandal, fibroids, birth control and conspiracy
The incredible Gloria Cameron and the Race Relations Act
Miss Lou,The Sus law, Mavis Best


My next Notable Women of Lavender Hill walk will be on Sunday 26th May 2019 at 12.00 starting at Battersea Arts Centre Lavender Hill. All welcome  This walk is one of the Battersea Society contributions. in Wandsworth Heritage Festival 2019. The other is a presentation by Carol Rahn of War Comes Home which will be at RCA Dyson Building  Hester Road SW11.


Clare Sheridan

Posted in Clare Sheridan Author, Sculptor and Notable Galway Woman by sheelanagigcomedienne on August 16, 2018

Clare Consuela Sheridan ( 1885 -!970) has had the most varied, exotic and colourful life of these Notable Galway Women.  She came from a well-connected cosmopolitan family.  She was a sculptor, a writer, a restless nomad who wrote about her adventures, had relationships with intriguing men and she endured tragedy – with the death of her adored husband and two of her three children died before her. She had fascinating friends which reflected her cosmopolitan background of Anglo-Irish American parentage. Her godmother was Consuela Vanderbilt, Duchess of Marlborough

Through her bust sculptures and journalistic assignments she was intimate with a variety of people including Irish Nationalists like Michael Collins, British politicians and aristocrats, the Mountbattens, Lady Diana Cooper, Vita Sackville-West and Vivien Leigh,  Charlie  Chaplin and the Russian revolutionaries. Through her cousin Winston Churchill she made useful connections as sculpture and writer and her biography Cousin Clare  was written by the fascinating Galway based biographer Anita Leslie of Oranmore Castle who was also a cousin and is probably  most definitive book on this remarkable life and she was a regular visitor there especially during her Galway years in the late forties.  She lived in many exotic places and her her life seemed to be in phases. She came to live in Galway in 1947-1954, converted to Catholicism and devoted her skills to religious carvings. We visited Oranmore Castle in August 2017 whilst staying in Oranmore with my sister Ida. We met Leonie King who takes guides people around her fabulous and atmospheric home which is her castle. Leonie is the daughter of Anita Leslie. This blog is by Olivia King



She was born Clare Frewen in 1885, the only daughter among the children of the talented and wealthy three Jerome sisters. She had two brothers Hugh and Oswald whom she called Peter in her memoirs.  The Jerome’s were a prominent New York family and her grandfather Leonard Jerome was nicknamed ‘the King of Wall Street’.  Her father, Moreton Frewen (1853-1924), of Innishannon House in Cork led a peripatetic life, moving from England to America, then to Ireland and finally back to England again. He was was apparently he was a  charming if financially incompetent adventurer known for reckless financial and political schemes and was briefly  MP for Cork as an Independent  ‘Home Ruler’.  Nevertheless their house was burnt down in 1921. Michael Collins apologised to her for this when she interviewed him! Her father’s restlessness  was echoed in Clare’s  own life, which was spent constantly on the move.

Even in 2017 the Mail on Sunday can splash headlines about her in their style

She bedded Trotsky, was molested by Mussolini, got spurned by Hitler and ran off with Charlie Chaplin: How Churchill’s cousin Clare Sheridan was a seductress… and Soviet spy



Clare was sent to the Convent of the Assumption in Auteuil, in Paris but when she announced to her family that she wished to convert to Catholicism she was removed and sent briefly to a finishing school in Darmstadt in Germany where she went to the opera twice a week and played ping-pong with German officers. A maid was sent to Darmstadt to fetch her home, and further attempts at conventional schooling were abandoned.

Clare went to balls at Dublin Castle and years later in her memoirs Naked Truth  she amusingly described her first season at Dublin Castle with Lord Dudley masquerading as the King. She was then brought to London and dressed at some expense when she attended balls and parties and fell in love with a young stockbroker named Wilfred Sheridan when she was 17.                                                                       She told her cousin Anita: “in Wilfred’s company she felt herself utterly natural, sparkling and gay” But her father disapproved as they wanted her to marry someone richer. Wilfred lent her books, including the works of his great grandfather Richard Brinsley Sheridan. She returned to Cork and commenced her first attempts at writing with a play called l’Ingénue.

This article by Peter Murray in Irish Arts review recounts incidents from her memoir Nude Veritas.

On one occasion her and her mother left Malta where Peter’s ship was based and went to  Cannes penniless when she found a fiver that cousin Jack Churchill had given her for Christmas and then Clare was given fifty ponds by an old friend of her father’s which he stuffed into her shoe despite being told not to take money from men only books! Her mother cried but they kept the money. They went to Monte Carlo, Clare gambled, and won. The following year she relates her stay in Sweden with the Princess Margaret.  She also went to Capri, where she stayed in a house owned by Swedish psychiatrist Axel Munthe. She attributed to Munthe her initial introduction to Bolshevism.

Meanwhile, Clare’s family had moved from Cork to England, her mother buying Brede Place, a 14th-century ruin on Edward Frewen’s estate in Sussex. Henry James was just four miles away, at Rye. Clare became friends with James, and also with the novelist George Moore. She began to write articles and a novel, showing chapters to both James and Moore. Moore described it as ‘charming’ and a ‘dear little book.’ In response, Clare flung the manuscript across the room, danced on it, kicked it, and finally put a match to it.

Clare Brede Place

Brede Place

He advised her to gain independence from her mother through marriage, and so on her return to England in 1910 she and Wilfred became engaged. He was said to be the best-looking man in England. At the wedding she refused to say the word ‘obey’, and the Canon was shocked by the irreverence of bride and groom. Clare settled in Sussex with Wilfred, where they had two children, Margaret and Elizabeth. However in 1914 Elizabeth died in infancy. Clare became friendly with Mary Watts, widow of artist George Frederick Watts, who ran a nearby pottery and who encouraged her to sculpt a memorial to her deceased daughter. She enrolled in the modelling section of the Guildford Technical School, bringing the half completed clay memorial with her.



The following year, her son Richard was born, but a few days later her Wilfred was killed at the Battle of Loos. He was probably the love of her life. They had parted only a few weeks earlier when they were staying at Frampton Court, his parental home where they hoped Dick would be born as heir.  ‘She stood there watching him walk away – so light of step, sunburned and handsome. Once he turned to wave. Then he was gone.” She was heart broken.. She was given the letter written by her beloved Wilfred which was found in his pocket. : “You will only read this if I am dead, and remember that as you read it I shall be by your side. Remember that all over England are broken hearts and ruined lives, remember that one splendid woman, such as you are, refusing to weep, and hugging her soul with pride at a soldier’s death, will consciously or unconsciously stiffen up and bring comfort to these… God keep you and help you and bring my little Margaret up happily. I can leave you nothing, darling, except the memory of years, and you know what our life together has been. Surely if perfection is attained we have attained it.”

Clare S Frampton1

Frampton Court Dorset the home of the Sheridans.

Stricken by this second loss, and the deaths of other close friends in WWI, Clare resolved to devote her life to sculpture. She produced various types of images, but it was her portrait heads that made her reputation. She became a successful society artist. Among her sitters were HG Wells, Arnold Bennett, Gladys Cooper and Diana Manners at this time as well as Churchill.

She had been pursued by suitors Lord Birkenhead,and Alexander Thynne, son of the Marquis of Bath who was also killed in the War and  Seymour Egerton who was the  6th Earl of Wilton, asked the widowed Clare to marry.

Then she decided to travel to Russia where she succeeded in getting Lenin and Trotsky to sit for her. She had become in onvolved with Lev Kaminev which is chronicled in Mayfair to Moscow  .



This infuriated Churchill who was very anti-Bolshevik and it caused the first of the ‘scandals’ that would keep her name buzzing on the world’s press wires for the next 30 years. Her life from this point on reads like the improbable plot to a novel – full of sex, tragedy and espionage, played out against a backcloth of bright young things and international power-brokers taking in America.



She set forth in search of dangerous adventures, interesting men and artistic fulfilment. She travelled most of the world and met people like Gandhi, Primo De Rivera, Gorky, H.G. Wells, Kemel Ataturk, Mussolini, Marconi, Rudyard Kipling etc. Clare had affairs with some of these while others sat for her while she worked on their portrait. She was a very good journalist and interviewed many world leaders including Michael Collins. She was the only journalist to get into the occupied Four Courts in Dublin and interview Rory O’Connor. She spent time in America and it was here she became entangled with Charlie Chaplain.

In 1925, she moved to Algeria  where it was noted by M15 that “she appeared to be comfortably off and debt-free for the first time in 10 years”. She built a house on the edge of the Sahara at Biskra. In 1937, her beloved son Dick died of appendicitis at Constantine in Algeria. Clare took a large oak tree from the family home, Brede Place, in Sussex and carved it into his memorial. Carving in wood seems to have given her a fresh artistic direction. She  went on a pilgrimage to Montana and Canada, staying with the Black Foot tribe on the Blood Reserve. Many of the objects she collected during her visit are kept at Hastings Museum.



The account of her dealings with Mussolini are chilling – his “nostrils flaring-head down like an angry bull.” Mussolini commented: “You will not leave till dawn, and then you will be broken in”. Anita Leslie continued: “He must seduce her. Sketch-book and clay flew to the ceiling, slaps, punches, wrestling, gasping cries of amazement (on both sides) filled the room. Clare couldn’t believe it true. Neither could Mussolini – she was taller than he, but he was stronger…. He blocked the way to the main door, but grabbing her handbag she made for the side exit. He got there before her and there was, according to her own account, a veritable hand-to-hand struggle for the key. Clare managed to snatch it and open the door. It took a long time, she said. But eventually she managed to wedge it open with her foot. Mussolini threw his whole heavy weight against the door to close it and caught her elbow in the process. Her screams of pain halted him. Purple in the face he stood back for a moment and she was able to wrench herself from his grasp.”



She made homes for herself in many strange and exotic places. She came to Galway in 1947 and lived in the house beside the Spanish Arch which later became the first museum of the city.  The Palace Arthouse Cinema behind it has only opened in 2018.

She was by now doing a lot of carving in wood as well as stone. She spent a lot of time working in the grounds of Oranmore Castle, the home of her cousin Anita Leslie and Anita’s husband, Bill King. She got the castle mason to rough out big blocks of stone, which she could then hew into form. Clare was a well-known figure in Galway ‘floating around in her violet shaded tweed cloaks of ecclesiastical design’. These cloaks were made by her good friend Cis O’Máille of O’Máille’s Shop in Dominick Street, who regularly entertained Clare to Sunday lunch.  Clare got on well with Claddagh fisherwomen who brought her baskets of fish when the boats came in. She was a regular visitor to the Poor Clares, and also to Kennys Bookshop.



Clare was still strong enough to carve, not only in wood but in stone, but she was very disappointed at the dearth of orders from the Church for her carvings. She had high hopes that the Bishop might buy the Madonna and Child for his new cathedral. She was not impressed when she saw the mosaics of JFK and Padraic Pearse, and she railed against the poor taste of those who had the power to spend. She offered the statue to a convent guest-house, but it was pointed out to her that as the Holy Child wore no trousers, some people might be offended. Her retort was “The renaissance did not consider underwear necessary, why should you”?



She has a crucifix in Salthill Church and a Madonna and Child on top of the Spanish Arch. By October 1st, 1952, she had sold Spanish Arch House and “so comes to an end another five year span on which the pattern of my life is so inadvertently composed ….. one five year span after another”.  She lived in a guest house run by the Franciscan Convent Hope Castle at Castleblayney before moving to  Allington Castle in Kent where she carved, from bog oak, a celebrated Madonna now at Brede.

The Spartacus piece on Clare is Interesting

Clare Sheridan home in Hastings

Belmont it looks rather sumptuously renovated.

From 1956 she lived at Belmont House, Hastings not far from the High Street from where she wrote To the Four Winds in 1957 which was updating her memories.  By this time, her scandalous days were a thing of the past and she lived here until her death in 1970. Clare Sheridan died in 1970 Parnham House Beaminster Dorset aged 84 years and is buried in the churchyard of St George’s, Brede.

Clare’s life is just so intriguing. She had the advantage of her class privilege and her  connections but she carved out her own life and was a liberated woman who did her own thing despite the tragedies of losing her beloved husband when she was so young and her two children Elizabeth and Dick. Her earlier life when she packed in travel, living in wonderful houses, her many lovers, relationships with friends and relatives like Churchill, writing memoirs, articles, interviews and travel chronicles, bringing up children, meeting fascinating people, making friends and all the while sculpting till her contemplative religious life in her latter years.  Her writings are so absorbing and easy to read and I love checking out photos and images.  I am so glad to be able to include her in this assembly of memorable Galway women.

  • Russian Portraits (Cape, 1921); published in the U.S as Mayfair to Moscow: Clare Sheridan’s Diary (1921)
  • My American Diary (New York, Boni and Liveright, 1922)
  • In Many Places (Cape, 1923)
  • West to East (1923)
  • Stella Defiant (Duckworth, 1923)
  • Across Europe with Satanella (Dodd, Mead and Company, 1925)
  • The Thirteenth (Duckworth, 1925)
  • A Turkish Kaleidoscope (Duckworth, 1926)
  • Nuda Veritas (Butterworth, 1927); published in the US as Naked Truth (New York, Harper & Brothers, 1928)
  • Green Amber (1929)
  • The Substitute Bride (1931)
  • Arab Interlude (1936)
  • Redskin Interlude (1938)
  • Without End (1939)
  • My Crowded Sanctuary (Methuen, 1945)
  • To the Four Winds (1957)

Siobhán McKenna renowned actor and Notable Galway Woman

Posted in Siobhán McKenna renowned actor and Notable Galway Woman by sheelanagigcomedienne on August 13, 2018

Renowned actor and theatre director Siobhán McKenna (1923–86) takes her place among Notable Women of Galway. Siobhán was born in Belfast to a nationalist family, was a fluent gaelic speaker and moved to Galway when her father was appointed a lecturer in Mathematics in UCG.

Siobhán Giollamhuire Nic Cionnaith was born in 1923  at 28 St James’s Park, off the Falls Road, Belfast,  the second daughter of Gretta from Co. Longford, and her husband, Eoghan McKenna Millstreet, Co. Cork,  lecturer in mathematics at  the Municipal College of Technology, Belfast. She had an elder sister Nancy  and they their early schooling was at the Dominican Convent, Falls Road, Belfast. In 1928 Eoghan McKenna moved his family to Fort Eyre at Shantalla, Galway, when he was appointed lecturer (later professor) in mathematical sciences at UCG.

They lived in Hansberry House, a three storey house which bookends the listed terrace of derelict shops which have been bought to be developed, and Spire House which is the home of the Jesus and Mary nuns who ran Scoil Ide Primary School which I attended. ( I remember visiting Mother Stanislaus there with Dave after we were married in 1967 )

Below is Siobhán reading the Proclamation in 1966 in Eyre Square Galway during the 60 year commemorations of the Rising.


siobh in galway

Siobhán became fluent in Connemara Irish and it was what the McKenna’s spoke at home. Her formal education states that it was at Dominican College, Taylor’s Hill, Galway, my alma mater. But she was only five when they moved and it was their  Montessori junior school that she attended. Her schooling was interrupted by a year’s confinement to bed with glandular fever. She then enrolled at the boarding school of the St Louis Sisters at Monaghan, where she developed her love of drama.

A video of Siobhán from 1961 talking about reading a poem at her Montessori School in Taylor’s Hill which was a short walk from where they lived and they laughing at her accent

While still a university student, at UCG, Siobhán acted leading roles in An Taidhbhearc, Galway’s Irish-language theatre. (Walter Macken who went on to be one of Ireland’s well loved novelists was an acclaimed actor there and was its Director from 1939-47) Siobhán played in the Irish version of Evans and Valentine’s Tons of money ‘Dalladh airgid’ in March 1941, in Jean-Jacques Bernard’s Le National Six ‘Ar an mBóthar Mór’, and in her own translation of J. M. Barrie’s Mary Rose. She played in an Irish version of Eugene O’Neill’s The Emperor Jones and in two plays by Sean O’Casey, ‘Shadow of a Gunman’ and ‘The Plough and the Stars’.

An Taibhearc

She graduated BA from UCG with first-class honours in Irish, French, and mathematics in 1943, and enrolled at UCD for postgraduate studies in French. Ó Briain is credited with bringing McKenna’s talent to the notice of Ernest Blythe , managing director of the Abbey Theatre, who having auditioned McKenna offered her a contract. She began at the Abbey with Irish-speaking parts in Peadar Ó hAnnracháin’s ‘Stiana’  1944, followe by ‘Sodar i ndiaidh na n-uasal’, Blythe’s translation of Molière’s Le bourgeois gentilhomme . She was noticed favourably for her playing of a Belfast factory girl in ‘The end House’ by Joseph Tomelty and her role as Jimín, a pert newsboy, in the Gaelic pantomime, ‘Muireann agus an prionnsa’  1945/46, was acclaimed by the Evening Herald critic as ‘a performance of inexhaustible vitality’. 1946 was a decisive year in McKenna’s career and life.

McCormick, the great Abbey actor, tutored her when she played opposite him in ‘Village wooing’ by Shaw and when she received favourable notices for a small part in the British film Hungry Hill he advised her not to abandon her stage career for one in film. In September 1946 McKenna married the actor Denis O’Dea ; their only child, Donnacha, was born in August 1948. He went on to swim for Ireland at the 1968 Summer Olympics and later won a World Series of Poker bracelet in 1998 and I believe the poker bug has been caught by her grandson Eoghan who is an online player!

She first appeared on the London stage on March 1947 at the Embassy Theatre as Nora Fintry in ‘The white steed’ by P. V. Carroll. She played Maura Joyce in Sir Laurence Olivier’s production of Jean Anouilh’s ‘Fading mansions’ at the Duchess Theatre ; Olivier also advised her to remain in theatre work when she was offered a Hollywood contract for her memorable performance in the Paramount film ‘Daughter of Darkness’  1948.

In response to a request from the Taidhbhearc, Siobhán offered to play the lead in her own translation of Shaw’s Saint Joan. It was a sensational success, it played to packed audiences first in Galway, in December 1950.

It is interesting to note that the awful prig Bishop Browne declined an invitation writing that he “did not think that attendance at a Shaw play would be a suitable means or occasion for one in his position”.

There was one performance at the Gaiety in Dublin, 14 January 1951. Micheál MacLiammóir , who was in the audience, invited her to play Saint Joan in his production of the play, which opened at the Gate Theatre, Dublin, on November 1954 to great  reviews. She also played the role in an English production in London in September 1954, at the Arts Theatre and then at the St Martin’s Theatre; she won the Evening Standard award for her acting. She played Saint Joan again in 1956–7 in Paris and then in New York, where with her unfamiliar accent endeared her to Broadway audiences. In 1956 she was the first Irish actor to win a Tony award.

During the same years with Shelah Richards  directing, created a new Pegeen Mike in ‘The playboy of the western world’ by J. M. Synge , first in 1951 at the Edinburgh Festival and then in July 1953 at the Gaiety Theatre in Dublin, with the actor–manager Cyril Cusack playing Christy Mahon, in what was deemed a superb production; it went on a European tour, and charmed Parisian audiences at the Sarah Bernhardt Theatre. In 1960 Shelagh revived the play for the Dublin Theatre Festival and for the Florence Festival, where she was given the ‘best actress’ award. In 1961 Brian Desmond Hurst directed  her  in the film production of  ‘The playboy of the Western World.                                    It is  interesting to have to explain the conceit of the play to a London Primary School assembly which I did in Latchmere School with my friend June O’Sullivan in the 80s when we did a series of them at the time when there was a lot of anti-Irish racism.   There is a video about the filming in Dingle

For international audiences Saint Joan is considered her outstanding role; in Irish theatre history she is best remembered for redefining the role of Pegeen Mike. She was  a fine Shakesperian actor and spent a season a Stratford-on-Avon in 1952. She played a captivating Viola in ‘Twelfth night’, directed by Sir Tyrone Guthrie at the Stratford Festival in Ontario in1957, and a one-woman Hamlet in the manner of Sarah Bernhardt off Broadway in 1957, which critics panned; but her Lady Macbeth, opposite Jason Robards, at Harvard University in 1959 was of star quality, ‘putting in the greatest mad scene seen in the U.S. since Callas’s Lucia di Lamermoor’

Loyalty to the Irish stage brought her back to Ireland, and in 1960 she made Dublin her permanent home: the family lived on Highfield Road, Rathgar, first at no. 23 then, when O’Dea’s health declined, in a smaller house at no. 78. From then on Siobhán steadfastly pursued the aims of an Irish National Theatre, in keeping with the vision that inspired the Abbey’s founders.

The establishment of Irish television in 1961 brought her into wider contact with the Irish public. Exile, emigration, and homecoming for the economically deprived were themes that interested both writers and their public. Siobhán engagement with the folk plays of Michael J. Molloy included financial backing, directing, and acting Daughter from over the Water, 1964 and gave her the impetus to direct and experiment. In 1966 she played Juno with Peter O’Toole and Jack MacGowran  in‘Juno and the Paycock’ at the Gaiety Theatre, Dublin. At the 1967 Dublin Festival, which coincided with the reopening of the Abbey Theatre, she gave a magnificent performance as the broken-down, earthy Cass in Brian Friel’s ‘The loves of Cass Maguire’. At the 1968 Dublin Festival at the Abbey she and Cyril Cusack starred in Chekhov’s ‘Cherry Orchard’, directed by Madame Knebal from the Moscow Art Theatre.

Films include 1961’s King of Kings, starring in the role of the Virgin Mary. In 1964 she performed in Of Human Bondage and the following year in Doctor Zhivago.

For more than a decade Siobhán had been considering a one-woman show on the lines of MacLiammóir’s ‘I must be talking to my friends’. When Wolf Mankowitz and Laurence Harvey put up the money for a West End production, with Sean Kenny as designer and director,  Siobhán set about creating her show, choosing her pieces with consummate skill.

Here are Ladies played in Britain, North America, Australia, Ireland, and Vienna throughout the 1970s. Her Molly Bloom and stream of consciousness Anna Livia Plurabelle passages from James Joyce  were a tour de force that brought audiences to their feet. She gave sixty-seven public performances and as many more at university venues.

Theater: Siobhan McKenna’s’Ladies’ – The New York Times

During the 1970s McKenna directed fifteen plays, taking over O’Casey’s ‘Juno and the Paycock’ at the Mermaid Theatre in London in 1973 on the sudden death of Sean Kenny in Toronto she directed a season of Synge plays later that year.

Although she concentrated on directing plays by O’Casey and Synge in the 1970s, she continued to act: she played Bessie Burgess in the Abbey’s golden jubilee production of ‘The Plough and the Stars’ in 1976, which toured New York, Boston, Philadelphia, and Washington DC. Quest Productions presented ‘Here are ladies’ and, with McKenna directing, O’Casey’s ‘The shadow of a Gunman’ in Vienna 1980–81.

Siobhán had been active in human rights. March 1982 she addressed the United Nations special committee against apartheid in New York by invitation; she revealed that she and Dame Peggy Ashcroft were among a group of actors, members of Actors’ Equity, who had signed a declaration not to perform in South Africa until there was an end to apartheid.

She formed a small company, Quest Productions, with John Hippisley as manager–director. She directed and played in Eugene O’Neill’s ‘A Moon for the Misbegotten’ at the Gate in 1975. In 1977 she played Sarah Bernhardt in ‘Memoir’ with Niall Buggy, in Eric Salmon’s production at the Olympia Theatre in Dublin, the Ambassador in London, and briefly in Canada. I  remember speaking to Niall Buggy when he proudly showed me his Claddagh ring Claddagh ringwhich Siobhán had given him.

While Siobhán was directing a season of one-act Irish plays in London, Denis O’Dea died 5 November 1978.

The following year her own health began to fail but she continued her hectic programme, appearing as Juno in Joe Dowling’s production of ‘Juno and the paycock’ at the Abbey in 1979,  Agrippina in ‘Britannicus’ at the Lyric, Hammersmith, London, in 1981, and in ‘All Joyce’ at the Abbey Theatre in 1982. In 1984, as well as directing and stage-managing Brian Merriman’s  ‘Cuirt n mheán-oiche’, she played a luminous Mary Tyrone in Eugene O’Neill’s ‘Long day’s Journey into Night’ for the Abbey.

'Late Late Show' Mac Liammóir birthday special (1969)The following year she and Maureen Potter played the two old ladies in ‘Arsenic and old lace’ with verve at the Gaiety in Dublin.

siobhan-mckenna0 as Mommo

Though seriously ill, McKenna undertook the demanding role of Mommo in Tom Murphy’s ‘Bailegangaire’, which he had written with her in mind. Directed by Garry Hynes, who is another Notable Galway Women  It played at the Druid Theatre in Galway from December 1985 through January 1986, transferring to the Donmar Warehouse in London for the spring of 1986, and to the Gaiety Theatre, Dublin, for a two-week run. Murphy’s drama is set in a cottage in the west of Ireland where a senile grandmother, Mommo, strives to tell her two granddaughters a story which she cannot finish. The production was a rare conjunction of director, actors, staging, and play and Galway connections.  McKenna’s contribution became a legend. I saw this memorable production at the Donmar Warehouse and loved the Schubert Notturno which accompanied it -an  unforgettable production.

On 16 November 1986 Siobhán  died of cardiac arrest after a lung operation in the Blackrock clinic in Dublin. She was buried at Rahoon cemetery in Galway. My mother attended it and wrote me a letter describing it on a rain drenched day with a lone piper playing. My parents Tom and Eithne Egan are both buried in Rahoon. Since then there is a stone by the entrance gate of Joyce’s poem She Weeps over Rahoon which of course refers to Nora Barnacle, his wife and another Notable Galway Woman.…/nora-barnacle-galway-woman/

At her graveside playwright Brian Friel declared: ‘For people of my generation, she personified an idea of Ireland.’…/siobhan-mckenna-is-dead-actress-known-for-st-joan.h…

La Times Obituary 1986

Siobhán McKenna was pre-eminent among the players who brought the dramatic works of the Irish literary revival to the national and international stage in the second half of the twentieth century. She was and is one of our best known actors of stage and screen and certainly one of Galway’s most Notable Women.

Dolores Keane singer Notable Galway Woman

Posted in Dolores Keane singer and Notable Galway Woman by sheelanagigcomedienne on August 12, 2018




Dolores Keane is one of Ireland’s greatest singers and is undoubtedly a Notable Galway women. She is usually referred to as either a folk, traditional or Celtic singer. He voice is so distinctive, resonant and haunting with a definite Galway twang. She is dubbed the “Voice of Ireland” by Nanci Griffith. Dolores is known the world-over for her deep, melodic voice which often lives up to her name which means ‘sorrow’. She is a singer of the stature of Bessie Smith, Umm Kulthum and Aretha Franklin according to the Immortal Jukebox blogger

Her Galway Bay is, for me, the definite Galway song


though I have a soft spot for the Tin Pan Alley Galway Bay as sung by Bing Crosby in 1966 and recorded in Dublin.                                  

Here is an earlier video of them talking about their musical heritage  and singing ‘I am thinking, ever thinking’                               

They Keane family produced an album in 1985 which has been reissued.Dolores and family record

In the sleeve notes, Dolores  writes: ‘My earliest recollections of music and singing were when I was about three years of age. My grandmother’s house, where I spent much of my childhood, was often visited by many fine musicians and singers. Among them were Willie Clancy, Máirtín Byrnes, Seán ‘ac Dhonncha and many others from neighbouring villages. During the music sessions at the house, the ‘noble call’ operated among the gathered company and, even at the age of four or five, I was expected to do my bit. This encouraged me to learn songs and tunes.

Like all my brothers and sisters, I was fortunate to grow up in an atmosphere where learning songs and tunes was like learning to read or to walk. I remember Ulick McDonnell, an elderly neighbour, visiting the house and swapping songs with my grandmother. I remember my Uncle Paddy playing his flute, while visiting travelling people danced a set in the kitchen and I remember Ciarán Mac Mathúna coming to record songs for his Ceolta Tire radio programme.

In 1975, she co-founded the very successful traditional Irish band De Danaan and they released their debut album Dé Danann in that same year. The group gained international recognition and enjoyed major success in the late 1970s in the US. Dolores went touring with the band and their single “The Rambling Irishman” was a big hit in Ireland. In early 1976, after a short two-year spell, she left left De Dannan.





Soon thereafter, she married multi-instrumentalist John Faulkner musician John  with whom she had worked on many occasions, in 1977 and with whom she would subsequently record three albums of folk music.

Dolores and John

Dolores lived and worked in London for several years with John  before they moved to Ireland in the early 1980s. They worked on a series of film scores and programmes for the BBC and formed two successful bands, The Reel Union and Kinvara. During this period Dolores recorded her first solo album, There Was a Maid in 1978. This was followed by two other releases, Broken Hearted I’ll Wander (1979) and Farewell to Eirinn (1980), which gave credit to Faulkner.

In the mid-1980s she rejoined De Danaan and recorded the albums Anthem and Ballroom with them.

De Danaan with Dolores

After a very difficult pregnancy, Dolores gave birth to their first child, Joseph. He was born with a condition Laurence -Moon Bardet-Biedl Syndrome  which causes obesity and and failing leading to blindness. Her marriage ended in 1988.

She then resumed on a very successful solo career, establishing herself as one of the most loved interpreters of Irish song.  She also toured with Planxty and collaborated with The Chieftains on the album “Bonapart’s Retreat”.

1988 saw the release of the eponymous Dolores Keane album. Her follow-up album A Lion in a Cage, in 1989 which featured a song written by Faulkner called Lion in the Cage  protesting the imprisonment of Nelson Mandela  It became her second Irish number one and she performed the hit at the celebration of his release. This exposure expanded Dolores’s reputation and popularity worldwide.

She played the female lead in the Dublin production of  Brendan Behan’s The Hostage the opening night of which was attended by Mary Robinson  the President of Ireland at the time.

The story of A Women’s Heart

In 1992, Delores was among the many female Irish singers to lend their music to the record-smashing anthology A Woman’s Heart. The album, which also featured Eleanor McEvoy, Mary Black, Frances Black Sharon Shannon and Maura O’Connell , went on to become the biggest-selling album in Irish history. A Woman’s Heart Vol.2 was released in late 1994 and emulated its predecessor in album charts the world over. Also in 1994, a solo album, entitled Solid Ground, was released on the Shanachie label and received critical acclaim in Europe and America.

Dolores and Sean

In 1995, Dolores was was awarded the prestigious Fiddler’s Green Hall of Fame award in Rostrevor Co Down for her “significant contribution to the cause of Irish music and culture”. In that same year, she took to the stage in the Dublin production of  Synge’s Playboy of the Western World.

Dolores at home 2007

She contributed to the RTE/BBC television production “Bringing It All Back Home”, a series of programmes illustrating the movement of Irish music to America. Dolores was shown performing both in Nashville  with musicians such as  Emmylou Harris and Richard Thompson and at home in Galway with her aunts Rita and Sarah.

In August 1997, Dolores went to number one again in the Irish album charts with a compilation album with her most loved songs. And another studio album was released by her in 1998, called Night Owl. Dolores Night Owl

It saw her returning to her traditional Irish roots and it did well in Europe and America. Despite a healthy solo career, she went on tour with De Danaan again in the late 1990s, where she played to packed audiences in venues such as Birmingham Alabama and New York City.

Dolores, Emmylu and mary Sonny

But then she stopped touring. By then she had settled with her partner Barry ‘Bazza’ Farmer which lasted for 20 years and she had her daughter Tara in 1994  with him. Her relationship ended a few years ago. Dolores had problems with alcoholism and depression and has received extensive treatment for these conditions. She was also diagnosed and treated for breast cancer.

Dolores  has pleaded guilty to drink driving at Clonboo on November 19 2010 and again in Glenties. in 2014 she attended a hearing asking to have her licence restored as she needed it to attend medical appointments following development of breast cancer and, to continue to attend her AA meetings.

Dolores outside Glenties counrt July 2014

Dolores outside Glenties Court when she asked to be given back her licence halfway through her four year ban.

There is an article from 2014 by Barry Egan.

“I was ready to give singing a break,” Dolores says, because it was enabling her to be an alcoholic but, “I didn’t know how to give up singing. But I did need a break from singing. I was burnt out.”

In hindsight, Dolores believes that the heavy drinking was her way of “trying to get away from the singing and where she was in her life.” Despite the praise and international accolades, Dolores wasn’t happy “having to put the good face on. I had had enough of that.”

“I was fed up with the road,” she continues. “I was fed up with the songs I was singing. I was fed up with the approach of the bands I had and everything else. It was all the same old ding dong. I wanted to change all that. I wanted this new lease of life.”

This article is about the tour that Dolores did with her brother Sean in 2015/16   when she went on on tour for the first time in over 30 years  with him

This article is also about the tour

“Music has got me all over the world and it’s been a fabulous experience. We’ve been to America, China, Hong Kong, Bermuda, Australia, New Zealand and all over Europe. Getting paid always seemed like a bonus.”

Are there any songs she never tires of singing?

“I love The Island and Galway Bay and Caledonia and Never Be The Sun. Caledonia is a song people always ask for; I can’t not do that one. But as soon as I introduce it, people sing it back to me so it’s an easy gig for me,” she laughs.

There was an article in Ireland’s Own which also mentions the RTE 2015 documentary

In the past couple of year Dolores has gone public about her troubles and she told the full, unvarnished story in a searingly honest and acclaimed documentary by Liam McGrath, entitled ‘Dolores Keane: A Storm In The Heart’, initially shown on RTE television last year and recently repeated.

Many people were very moved by the brutal honesty of the story she told, and wished her well in getting her life back on an even keel and her career back on track.

She has shown courage and determination in telling her story in the hope of inspiring and helping others, and she has been back on the touring circuit for the past 18 months, being joined in many of the shows by her equally well known and talented brother, Sean.

The trademark flowing red hair has gone as a result of her cancer treatment but the quality of her remarkable voice and the love of the songs which has always driven her is still undimmed.

Dolores comeback

It wasn’t just Keane’s honesty in relation to her life and the way that she exposed the same ordinary human failings – as we all have – to the camera that people loved about the documentary A Storm in the Heart. This isn’t the reason why the tickets for her comeback tour of the same name will disappear quicker than the May morning dew. It is also the complete lack of egoism she eschewed towards her one time star status.

Dolores is taking life at an easy pace now. Her son Joseph lives in Galway, on-off and between Dolores’s house and Dolores’s sister Christina’s house. “He also goes to a place in Galway – his work as he calls it. But he is doing brilliantly.” Her daughter Tara lives in Tuam and works in retail. No doubt, she will be heard singing again even if those touring days on the road are over and I am sure she will enjoy it again but without the pressures and expectations of when she was younger.

While she has a voice she wont stop singing when she gets together with other musicians, especially around Galway and while she is walking with her dogs or maybe doing a bit of gardening and remembering what a fascinating life she has had with all its vicissitudes, what pleasure she has given to millions as she shared her wonderful talent, all helped by a great sense of humour and always a proud Galway woman..

Ada English Psychiatrist Galway Woman

Posted in Ada English Psychiatrist and Irish Nationalist by sheelanagigcomedienne on July 20, 2018

Ada biography

Dr Ada English is someone whose role in Irish history is beginning to be acknowledged particularly because of the centenary events in the past few years where women’s contribution to revolutionary Irish politics and entry into the professions is  being celebrated and commemorated, at last. I too was intrigued to hear about another inspiring Galway woman.

Ada English seems like a strange name for an Irish nationalist who spoke the language having  received lessons from Pádraig Pearse in the Irish language in which she was fluent. It was only her gravestone in Ballinasloe District Asylum where she was buried alongside her patients that gave her name in Irish as Eithne Inglis.  Ada was an influential  psychiatrist under British rule in Ireland and who would also have understood the importance of identity. She was also a woman in a male dominated profession with all the attendant prejudices against women and the lack of appreciation for their work and achievements in gaining promotion and having their expertise and insights appreciated.

Ada has recently begun to be given the recognition she deserves. The biography by Dr Brendan Kelly kick started the process of the appreciation of the life and work of of one of the earliest female doctors in Ireland as well as becoming one of the original female psychiatrists in Ireland.

But she was so much more as she was an active nationalist in Cumann na mBan during the Rising and the civil war serving as a doctor, she served 6 months in prison in  Galway  Jail and she was elected to the Dáil all this alongside her very dedicated work as psychiatrist in a busy mental hospital.

She featured in Ireland in History Day by Day on the anniversary of her birth 27th January 2018

Ada English 1875-1944 was born in Cahersiveen (Cathair Saidhbhín). The family moved to Mullingar when she was a year old where her father was a pharmacist and Town Commissioner. She had four siblings while her grandfather, Richard, had been Master of the Old Castle Workhouse in the town. to secondary school at the Loreto Convent in Mullingar in 1881.

Having already trained briefly in Richmond Asylum, The Mater Misericodiae and Temple Street Hospital, Dr English arrived as the second assistant medical officer in Ballinasloe District Asylum in 1904 and for a short period, she had an appointment at a London hospital before taking the position of assistant at what is now St Bridget’s Hospital in Ballinasloe. Chronic overcrowding of the 1,293 patients (519 female, 774 male) greeted her there. Dr Kirwan’s was the Resident Medical Superintendent)at the time of Ada’s arrival in Ballinasloe.

Mary Macken (later Professor) remembered her:
I remember her crisp blond hair, remarkable eyes and fascinating lisp. She struck me as being singularly adult. She was in fact some years my senior and tolerant of everything except incompetence or willingness on our part to put up with it. For she burned to get at her real work of medicine; it was for her as much a vocation as a profession.


Ada English

Ada is sat in the centre wearing a white coat and a tie.

The esteem in which Ada held her patients was remarkably different from society at the time.The Dangerous Lunatics Act, which was passed in 1838 which initially applied to Ireland alone allowed individuals to be involuntarily detained in Asylums on account of testimonies of relatives or other familiar people relating to alleged present mental disorders. Inciting evidence often could be as basic as a “mere peculiarity of behaviour or expression”. Asylums became proverbial dumping grounds for those who were ostracised or dismissed by society. Due to the overcrowded nature of the local jails and work houses at the time many were transferred to asylums such as Ballinasloe. In doing so patients who had severe and genuine psychiatric diseases and disorders where overwhelmed in terms of space by those who often didn’t require psychiatric treatment.

She developed occupational therapy including farming and sports and under her direction Ballinasloe was the first mental hospital in Ireland to use  electric convulsive therapy.

The camogie team for which Ada was personally responsible for introducing in 1915 went on to be very successful in external competitions, winning silver medals at the Second Tailteann Games in 1928. There is now an Ada English Memorial Cup for camogie. A cinder track for cycling competitions was laid down in 1921. There were also hurling, hockey and tug of war teams.

Ada Camogie team

There is a lovely essay on Ada which won the Scoilnet 2017 History Competition Winner  by Maithiu Breathnach and the subject was – Dr. Ada English: Innovator and Revolutionary.

“Ada also developed the drama society alongside Dr Kirwan for those who had no interest in sports and/or had a major interest in the world of drama, thus catering for multiple individuals’ hobbies and passions alike. This is important to highlight in the regard in which she had concern and compassion for all her patients. The Asylum farm also gained substantial recognition at the summer convening of the Irish division of the Medico Psychological Association at Ballinasloe in June 1917 and the “many improvements recently made in the Asylum” were highlighted to a great effect. Ada also wholeheartedly believed in the power of cinema and later noted in 1940 that “it would be a great boon to the patients if the old cinema could be adjusted to take talkies”

In October 1914, Ada was appointed to a lecturership in mental disease in University College Galway a position she retained until February 1943. In 1921, she was offered the position of RMS of Sligo Mental Hospital by Austin Stack , Secretary of State for Home Affairs, but she decided to stay in Ballinasloe.The decision to overlook Ada despite given her thirty-two years experience there and the fact that she had already proven herself a capable RMS during the absence of Mills the RMS, caused understandable consternation.. She was finally appointed, in 1941, to the position of RMS. It was a long wait to gain the promotion but she so obviously dedicated to the patients, staff and the town of Ballinasloe and decided to stay there. Ada loved to tour the highways and byways around the town in her horse and trap, driven by a patient, and would stop and talk with those she met on the road. One man, who met Ada frequently when he was a child, remembers her as  always accompanied by her dogs, Victor, Isabel and Judy.

Ada Oireachtas Gaelic League

The photo of the 1913 Galway Oireachtas, outside the Town Hall in Galway which was attended by three future presidents of Ireland, Douglas Hyde, Seán T O’Kelly and Eamon de Valera as well as by Proclamation signatories Pádraig Pearse, Seán Mac Diarmada and Éamonn Ceannt, and other noted figures such as Cathal Brugha, Countess Markievic and Dr Ada English.


Of course, she was very politically involved in the area.
Ada was a nationalist both politically and culturally. Ada’s first role within subversive activities as seen by the British authorities was her and Dr Kirwan’s replacement of Queen Victoria with the Galway coat of arms on the buttons worn by staff members in 1905 as well as her erection of notices in Irish in proceeding years. She also was an early proponent of import substitution in the sense she insisted on purchasing Irish manufactured goods only where available.
She was imbued with the spirit of Irish nationalism. She was involved in the Gaelic League, Sinn Féin, Cumann na mBann and the Irish Volunteers. She was was  medical officer to Liam Mellows throughout the insurgency in Galway during the Easter Ris ing.
In June 1918 it was reported that she “took a prominent part in the women’s anti-conscription campaign in Ballinasloe…and was chief organiser”. Even beyond 1918 her various movements and actions were closely watched. In the same Dublin Castle File No. 4168, with the title of “Activities Since the Truce” it was illuminated how “after making a “blood and thunder” oration at Ballinasloe town she proceeded openly to enlist members of Cumann na mBan. The Asylum at Ballinasloe also provided the perfect environment for Ada to conceal prominent individuals such as Eamonn De Valera and Liam Mellows on some occasions from detection.
In 1921 Ada was imprisoned for six months for having been found in possession of seditious literature. Alice Cashel was there at the same time. That year she was also elected to the second Dáil of Sinn Féin’s underground, unilaterally declared Irish Republic. Ada was opposed to the Anglo-Irish Treaty and participated on the republican side during the ensuing Civil War. As Diarmaid Ferriter states in the forward to the biography it is fitting that participants such as Ada English are rescued ‘from the historical margins’ and assessed alongside their contemporaries of those revolutionary times. Until quite recently she was a neglected and nearly forgotten figure.

In 1944 following Ada’s death, due to a heart attack in Mount Pleasant Nursing Home, Ballinasloe in accordance with her own wishes she was buried in Creagh Cemetery adjacent to Ballinasloe Mental Hospital (later renamed St Brigid’s hospital (1960) until final closure in 2013) alongside some of her former patients.

Adas grave

Mrs Helena Concannon, a senator paid tribute to Ada on the 19th of April 1945 upon the Mental Treatment Act of 1945 passing in the Dail and noted her role in bringing it about. She highlighted Ada’s substantial efforts in having the term “Asylum” replaced with the less ominous “mental hospital”.

Ada’s desire to exchange the custodial nature of the prevalent institutions of the time
with a more therapeutic environment wasn’t achieved until recent times, with immense
progress still being required, an aspect identified by “A Vision for Change” in 2006
 Since her biography was published and the interest in commemoration women’s role in Irish revolutionary history the name Dr Ada English is now being recognised as an important figure in women’s contribution to medicine, psychiatry, the national struggle and political life. Her legacy is been commemorated in various ways.
There is a play by Pat Johnston who taught History at Garbally College, Ballinasloe and is now retired. As a member of St. Brigid’s Hospital Heritage Group she has worked towards keeping alive the history of the psychiatric hospital and its community. Her play,For a Little Lonely While, is an exploration of the life and work of Dr. Ada English.
There is a St Brigid’s Hospital Heritage Group and the erection of plaques honouring her at Pearse Street, Mullingar and more importantly at Loreto College, Mullingar alongside an ornate marble bench and there was an Ada English Summer School  held in Ballinasloe in 2013.

 Ada Summer School

In 1944 following Ada’s death, due to a heart attack in Mount Pleasant Nursing Home, Ballinasloe in accordance with her own wishes she was buried in Creagh Cemetery adjacent to Ballinasloe Mental Hospital (later renamed St Brigid’s hospital (1960) until final closure in 2013) alongside some of her former patients.

Mrs Helena Concannon, a senator paid tribute to Ada on the 19th of April 1945 upon the Mental Treatment Act of 1945 passing in the Dail and noted her role in bringing it about. She highlighted Ada’s substantial efforts in having the term “Asylum” replaced with the less ominous “mental hospital”.

I hope people enjoy discovering and celebrating pioneers like Ada and that Galway folk come to appreciate some of the fine inspiring women who played a part in the life of Galway in the last hundred years as much as I have in writing about them.

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. D’Arcy is m one of the 14 Tribes of GalwayDarcy crest.


Margaretta D’Arcy is a writer, playwright, actress and peace-activist is known for addressing 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, was a tenement child from Henrietta Street in Dublin and was active in the IRA during the War of Independence. He later met Miriam Billig. As the daughter of an Irish freedom fighter and a Jewish doctor, 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.

D’Arcy 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. For a time she was one of the company’s most flaming members. Protest was constant in her life. She joined Bertrand Russell’s Committee of 100 in 1960.

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. Afifth 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. She wrote a letter to the American commander of the basesaying 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 (not acted upon) of 25 years in jail for encouraging a soldier to abandon his post.

 Margaretta Darcy and Arden

Decades of playwriting, pageantry, pirate radio, books and protest followed.

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).

Margaretta darcy 1964

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.

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.

It is interesting to hear about them from their children’s perspective, especially since John died in 2012. Finn admitted their embarrasment when they were teenagers about their parents which is normal. 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

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 apraises her contribution to theatrical activism.

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 definitely Galway’s living political protester,the stroppiest and feistiest of them and a Galway Woman to be proud of.


Michelene Sheehy Skeffington Notable Galway Woman

Posted in Dr Michelene Sheehy Skeffington botanist Notable Galway Woman by sheelanagigcomedienne on July 14, 2018

Michelene Sheehy Skeffington is one of my Notable Galway Women. Michelene

Michelene is a botanist and plant ecologist who was a lecturer in Galway University. She has also become a champion of women’s equality by challenging the University for gender discrimination when she won a landmark case against her former employer of 34 years, NUI Galway.  The Equality Tribunal found that the university had discriminated against the botanist for promotion because of her gender.

Of course, Micheline is from a renowned family and the name Sheehy Skeffington – wihout a hyphen – is well known in Ireland. Her grandparents Hanna and Francis Sheehy Skeffington played a significant role in Irish political and public life in the last century and sadly Francis, a pacifist, was killed by the British in 1916. Hanna is one of my heroines and I had written a blog on her.

In 1985 I had been involved with Irish Women in Wandsworth in putting on an exhibition on Charlotte Despard in Battersea Arts Centre. I visited the National Newspaper Library at Colindale and the Fawcett Library which was then based in the east end. I was contacted by Jill Norris editor of a series of biographies entitled Women of Our Time. She had found my name among the list of researchers at the Fawcett Library resulting in an exchange about Hanna as a worthy subject for the series. This led me to contact Andree Sheehy Skeffington who married Owen, Hanna and Frank’s only child and Michelene’s father, to find out if she knew of any proposed biography of Hanna. It transpired that there was one about to be published by Leah Levenson.  Below is an extract from her letter. I treasure such hand-written letters.

Letter fro ASheehy Skeff

Here is my blog on her.

Hanna and Frank sheehyskeffington

Here is Michelene’s  NUIG CV details.

Dr Sheehy Skeffington is a plant ecologist with an interest in terrestrial ecosystems, especially wetlands including turloughs, peatlands, heathlands, river flood-meadows and salt marshes. She also carries out research on sustainable farming for conservation, with special focus on grassland management for conservation.

Interests also include sustainable agriculture in the tropics, with publications on Indonesian and Cuban sustainable forest and agricultural management.

  • Appointed to The Heritage Council 1995-2000. Chaired Council Wildlife Committee 1999-2000.
  • Council Member Tropical Biology Association 1993-present. Taught on Uganda course 2012.
  • Appointed in 2005 to the Project Advisory Group for the international award-winning Burren LIFE programme and is newly-appointed to the Aran LIFE programme Advisory Board.
  • Academic representative on the Irish Ramsar Wetlands Committee
  • Courses: BPS302 Plant Ecology and BPS405 Ecology and Conservation Issues. MSc in Sustainable Resources, Policy and Practice; MSc in Biodiversity and Land-use Planning. All include residential and /or day field excursions.
  • Curator of the NUI Galway Vascular Plant Herbarium

There is a list of her published articles and books.

Michelene working

I have been following Micheline in her gender discrimination challenge to NUIG and contributed to the crowd funding.

National University of Ireland Galway has been instructed by the Equality Tribunal to immediately promote a female academic and pay her €70,000 in damages. The ruling comes after the tribunal found that the college had discriminated against her on the grounds of her gender.

Dr Micheline Sheehy Skeffington applied for a senior lectureship post at the university in 2009 but was not appointed. In its ruling in favour of Dr Sheehy Skeffington, the tribunal described NUIG’s interview process as “ramshackle”.

It ordered the college to review its policies and procedures in relation to promotions and to report back. Dr Sheehy Skeffington is a highly qualified botanist, widely published, and described as an “inspirational” lecturer by a former student. After 19 years as a college lecturer at NUIG, she applied to become a senior lecturer for the fourth time.

She was not appointed and after an unsuccessful internal appeal, she took a case based on gender discrimination to the tribunal. The tribunal found in her favour, citing both direct and indirect discrimination.

It found that on paper promotion to senior lecturer at NUIG seemed to be fair. But it said its implementation has fallen short. There was no training for interviewers, no meeting to discuss candidates. The suggestions of the external interviewer on the panel were ignored. The fact that there was no marking scheme for the interview, it said, highlighted the “ramshackle” approach.

The tribunal said it was worrying that one male candidate who was promoted was not even eligible to apply for the position. It found that men at the university had a one in two chance of being promoted to senior lecturer. Female academics’ chances were less than one in three.

The tribunal ordered the university to retrospectively appoint Dr Sheehy Skeffington to the post and to pay her damages of €70,000.

The university has said it accepts the tribunal’s decision “unreservedly” and it will “take immediate steps to implement the … findings”.

It said: “The University very much regrets the distress caused to Dr Sheehy Skeffington in this matter, thanks her for her contribution over many years and wishes her well in the future.”

NUIG male

One of her predecessors was Professor Maureen de Valera who was my botany lecturer in 1964/65. (Being the only botanist on the staff, de Valéra taught all of the botanical courses, with the work load doubling when the lectures were offered in Irish.  She was the first Chair and Professor of Botany at UCG. Her specialism was algae.)…/Path-Breaking-Women—Brochure.pd.

There has been a Gender Equality Task Force appointed and they have produced their findings.

The Task Force concluded that the current climate in NUI Galway is not conducive to ensuring that all staff are supported to reach their full potential. The Micheline Sheehy Skeffington case was the second gender equality case in which the Equality Tribunal found against the University in 2014. Gender inequality is evident across the University, among academic and support staff, with the result that many women feel undervalued and ignored. At a human level, this is clearly unacceptable but for the University this represents a significant loss of talent and undermines the University’s commitment to excellence.      

Micheline has now retired from NUIG but has donated her compensation to the continuing fight for other women lecturers.  Although the NUIG has accepted the recommendations of the Task Force which was slammed according to the Connaught Tribune.


“The report fails to address, in any meaningful way, the discrimination and unfair treatment faced by administrative, general operative and technical staff, academics and others on precarious contracts or casually employed, researchers or students. The few recommendations regarding some of these staff or students are token gestures or misguided proposals which may make matters worse.

“The report proposes actions which may result in more academic women being promoted to senior positions. However, gender quotas are not a long-term solution to the underlying problem of institutional discrimination across all grades of staff. Quotas will not resolve the fundamental, underlying problem of unfair treatment of those with caring responsibilities, a majority of whom are women.”

The case of the women lecturers against NUIG is continuing and in the meantime there is a new President who wants to see the back of this and seems to be stalling the process.

Micheline has embarked on another project which is repeating the epic lecture tour of the USA undertaken by her grandmother Hanna publicising what had happened to her grandfather Francis -a pacifist – was shot by a British firing squad during the Easter Rising. Hanna is Ireland’s most famous suffragette.

The four taking the case are Dr Margaret Hodgins, Dr Sylvie Lannegrand, Dr Adrienne Gorman and Dr Róisín Healy. The fifth female lecturer, Dr Elizabeth Tilley is pursuing a separate case in the Labour Court.They had all been deemed eligible for promotion to Senior Lecturer posts in 2009 but were all turned down.

President Jim Browne and NUIG having insisted all these years that it was for the five women to prove the injustice in court as there was nothing management could do to put it right, this hearing for four of the women’s cases would have shown management were attempting to stop the women from doing that.

Hanna and me

When her husband Francis was killed despite him being a pacifist, Hanna undertook an epic lecture tour of the US, publicising what had happened. This autumn her granddaughter, Micheline, also known for her fight for gender equality and justice, is repeating Hanna’s tour and we plan to film it for a documentary.

She says “This autumn, 100 years on, I will retrace my grandmother, Hanna Sheehy Skeffington’s epic lecture tour of the US. This tour was so important for Ireland’s fight for independence, yet has largely been forgotten. I want to publicise what she did by making a documentary of my trip. I will spend three months speaking in the places she visited and, like her, my tour will be funded by the organisations and communities that host me. But I also want to film the tour and the people and places I encounter.

I will visit places associated with her feminist friends, like Jane Addams, Elizabeth Gurley Flynn and Emma Goldman.We’ll film key sections of the tour to provide a basis for the production of a full documentary on Hanna’s journey. We hope to have this broadcast during 2018, the anniversary of Irish women getting the vote – which happened because of the actions of suffragettes like Hanna. We are seeking funding simply for the filming of the tour so that the eventual documentary can weave the thread between Hanna’s epic journey then, Irish-Americans and feminist activism today, and Hanna’s suffrage activity in Ireland. It resonates with what my father, Owen, did to champion the cause of human rights in 20th century Ireland, as well as my own recent fight for gender equality.”

Micheline’s blog:


The last entry The mediation that has been ongoing between NUI Galway and the four female academics taking High Court cases for gender discrimination in the 08/09 promotion round to senior lecturer has finally ended in failure…… With the meditation over, Micheline and this campaign can again publicise NUI Galway’s gender discrimination. Micheline’s lecture tour will ensure there are many opportunities, starting with coverage in Ireland during August before she goes, then in the US with media coverage of the tour there, and then again here when she returns in November. Every time she speaks to the media or gives one of the many lectures about her grandmother’s famous tour, Micheline will also reference the campaign and the injustice for the five women. AS will the documentary about Hanna she plans. You can support what she is doing and help highlight the gender discrimination at NUI Galway by contributing to the crowd funding to film the tour, for the documentary Hanna and Me- Passing on the Flame.

The row rumbles on as NUIG is to receive official recognition for its work to advance gender equality. In May the college, along with Maynooth University , received the internationally-recognised Athena Swan bronze award, which demonstrates a solid foundation in eliminating gender bias despite being at the centre of this high-profile gender discrimination row. The Irish Times May 7th quotes : ‘Dr Sheehy Skeffington said she was surprised at the bronze award given that four other female lecturers were involved in High Court cases in which they allege they unfairly missed out on promotions. She said she felt actions by women over alleged gender discrimination had led to recent improvements.’

Under new rules, higher-education institutions are required to have bronze awards by the end of next year to remain eligible for Irish research funding. Latest available figures show women are significantly under-represented in the senior ranks of most of the State’s universities. While just over half of all of lecturers in universities are female, these numbers fall dramatically at higher grades such as associate professor (29 per cent) and professor (21 per cent).

Many of us petitioned Athena Swan against awarding but obviously the promises to be good in the future seems to have worked!

Whatever happens NUIG doesn’t look good in terms of its gender equality.  Micheline succeeded in getting the funding for the tour and film. The the four women lecturers are still negotiating in their challenge. I hope that the women of Galway stay assertive, challenging and standing up to gender inequality wherever they encounter it. I will continue to update.

Laura Barker 1819-1905 composer

Posted in Laura Barker 1819-1905 composer by sheelanagigcomedienne on June 20, 2018

Laura Barker composer Laura Barker 1819-1905 was a composer. She is one of my Notable Women of Lavender Hill and features in my walk as we stop outside 84 Lavender Sweep which is opposite the house that I have lived in for over fifty years.       84 has a fanlight that came from the original Lavender Sweep House which was the grandest on this carriageway of four houses.


Laura Wilson Barker was established as a musician and composer by the time she met and married Tom Taylor and they came to live in Lavender Sweep until he died in 1880. It was then a curved carriage way with four houses and two lodges. I already did a blog post on Tom Taylor  as there is a lot of information on him but far less on Laura – not surprisingly, like many women,  she became a footnote to her husband’s life in articles and references.  He was a fairly prominent personality as a civil servant, lawyer, Professor of English Literature at University College London, playwright, journalist,  critic and editor of Punch. It seems he was a gregarious chap and was a friend to his neighbour Jeanie Nassau Senior, first woman civil servant,  who lived at Elm House  from 1860 which was on the site of Battersea Town Hall.  She is another one of these remarkable women who lived in the area of Lavender Hill.

I have been contacted by Rupert who is Laura and Tom’s great, great grandson and he is an actor now living in Ireland. He commented:  “Great to find someone who is apparently even better acquainted with my great great grandfather than I or other members of my family. Have never seen some of these pictures before. Thanks”

I responded and he wrote back:  I would also love to resurrect the reputation of Mrs Tom Taylor – Laura Barker, who was a sensational musical talent and I have several of her compositions for the Piano and Organ. Sadly, when my parents sold our family home back in the early 70s another five or six volumes of her work were, for some reason, put into auction and have disappeared into a collection somewhere. Her music is really worth hearing and if one could only get some brilliant young up and coming female pianist to champion her cause, I am sure she would once again be restored to her place as one the top British women composers ever, if not the top. In the mid to late 1800’s she had as big an entry in the Dictionary of National Biography as her husband. I was pleased to persuade the Encyclopedia Britannica to restore Tom’s entry a couple of years back. They decided for some reason that he was not longer of interest. I soon put them right on that score! I would love to do the same for her.

Laura Wilson Barker was born on 6th March 1819 in Thirkleby, Yorkshire. She was the sixth daughter of Vicar Thomas Barker, an amateur musician and painter and his wife Jane Flower. Laura  received her first musical instruction in violin and piano from her parents and then studied private composition and presumably also piano with the composer and pianist Philip Cipriani Potter, who taught piano at the Royal Academy of Music in London from 1822 and 1832 and became its principal in 1832, remaining in the post until 1859. Philip Cipriani-Potter

As a teenager, Laura Barker experienced numerous musicians in her parents home, with whom the family was associated, including Niccolò Paganini, with whom Laura played and Louis Spohr.
Laura Barker reported: “My father followed Paganini to his concerts at Leeds, Hull, etc, and made his acquaintance. He took the whole family to Paganini’s concerts at York. I was little more than a child at the time (thirteen years old), but had already written some of the phrases which Paganini played, and especially the exquisite variations on ‘Nel cor più’, which I think impressed me more than any of his other wonderful pieces. Later in 1832 we again met Paganini in London, and found him just as kind and courteous as before. We met in Perronet Thompson’s ( parliamentarian, governor of Sierra Leone and a radical reformer) house, and what a genius and a child, playing both on the violin and guitar to us, and condescending by his own proposal to extemporize a duet with me (the subject of Rossini’s, Di tanti palpiti ‘) I played the pianoforte and he violin. He came over to Hampstead with his little son Achillino to spend the day with us. He laughed heartily as he heard me imitating some of his extraordinary violin feats. (Powder 1939, p. 579)

A few years later, Laura also met the composer and violinist Louis Spohr: “It was on the occasion of the Norwich Festival in 1839 that we had the pleasure of making the personal acquaintance of Spohr. My father took two of my sisters to this interesting meeting, which was a memorable one in our quiet country lives. We met the great man at the house of Mr. Marshall, the Mayor of Norwich. He was always ready to help me with my violin, and kindly chose a bow for me. He was very friendly and always seemed not only willing but even happy to be able to help someone, he was always ready to help me with my violin, and kindly chose a bow for me, and as the owner of my wonderful Stradivarii violin, he was very interested in it and marked the places on my string measure with the string strength, which needed the instrument.


It seems that Laura was encouraged by her family to compose. Her father sent Louis Spohr one of her compositions in 1836. From 1837 “Seven Romances for voice and guitar are known and in 1847 Laura Barker published an album with six songs for a voice and piano, and a year later followed the five-part Glee, a traditional English choral movement,” Can a Bosom so gentle remain “according to a text by William Shenstone, which was published in the London” Sacred Music Warehouse “(see” The Musical Times “of April 1, 1848). In the following years, Laura Barker’s compositions were received enthusiastically by the public and the press; many of her compositions are based on texts by the writer Alfred Tennyson.

She taught music at the York School for the Blind probably from 18403 till she was married in 1955.

Laura had acquired and played a Stradivarius. That has an interesting back story as it was later owned by  the virtuoso Joshua Bell and also a fascinating history of another of Bell’s violins which had been stolen! This is one of the joys of the internet.



The history of the instrument is recorded from the time that it was in possession of Dr. Camidge, organist of York Minster, presumably John Camidge (there were a number of organists in his family) who received the Degree of Doctor of Music in 1819. In 1837 the violin was acquired by the Reverend William Flower who in his time owned several Stradivari instruments. During the sojourn of Louis Spohr in England, he used the violin when he appeared as soloist at a Musical Festival held at Norwich in 1839. At the death of Reverend Flower, the violin passed to his grandson, Tom Taylor, by whose name it has since been recorded. His wife (née Laura Wilson Barker) was a fine musician, a composer, and a finely gifted and highly accomplished player of the piano as well as the violin. She played with such artists as Spohr and Paganini. The violin remained in her possession after the death of Tom Taylor, until her death at Coleshill, Buckinghamshire, England, May 22, 1905 at the advanced age of eighty-five. Inherited by her daughter, Lucy, it was purchased from her by a German …..  and brought it to the U.S.A. in 1928.

Documents which accompanied the violin included some letters from Lucy Taylor which contained reference to her mother’s violin; these include the information about Laura her playing with Paganini and later with Spohr, who suggested her coming to Cassel as his pupil. Joseph Joachim was also a friend and often played on the violin at the Lavender Sweep soirées and an interesting anecdote is contained in one of the letters mentioned:

“Once when Madame Joachim, the famous prima donna, was staying with Mrs. Tom Taylor, the Professor arrived and found his wife singing to a distinguished audience there. In the middle of a song, a servant rushed in and informed her mistress that the top story of the house was ablaze. Even for this, Mrs. Taylor would not have the great singer interrupted, but Professor Joachim was alarmed for the safety of the Stradivari, which he at once picked up and took to his waiting carriage, with the remark ‘Whatever else happens, the Strad must be saved’.”

Joachim and Amelie

I wondered if there is a connection between Laura’s mother Jane Flower and the said Reverend Flower. Laura and Tom got married in 1855 in Brompton. So, did she have access to this violin early on and is this how they met?

Some of Six Songs for voice and piano are in a collection of mostly 19th- and early 20th-century musical scores by women composers held at the University of Michigan Music Library.;c=1346310894;pn=7;sort=auth_a


This website on women in music has information on Laura. It concludes that more research is needed.

“Like everything we’ve seen from this accomplished author – who, though an amateur, understands more about art than many professors of rank and name, not to mention her sparkling ingenuity, a skill that is not tied to teaching or a professional status.

It was only after the death of her husband in 1880 that Laura Barker published further compositions, including the “Songs of Youth”, which were published in 1884 by Stanley Lucas, Weber & Co. in London. In the “Musical Times,” a reviewer wrote, “This volume of songs is a welcome contribution to the high-class vocal music of the day. With the exception of  The Owls, ‘the words of which are by the composer, the poetry is not selected from the works of any living author; but all the subjects are well-chosen and admirably adapted for musical setting. ‘Mariana’s Song,’ from Shakespeare’s’ Measure for Measure, ‘and the Dirge,’ Yes, thou may’st sigh, ‘from Scott’s, Fair Maid of Perth,’ are excellent compositions; but this song with songs is a welcome contribution to today’s world-class vocal music.

Laura and Tom held regular Sunday music concerts and were noted for their hospitality. Tom Taylor’s home was one of four grand houses between Lavender Hill and Battersea Rise. Among his friends and visitors to Lavender Sweep were Dickens, Thackeray, Charles Reade, Alfred  Tennyson, Henry Irving and Lewis Carroll  who took a number of photographs of the house. Artists, musicians and politicians and many of these celebrities attended their Sunday  soirées .

Ellen Terry, who was another of the many visitors to the house, ‘to us he was more than this he was an institution‘. In her autobiography she said ‘it clearly became the home from home for the people from all the walks of literary, artistic and theatrical life that Taylor was part of”. The young actress Ellen was evidently fond of the Taylors and Laura painted her and her sister Kate.

It was during this time that Ellen Terry married George Watts when she was sixteen. His friends advised him against including the Taylors and his friend Jeanie Nassau Senior. Watts and Ellen’s marriage lasted less than a year and it didn’t seem to cause harm for either of them but it probably was the subject of gossip amongst this earlier Lavender Hill mob which would have included another neighbour Marie Spartali , the Pre-Raphaelite artist and friend of Jeanie’s and another of my Notable Women

I have had some ersatz blue plaques made for my walk. I hope one day to have real ones. There is an nomination for Marie Spartali being considered by English Heritage and perhaps we will have a Battersea Society commemorative plaque to Laura but there is a queue and a limit to how many women they will allow in succession. Of the sixteen  EH/LCC plaques in Battersea there are none commemorating women. So, I am on a mission and I will keep on promoting my women. I sound like I am their agent!



I can only speculate that Jeanie, who besides being the first woman civil servant,  was also a trained singer and Marie and her sister Christina, another talented singer, who  lived in The Shrubbery nearby would have attended and contributed to these musical parties. We know that Clara Schumann who played many concerts with Joachim during the 1860s and 1870s and that Clara was a friend and accompanied Jeanie Senior singing  so I think it likely that they met up at the Taylors for, what in Ireland is called, a ‘session’.



There is a detailed description of their home in the Survey of London.                     ‘Reading Watts later built Graham a magnificent detached 42ft conservatory to the north-west of the house, with semi-circular ends rather in the manner of Richard Turner’s Palm House at Kew, reached by a tiled and glazed passage.August 1858 when Graham sold the house to its final occupant, Tom Taylor. Taylor’s residence saw a change of pace for the house. He was a well-known figure, a prolific journalist and dramatist, editor of Punch from 1874 and author of more than thirty burlesques and melodramas, including Our American Cousin, the play President Lincoln was watching in 1865 when he was assassinated. (Incidentally, it was a Major Henry Rathbone who was with Lincoln and tried to apprehend the assassin Booth and was himself severely injured by a stab wound)

Ellen Terry, who remembered the Sweep with ‘horse-chestnut blossoms strewing the drive and making it look like a tessellated pavement’, called Taylor’s a ‘house of call for every one of note’, from politicians, including Mazzini, to artists and actors, all presided over by Taylor himself dressed in ‘black-silk knee-breeches and velvet cutaway coat’. Taylor added a large study ‘to his own design’. A visitor in the 1870s found every wall in the house, even in the bathrooms, covered with pictures; a pet owl perched on a bust of Minerva; and a dining room ‘where Lambeth Faience and Venetian glass abound’

A few years later, when Taylor’s friend the actor John Coleman went to look for the house, he found that ‘not a stone remains … and the demon jerry-builder reigns triumphant’. Yes, that’s when our houses in Lavender Sweep had been built by 1881.The construction was so quick back then.



These are some of the paintings by Laura who was obviously a talented artist. They are all at Ellen’s at Smallhythe Place National Trust.  According to Rupert Stutchbury: ” She was indeed an excellent water colourist and so were her sisters. They were all very talented in several artistic directions and were called ‘the phenomenons’ by their contemporaries, I believe”






There is a portrait of their son Wycliffe by Milais. Tom Taylor ‘ was an early champion of Millais’s work”  and according to auctioneer’s Christie’s : “The boy’s portrait was painted in fulfilment of a promise that Millais made to Taylor before John Wycliffe Taylor was born – that if he ever had a son, Millais would paint the child in return for Taylor’s ‘many an act of friendly kindness’. Wycliffe was one of the few people whose portrait was painted by Sir John Everett Millais and who was photographed by Alice In Wonderland author Lewis Carroll. The photo is of Laura and Wycliffe. The portrait was expected to sell for £125,000 in 2016 at auction.


Laura died in March 1905 and had gone to live in Porch House Coleshill Berkshire with Lucy and two servants, Barbara Nugent and Jane Elizabeth Blake, both of whom had worked for the Taylors in London before the family moved to Coleshill.

Apparently,  a later owner of  Porch House  in 1962 Mary Ure, who had been married to playwright John Osborne, lived here with her second husband actor Robert Shaw where they entertained their theatrical friends. A nice bit of serendipity.



Lucy Taylor died in 1940. Her Memoir was published in 1939 and contained entries from Laura’s diary but doen’t seem to be available.

Laura’s music is awaiting a young singer and a pianist to rediscover this Victorian composer who has been forgotten and to bring her to a new audiences and with a focus on women in this centenary year 2018 should be an opportune time.

I cheekily wrote to pianist Lucy Parham about Laura. Lucy is internationally renowned  pianist and  is the creator of the acclaimed Composer Portrait concerts, “one of the must-see events of the musical calendar”

Thanks so much for your lovely email.
Laura Barker sounds fascinating and as soon as my somewhat chaotic period comes to a halt I shall look into her more.

It is the Clara Schumann bicentenary next year so, as you can imagine, I have got my hands somewhat full.

I agree that we have to give as much publicity to these female composers as possible, so an anniversary year is always a particular gift!”


I was delighted with her response and we are looking forward to her I , Clara show on Sunday 26th 2019 with Dame Harriet Walter narrating at the Omnibus 1 Clapham Common Northside – our favourite little local arts centre.

Laura Barker is the only one of the Notable Women of Lavender Hill who has not got a wikipedia entry and now, I hope, this will be be rectified and be the start of her being  given the recognition and acknowledgement as a significant Victorian female composer and her compositions played again.

Notable Women of Lavender Hill Walk

Posted in Notable Women of Lavender Hill Walk by sheelanagigcomedienne on May 11, 2018

I will be leading a walk on Sunday 10th June 2.00 starting at Battersea Town Hall as part of the Battersea Society contribution to the Wandsworth Heritage Festival.

Meet my new best friends!


The tour that I will be leading features 9 Significant Women of Lavender Hill starting at Battersea Town Hall which is on the site of Elm House the home of

Jeanie Nassau Senior, first woman civil servant, mezzo soprano, social welfare activist

Charlotte Despard  Socialist and Sinn Feiner Suffragette, Battersea parliamentary candidate 1918

Caroline Ganley CBE, JP first working class women with elementary education elected MP 1945-1951 who will be commemorated with a Battersea Society blue plaque on her home in 5 Thirsk Road later this year,

Marie Spartali 1844-1927 Pre Raphaelite artist and model lived at The Shrubbery Lavender Gardens,

Deaconess Isabella Gilmore 1842-1923, Succourrer of the Poor Clapham Common Northside,

Biddy 1871-1966 socialist/feminist and Elsa Lanchester, 1902-1986 Hollywood actress – The Bride of Frankenstein – who lived at 27 Leathwaite Road

Laura Barker 1819-1905 composer Lavender Sweep House married to playwright Tom Taylor

Pamela Hansford Johnson novelist CBE 1912-1971 lived at 53 Battersea Rise.

There will be a £5.00 charge for this walk. Please book email or phone 0207 228 2327

Alice Cashel Irish Nationalist,Galway Co Councillor and co-Founder Cumann na mBan

Posted in Alice Cashel, Irish Nationalist and Co Councillor, Uncategorized by sheelanagigcomedienne on May 7, 2018

Alice Cashel is Galway woman 7 in my series. She played her part in the fight for independence and served as Judge and Co Councillor. She was imprisoned in Galway jail for six months. She travelled by bicycle and had to go on the run. So. she is undoubtedly another feisty Galway woman for us to remember.

Alice Cashel 1878 – 1958) was an Irish nationalist and founding member, with Annie McSwiney, of the Cork Cumann na mBan who became a Galway Co Councillor.


Galway Nationalist activists.

She was born in July 1878 in Birr, Co. offaly. Alice’s sister was married to James O’Mara, who became a Home Rule MP in 1900 and resigned in 1907 to join Sinn Féin. Alice became an early supporter of Sinn Féin in Cork and was a co-founder of Cumann na mBan’s Cork branch circa 1914-15. She campaigned for Sinn Féin in the by-elections in South Armagh in February 1918 and East Cavan in June 1918.


On 15th August 1918 she held a meeting in Clifden which was banned by the authorities and broken up by the police. She went on the run for a time. During the war of independence 1919-21 she went to live at her sister’s house in Cashel House in Connemara (now a hotel); the house was raided in April 1920 and she was arrested. She was jailed for one week and her release was celebrated with the lighting of a bonfire at Cashel Hill.

The Bureau of military History statement recounts other adventures while she was hiding from the authorities at Cashel. On June 7th 1920, she was co-opted onto Galway County Council and was elected Vice-Chairman on 18th June 1920; she held the position until 1921. Alice, like many involved in the republican movement, made a witness statement. in the fifties. They make very interesting reading.

I cycled to Galway where I continued my organising work. The bicycle used on these trips was one belonging to Countess Markievicz. on the morning of the Clifden meeting, I had a letter from her from Holloway Jail in London telling me that she was sending me her bicycle as she knew mine was decrepit – she had used it in the Armagh election. It arrived that morning, just in time for me to go ‘on the run’. I left it, later on, to the Connemara Volunteers. Father Tom Burke,who had got Liam Mellows away disguised after the Rising, brought me away from Galway – as his sister – to his home in Headford.

 Christine Cozzens has written about Alice                           

Alice M. Cashel (1878-1958) was one of these revolutionary women. A committed and energetic supporter of rebellion in Ireland from the moment she joined the Sinn Féin party in 1907, she gave her whole life to the cause of Irish independence. To name just a few of her roles, she served as a political organizer, a spy, an educator, a Sinn Féin judge, a finance specialist, vice-chairwoman of the Galway County Council, and author of a pro-rebellion young people’s novel The Lights of Leaca Bán that was taught in schools in the early years of the fledgling Irish Free State.

In the course of supporting an independent Ireland, Alice worked beside many of the leaders and notables of the Easter Rising and the War of Independence including Eamon De Valera, Constance Markievicz, Terrence MacSwiney, Arthur Griffith, Erskine Childers, Bulmer Hobson, George Nobel Plunkett, Sean Heggarty, Alice Stopford Green, Ada English, Kevin O’Higgins, Seán MacEntee, and W. T. Cosgrave. Given the times, she was remarkably mobile. Her activities took her all around both southern and northern Ireland, often on a bicycle and very often on the run from the police or the infamous Black and Tans, auxiliary soldiers the British employed to quash revolutionary activity in Ireland. From reading her own account of what she did during this period, I was intrigued by Alice’s sense of humor, her initiative and toughness, and her indomitable spirit.


Cumann na mBan

Her roles on the council and in the courts were all part of the Republic which had been declared in Dublin. Eventually her home was raided by the Black and Tans. She escaped and made her way to Dublin. Once there the family business had reason to send her to France where she was able to confer with Sean T O’Kelly in Paris. She returned to Galway where she over turned an agreement known as the Galway resolution which had repudiated the authority of the Dail. Cashel was arrested in January when she tried to attend a council meeting. Dr Ada English One of my chosen 14) was also arrested on the same day, 19 January 1921. They were imprisoned with Anita MacMahon of Achill.  Alice was detained until 25 July 1921.Galway County Council.

Alice finished her sentence on July 25 1921. ‘The Governor of the jail, Mr Harding, was a kindly man but of course he had to carry out the rules of the institution. We saw visitors under the eyes of our warders, with a table between us and them. The situation on my part was ludicrous. I was in jail on account of my work in the County Council, but the secretary of the Council used to come and see me, and I gave him instructions and he reported to me on the meetings of the council.’

In summer 1918 she went to Connemara to organise Cumann na mBan.

Once released Alice moved to Dublin where she worked for Erskine Childers’s office (a Fianna Fail politician and President whose father Robert  was a leading republican, author of the espionage thriller The Riddle of the Sands, and was executed during the civil war). At that time she used the name Armstrong since her own name was too well known. She predominately worked in propaganda offices until the treaty was signed. She returned to Galway and was appointed to roles in the council there. She tried to resign on the grounds of being against the treaty they had just signed in London.

Alice Cashel novel

In 1935 she published a young adult novel called The Lights of Leaca Bán, which soon became a widely taught text in Irish schools.  The very readable but didactic tale offers a highly idealized version of the national struggle, and by extension, a vision for the new Irish state.  The novel was widely used in Irish schools. The story is set just before and during the 1916 Easter Rising through a family in the west of Ireland.

Alice lived in St. Catherine’s, Roundstone Co. Galway. We regularly visit Roundstone which , incidentally is a mis-translation as Cloch na Rón translates to the stone of the seal.

Her house should have a commemorative plaque. Alice died 22nd Feb 1958 at the Regional Hospital, Galway and was buried with honours on the 25th in New Cemetery, Bohermore, Galway.

Alice Cashel gravestone