Jeanne Rathbone

Rita Ann Higgins Poet Galway women 4

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

 Rita Ann Higgins poet

Rita-Ann-Higgins-2

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.

Whilst in hospital, 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 Ann’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.

https://www.independent.ie/entertainment/festivals/this-is-pity-city-shty-city-galway-poet-skewers-city-of-culture-in-a-savage-ode-34889775.html

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.

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 .

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.
Hashtag-go-Micheline-go.
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.

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?

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 Ann 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 Ann lives 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 Ann, the Galway bard is so funny and is therefore a comedian. When I let her know that she was one of the five living women to be included in the Notable Galway Women walk she replied:  I’ll be sorry to miss it. I’m reading at a lovely festival in Slovenia and I love saying that.  Rita Ann has come far – from Ballybrit to Slovenia.

 

Notable Galway Women

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

I am writing this series of blogs featuring Notable Galway Women in reaction to the two songs entitled Galway Girl – one written by Steve Earle and the latest by Ed Sheeran in the Irish tradition of songs about women from a male perspective – the male gaze.

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

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

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

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

My original blog was in response to the blow-in Earle who has returned to the states but when I heard that Sheeran had written one also with the same title, was happy to admit that 400 million people of Irish descent would be interested in it, shamelessly acknowledging that he did it for financial reasons and not bothered by a plagiarism challenge.

The hype in Ireland, particulaly in Galway,  about it was OTT especially when the video starring Saoirse Ronan as the Galway Girl appeared.  saoirse ronan

http://www.dailyedge.ie/galway-girl-video-implausible-3373033-May2017/

The Earle imagined black-haired/blue-eyed women disappeared after the one night fling after their a walk on the Salthill prom. Presumably she fled because she didn’t fancy him in the sober light of day. Stewart Lee, cynical comedian, has sung it on the grounds that his wife’s folk – comedienne Bridget Christie – hail from Galway. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qfAJAG6dgQI

There is a version as ghaeilge.  A cover version of the song by Mundy and Sharon Shannon reached number one and became the most downloaded song of 2008 in Ireland, and has gone on to become the eighth highest selling single in Irish chart history.

So, Ed Sheeran thought he could cash in the popularity of a song called Galway Girl.   The Sheeran Galway girl it turns out was based on fiddle player Niamh Dunne who is a member of Antrim-based folk group Beoga that collaborated with Sheeran on the track.  However, she is not his love interest nor married to an Englishmen and is from from Limerick. But they did spend a night on the tiles in Dublin Irish dancing, Guinness, two Irish whiskeys – Jameson and Powers, Van the Man, a rendition of Carrickfergus, Grafton Street – the usual kind of ingredients of a commercial modern Irish song.  Of course, he is eligible for an Irish passport, ginger hair etc. And that makes him Irish. He even has a photo of him as a teenager busking in Galway next to the statue of Oscar Wilde.

Ed Sheeran in Galway

Teenage Sheeran busking in Galway

So now I feel compelled to write about Galway women. The first thing to note about Galway women is that they are women not girleens. I am one.  There is some interesting imagery of women in Galway songs. For a start, you had the women making hay, in the uplands digging pratees whilst chatting in Irish- a language that the English do not know. The woman featured in the song a Galway Shawl wears ‘a bonnet with a ribbon on it’ but ‘she wears no paint nor powder,  no none at all’.

Further name check of Galway songs produces the Queen of Connemara which transpires is a boat, Sweet Marie refers to the name of a horse in the Galway Plate race of the Galway Races. There’s the Lass of Aughrim which featured in James Joyce’s Dubliners. There is Pegeen Litir Mor telling how she attracts not only the poet but men from different districts. And so it goes on.

Even our bard Seamus Heaney got in on the act with his Girls Bathing Galway.

No milk-limbed Venus ever rose
Miraculous on this western shore;
A pirate queen in battle clothes
Is our sterner myth.

…in swimsuits, Brown-legged, smooth-shouldered and bare-backed
They wade ashore with skips and shouts.

This will always remind my generation of the proclamation of disapproval by the very conservative Bishop Browne about women in Salthill wearing two piece bathing costumes which prompted a letter in response from some Galway women inquiring which piece of the swim suit did his Lordship wish them to remove.

Galway women come in varying shapes, sizes, temperaments, ages and colours. They are emigrants, daughters, mothers, sisters, wives, lovers, poets, authors, entrepreneurs, singers, dancers, artists, politicians, teachers, workers, lawyers, doctors, nurses, engineers, scientists, administrators, shop assistants, etc.

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

Galway

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

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

I emigrated in 1965 when I was still a teenager and so my choice of women of Galway reflects that as I am now an old pensioner, pagan and stranger in the City of Tribes. I have selected Nora Barnacle, wife and muse of James Joyce,  Rita Anne Higgins poet, Michelene Sheehy  Skeffington, botanist and gender equality campaigner, Siobhain McKenna, actor,  Lady Augusta Gregory, playwright and Abbey Theatre founder,  Garry  Hynes, Theatre Director, Alice Perry, Civil Engineer, Ada English, Psychiatrist 1903 UCG, Alice Cashel, Irish nationalist,  Margaretta D’Arcy, author and activist, Maureen Kenny, bookseller, Mary Devonport O’Neill poet Dolores Keane singer and Clare Sheridan sculptor and writer. A younger person would have chosen a different set of Mná na Gaillimhe  and I hope they do and continue the celebration of significant Galway women.

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

I will feature each one individually.

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

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

Maureen Kenny (1918-2008) Bookseller extraordinaire Maureen K

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

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

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

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

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

Alice Cashel (1878-1958) Irish Nationalist Alice_Cashel

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

Garry Hynes      Theatre Director Garry Hynes

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

Alice Perry (1885-1969)  First Woman  Civil Engineer 

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

Michelene Sheehy Skeffington    Botanist, NUIG Gender Discrimination     

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

Michelene

Margaretta D’Arcy Author, Political Activist Theatre 

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

Margaretta D

Margaretta Darcy

Ada English (1875-1944) Psychiatrist and Irish Nationalist

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

Ada biography

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

Mary Devenport O'Neilll

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

Dol

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