Sheela-na-Gig aka Jeanne Rathbone

Laura Barker 1819-1905 composer

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


Laura Barker was a Victorian Laura Barker composercomposer.She is one of my Notable Women of Lavender Hill and features in my Walk as we stop outside 84 Lavender Sweep which has a fanlight that came from the original Lavender Sweep House one of the grandest on this carriageway of four houses.

She was established as a musician and composer by the time she met and married Tom Taylor and they came to live in Lavender Sweep which was then a 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. His comment:  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 Barker was born in  6th March 1819 as Laura Wilson Barker 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 the direction of the Academy took over.

As a teenager, Laura Barker experienced numerous musicians in the home of her parents, with whom the family was associated, including Niccolò Paganini, with whom Laura Barker 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 Barker 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 Barker 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.

Laura had acquired and played a Stradivarius. That has an interesting back story as it was later owned by  the virtuouso Joshua Bell. (Also a fascinating history of another of Bell’s violins which had been stolen)


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 that as a girl of thirteen Laura Wilson Barker played with Paganini and later with Spohr, who suggested her coming to Cassel as his pupil. Joachim was also a friend and often played on the violin, and an interesting anecdote is related in the following, 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’.”

I wondered if there is a connection between her 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

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.

 In London, the couple regularly organized musical soirees, which included the writers  and the Shakespeare interpreter Ellen Terry; also traveling musicians were guests there, the pianist,  Clara Schumann the singer Amalie Joachim and her husband, the violinist Joseph Joachim, as evidenced by letters that accompany the Stradivarius violin. Stand : 28.7.2011, article Grove 1954).

Laura and Tom held regular Sunday music concerts and were noted for their hospitality. Here is the link to my blog on Tom Taylor. Tom Taylor’s home which he had built 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 Soiree. 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 autobigraphy 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.


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. 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 veryone 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. 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,



There is a portrait of their son Wycliffe by Milais. Tom Taylor ‘ was an early champion of Millais’s work”  and according to autioneer’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. Lucy Taylor died in 1940. Apparently, 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.

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.


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

Marie Spartali, Pre-Raphaelite artist

Posted in Marie Spartali Pre-Raphaelite artist by sheelanagigcomedienne on May 4, 2018

Marie Spartali 1844 -1923 was a British Pre-Raphaelite painter of Greek descent, arguably the greatest female artist of that movement. During a sixty-year career, she produced over one hundred works, contributing regularly to exhibitions in Great Britain and the United States. She is one of my Notable Women of Lavender Hill. She lived in the Shrubbery in Lavender Gardens with her parents then at 40 Altenburg Gardens nearby with her husband in 1874.

She is definitely as important as the ‘brotherhood’ but has been overlooked as she was also a beautiful and statuesque model for them.

Yet she is still virtually unknown and underrepresented in the canon of art history. How many of you had heard of her and that she had lived in Battersea? She lived in the Shrubbery in Lavender Gardens.

There was a recent small exhibition of her work in the Watts Gallery’s in March-June 2016. Dr Nick Tromans, Curator of Watts Gallery, comments: “Like Mary Watts and Evelyn De Morgan (both artists whose work can be seen at Watts Gallery – Artists’ Village) Marie Spartali is part of the first wave of British women who were able to train as professional artists. We are delighted to host this exhibition, which continues our commitment to celebrating the work and achievements of Victorian women artists.”

This had followed on from the larger exhibition held at the Delaware Gallery in January that year which owns some of her art work.

 Poetry in Beauty, the first retrospective of Spartali Stillman’s work, showcased approximately 50 works by the artist. Spartali Stillman’s style reflects her British Pre-Raphaelite training as well as the influence of Renaissance art, derived from the many years she lived and worked in Italy. Works from public and private collections in the United States, United Kingdom, and Canada, many of which have not been exhibited since Spartali Stillman’s lifetime were featured. In spite of her success, her contribution to 19th century art is barely recognised today. This exhibition includes examples of her landscapes, portraits and subject paintings, many of which have not been displayed since her death.

Her work has largely been overlooked due to the fact that most of it resides in private collections, but moreover that her status as model to the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood overshadowed her career as artist. She sat for numerous paintings by Ford Madox Brown, Edward Burne-Jones, James McNeill Whistler, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, and John Roddam Spencer Stanhope, as well as photographs for Julia Margaret Cameron.

Maria Spartali was the eldest daughter of Michael Spartali (1818–1914), a wealthy merchant, principal of the firm Spartali and Co and Greek consul-general based in London from 1866 to 1882. He had moved to London around 1828. In London, he married Euphrosyne, known as Effie.


The family lived in their Georgian house with a marble-pillared circular hallway, on Clapham Common known as the ‘The Shrubbery’ with a huge garden and views over the Thames and Chelsea. St Barnabas Church was built in front of it by the very vigorous Erskine Clark Built: 1897 it was used as parish halls before being sold in 1986 and converted into flats. One of my children attended the playgroup there which was in the ballroom. There is information of this in the invaluable Survey of London Battersea sections.

In the summer months, they moved to their country house on the Isle of Wight where they were in the company . In London, her father was fond of lavish garden parties where he invited up and coming young writers and artists of his day. They shared in the genteel Bohemia that orbited around Alfred, Lord Tennyson and Julia Margaret Cameron, photographed Marie in the Hellenic attitude of Mnemosyne.

In London her father frequently hosted garden parties to which he invited young, up-and-coming artists and writers. Her father was a cousin Alexander Ionides, businessman and patron of Rossetti, Watts, and Whistler. It was was in the Ionides home in Tulse Hill that Marie and her sister Christina met Whistler and Swinburne for the first time.

They were dressed in white with blue ribbon sashes. Swinburne was so overcome that he said of Marie: “She is so beautiful that I want to sit down and cry”. Marie was an imposing figure6 ft 3 in tall and, in her later years, dressed in long flowing black garments with a lace hood, attracting much attention throughout her life. This is how Spartali’s exceptional, unique beauty came to the attention of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood.

As a beautiful beautiful, throughout her lifetime, Marie would come to be more valued for her role as an artist’s model. She became a close friend of William Morris and Edward Burne-Jones. She, alongside her cousins Maria Zambaco and Aglaia Coronio, collectively came to be known as The Three Graces.

Discontent with being purely the recipient of male gazes, Spartali desired to become an artist herself, and in 1864 she begged her father to allow her to study drawing and painting under Ford Madox Brown, the eldest member of the Pre-Raphaelite circle. She trained with him for six years, during which she continued modeling for her artist-friends trained in watercolors, a technique routinely taught to middle and upper class Victorian women. Throughout her career, Marie chose to work primarily in a mixture of watercolor, gouache, and graphite, innovating her own technique with the addition of heavy, opaque pigments and additives that gave her work a jewel-like tone and the overall quality of an oil painting.

Her paintings adapt the typical Pre-Raphaelite themes of female figures and literary characters, in addition to traditionally ‘feminine’ subjects of landscapes and floral still lifes. Her paintings of women ‘revised the way Pre-Raphaelite women were represented.

It must have been fun to be a member of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, but what about the sisterhood? According to the Brothers, there were two kinds of Pre-Raphaelite woman: the tubercular virgin who leans on a windowsill, as though she cannot carry the weight of her hair unsupported, and the beefy goddess, bending over her lyre to display the sinewy neck of a swan on steroids. Marie Spartali was the third type of Pre-Raphaelite woman, an artist in the age of George Eliot, Emma Bovary, and Ibsen’s Nora Helmer.

She was highly devoted to her art and produced a prolific body of around 170 works. In 1867, after only three years as Brown’s student, she made her artistic debut exhibiting her work at the Dudley Gallery in London where she contributed three paintings: an Ottoman pasha’s widow, the Theban poet Corinna, and the allegorical damsel Prays-Desire from Edmund Spenser’s Faerie Queene.

Soon after, in 1870, she was exhibiting at the Royal Academy, which had only opened its doors to women students a mere ten years prior, and from which women were routinely rejected from exhibitions and denied professional memberships up until the twentieth century. She displayed seven paintings there between 1870 and 1877; her routine acceptance to the Royal Academy’s exhibitions, which excluded even male watercolorists up until the 1880s, is a testimony to her talent and reputation as an artist. From 1867 to 1908, Marie Spartali regularly exhibited paintings at multiple venues and had dealers selling her work on both sides of the Atlantic. She went on to contribute her work to the Grosvenor Gallery in London from 1877 to 1887, displaying a total of seventeen paintings, and regularly sent her paintings to Liverpool and Manchester galleries, as well as to various venues in the Eastern United States.

She is a noble girl, in beauty, in sweetness and in artistic gifts, and the sky would seem very warm … and the road in front bright and clear … to him who starts on his life’s journey foot to foot and hand in hand with hand”  Dante Gabriel Rossetti describing Marie Spartali Stillman in a letter to Charles Eliot Norton, 11 April 1870′

She went on to travel to the United States in the early 1900s where she exhibited her work at Curtis and Cameron’s Gallery in Boston, as well as Julius Ochme’s in New York, making her the only Britain-based Pre-Raphaelite artist to work in the United States. Throughout her career, she consistently exhibited several pictures a year and sold work regularly.

In 1871, against her parents’ wishes, she married American journalist and painter William J Stillman. She was friend Jeanie Nassau Senior and they used to meet in her home nearby in Elm House. She was his second wife, his first having committed suicide two years before. However, they obviously reconciled. When Altenburg Gardens  was developed on the grounds of the Shrubbery the Survey of London states:The Vicar of Battersea, John Erskine Clarke moved in to No. 40 in 1872, and was to stay thirty years. Other early settlers included the painter Marie Spartali and her husband, the American journalist and photographer William J. Stillman, who moved into No. 44 in 1874, in what Stillman called ‘that then delightful neighbourhood’. The house backed on to the garden of the Shrubbery, Marie’s parental home. ( Her parents left the Shrubbery in 1885 when he went bankrupt and moved to their Isle of Wight home.  Erskine Clark had  St Barnabas Church built in front of the Shrubbery and Lavender Gardens and more of Altenburg Gardens were developed.)

The couple had posed for Rossetti in his famous Dante pictures.

He first worked for the American Art Magazine, The Crayon. His later job was a foreign correspondent for The Times. His job as a foreign correspondent resulted in the couple dividing their time between London and Florence from 1878 to 1883, and then Rome from 1889 to 1896. She also travelled to America, and was the only Britain-based Pre-Raphaelite artist to work in the United States. William was a friend of Rossetti’s.

The Pre-Raphaelite settings are familiar—the window ledges and Italianate gardens, the luxuriant tresses and Dantean echoes, the effulgence of flowers and fabrics—but the decorative details do not overcome the personality of the sitter. There is a complex and self-aware ambivalence to Spartali’s protagonists.

Marie was good friends of William and Jane Morris and visited them at Kelmscott Manor.

The couple had three children together and Marie also helped to raise William’s three children from his first marriage. William Stillman died in 1901. Marie Spartali died in March 1927 in Ashburn Place in South Kensington. She was cremated at Brookwood Crematorium Surrey, and is interred there with her husband. There is a headstone. There is a Spartali Mausoleum at West Norwood cemetery.

Spartali mausoleum West Norwood


Alice Perry first European female engineering graduate Galway woman 6

Posted in Alice Perry first female engineering graduate in Europe Galway women 6 by sheelanagigcomedienne on May 2, 2018

Alice Perry 1885-1969 was Europe’s first female engineering graduate. Alice was top of her class in civil engineering, was the first female county surveyor on these islands and fought to protect women workers’ rights. How come we have hardly heard about her until recently, especially in Galway? She is Galway woman number 6.

Alice was born in Wellpark Galway in 1885, Alice was one of five daughters of James and Martha Perry (née Park). Her father was the County Surveyor in Galway West and co-founded the Galway Electric Light Company. Her uncle, John Perry, was a Fellow of the Royal Society and invented the navigational gyroscope.

After graduating from the High School in Galway, she won a scholarship to study in Royal University Galway later UCG in 1902. Having excelled in mathematics, she changed from studying for a degree in arts to an engineering degree. She graduated with first class honours in 1906. The family appear to have been academically gifted. Her sisters Molly and Nettie also went on to third level education; a third sister Agnes earned BA (1903) and MA (1905) in mathematics from Queen’s College Galway (later UCG then NUIG), taught there in 1903-1904, was a Royal University of Ireland examiner in mathematics in 1906, and later became assistant headmistress at a secondary school in London.

Following her graduation she was offered a senior postgraduate scholarship but owing to her father’s death the following month, she did not take up this position. In December 1906 she succeeded her father temporarily as county surveyor for Galway County Council. She remained in this position for a few months until a permanent appointment was made. She was an unsuccessful candidate for the permanent position and for a similar opportunity to be a surveyor in Galway East. She remains the only woman to have been a County Surveyor (County Engineer) in Ireland.

Her work then took her all over this rugged county in all weathers, inspecting roads, walls, piers, footpaths, bridges, courthouses and county buildings and arranging for repairs and upkeep where necessary. This massive workload and her amazing diligence prompted the local newspaper, the Connaught Champion, to note: “The many and arduous duties of County Surveyor have never been better or more faithfully discharged than since they were taken over by Miss Perry.”

This provincial paper seems to have been quite inspired by this amazing woman doing an exceptional job for the county. A second article stated: “…She is the brilliant daughter of a worthy father. After a distinguished collegiate course, she passed her final examination, taking the highest science and engineering degrees. She is the first lady in Ireland who has acted as County Surveyor… every member of the County Council has borne willing testimony to her outstanding ability.”

Alice perry church

The Presbyterian Church on Nuns Island (now part of the Arts Centre) where Alice Perry paid in 1968 for a plaque to be erected to the memory of her parents.

They may have all praised her ability, but the majority of the council would not back Perry when she applied for the permanent position, even though she had excelled in the role for the previous half year. She was unsuccessful in her application for a permanent role, coming joint second in the selection process. Thus, her contract with the council ended in April 1907.

After a period of unemployment Alice took stock of her life. Rural Galway provided limited employment opportunities for educated women like herself and her sisters. Her options were limited, but there was one obvious choice if she wanted a professional career: in 1908, she and her sisters emigrated from Ireland to seek work in England.

This move bore fruit and she was eventually successful in obtaining a job with the Home Office in the Civil Service, firstly to ‘His Majesty’s Inspector of Fisheries’ and then as a ‘Lady Factory Inspector’ in London. She would successfully hold this role for the next 17 years. The major requirement of this job was the monitoring of employment laws for women working in industrial factories.

Britain was a far cry of from rural Galway. It was in the middle of the second industrial/technological revolution with the development of mass-production processes, electrification and production lines. Most working-class women had no option but to seek work to support their families and increased employment opportunities were created away from the traditional occupations of servants and dressmakers.

To say industrial work was not pleasant is an understatement; it was extremely dangerous, with many being exposed to high levels of toxic materials such as lead, phosphorous, asbestos and mercury. As well as chemical dangers, lack of safety features on machinery such as guards and fences proved to be particularly hazardous, especially when combined with long shifts, excessive heat and minimum breaks.

This led to Britain having the highest number of industrial accidents in the world, with an average of 35,000 workers dying every year with multiples more sustaining injuries. Perry’s engineering training meant she had the technical knowledge to see these dangers and this made her highly effective at this role.

Perry and the other inspectors enforced the law on women’s working hours and the ‘Truck Acts’, which forbade employers paying their employees in kind rather than money, e.g. food in place of money. They battled bravely to reduce industrial poisoning, accidents, ‘bullying’ (sexual harassment), unfair dismissal, and unfair and illegal wage deductions, as well as encouraging better health and safety and proper toilet facilities.

These women proved to be highly motivated and courageous, facing intimidation and risks to their own health and safety while fulfilling their roles.

In 1915, Alice was transferred to the Glasgow office of the inspectorate and her life would begin to change immeasurably. She would change religion, changing from her born faith of Presbyterianism to Christian Scientist. She would then find love, marrying an English soldier Robert Shaw in September 1916.

But the happiness of new-found love was not to last: in May 2017, her husband would leave for the Western Front where he would die in battle, another wasted life in a needless war. After his death, Perry sought solace in her new faith and also began to express herself through poetry, publishing her first work in 1922. She would go on to have seven books of poetry published.

The children of Nazareth : and other poems (c1930)

The morning meal and other poems (1939)

Mary in the garden and other poems (1944)

One thing I know and other poems (c1953)

Women of Canaan and other poems (1961)

In 1921, she was offered a promotion to ‘Woman Deputy Superintendent Inspector’ and a transfer to the city of Leeds. She chose not to take it up and instead resigned her post. Then she moved to the headquarters of Christian Science in Boston, remaining there for the next 45 years until she died in 1969 at the age of 83.

In Boston, she worked for the Christian Science church, firstly in the publishing department and as then as poetry editor for the religion’s various publications.

Alice returned to Ireland on three occasions and visited the Department of Civil Engineering in her old Alma Mater during her 1948 visit. It is unknown if she was shown, or if she remembered, the demonstration theodolite still being used in the department up to the 1950s.

This beautiful, accurate and precisely made surveying instrument had one very special feature. Part of a rib of hair from Perry’s head formed the cross hairs in its reticule – a fitting token of Ireland’s first female engineer who smashed through not one but two glass ceilings and who dedicated a large portion of her life to protecting women’s rights in the workplace.

(My father Tommie Egan was a Civil Engineering UCG graduate in the 30s and we had the same professor in physics when I studied there in 1964/65).

The new new Engineering Building at NUIG was officially named the Alice Perry Engineering Building on March 6th 2017, in recognition of Alice as a role model and inspiration for staff, students and visitors.

However, the very low numbers of women in engineering is still a great problem’.

Century old attitudes are precluding Irish women from pursuing careers in engineering, according to the industry’s representative body.

“The statistics in Ireland are stark: if you are in a room with 10 engineers, the likelihood is just one will be female,” Engineers Ireland’s director general Caroline Spillane has said.

Ms Spillane, who marked the naming of an NUIGalway building after Ireland’s first female engineering graduate, Alice Perry, has called for action to attract more women into the sector.

A recent report byEurostat showed that 85 per cent of engineering, manufacturing and construction graduates in Ireland were male in 2014, compared to the EU average of 73 per cent.

Over half (54 per cent) of engineers believe strong communication, project management, analytical and design skills are now as important as maths understanding for the modern engineer, the survey found.

The gender imbalance needs to be tackled to ensure specific creativity and innovation skills shown by women are harnessed, Ms Spillane said.

“It is these skills, combined with a formidable intellect and remarkable work ethic, that Alice Perry displayed in abundance across her illustrious engineering career,”she said.

An All-Ireland medal has been named in her honour, The Alice Perry Medal, with the first prizes awarded in 2014

So, another fascinating, pioneering Galway woman who was forced to emigrate because of misogynistic attitudes in Ireland but who achieved much in the support of women and their safety in factories in Britain.

Tagged with: Alice Perry Civil Engineer, Galway County Surveyor, Galway graduate

Rita Anne Higgins Poet Galway women 4

Posted in Rita Anne Higgins Poet Galway women 4 by sheelanagigcomedienne on May 1, 2018

 Rita Anne Higgins poet


Rita Ann Higgins is a native of Ballybrit, Galway. She was one of thirteen children in a working-class household. She married in 1973 but following the birth of her second child in 1977, contracted tuberculosis, forcing her to spend an extended period in a sanatorium.

While confined, she began reading, and took to composing poems. She joined the Galway Writers’ Workshop in 1982. Jessie Lendennie, editor of Salmon Publishing, encouraged her and oversaw the publication of her first five collections.

Jessie herself is another Galway woman to be lauded as she supported, nurtured and published the poets of the city. Of course, it took place in Kenny’s bookshop. Maureen Kenny is another celebrated Galway woman.

The Poetry Foundation entry on her:Higgins’s frank, wry poems often look squarely at economic and gender-based inequalities. Calling hers a “smart, sassy, unabashed, female working class voice in Irish writing” in a 2011 Irish Times review of Ireland Is Changing Mother, Fintan O’Toole observes that “the anger in her work is transmuted into invention and absurdity, and it rubs shoulders with other deliciously deadly sins, like lust and pride.”

The first book of her poems I bought was Goddess on the Mervue Bus and I got her to autograph it when I gigged with her 21 years ago in Derry when I was performing as Sheela-na-Gig. I told her she was a comedienne but she denied it. The reference is about where I got my name – born on the feast day of  St John of the Latin Gate (probably didn’t exist as he got pushed off the calendar by St Martin De Porres on May 6th).

From her poem Ireland is changing mother.

your sons were Gods of that powerful thing.

Gods of the apron string.

They could eat a horse and they often did,

with your help mother.

Even Tim who has a black belt in sleepwalking

and border lining couldn’t torch a cigarette,

much less the wet haystack of desire,

even he can see, Ireland is changing mother.

Listen to black belt Tim mother.

One of Rita Anne’s poem is included in poems for Galway.

-Rita-Ann-Higgins-plaque 13-150x150

Higgins’s voices are so distinctive and real that a whole world of semi-rural Irish poverty rises around the reader with the jolting acuity of an excellent documentary…an hilarious, absorbing and thoroughly disturbing experience’ – Kate Clanchy, Independent

Her commissioned poetic response to Galway becoming the 2020 European City of Culture is just what you would expect from her and it is brilliant.

Galway was jubilant after being awarded 2020 European City of Culture, but it is unclear if the EU jury that awarded the €1.5m prize got sight of an explosive poem about the City of the Tribes that was commissioned as part of the bid process.

But the organising committee got more than they bargained for when Rita Ann sent them her work. They had, perhaps, been expecting a paean to the many glories of Galway extolling its manifest virtues as a gateway to the Atlantic coast, and an unrepentant bastion of the arts, the native language, music, dance, theatre and literature.

What they got instead was a devastating critique in which she rips into her native city.

Ms Higgins has always been an anarchic and provocative voice, but the poem Our Killer City is perhaps her most inflammatory.

Her poem rails against the car parking charges in the city hospitals, events in the local courts, the whiff of sewage on city streets and bias against Travellers.”This is pity city, sh**ty city. Sewage in your nostrils city. This is Galway. City of expert panels. City of Slickers and slackers who name call Travellers knackers.”

And she also casts a cold and angry eye on the treatment meted out to local artists using irony and sarcasm in equal measure to describe their exclusion.


Galway’s bid to win capital of culture
is all twenty twenty give the horse plenty.
We’re in with a great chance.
until they hear about
the legionnaire’s disease outbreak
in the fire station,
where our life savers need saving.

The birds are tweeting
about the arrival of the jury this July .
The word is out they’ll rule on the bid.
Best to keep them councillors out of sight,
with the malarkey they go on with, in city hall.
Govern, govern my arse
they wouldn’t govern a sly fart on a runway.
We’ll end up crowned the capital of fools.
Accusations of nepotism, potassium .
a host of other isms chisms, chasms and schisms.
I sent you that letter by mistake
said the CEO, buckling under pressure.
You are not actually co-opted
onto those committees ,
FYI, you are co-workered off .

My ogyny, your ogyny, misogyny.
We laugh about it at bus stops.
We say, aren’t some of our
elected representatives a laughing stock.
We’ll never get Capital of Culture
if they look through that window.

Some people live their lives
so they can die on a trolley
in Galway’s A&E.
Just wait and wait and wait
and you’ll die waiting.
Eighteen million on a new block
and not a new bed in site or on site.
The car park police in the hospital grounds
are a culture shock unto themselves.
Don’t die on a trolley in the bidding city
the forbidding city
before you have paid your parking
or we will kill your next of kin
with the weight of their parking ticket.
Culture capital or no culture capital.

The swans in the canals all know,
we underpay our nurses
we underpay our teachers.
We overpay our consultants
and we don’t know why.
This is fair-play city, or unfair play city
if you are a woman working for years in NUIG
and hoping for a promotion.
They’ll sue the blog off ya,
but won’t they look silly,
don’t they look silly.
This is pity city, shitty city.
Sewage in your nostrils city.
This is Galway
city of expert panels.
City of slickers and slackers
who name call Traveller s’ knackers.

If you want the odour of outrage
ask the students at GMIT
who have to re-sit exams.
Allegations of cheating.
Oh no not this again.
They are coming in July to rule on the bid.
We’ll hide that bit of news about the GMIT
and the gender discrimination in NUIG
In the parlour that never gets used,
to that we’ll throw the new block,
the bedless block at University Hospital Galway.

This is Galway slicker and slacker.
Have your home burgled
by your favourite nephew,
while you are at his other aunts funeral.
He didn’t know it was her house
and he didn’t know taking her jewelery
without her permission was stealing.

This is Galway the bidding City
the forbidding city.
Where the woman in court apologised
to her man for putting him through this.
The judge asked her, did he apologise to you
when he was sticking that screwdriver
in your forehead?
No but he wasn’t feeling himself that day
your honour.
Someone in City hall, not a councillor this time,
is yowling about the capital of culture bid.
If the bid book isn’t ready on time
says the yowler,
I’ll send you all to the fire station
or the picture palace.
She is pepping and prepping and side stepping.
Her side -kick got side kicked. No impact.
Complaining is the devils work.
Stick in a few more theatres’ there
that we don’t have, stick in a gallery or two.
How will they know if it’s true?
How will they know if it’s not true?

This is Galway, city of tools.
A man brings a cleaver into hospital with him.
The judge coming down with a migraine,
reached into her bag a yokes.
What got into you, she said,
pleading with the plaintiff?
I heard the chops were tough your honour,
nothing more, nothing less.
But you were seen chasing the back
of a poor man’s head, with a cleaver.
It wasn’t me your honour, and he wasn’t poor.

What about local artists?
Someone dared to ask,
not the yowler from city hall
or her side-kicked side-kick.
To hell with local artists
what do they bring the city?
nothing but scruffy dogs
and ripped jeans,
hippies with hobbies the lot of them.
As for the buskers, wanting to fit in
with the odor of outrage.
Move them on, hide them in GMIT,
or the picture palace.
Don’t mention local artists at all.
Let it be like they don’t exist
Raise the rents is the best way
to keep the ripped jeans gang out,
like it’s always been.
Artists me arse.
This is Galway, the bidding city
the forbidding city.
City of thieves or is scribes or is it tribes?
The jury are coming this July,
the word is out they’ll rule on the bid,
for capital of Culture
twenty twenty
give the horse plenty.
We have a great little city here,
a pity little city, a shitty little city.

Rita Anne reading her Galway poem. It is not a good quality. In the background you can see another of the featured Galway women Margaretta D’Arcy. She suffers from Parkinsons. There is also mention of another Michelene Sheehy Skeffington and her gender equality challenge to NUIG.

Rita anne 1

She has had her 11th book of poetry published.

Goddess on the Mervue Bus, Salmon Poetry, 1986

Witch in the Bushes, Salmon Poetry, 1988

Goddess and Witch, Salmon Poetry, 1990

Philomena’s Revenge, Salmon Poetry, 1992

Higher Purchase, Salmon Poetry, 1996

Sunny Side Plucked: New & Selected Poems, Bloodaxe Books, 1996

An Awful Racket, Bloodaxe Books, 2001

Throw in the Vowels: New & Selected Poems, Bloodaxe Books, 2005

Hurting God: Prose & Poems, Salmon Poetry, 2010

Ireland Is Changing Mother, Bloodaxe Books, 2011

Tongulish, Bloodaxe Books, 2016

Tongulish, her 11th book of poetry, finds Higgins as intensively inventive and deliciously subversive as ever… The rebellious, innovative Higgins is one of his [James Joyce’s] distinctive heirs. Like Joyce, she knows just how to beat up the English language and her use of mythology, Irish language and Ireland’s past put her own inimitable stamp on her bang up-to-date present.’ – Martina Evans, The Irish Times

The last poem I have chosen mentions Spiddal – in Irish it is An Spidéal. It is twelve miles from the city. Rita Anne lies there and it is where Dave and I had our wedding reception in 1967. It is in the gaeltacht – an Irish speaking area. We love the beach there and the pier featured in the MacDonagh comedy film The Guard about drug smuggling.

The Immortals

The boy racers
quicken on the Spiddal road
in Barbie Pink souped-ups
or roulette red Honda Civics.
With few fault lines or face lifts to rev up about
only an unwritten come hither of thrills
with screeching propositions and no full stops –
if you are willing to ride the ride.

Hop you in filly in my passion wagon.
Loud music and cigarette butts are shafted into space.
We’ll speed hump it all the way baby
look at me, look at me
I’m young, I’m immortal, I’m free.

Gemmas and Emmas
stick insects or supermodels
regulars at ‘Be a Diva’
for the perfect nails
eyebrows to slice bread with
and landing strips to match.

They wear short lives
they dream of never slowing down-pours
while half syllable after half syllable
jerk from their peak capped idols lips.
Their skinny lovers melt into seats
made for bigger men
Look at me, look at me
I’m young, I’m immortal, I’m free.
The boy racers never grow older or fatter.

On headstones made from Italian marble
they become ‘our loving son Keith’
‘our beloved son Jonathan,’ etcetera etcetera.
On the Spiddal road
itching to pass out the light
they become Zeus, Eros, Vulcan, Somnus


I think Rita Anne Higgins, the Galway bard is so funny and is therefore a comedian.

Notable Women of Lavender Hill Walk and Talk

Posted in Notable Women of Lavender Hill Walk and Talk by sheelanagigcomedienne on April 30, 2018

I led a Notable Women of Lavender Hill Tour on 15th April and will be leading another on 10th June 2018 for the Wandsworth Heritage Festival. This all came about because I had suggested to the Battersea Society that we ought to be commemorating the centenary of Votes for Women. So, I gave a talk on Significant Women of Battersea on 8th March – International Women’s Day at St. Mary’s Church and offered to do a walk on those women who  were associated with or lived near Lavender Hill as part of the Wandsworth Heritage Festival. The tour starts at Battersea Town Hall and finishes at 53 Battersea Rise which was home to Pamela Hansford Johnson which is now Farrago restaurant and Santo is very welcoming. I was impressed with my tour guide gizmo!

Notable tour15IMG_1788-1

Notable Women of Lavender Hill Tour led by Jeanne Rathbone Battersea Society Heritage. The tour starts outside Battersea Town Hall which was the site of Elm House the home to Jeanie bookJeanie Nassau Senior 1828-1877, the first female civil servant.  She was born Jane Hughes brother of Thomas Hughes, Tom Brown’s Schooldays. Friends included George Eliot, painters Millais and Watts, Jenny Lind sang with her, Tennyson, Florence Nightingale, Octavia Hill and Tom Taylor playwright and his composer wife Laura Barker were near neighbours in Lavender Sweep. She had a welcoming home but had a week and workshy husband.  She was appointed by Stansfield, President of the Local Government Board as Inspector of Workhouses reporting on the education of “pauper girls” which was critical of the existing arrangements causing a public furore. She died in 1877 aged 48. George Watts wrote : when you read the biography of “That Woman”, for it is one that will be written, you will find she had very few equals. It took 130 years for it to be written!

Char small photo

Charlotte Despard nee French 1844-1939 funded Battersea Labour Party HQ at 177 Lavender Hill. Her biographer entitled his biography of ‘An Unhusbanded  Life’- Suffragette Socialist and Sinn Feiner. Born into a wealthy Anglo Irish family, she married Max Despard and wrote ten novels. She was widowed in 1890 and dedicated her life to helping the poor  moving to Nine Elms Battersea to 95 Wandsworth Road and 2 Currie Street. They  became Despard Clubs with a health clinic, youth and working men’s clubs, a soup kitchen for the local unemployed. She had joined the WSPU but left with 70 others to set up the Women’s Freedom League a non-violent organisation and edited its magazine The Vote. She was the Labour candidate for Battersea North in 1918 after which she left to live in Dublin to campaign for Irish Independence. She died in Belfast aged 95. There is a campaign to have a statue of her in Nine Elms on the site of the US Embassy.


Caroline Ganley 1879-1966 came to Battersea in 1901 with her tailor husband was a pacifist and active in suffrage campaigns. In 1919 she was one of three women elected as councillors, was appointed JP, represented Battersea on LCC, first woman president of the London Co-op Society, elected  MP for Battersea South 1945-51 the first working class women with elementary education. She was still a Battersea Cllr when Battersea was absorbed into Wandsworth in 1965 and died the following year aged 86. She is to have a plaque on her home at 5 Thirsk Road on 20th October 2018.


Deaconess Isabella Gilmore 1842-1923, sister of William Morris married Lieutenant Gilmore. When widowed she trained as a nurse in Guys Hospital where Bishop Thorold asked her to start a deaconate in south London. Deaconesses were women who were to be “a curiously effective combination of nurse, social worker and amateur policemen”. They found a large house on Clapham Common, now known as Gilmore House. She tried to address the needs of the poor through working with girls and women. Her brother William observed admiringly that whilst he preached socialism, she practised it. The women she trained were paid, she was not. There is a sculpted plaque to her in Southwark Cathedral.


Marie Spartali 1844 -1923 was British Pre-Raphaelite painter, arguably the greatest female artist of that movement. During a sixty-year career, she produced 170 works, contributing regularly to exhibitions in Great Britain and the US. She studied drawing and painting under Ford Madox Brown. She painted images of active, empowered women that challenged the male gaze. She lived at the Shrubbery Lavender Gardens where her father, a wealthy Greek businessman was Consul. Marie was 6.3, beautiful and very elegant. She sat for numerous paintings by Ford Madox Brown, Burne-Jones, Whistler, Dante Gabriel Rossetti and for photographs by Julia Margaret Cameron and was a close friend of William Morris. She married an American widow William Stillman who had three children, in 1871. His job as foreign correspondent for The Times resulted in the couple dividing their time between London, Florence, Rome and US. She was described as “austere, virtuous and fearless, she was not lacking in a caustic wit and a sharp tongue.

Edith Lanchester

Edith aka Biddy Lanchester

Edith, known as Biddy Lanchester 1871-1966 came from a middle class family of architects and engineers. She studied botany and zoology at Birkbeck Institution. She had joined the Social Democratic Federation, was a teacher lodging in Este Road Battersea when she announced to her family that she was going to live with her lover Shamus Sullivan, a railway clerk. The next day her father, two brothers and psychiatrist Blandford hauled her off  to the Priory Asylum. With the help of John Burns MP, the Legitimation League and socialist friends including Eleanor Marx she was released. The supposed cause of her insanity was ‘over education’

Elsa glamourous

Elsa Lanchester 1902-1986, Biddy’s daughter went to a small socialist boy’s school near Clapham Common, trained as a dancer aged ten in Paris with Isadora Duncan, taught dance aged twelve in a boarding school to pay for her education. She set up her own theatre. It was in a play that she met Charles Laughton and they married 1929. She discovered he was homosexual but they remained married until his death in 1962 and  moved to the US as his career took off and gained citizenship in 1950

Her role as the title character in Bride of Frankenstein(1935) brought her recognition. She played supporting roles through the 1940s and 1950s. After his death she resumed with  Mary Poppins, That Darn Cat and Blackbeard’s Ghost  The horror film Willard was highly successful, and one of her last roles was in Murder by Death (1976). Elsa  remained humorously reflective in regard to her film career: “…large parts in lousy pictures and small parts in big pictures.”

Laura Barker composer

Laura Barker 1819-1905, composer and violinist, was born in Thirkleby Yorkshire was a finely gifted and highly accomplished player of the piano as well as the violin.  She received her first music lessons from her parents, attracted the attention of Paganini when she was 12 years old, studied with Cipriani Potter. She played with Paganini and with Louis as Spohr. She taught music at the York School for the Blind.

She married Tom Taylor playwright and critic. They lived at Lavender Sweep House. He had inherited a Stradivari 1732 which Laura played and it remained in her possession after he died until her death at Coleshill, Buckinghamshire. They held Sunday Musical Soirees, at which Joachim, Jeanie Senior and Clara Schumann took part.  Published works contains ten songs, seven duets, a glee, and a few pianoforte pieces.


Pamela Hansford Johnson, 1912-1934 wrote 27 novels lived at 53 Battersea  Rise and attended Clapham County Girls School.First girlfriend of Dylan Thomas she later married writer CP Snow making them a literary ‘power couple’ Anthony Burgess said: witty, satirical and deftly malicious – some of her books characterized by a sort of grave levity, others by a sort of light gravity. This bed thy Centre, her a coming-of-age first novel was based in Battersea.

Here are some temporary plaques commemorating these inspiring women which I had made while we are awaiting to have the Battersea Society plaques! There is an application to English heritage for one to Marie Spartali.

There will be an EqualiTea as part of the Vote100 celebrations on 23rd June at 3.00-5.00 The Venue in Park Court on the Doddington Estate off Battersea Park Road. This was organised by Lesley from Wandsworth Radio as they are based in Charlotte Despard Avenue.  Marsha, our MP, has been invited. All are invited.

EqualiTeasYour opportunity to share, debate and celebrate our right to vote, over a cup of tea and slice of cake! It’s a UK-wide celebration of our democratic equality, with tea parties taking place all over the country.

Also, on 15th June we will be celebrating Charlotte Despard on her birthday which became an annual reunion event for the WFL and  we will be holding that close by the US Embassy which was the site of Despard House 2 Currie Street which was bequeathed to Battersea Council with a plaque unveiled in 1922. We intend to have a group photo taken of those attending in the iconic raised-fist pose of Charlotte in Trafalgar Square when she was almost 90. It will be titled  Je suis Charlotte.

charlotte at rally

Charlotte at Trafalgar Square rally

All invited to these events but letting us know would be appreciated.                          Anyone interested in the walk in June will need to book.

I will do a walk or a talk on Notable Women of Lavender Hill on request for groups.

Lady Augusta Gregory Galway Woman 2

Posted in Lady Augusta Gregory Galway Woman Irish Literary Revival by sheelanagigcomedienne on April 29, 2018


Lady Augusta Gregory née Persse 1852 – 1932 was an Irish dramatist, folklorist and theatre manager.

Gregory was born at Roxborough, which was  a 6,000-acre estate located between near Gort, the main house of which was later burnt down during the Irish civil war. She was educated at home, and her future career was strongly influenced by the family nurse/nanny, Mary Sheridan, a Catholic and a native Irish speaker, who introduced the young Augusta to the history and legends of the local area.

She married Sir William Gregory , a widower with an estate at Coole Park, near Gort 1880. He was 35 years her elder, had just retired from his position as Governor of Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), having previously served several terms as Member of Parliament for County Galway. He was a well-educated man with many literary and artistic interests, and the house at Coole housed a large library and extensive art collection, both of which Lady Gregory was eager to explore. He also had a house in London, where the couple spent a considerable amount of time, holding weekly salons  frequented by many leading literary and artistic figures of the day, including Robert Browning, Lord Tennyson John Everett Millais and Henry James.


Barely two years into her married life, and a young mother, she fell totally in love with a serial seducer, Wilfrid Scawn Blunt. The affair lasted a year, and ended by a mutual pact in the summer of 1883. On the morning after their last night together she gave him 12 perfectly composed sonnets outlining her utter passion and complete surrender to him.

Their only child, Robert, was born in 1881. He was killed during the First World war, while serving as a pilot, an event which inspired Yeats’s poems “An Irish Airman Foresees His Death,” “In Memory of Major Robert Gregory,” and “Shepherd and Goatherd.”

With Yeats and Edward Martyn, she co-founded the Irish Literary theatre and the Abbey theatre, and wrote numerous short works for both companies. Lady Gregory produced a number of books of retellings of stories taken from Irish mythology. Born into a class that identified closely with British rule, her conversion to cultural nationalism, as evidenced by her writings, was emblematic of many of the political struggles to occur in Ireland during her lifetime. George Bernard Shaw , John Millington Synge and Sean O’Casey. They and many others carved their initials on the Autograph Tree, an old Copper beech still standing in the walled garden today.

The Yeats poem The Wild Swans at Coole was inspired by the beauty of the swans in the turlough at Coole Park. Yeats’s home at Thoor Balylee was just 3 miles away; he also wrote “Coole Park, 1929”, a poem that describes the park as a symbol for the revival of Irish literature. The “big house” at Coole was demolished in 1941. In the late 1960s, Coole was opened to the public for amenity use (which my uncle Canon Quinn was later instrumental in developing), served as an important meeting place for leading Revival figures, and her early work as a member of the board of the Abbey was at least as important for the theatre’s development as her creative writings.

Some random quotes of Augusta Gregory

Every trick is an old one, but with a change of players, a change of dress, it comes out as new as before.

In my childhood there was every year at my old home, Roxborough, or, as it is called in Irish,.Every trick is an old one, but Cregroostha, a great sheep-shearing that lasted many days. On the last evening there was always a dance for the shearers and their helpers, and two pipers used to sit on chairs placed on a corn-bin to make music for the dance.

In writing a little tragedy, ‘The Gaol Gate,’ I made the scenario in three lines, ‘He is an informer; he is dead; he is hanged.’ I wrote that play very quickly.

It takes madness to find out madness. Lady Gregory 6 Everything that is bad, the falling sickness – God save the mark – or the like, should be at its worst at the full moon. I suppose because it is the leader of the stars.

Once in my childhood I had been eager to learn Irish; I thought to get leave to take lessons from an old Scripture-reader who spent a part of his time in the parish of Killinane, teaching such scholars as he could find to read their own language in the hope that they might turn to the only book then being printed in Irish, the Bible.

We would not give up our own country – Ireland – if we were to get the whole world as an estate, and the Country of the Young along with it.

Every day in the year there comes some malice into the world, and where it comes from is no good place.

It was among farmers and potato diggers and old men in workhouses and beggars at my own door that I found what was beyond these and yet farther beyond that drawingroom poet of my childhood in the expression of love, and grief, and the pain of parting, that are the disclosure of the individual soul.

Her grandaughter Anne died in 2009. She had written a delightful little book which Barbara bought when she a teenager and she loved it. There are quotes from it in granite stones around Coole Park.

In Me and Nu: Childhood at Coole, she recalled meeting some of the leading writers and artists of the day. WB Yeats, George Bernard Shaw, Sean O’Casey, Augustus John and Oliver St John Gogarty were among those who enjoyed Lady Gregory’s hospitality.

De Winton found Yeats grumpy, rather distant and often distracted. She remembered him humming while he wrote his verses. “He used to hum the rhythm of the verse before he wrote the words,” she said. “Grandma told us that was why his poems were so good to read aloud.”

Of Yeats’s poem to her yellow hair she said: “I thought it was doggerel at first and was not impressed. It was not as romantic as I would have liked it.”But when the poet publicly announced the publication of the poem and described the young Anne as “having hair like a cornfield in the sun”, she warmed to it.

We always visit Coole Park when we go home and Thoor Balilee and have visited the charming Kiltartan museum. It has such a wonderful atmosphere. A pilgrimage really.

Maureen Kenny Galway bookseller extraordinaire

Posted in Maureen Kenny Galway Bookkseller extraordinaire by sheelanagigcomedienne on April 29, 2018

Maureen Kenny is one of Galway’s celebrated personalities. Many visitors to Galway will  have heard of Kennys bookshop, Galwegians will know of the Kenny family and of Maureen. They were crucial to Galway cultural life in terms of literature, books, literary events and art. A Kenny launch of authors or art was always a memorable highlight.

MaureenSeamus Heaney once described Maureen Kenny, who died aged 89, as “the Madonna of the Manuscripts”, an accurate description for a woman who devoted most of her life to the promotion of new Irish writers and artists.

Maureen was born in Glebe Street, Mohill, Co Leitrim, the eldest of three children. Her father died suddenly when she was four years old leaving her mother with three young children and a business she knew nothing about. Next door was a Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) barracks which was taken over by the black and tans. On a couple of occasions they took the infant Maureen and used her as a human shield on top of their truck while driving around Mohill randomly shooting in through windows.

Her mother was an extraordinary woman who saved every penny to give them the best possible education. Maureen went to school locally in Mohill and then attended Saint Louis Convent, Monaghan on a scholarship. She then went on to win a scholarship to UCG (NUIG) in 1936 and on her first day there she met Des Kenny. As Des often said later “that was that”. They married on graduating and rented two rooms on High Street in Galway, setting up a bookshop in one and living in the other. Des’s father was Tom Kenny the founder and editor of the Connaught Tribue in 1909 which has been in print ever since and he scooped the Alcock and Brown landing in a Clifden bog.

Maureen and Des Kenny

On November 29th, 1940 they opened the doors of what was to become the internationally renowned Kenny’s Bookshop. Hundreds of people claim to have been there on the first day although Maureen remembered it as being very quiet. It was during the war and people had little money for food, let alone for the luxury of books and so the early days were all about survival.

They stocked the shop by borrowing books from their friends and relations and buying new books with what little money they had. They tried many different ideas like selling second-hand school books, running a lending library or placing book stalls in hotels and factories.

Maureen was ahead of her time and employed the strategy of direct marketing before the phrase had been heard of. She put hand-written cards in hotels and B&Bs with “a suggestion for a rainy day”. The suggestion of course, was to visit Kennys.

However, despite their efforts Maureen and Des could not survive by the bookshop alone and so Des went out to work elsewhere, leaving Maureen to run the shop.

Their eldest son, Tom was born in 1944 in the bookshop on High Street and shortly afterwards they were able to move to a house in Salthill where their other five children, Jane, Dessy, Gerry, Monica and Conor, were born. Maureen’s six children were virtually reared on books and so it was no surprise that five of them joined her in the business.

In the mid 1960s her husband Des rejoined the family business and from then on it began to expand. They knocked down part of their house in Salthill and opened an art gallery in 1968. They built a book bindery in the back garden and rented additional premises to cater for their expanding stock of books. A great emphasis was placed on exporting and they instilled in their family a love of all things Irish, especially books.

Kenny familyThe bookshop began to gain an international reputation. Maureen was the one constant in all of this growth and artists and writers from all over the world came to meet her and to avail of her vast knowledge of Irish interest material. As John McGahern once said “Mrs Kenny misses nothing”. One of her great gifts was her phenomenal memory as she would report the arrival of out of print books books to people who had asked for them years before. As one customer said: “who needs when you have Mrs Kenny?”

She loved to encourage young writers and rejoiced in their success. Aspiring authors would delight in the fact that Maureen had taken the time to read their books and was now promoting them. The large collection of signed photographs of writers who had visited was testimony to Maureen’s popularity.

Maureen never regarded the shop as work. To her it was a genuine pleasure to stand behind the counter in High Street, which she did for 66 years, only retiring when it was decided to transfer the books business online. Even in her 80s she wasn’t afraid of change in business, indeed she was quite visionary and when the bookshop closed its doors to go online in 2006 her comment was “you have to look forward, you have to move with times.”

She was very involved with Our Lady’s Girls Club and the Soroptimists. She was honoured many times for her extraordinary contribution to cultural life in Ireland and especially in Galway. Bord Failte made her an Honorary Ambassador for promoting Ireland in 1990. Maureen and her husband Des were the first honorary life members of the Galway Chamber of Commerce.

The following article is from their 75th anniversary of bookselling in Galway written by Tom Kenny, her eldest son. I knew Tom as I was and am friends as his sister Jane – we were in the same year in Taylor’s hill  secondary school. I recall getting a lift to Dublin with Des Kenny when myself and my friend Kathryn Lydon were heading off to work in Jersey in 1964.

I remember going in to the shop as a youngster to look for a book for my mother who was then very much into reading Morris West and I asked Mrs Kenny for The Shoes of the Fishermen. She looked puzzled as I had forgotten to say it was a book by Morris West and she must have thought I was looking for some craft souvenir.  Jane later gave us us some of their craft work as a wedding present which we still have.


The Kenny family. Jane is in blue and Tom is the grey bearded one.

This year Kenny’s Bookshop in Galway celebrates 75 years of bookselling and 21 years of selling online as Our staff of 18 includes eight Kennys. We stock about 650,000 volumes, new, second-hand and antiquarian books. In addition to selling on, we work with Amazon, ABE, Alibris and other portals to sell into countries all over the world. We also offer free shipping worldwide.

Both came from book-loving families and so they decided to open a bookshop. It seemed like an act of madness, but they were young, very much in love, tenacious and not afraid of hard work. They leased the ground floor of a building in High Street, Galway. The bank loaned them £100 with which they bought some stock and friends and relations gave them books. The shop was tiny, but they opened with hopes and dreams and very little fanfare on November 29th, 1940.

To add a little colour, Maureen introduced crafts, handmade locally in the late 1940s. In 1951 she hosted her first exhibition and this in turn led to visual artists showing their work. A major development in the 1950s was the purchase of a second-hand duplicating machine which was installed in my bedroom at home, and the family began to crank out catalogues. These catalogues gave the shop a new status in Ireland, and introduced us to customers abroad. Our horizons were expanding. We were selling mostly second-hand books and were gaining in experience and expertise. Our speciality was (and still is) books of Irish interest. Des was on the road at every opportunity buying libraries and the quality of the stock improved.

The Irish language has always been very important to us and we have a uniquely extensive stock of Irish language books.

Regular visitors at this time were Brendan Behan, Mary Lavin, Walter Macken and Austin Clarke. Graham Greene visited and subsequently carried on a correspondence. William Randolph Hearst syndicated a major article on the bookshop in all of his newspapers.

In 1965, our father Des came back into the business on a full-time basis and his dynamism and vision, combined with Maureen’s pragmatism and by now legendary knowledge of books had a transforming effect. They opened the first commercial art gallery in the west of Ireland with an exhibition of paintings by Seán Keating. From then on, we hosted exhibitions of paintings, sculpture, stained glass, ceramics, book launches, readings, signings etc. We began to photograph visiting writers and artists and opened a shop dedicated to antiquarian maps and prints. As children, we were immersed in books so it was no surprise that five of us joined the business and in 1974 our parents built a book bindery in their back garden for Gerry.

Sorley McLean did a reading, Séamus Heaney, Paul Durcan, Edna O’Brien, Richard Ellmann and William Trevor visited, Brendan Kennelly and Frederick Forsyth opened exhibitions. President Cearbhall Ó Dálaigh caused traffic chaos when he asked his driver to stop “for a minute” while he stepped in and talked to our mother about books. Those in the cars behind did not want to blow their horns at the Uachtarán’s car.

Maureen and McCourt

With Frank McCourt author of Angela’s Ashes

In the early 1980s we managed to buy the High Street building and also the building behind it which backed on to Middle Street. We linked the two buildings together and transferred the maps, the art gallery and a store full of books to the city-centre location. We began to publish a series of books, mostly of local interest. The US Library of Congress appointed us as their Irish suppliers.

When Roald Dahl spent two days signing his books, it was one-way traffic through the shop and the queues went up to the top of the street. The launch of Breandán Ó hEithir’s novel, Lig Sin i gCathú, was broadcast live on Radio 1 for 90 minutes. Brian Friel opened an exhibition; Jurgen Lodemann made a documentary for German television on the bookshop; Samuel Beckett signed photographic mounts so that his “portrait” could be included with the exhibition of author’s photographs.

President Hillery opened an exhibition of portraits of Irish writers entitled Faces in a Bookshop with some 50 writers in attendance. Benedict Kiely, Noel Browne and Maeve Binchy also opened exhibitions. Derek Walcott, Miroslav Holub , Sir Sidney Nolan and Allen Ginsberg visited. Andrei Voznesensky, Margaret Attwood, Jung Chang and Thomas Keneally visited.

In 1994, we became the first company in Ireland to have a website and the second bookshop in the world to go online. This exciting development slowly changed the dynamics of bookselling and we were now travelling extensively in the US and Japan networking, selling, building up collections for libraries. Des Jr. started a book club for individual customers.

In 1996, we closed temporarily while we completely rebuilt the interior of the High St /Middle St premises. The new complex was launched by John McGahern who opened his speech with the line: “Mrs Kenny misses nothing”.

Face to Face was published, a collection of some 200 author’s photographs taken in the bookshop.

We bought the entire contents of the long established Hammersmith Books in London when Ronald Gray died.   I conducted Ronald Gray’s funeral in Lambeth crematoium which Conor Kenny and his wife Geraldine came over to attend.

Maureen Kenny hon docOur mother was conferred with an honorary degree by UCG. Part of her citation read: “She and all she stands for remained a constant when virtually everything around her had disappeared, been redeveloped or surrendered to more perishable, transient tastes. Her metier represents one that is entwined with Galway’s history”. In 2006, she retired after 66 years behind the counter.

Kenny authors

Various authors in the bookshop including Margaretta Darcy and John Arden.

Seamus Heaney opened a John Behan exhibition during which he referred to Maureen Kenny as The Madonna of the Manuscripts. Nadine Gordimer and J.M. Coetzee visited.

Several years ago, we realised we were selling more books online than on the high street, so we decided to move about a mile away to a large industrial building on the Liosbán Estate on the Tuam Road. It does not have the character of the inner-city shop, as it is geared up for our export operation. Today, online sales account for 80 per cent of sales but we also retail books and have done a great deal to retain as much of the atmosphere of the old and we still host book launches and readings. As I write this, author Patricia Forde is here reading from and discussing her new book, The Wordsmith, with more than 100 schoolchildren.

Portrait of Maureen by Jenny O’Brien from her series Galway Inspirational Women.

Maureen by

Portrait of Maureen by Jenny O’Brien from her series Galway Inspirational Women.

Maureen had a strong faith, was great company, had a keen sense of humour and loved life. She passed on important values to her children, such as charity, perseverance and a love of things Irish. For her the family was the nucleus of civilisation which was illustrated by the fact that so many of her children and grand-children were around her in her last moments. She died March 25th 2008.


Nora Barnacle Galway woman

Posted in Nora Barnacle Galway woman by sheelanagigcomedienne on April 29, 2018

Nora Barnacle is a favourite Galway woman role model.

Nora Barnacle

Nora Barnacle the muse and lover of James Joyce and the inspiration of some of his greatest works — Greta Conroy in The Dead, Bertha the common law wife in Exiles and Molly Bloom in Ulysses — all share some of Nora’s character and experiences. Molly’s soliloquy.  Please do read it out loud whether there is anyone there or not.

Nora Barnacle was born in Galway workhouse 21 March 1884 father, Thomas Barnacle, a baker from Connemara, was an illiterate man who was 38 years old when she was born. Her mother, Annie Healy, was 28 and worked as a dressmaker.

Between 1886 and 1889, Barnacle’s parents sent her to live with her maternal grandmother, Catherine Healy. During these years, she attended the Convent of Mercy .In the same year, her mother threw her father out for drinking and the couple separated. Barnacle went to live with her mother and her uncle, Tom Healy, at 8 Bowling Green, Galway. The little house is a tiny museum but doesn’t seem to be open currently.

This terrace house is located in Galway City opposite St Nicholas Church. It was built in the late 1800s and was home to Nora. Joyce also spent considerable time here when he was writing in the 20th century. The building has been restored, but it’s admittedly showing some signs of wear.

The house itself is modest even by family standards, and it’s actually the smallest museum in Ireland. Barnacle lived here in the early 1900s with her mother and six siblings. They made do with two rooms and a tiny garden. The room on the ground floor served as a kitchen, a dining and—more often than not—a bedroom as well. Today, it’s filled with memorabilia, including photographs of the couple and the correspondence they exchanged, along with a few other exhibits exploring the couples’ lives and time together.

Nora Barnacle left Galway early in 1904. She worked as a chambermaid at Finn’s Hotel She was 20 years old, a strong-willed girl running from a tyrannical uncle who disapproved of her latest boy friend. Within weeks of her arrival in Dublin she would become the muse and lover of James Joyce.

“I mistook him for a Swedish sailor – His electric blue eyes, yachting cap and plimsolls. But when he spoke, well then, I knew him at once for just another Dublin jackeen chatting up a country girl.”

The numerous erotic letters they exchanged suggest they loved each other passionately. Joyce seems to have admired and trusted her, and Barnacle clearly loved Joyce and trusted him enough to agree to leave Ireland with him for the Continent

In October of that same year Nora and Jim would elope to Europe and in due course step on to the pages of literary history. She would return to her native city only twice during her 47 years of exile.

This is from an article by Padraic O Laoi in The Galway Advertiser.     

In Galway, Nora visited her mother and sisters in Bowling Green where the precocious Lucia charmed the Barnacle ladies and their neighbours with her Continental exoticism. Joyce meanwhile, feeling lonely in Trieste with their son Georgio, decided on a whim to join Nora in Galway.

They watched the regatta at Menlo, went racing in Ballybrit and sailed to the Aran Islands. Joyce was eager to see where Synge had conceived his great western plays. Joyce who was prone to sickness in Trieste, was healthy and content, even cycling to Oughterard and back.

All the while the children were fussed over by the Barnacle girls and their Uncle Tommy, a tram conductor on the Salthill route. Nora also showed the writer where she had courted Michael Bodkin, Michael Feeney and the Protestant William Mulvaghy the relationship that had so enraged her guardian.

Nora with her children visited the nuns in the Presentation Convent where she had been a laundress after leaving school at 12. The Nuns welcomed her and her children, unaware that their parents were unmarried.

Joyce and Nora married in a civil ceremony in London, after they had been living together as man and wife for nearly 27 years in Austria, Italy, Switzerland and France. After Joyce’s death in Zurich in 1941, Nora decided to remain there and she died in of renal failure in 1951, at age 67


It took many years before the significance she played in the life of one of the most  influential and important authors of the 20th century was recognised. Joyce’s adult life was spent abroad,  his fictional universe centred on Dublin, and is populated largely by characters who closely resemble family members, enemies and friends from his time there. But Nora was the adaptable cosmopolitan one of this couple. Nora governed a succession of unruly households in Trieste, Paris, and Zurich, holding him and the family together through the force of her own formidable pluck. Most importantly for Joyce’s work, Nora served as his “portable Ireland,” his living link to the homeland he used as the basis for his masterpieces.

His short story The Dead,  which was made into a film by John Huston from his wheelchair not long before he died starring his daughter the wonderful Anjelica, who lived and went to the Dominican Convent School that I also attended, was based on what Nora told Joyce about the two young lads whom she had courted, Michael Feeney and Michael Bodkin, both of whom died very young and were buried in Rahoon cemetery..

Here is a haunting clip from the film as she listens to the singing of the Lass of Aughrim.      and this the final scene.

Joyce wrote his poem She weeps over Rahoon which features in the Galway Poetry Trail  on the entrance to the cemetery. ( My parents Tommie and Eithne Egan are also buried there).

Rahoon She weeps.jpg

Nora, the muse, was a down-to-earth woman whose devotion was always total and never blind, whose deep rich voice was heard in cafes across the Continent scolding her drunken husband, ”Jim, you’ve had enough”.

So, it was a woman from Galway, in the west of Ireland, who inspired Joyce. She was his muse, helpmate, support and lover and she introduced him to an Ireland that he, as a Dubliner, didn’t know.