Sheela-na-Gig aka Jeanne Rathbone

Galway Women part 2

Here are the next three of fourteen profiles celebrating Galway Women.

4)Garry Hynes award winning theatre director.

According to Vanity Fair

For three decades, Garry Hynes has been Ireland’s most dynamic and fearless theater director. With her company, Druid, based in Galway, in the West of Ireland, she has used her vast imaginative energy to re-interpret the national classics, such as the plays of John Millington Synge and Sean O’Casey. She has also put her talent at the disposal of contemporary writers. She was the first to stage the plays of the young Martin McDonagh, and in 1998 she became the first woman to win a Tony Award for direction, of McDonagh’s The Beauty Queen of Leenane. Since the 1980s, Hynes has had a close working relationship with Tom Murphy, ranked with Brian Friel as among Ireland’s greatest living writers. Murphy has been the most restless imagination at work in Irish theater since his second play, A Whistle in the Dark, hit London’s West End, in 1961. He is the artist most of us Irish writers look to for inspiration and example. Thus, it will be fascinating to see three of his plays directed by Hynes at the Lincoln Center Festival, July 5 to 14. The plays deal with loss and emigration, and dramatize illusion and self-delusion. Hynes’s method as a director is forensic: she strips away, using her sharp sense of the abiding power of the theatrical image, cajoling actors toward the emotional and intellectual core of a play. In the past, Hynes and Murphy together have produced the very best of Irish theater. Re-united, they are likely to cause sparks to fly.

Gary Hynes we remember from the very early days when she and friends started to stage plays in the tiny room at the back of The Coachman in Dominc Street now forever associated with Galway and the Druid.  Her Playboy of the Western World was unforgettable.

I was born in Ballaghadereen, in county Roscommon, in Ireland. When I was 12 years old, I moved to Galway, my father’s native county. I was the eldest child. My father was a passionate Gaelgóir (Irish speaker). My parents spoke to me in Irish and I spoke mostly Irish until I went to school. Most of the other children spoke English and there was some sort of distance (between us) at school, I wasn’t able to say the Hail Mary. I rebelled against (the language) in an ignorant way and I’m probably the least fluent Irish speaker in my family now. As a child, I cherished my own imaginative hinterland. We are all creatures of our imagination. As a young person, I was taken to see amateur plays; there was, and still is, a very vibrant amateur theatre circuit in Ireland. When I was 18 or 19, in the early 1970s, I went to work on a student visa to New York. I saw theatre off Broadway. Those were great influences.

She was educated at St. Louis Convent Monaghan, the Dominican Convent Galway, and UCG.

She is a co-founder of the Druid Theatre company with Mick Lally and Marie Mullen in 1975 after meeting through the drama society of U.C.G. where they studied.

She was Druid’s artistic director from 1975 to 1991, and again from 1995 to date. Hynes directed for the Abbey theatre from 1984 and was its artistic director from 1991 to 1994, and also the Royal Shakespeare Company, the Royal Exchange Manchester, the Kennedy Center and the Royal Court Theatre, London.

Mick Lally theatre

After 15 years with Druid, I began to feel that it was better for me to leave and I accepted an offer to become artistic director of the Abbey Theatre (Ireland’s national theatre, where Hynes was employed from 1991 to 1994). I moved to Dublin and bought a house there, where I still live. Four years later, Druid asked me to return on a temporary basis and somewhat reluctantly I agreed. I’m still here. Druid has kept me in Ireland. I fell in love with New York when I went there at 18 or 19 – it’s still my second home – but then, with time, and from the outside, I began to see better the kind of supportive place to make theatre that Druid was.

When I came back to Druid, I asked to see the plays that had been submitted while I was away. I was trawling through the backlog when I found Martin McDonagh’s work. He had sent in three of them, including The Beauty Queen of Leenane. All of them stood out. I met his agent and optioned all three of his plays. I thought, “Here was a real writer for the theatre” – he could write brilliant dialogue and he tell a story. The Beauty Queen of Leenaneis an international story and it is a timeless story; it’s about a mother and daughter who are closely tied, a love-hate relationship – it’s a fundamental human story. When I first read the play, I knew immediately that Marie would be right for the part of Maureen. Now she’s playing Mag, the mother. We’re privileged, Marie and me, to have had such a long life together.

We were so glad to get to see the Druid production directed by Garry of Bailegangaire in the Donmar Playhouse in 1986 when Siobhain McKenna and Marie Mullen starred in Tom Murphy’s play. Marie Mullen played Mommo in the later production and , of course, for many she is seen as Siobhain’s successor as Ireland’s greatest stage actresses.

Garry and film producer Martha O’Neill became civil partners at a private ceremony in Galway in 2014.  A small group of family and close friends attended the ceremony at the Mick Lally Druid Theatre in Galway city. Afterwards, the couple hosted their guests at Nimmo’s Ard Nia restaurant alongside Galway’s famous Spanish Arch.

Garry and partner

5)Alice Perry 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?

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.”

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.

In 1908 she moved to London with her sisters, where she worked as a Lady Factory Inspector for theHome Office. From there she moved to Glasgow. She met and married Bob Shaw on the 30 September 1916. Shaw was a soldier who died in 1917 on the Western Front.

Perry retired from her inspector’s position in 1921.Perry 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.

Britain had 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.

She became interested in poetry, first publishing in 1922. In 1923 she moved to, the headquarters of Christian Science. Until her death in 1969, Perry worked within the Christian Science movement as a poetry editor and practitioner, publishing seven books of poetry.

She died in Boston on 21 August 1969. The year before her death she placed a plaque in memory of her parents in Galway Presbyterian church.Alice perry church

An All-Ireland medal has been named in her honour, The Alice Perry Medal, with the first prizes awarded in 2014 and on 6th March, 2017, NUI Galway held an official ceremony to mark the naming of the Alice Perry Engineering Building.

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, 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 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.

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.

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.

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.  novel which 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 Cashel novel

Alice lived in St. Catherine’s, Roundstone Co. Galway. 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