On Comradeship and Copping On

Feminist Ire

(Guest post by Izzy Kamikaze)

This is part of a longer (maybe much longer) work in progress about #coponcomrades – a recent social media kerfuffle here in Ireland, that seems quite instructive and worth spending more time on. I was writing Part One and Part Two at the same time, but Part Two finished itself first and so they are being published out of sequence.

The story so far is basically that a young-to-me (35ish) very effective working class male activist has published a piece in a national newspaper, decrying “identity politics” and the notion that “a straight, white male” can carry any privilege if he is also working class. Amongst other responses, a group of feminist women have signed up to a joint statement, acknowledging the disadvantage of working class men, but otherwise disagreeing.

The usual social media handbags at dawn has ensued. Two days ago, a male…

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Cop on Comrades

Feminist Ire

We are a group of activist women from a wide variety of backgrounds, races, ethnicities, and sexual orientations. Last week, a good number of the left-wing men we work and organise with seriously disappointed us. These men – our friends, our fellow trade unionists, activists, writers, organisers, and artists – shared and commented on a reductive and damaging article written by Frankie Gaffney, which was published in the Irish Times.

We live in a world where our advantages are tangled up with the things that disadvantage us – some of us are working class, some queer, some of us are poor, some of us come from minority ethnic groups or have disabilities or don’t enjoy the security of citizenship. As well, some of us have had a multitude of opportunities in our lives while some of us have had to fight our way through. It is an obligation on…

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Blog Portfolio

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Source: Oireachtas Retort on Twitter (@Oireachtas_RX)

When were told in our research methods class at the beginning of my postgraduate career that we were required to blog as part of our programmes, I was really excited but also quite worried. I had blogged before – mostly on issues of feminism and social justice – but no matter what I wrote about, I felt that my strong emotional ties to the causes I discussed always lead to controversy. More often than not, I was berated on social media or by my peers in my undergraduate degree. I quickly left that blog behind, partially because the reactions that I received impacted negatively on my metal health. The prospect of starting it all again with different motivations was liberating, because I loved blogging. I feel that this blogging experience has been more positive overall, and I have felt so privileged to be able to share a communal platform with likeminded individuals. I have learned a great deal about myself and my academic career path, as well as learning so much from all the candidates across the three MA programmes. This blog post will trace the evolution that my blog has taken over the course of my MA experience, and will show how I came to choose my dissertation topic – contemporary Irish women’s protest poetry.

After the first EN6009 class where we were assigned our blogging task, I had decided that I would dedicate my blog to women’s writing, as I had intended to focus on that area before I began the programme. My first blog detailed why I chose the programme:

I am determined in this MA programme to seek out the lost Irish woman’s voice in literature, especially in literature which deals with trauma. Ireland is an island which has seen many devastations: English occupation, agrarian uprisings, famine and war, to name a few. Much of the time, I have found that this trauma is coded as masculine. We forget about the women involved in the Rising, the women who went on hunger strike. The women who suffered at the hands of the Magdalene Laundries. The women who can only be referred to as X and Y.

Before I came into the masters programme, I had become very interested in trauma and memory studies after studying contemporary Irish literature during my undergraduate degree. Who we remember and who we forget is largely determined by society – a society that is in denial about how much of a stronghold archaic religious and patriarchal values and norms continue to have on it. It was difficult to love being an academic so much, yet be so angry for academia to leave women in the dark, sunken recesses outside the literary canon:

I want to research Irish women’s writing to make connections with the experiences of the authors and their literary women. In turn, I hope that by creating a platform for these women to be heard, I will find my own voice.

I must write about Irish women’s suffering because in my mind I can still hear Dark Rosaleen weeping, begging to be free.

I was delighted that the first research seminar I attended in the School of English was held by Kathy D’Arcy, a Corkonian poet and PhD candidate in Creative Writing at UCC. After this seminar, it felt incredibly validating to know that D’Arcy had similar research interests to me – recovering forgotten women through her work:

Her own poetry is personal and political, drawing on the intersections between religion, history and gender in her life and the lives of Irish women. The spoken word piece she performed at the seminar used two recordings in tandem with her own live reading. This created a hypnotic chanting, an echo of not only D’Arcy’s past, but the women who have suffered throughout Irish history. Listening to her perform her work in 2016 is significant; not just because it is the centenary of the Easter Rising, but also because of the ‘debate’ over the Eighth Amendment that has seemed to have peaked in the coming years. The intertwining of gender and nation is seen in D’Arcy’s work, but it is not Éire, the fair maiden, who seeks to be free. It is D’Arcy herself.

Although I had an interest in poetry before I began my masters (having written some myself!), I had not intended to focus my dissertation on poetry at this point. I was still interested in looking at modernist writing that dealt with trauma and memory. However, something in D’Arcy’s seminar spurred something in me, that lured me closer to focusing on poetry. The connections that I drew between Eavan Boland and Kathy D’Arcy’s work were the root of this. Like Boland, D’Arcy refused to allow Irish women writers slip between the cracks and be written out of history by patriarchal determinants:

Boland recognises the importance of the representation of women in Irish literature, which has largely been dominated by men. She acknowledges that women are worthy enough to be heard, rather than sidelined. Boland noted in her essay “that the women of the Irish past were defeated” and through her work, she refuses to let them be defeated again (82). In the same way, D’Arcy has situated Irish women at the forefront through her research.

I felt extremely privileged to have had a chance to hear Kathy perform one of her poems that she was working on as part of her PhD. Having attended poetry readings back home in Limerick, it is rare occurrence that a woman will read. I am also grateful that during my time here at UCC I was able to attend one of the Reading Writing Series featuring the poets Éilís Ní Dhuibhne and Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin.

In the following blog post, I discussed this poetry reading. I found it very interesting that there was a commonality between these two writers and Kathy D’Arcy’s poetry. There was a focus on the sharing of women’s experiences – not solely their own. There seemed to be a common, unspoken duty that the three women had taken on to bring women’s issues to the forefront in their writing. I found Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin’s poetry particularly moving:

Ní Chuilleanáin explained that Bessborough was a Mother and Baby Home in Cork, that was a well known place to her as child. Often used as a threat if she was behaving badly, the Mother and Baby Home was truly a place of punishment for ‘wayward’ women. Ní Chuilleanáin revealed to the audience that she wanted to write about the experiences of others that were still important to her.

After the readings, I did some research on Bessborough, and my findings were simultaneously unsurprising and shocking. From forced incarceration due to societal stigma, to falsified death records to allow ‘brokered’ adoptions,  the reports from Bessborough illuminate the horrors that the women had to endure. The women who are often forgotten, marginalised and nameless.

Ní Chuilleanáin’s want to commemorate the women of Bessborough (as well as the other women in her poetry) highlights the lack of attention paid to suffering women, rebellious women and women that have faded out into the past like a wisp of smoke.

Because we were required to write on two seminars as part of the blogging assignment, I also wrote about a paper given by Dr. Heather Laird in the same blog post. Dr. Laird’s paper really interested because of her focus on commemoration in Irish history, and how only some women have been recorded as revolutionaries:

Dr. Laird asserted in this seminar that history is a selective attempt to make sense of the past. Unfortunately, this selective attempt has often relegated women to a sentence in the history books.

Dr. Laird also commented on the idea of ‘exceptional’ women, which I have mentioned my previous post on women’s poetry. Dr. Laird explained that there was a select few women who defied the class and gender ‘guidelines’ of commemoration to be allowed recognition in the centenary of 1916.

Dr. Laird’s seminar inspired me to go back and look at notes that I had made earlier in the year when I attended a Limerick Feminist Network meeting on 1916 Rising. For the first time in my life I had learned about women’s involvement in the Rising, and also that quite a number of those women fit into the LGBT demographic. Being a queer woman, it’s even harder to find validating narratives in Irish history. Even with the passing of the Marriage Equality referendum in 2015, there is still a lot to be done in terms of recovering Irish LGBT history. Thankfully, Orla Egan, a Cork historian has written a fantastic book on Cork’s queer history.

After writing that seminar review, I began to think a lot about my position as a queer woman, activist and an academic, and began to reconsider my dissertation’s direction. Over the Christmas break, I had decided that I would focus my dissertation on Marina Carr. I wanted to focus on how trauma complicates memory in her plays, and how this reflects the status of women in postcolonial Ireland. I had just finished reading Woman and Scarecrow in preparation for our Gender and Sexuality module. This was my second time studying Carr’s work, having studied Portia Coughlan as part of my undergraduate degree. Carr’s work always bewitched me in its tragic portrayal of the Irish female experience, moulded by Greek myth and Beckettian settings. But something did not feel right when I was doing the initial research. Much of the Carr criticism I read argued that the women in her plays were doomed, hopeless and lacking in agency. Having always considered Carr’s leading women as agentic beings, it was deflating to see that the tragic lives and ends of Portia, Woman, Hesther et al. were all viewed negatively.

I experienced a slight crisis because of this. I did not feel I had a strong enough argument and I began to panic. I was extremely grateful to have the blog in this instance, as I could go back through the first semester and trace what had interested me.

My interest in trauma and memory studies never waned throughout the year, but it was actually my post on #EditWikiLit that made me think about protest poetry. It was my first experience ever editing a Wikipedia page, and it was quite daunting in the beginning. But the edit-a-thon made me realise that I too was like Kathy D’Arcy, Eavan Boland and Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin – I was excavating the histories of forgotten Irish women, and putting them online. Getting to add to Nell McCafferty’s Wikipedia page was a pleasure, as I loved to return to her journalistic writing. As well as this, I had found many resources in preparation for this in-class assignment that dealt with the Women’s Liberation Movement. Those Irish women of the 1970s that rattled the cages across the country would always be my heroes. Their actions had shaped who I was today.

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My edits to Nell McCafferty’s Wikipedia Page

The conclusion to this reflective piece on the #EditWikiLit spurred my interest in writing on protest and Irish society:

Although I have written about this before on this blog, I think it is important to reiterate the erasure of Irish women’s contribution and achievements. […] There is revolution in writing.

After #EditWikiLit, I decided to write on the Fempower Conference that I helped to organise with UCC Feminist Society. The conference allowed for me to intersect my personal activism with my academic interests, and I felt extremely comfortable presenting my work in front of the large crowds in attendance. It felt more that just presenting a paper – it felt like making change.

I decided that I would focus on the revolution in writing, and began to research Irish protest poetry. Unsurprisingly, I was met with a largely male body of work, with Yeats’ “Easter 1916” at the forefront. Looking back at my previous blog posts before deciding on the topic, I had reflected on numerous Irish women poets who challenged the status quo and critiqued Irish societal norms. So why are they absent from being classified alongside protest poetry? Did it have to be masculine to be revolutionary?

I wrote a blog post based on a presentation I gave as part of my film module which also questioned the gendered aspects of revolution in Ireland. I was really proud of my work on the imagery of the sea in Rocky Road To DublinHush-A-Bye Baby and We Face This Land, but I wanted to expand on this after the presentation, as I felt that I had not been intersectional enough in my research:

To conclude the presentation, I argued that the progression of Irish cinema has called for a deconstruction of the symbol of woman as nation, and reclamation of the isolating image of the sea as revolutionary. However, I have reconsidered my position after watching Lenny Abrahamson’s Adam & Paul and Garage.

Whilst these three films all discuss the revolutionary potential women have in fighting for bodily autonomy, Abrahamson’s films focus on marginalised masculinities who are pushed into liminal spaces.

I think that self-critique is very important, and having the blog allowed me to reflect on my opinions and initial thoughts after attending seminars and reading texts for class. Keeping a critical mindset is essential for research, and it can sometimes be tempting to take the easy way out and take things at face value. But it is not radical to support a view that is inherently patriarchal and erases the experiences of other people:

For these filmmakers, they have the power, agency and the money to make films with a sociopolitical narrative. It is unsurprising that they are mostly middle-class white men making these films. I fully believe that art can change the world, and can be demonstrative in tackling oppressive structures. However, it is important to look beyond that, and critique our own viewpoint and ideologies. Whilst these films have offered scathing and powerful critiques of Irish society, we must ask: do they really give a voice to the voiceless?

One’s feminism is nothing if it is not intersectional.

I really wanted to write about more than just white, middle class, heterosexual women’s experience. I have found that a lot of feminist spaces can disregard a lot of demographics, often excluding the experience of the travelling community, women in direct provision or members of the LGBT community. Because protest poetry comes from the margins, a lot more voices can be heard.

I was lucky enough to have interviewed Ailbhe Smyth during the Fempower conference, and she told the room that being a feminist requires a lot of disruption in daily life. I felt like it was a duty for me to write about Irish women’s protest and disruption, so that they cannot be left outside history:

We must continue to disrupt; whether with the pen, the film camera or simply the power of one’s voice. Because each individual disruption creates a much bigger eruption – and you can’t put a lid on a volcano.

The two poets that I have decided to focus on are Sarah Clancy and Elaine Feeney – women who write about poverty, war, austerity politics and Irish women’s experience, and challenge global oppressive structures. I had not initially decided on these poets, but their work perfectly encapsulates revolution through writing. I thought back to the times I had seen Sarah Clancy perform her poetry. The last time I saw her read was at The Big Debate during the Limerick Spring Festival. There was something gripping about her work that captivated the room, made you reconsider everything, but most of all made you feel something. First sadness, then a fire inside. I have never had the opportunity to see Elaine Feeney perform, but I have seen a lot of her spoken word videos from social media. The first time I heard her poem “Mass”, I felt the same way I did when I heard Sarah perform. There was something about these women that had the spirit of by-gone revolutionaries in their lyrics.

I am grateful for having the blog throughout the MA programme, as it kept me on course with research and writing regularly helped to improve my writing style. One of the most enjoyable things about the blog was the blogging community that had been built up of the Irish Writing and Film, Modernities and Irish Studies MA programmes. As we did not have a lot of interactions with the other programmes, it was nice to get to know and read about other people’s research interests, especially when they connect with your own.

It was exciting to see everyone’s research topic for their dissertation come together through the blog also, and connecting with one another for the Textualities conference was my favourite experience of this masters programme:

I really felt that after the conference we established long lasting relationships through mutual interests. There was great camaraderie on the day, with the exchange of texts and articles that would help one another. The MA can be quite an isolating experience, with little interaction outside of classes and seminars. Having everyone together created a really positive and supportive environment. Everyone gave their all on the day, and there were many stand out performances.

As I had mentioned in the previous blog post on Fempower, I often felt like academia was not going to be for me during the course of the masters. Having the blog and presenting my work at Textualities gave me greater confidence in myself. I am grateful for my peers and lecturers that have been so supportive throughout the whole experience, for their comments and advice. Overall, the blogging experience has been so much more positive than my previous one, and I am excited to continue blogging my dissertation experience throughout the summer months, and I am looking forward to meeting with my peers and discussing our projects.

I hope that through my dissertation I will be able to show that contemporary Irish women’s protest poetry eclipses the past and usurps the future.

 

Works Cited

Boland, Eavan. “A Kind Of Scar: The Woman Poet In a National Tradition.” A Dozen Lips, Attic Press, 1994, pp. 72-92.

Reid, Ellen. “#EditWikiLit: Absent Achievements.” Reiding Women, 13 February 2017, https://reidingwomen.wordpress.com/2017/02/13/editwikilit-absent-achievements/.

—. “#Fempower: Solidarity in Disruption.” Reiding Women, 28 February 2017, https://reidingwomen.wordpress.com/2017/02/28/fempower-solidarity-in-disruption/.

—. “Just A Girl: Why I Chose To Research Irish Women’s Writing.” Reiding Women, 15 October 2016. https://reidingwomen.wordpress.com/2016/10/15/just-a-girl-why-i-chose-to-research-irish-womens-writing/.

—. “Outsiders, Always: Kathy D’Arcy and Irish Women’s Poetry.” Reiding Women, 7 November 2016, https://reidingwomen.wordpress.com/2016/11/07/outsiders-always-kathy-darcy-and-irish-womens-poetry/.

—. “Revolutionary Remembrance: UCC’s Department of English Commemorates Ireland’s Forgotten Women.” Reiding Women, 9 December 2016, https://reidingwomen.wordpress.com/2016/12/09/revolutionary-remembrance-uccs-department-of-english-comemmorates-irelands-forgotten-women/.

—. “Sea-Change?: The Symbol Of The Sea In Irish Cinema.” Reiding Women, 23 January 2017, https://reidingwomen.wordpress.com/2017/01/23/sea-change-the-symbol-of-the-sea-in-irish-cinema/.

—. “Textualities 2017: Conference Reflection.” Reiding Women, 20 March 2017, https://reidingwomen.wordpress.com/2017/03/20/textualities-2017-conference-reflection/.

Literature and IT Review

The working title of my MA dissertation is “Stand In Awe Of All Mná: Contemporary Irish Women’s Protest Poetry”. For this project, I will be analysing the work of the poets Sarah Clancy and Elaine Feeney.

Having done some preliminary research to look for peer reviewed pieces on the poets, I found that there has been no critical analysis of either of the poets’ work, except for reviews or interviews. For my dissertation, I would like to take an interdisciplinary approach in analysing their work. Through the three respective chapters, I would like to take a literary approach, an intersectional feminist approach and a sociological approach. Overall, I intend to show that Clancy and Feeney’s poetry, although rooted in Irish experience, connects to a wider canon of feminist protest poetry, and challenges global hegemonic patriarchal structures of oppression.

Both poets have published two volumes of poetry: Sarah Clancy has published Thanks For Nothing, Hippies (Salmon, 2012) and The Truth and Other Stories (Salmon, 2014). Elaine Feeney’s volumes are titled Where’s Katie? (Salmon, 2010) and The Radio Was Gospel (Salmon, 2013). I will analyse their poetry through close reading, paying attention to the form of the poems. I think that there is an interesting link between protest chants and spoken word poetry. Sarah Clancy often performs her work at protests, aligning her work as a distinctly disruptive art form. I will analyse videos of Clancy and Feeney performing their poetry, which are available on YouTube. David Caplan’s Questions Of Possibility (Oxford UP, 2006) on contemporary poetic form will aid me in analysing the poets’ form. Although Ian Peddie’s The Resisting Muse: Popular Music and Social Protest (Routledge, 2006) focuses on resistance in music, the marginalised positions of many of the artists discussed in the book challenge hegemonic structures in the society and genre. The writing of protest lyrics in music can be likened to the writing of poetry.

For the intersectional analysis of the poetry, I would like to analyse Clancy and Feeney’s work in terms of feminist literary theory. For this, I would like Hélène Cixous’ seminal text, “The Laugh of Medusa” (W.W. Norton & Company 2010), which proposes her theory of l’écriture feminine, which translates to “feminine writing”. Cixous’ essay argues that l’écriture feminine directly challenges patriarchal constructions of writing. I will argue that although both poets write from a marginal position as women in Irish society, through l’écriture feminine, they have the power to disrupt the literary canon. Thus, this adds a protest quality to their work.

As well as this, I would like to look at Anne Fogarty’s Essay “Deliberately Personal?: The Politics of Identity in Contemporary Irish Women’s Writing” (Nordic Irish Studies, 2002). Fogarty focuses on the work of four prolific authors in Irish writing: Paula Meehan, Deirdre Madden, Mary Morrissy and Marina Carr, and highlights how their work is not individualistic and insular, but reveals many issues in Irish identity and subjectivity in a postcolonial nation. Fogarty argues through the work of these four women writers addresses issues of Irish history and the family in Irish society, and questions the maternal identity that is enshrined in the Irish constitution. In my dissertation, I would like to argue that Clancy and Feeney’s poetry also accomplish this by challenging patriarchal assumptions of women in Irish society.

Although in many of their poems Clancy and Feeney have a distinct Irish voice, and situate their poems in an Irish setting, there is also a global element in their work which connects them to a global canon of women’s writing. Both poets comment on the oppression of women globally, as well as the atrocities of violence and war in other countries, noting that it is not dissimilar to the Irish experience. I will use Barbara Harlow’s book Resistance Literature (Routledge, 1987) to make links between the protest writing of women in different countries with Clancy and Feeney’s work. I am particularly interested in looking at the work of Sonia Sanchez and Gloria Anzaldúa, as both women have been involved in challenging hegemonic, patriarchal structures in America from marginalised positions.

For the sociological perspective, I would like to begin by looking at texts such as Richard Kearney’s Navigations (Syracuse UP, 2006), which contain essays on Irish culture which will help me to conceptualise the current stage of Irish society. I also intend to use Defining Events: Power, Resistance and Identity in Twenty-First Century Ireland (Manchester UP, 2015) edited by Rosie Meade and Fiona Dukelow to trace the changes in Irish society.

I would also like to look at “Reasonable People Vs The Sinister Fringe” (Critical Discourse Studies, 2016) by Martin Power, Eoin Devereux and Amanda Haynes which analysed media perceptions of protestors in the Right2Water movement in Ireland. As Clancy and Feeney are both activists and their poetry often calls for social justice and emancipation of subordinated people, I believe it is essential to analyse the societal and media perceptions of activists alongside their poetry. As well as this, Stuart Hall’s writing on representation and the media, especially his text “Deviancy, Politics, and the Media” (Routledge, 1993), will provide me with critical analysis of media perceptions of media perceptions of marginalised people.

As many of Clancy and Feeney’s poems comment on issues of poverty, I would like to also look at critiques of capitalism and neoliberalism as part of my dissertation research. Karl Marx’s Selected Writings (Hackett Publishing, 1994) and James Connolly’s revolutionary and anti-imperialist writings (Ediburgh UP, 2016) will be essential in this part of my dissertation, but also more contemporary works such as Neoliberalism: Beyond The Free Market (Edward Elgar, 2013) will be beneficial in providing critical theory of oppressive structures in the present global society.

I intend to contact both poets in order to interview them about their work. From these interviews, I hope to gain greater insight into their work from talking to them personally and building on previous interviews that the poets have given. I will add these interviews as appendices to the dissertation as useful companions to my completed work.

I will also use the library services at UCC, and online resources such as JSTOR and EBSCO Host to find more relevant critical pieces on women’s writing and protest poetry that will help me with my dissertation.

Works Cited

Caplan, David. Questions of Possibility: Contemporary Poetry and Poetic Form. Oxford University Press, London, 2006.

Cixous, Hélène. “The Laugh Of Medusa”. The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. Edited by Peter Simon, second ed., W. W. Norton & Company, New York, 2010,  pp. 1938-1959.

Clancy, Sarah. Thanks For Nothing, Hippies. Salmon Poetry, Clare, 2012.

Clancy, Sarah. The Truth and Other Stories. Salmon Poetry, Clare, 2014.

Connolly, James. The Revolutionary and Anti-Imperialist Writings of James Connolly. Edited by Conor McCarthy, Edinburgh University Press, Edinburgh, 2016.

Defining Events: Power, Resistance and Identity in Twenty-First Century Ireland. Edited by Fiona Dukelow and Rosie Meade, Manchester University Press, Manchester, 2015.

Feeney, Elaine. The Radio Was Gospel. Salmon Poetry, Clare, 2013.

Feeney, Elaine. Where’s Katie?. Salmon Poetry, Clare, 2010.

Fogarty, Anne. “Deliberately Personal?: The Politics of Identity in Contemporary Irish Women’s Writing”. Nordic, Irish Studies, vol. 1, 2002, pp. 1-17.

Hall, Stuart. “Deviancy, Politics, and the Media”The Lesbian and Gay Studies Reader, edited by Henry Abelove and Michelle Aina Barale, Routledge, New York, 1993, pp. 62-90.

Harlow, Barbara. Resistance Literature. Routledge, New York, 1987.

Kearney, Richard. Navigations: Collected Irish Essays 1976 – 2006. Syracuse University Press, New York, 2006.

Marx, Karl. Selected Writings. Edited, with introduction, by Lawrence H. Simon, Hackett Publishing Company, Indianapolis, 1994.

Neoliberalism: Beyond The Free Market. Edited by Damien Cahill, Lindy Edwards and Frank Stillwell, Edward Elgar, Cheltenham, 2013.

Peddie, Ian. The Resisting Muse: Popular Music and Social Protest. Routledge, 2006.

Power, Martin, Devereux, Eoin and Haynes, Amanda. “Reasonable People Vs The Sinister Fringe”. Critical Discourse Studies, vol. 13, no. 3, 2016, pp. 261-277.

Textualities 2017: Conference Reflection

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Although it has been some time since the tenth of March, I have had the time to reflect on the wonderful Textualities conference. It would be impossible to pick a highlight from the day – but the conference has definitely been the highlight of my masters.

Throughout the process of organising the conference, it was amazing to get to interact more with the Irish Studies and Modernities programmes. As part of the social media team of Textualities 2017, I got to work alongside my classmate, Amy Nolan, as well as Erin Bergin and Lena Schulte from the Irish Studies MA, and James Roche from the Modernities MA. We really worked well as a team, each focusing on a different social media platform. My main job was to work on our Twitter presence, and getting Dr. Gerardine Meaney to tweet about her support for us was a surreal experience, as I greatly admire her as an academic.

I really felt that after the conference we established long lasting relationships through mutual interests. There was great camaraderie on the day, with the exchange of texts and articles that would help one another. The MA can be quite an isolating experience, with little interaction outside of classes and seminars. Having everyone together created a really positive and supportive environment. Everyone gave their all on the day, and there were many stand out performances.

In the morning panel, I was particularly interested in Daniel Lynch’s interest in literature that pertains to Church abuse post 1990s. It never occurred to me how little fiction is written about Catholic abuse, especially when we consider how much the Church has detrimentally affected the lives of women and children in the State. I am very excited to see how Daniel’s project progresses, and I will definitely be asking him for a reading list!

Another presentation which really stood out to me was Eimear Sheehy’s presentation on Caryl Churchill. I was annoyed with myself that I had never heard of Churchill’s work, but I am so excited to explore her socialist feminist drama. There is nothing I love more than smashing the capitalist cis-hetero-patriarchy.

Being a massive horror fan and having done my undergraduate dissertation on women in cinema,  Zoe McCormack’s presentation on Women in Gothic Film was another stand out for me on the day. Her thesis will focus on the double in gothic cinema, using films such as Black Swan and Rebecca as examples. You can read her literature review for her dissertation here.

I was extremely nervous about presenting in front of my peers and the School of English. Moving from the University of Limerick to UCC really put me out of my comfort zone. Getting to know new people in classes and getting to know new lecturers was the most daunting thing for me. So having to stand in front of everyone across the School of English and the three MA programmes to talk about my research interests was my worst nightmare.

There was a lot of sleepless nights of thinking that my dissertation topic was useless and trivial. Even on the day, seeing all the fantastic proposals before me, I did not think I would be able to stand up and speak. Everything I had rehearsed seemed to have filtered out of my mind from the nights before. But I was completely overwhelmed with the support from my peers.

 

I would like to especially thank Josephine Fenton for all her kind words on the day and in her reflection post. I did not expect a round of applause from a room of people I admired and respected for my activism. That sound of appreciation made me feel that what I wanted to research actually mattered – not only that, but it was necessary.

Other than my presentation freezing at the beginning (sorry!), I think that my delivery had definitely improved from the early days of practicing. I was relieved to have finished my presentation over and done with, but what made the whole experience was Dr. Donna Alexander alerting me that Elaine Feeney, one of the poets I am researching, had tweeted me.

You can find my presentation slides over at https://www.emaze.com/@ATWFTWWW/contemporary-womens-protest-poetry

I would like to thank Dr. Anne Etienne for working with us all on our presentation skills, and Dr. Donna Alexander for all the tech skills pre-conference. Without Donna and Anne, the day would not have been such a success. I would also like to thank Cody Jarman, Dr. Heather Laird and Donna for their suggestions for my dissertation post-performance.

Overall, Textualities 2017 was a great experience that really boosted my confidence in public speaking and in myself. Here’s to the next one!

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Photo: Annie Curran

 

#Fempower: Solidarity in Disruption

Since starting my MA in UCC, there has been many times where I have felt like giving up. Reading articles about how women are more likely to drop out of their PhD programmes than their male peers, listening to women academics talk about their struggles of finding their place within their field, and then my own internal anxiety stemming from being a women and having worthy enough research interests.

However, joining the Feminist Society in UCC always gives me a reason to keep going. Not only is it a safe space full of supportive people, but it itself is a movement for change – a gathering of people who constantly campaign to make our campus, our city and our society a better, more equal place for all.

I was incredibly honoured to take the position of Repeal the 8th officer for the academic year, and we have run many successful events highlighting the importance of the need for reproductive rights in Ireland, including an experts panel on Repeal the 8th, online campaigns for choice and crafting with the Art Society for the Strike for Repeal.

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Knickers for Choice! Photo: Emmet Curtin For UCC Feminist Society.

Since my main research interests are in gender, sexuality and queer studies, being involved in the Feminist Society allows my academic life to intersect with my personal activism.

On the 18th of February 2017, UCC Feminist Society held their first ever Fempower: an all-Ireland inter-varsity feminist conference. Throughout the day, we held workshops on trans rights and history, how to run a successful feminist society, skills and self-care for repealing the 8th and burlesque.

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Photo: Emmet Curtin for UCC Feminist Society.

I was delighted to be able to contribute to the conference by giving a talk on my undergraduate thesis, A Feminist Critique of  Orange Is The New Black. Completing that thesis was an affirming moment in my decision to pursue a career in academia, and getting to showcase some of my academic work before our #Textualities17 on the 10th of March calmed my nerves about speaking in front of large groups.

 

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Yelling about the patriarchy, probably. Photo: Emmet Curtin For UCC Feminist Society.

As well as this, I also chaired the Repeal The 8th Panel, which featured Ailbhe Smyth and Tara Flynn. Getting to interview Tara and Ailbhe was an insightful and moving experience. These women are my heroes. They constantly come up against the Irish status quo and demand to be respected, demand that the masses of women and people capable of birth receive their human rights. Ailbhe is one of the longest campaigners for the repeal of the eighth amendment, now holding the position of Convenor of the Coalition to Repeal The Eighth Amendment. Tara has battled through stigma and shame and droves of online trolls to fight for bodily autonomy, and still remains positive that we will be granted reproductive justice. These are arguably two of Ireland’s most resilient activists.

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Photo: Emmet Curtin For UCC Feminist Society.

Fempower came at a really significant time in both my personal life and my academic career. We had just finished our Gender and Sexuality module as part of the Irish Writing & Film MA, Donald Trump had re-triggered the global gag rule, the Citizens’ Assembly had just had another meeting on the 8th amendment and I had just decided what my MA dissertation would be focused on – contemporary Irish women’s protest poetry. These timely intersections between my academic and personal lives, and global and national politics have reconsolidated my feelings towards women/trans/gender non-conforming peoples’ rights in Ireland – that the battle is not even half won.

Our first class with Dr. Cliona Ó Gallchóir focused on some critical pieces that dealt with the situation of women, people of colour and LGBTQ+ people in Ireland. I was particularly interested in Elizabeth Butler-Cullingford’s piece “Seamus and Sinéad: From ‘Limbo’ to Saturday Night Live by way of Hush-A-Bye Baby“, as I had done some research on Margo Harkin’s film before taking the class (You can read my post on it here).

In Butler Cullingford’s piece, there are a number of excerpts from interviews and letters from Sinéad O’Connor and Margo Harkin, which still feel entirely prescient, despite this article being published in 1994.

O’Connor believed that Ireland has “backward views on femininity and sexuality” (Butler Cullingford 47), which I believe has continued even though we have become more ‘progressive’ since passing marriage equality.

Harkin’s inclusion of the blue fertiliser bag, matched with the blue of the Virgin Mary’s dress in Hush-A-Bye Baby recalled the “terrible events of 1984″(Butler Cullingford 48), so that they would be “an acknowledgment of the pain of these women” (Harkin in Butler Cullingford 48). Today, Hush-A-Bye Baby still resonates with audiences, as the 1967 UK Abortion Act has not been extended to Northern Ireland, nor do we have reproductive justice in the Republic. Just as Heaney’s poem illustrates in the film, Irish women and people capable of birth continue to be trapped in limbo.

After Dr. Ó Gallchóir’s theory classes, the first text that we studied as part of this module was Marina Carr’s Woman and Scarecrow. Before taking the MA, I had only studied Carr’s Portia Coughlan (and loved it), so I was excited to have another foray into the  playwright’s work. Carr’s play is funny yet poignant, and shines a spotlight on the often forgotten tragedies and hardships that women face in Ireland. Aptly set in an absurd bedroom, with something lurking in the closet – snarling – we find a nameless woman grappling with her past, trying to tell herself that everything is fine. Everything has been fine.

But the reality for many women in Ireland continues to not be fine.

Adrienne Rich worte that “all women are seen primarily as mothers [and] all mothers are expected to experience motherhood unambivalently in accordance with patriarchal values” (Rich in McCarthy 102). This reflects back on the Irish constitution, which refers to women homemakers and mothers, but not individuals capable of agency, choice and autonomy.

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Articles 41.2.1 and 41.2.2 of The Irish Constitution

In Attracta Ingram’s essay “Home and Away: The Unequal Vista for Irish Women”, she states that “a woman who becomes pregnant [in Ireland] has to forfeit her claims as an equal citizen to determine for herself the sacrifices she will make for the sake of another” (153-154). Although published in 1992, twenty-five years later nothing has changed.

One thing Ailbhe Smyth said at Fempower continues to stay with me. It resonates with the Gender and Sexuality module, with Harkin’s film,  with O’Connor’s tearing of the image of Pope John Paul II, and with Carr’s Woman and Scarecrow:

Feminism is about disruption. That’s what we are here for.

We must continue to disrupt; whether with the pen, the film camera or simply the power of one’s voice. Because each individual disruption creates a much bigger eruption – and you can’t put a lid on a volcano.

 

Works Cited

 

Butler Cullingford, Elizabeth. “Seamus and Sinéad: From ‘Limbo’ to Saturday Night Live by way of Hush-A-Bye Baby.” Colby Quaterly, vol. 30, no. 1, 1994, pp. 43-61.

Carr, Marina. Woman and Scarecrow, Gallery Press, 2006.

Ingram, Attracta. “Home and Away: The Unequal Vista For Irish Women.” The Abortion Papers Ireland: Volume One, edited by Ailbhe Smyth, Attic Press, 1992, pp. 149-156.

McCarthy, Aine. “‘O Mother Where Art Thou?’ Irish Mothers And Irish Fiction In The Twentieth Century.” Motherhood In Ireland, edited by Patricia Kennedy, Mercier Press, 2004, pp. 95-107. 

 

#EditWikiLit: Absent Achievements

On the 8th of February 2017, three of the MA programmes at UCC took part in #EditWikiLit. The activity was facilitated by Dr. Donna Alexander of the School of English/Department of Spanish, Portuguese and Latin Americas studies at the university. At first, the exercise was extremely daunting to me – I did not think that I would be able to contribute to the vast body of collected knowledge on Wikipedia in a positive way. However, I was surprised that there was many absences present on the digital encyclopedia that should have been recorded.

As readers of this blog will know, I am very interested in Irish women’s writing in particular. For this exercise, I decided that I would work on editing the pages of Irish women writers that I admire: Nell McCafferty, Marina Carr, Anne Enright and Edna O’Brien. All four women have shaped my feminism as an Irish woman, but have also been role models for me in pursuing my own career in academia and writing.

What I noticed when researching for this in-class assignment was there was a distinct lack of Nell McCafferty’s achievements as a feminist and a journalist recorded on her Wikipedia page.

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McCafferty’s Wikipedia page before edits

For example, there is no mention of her as a founding member of the Irish Women’s Liberation Movement, a collective which challenged the sexist and restrictive social norms of Ireland in the 1970s.

I decided to remedy this, and used Anne Stopper’s Monday At Gaj’s, as well as footage from the 1971 contraceptive train  as sources when editing this section.

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My edits to the Career section of McCafferty’s Wikipedia page

I also thought it would be useful to add Colm Tóibín’s praise of McCafferty in this section. Her journalistic writing has actively critiqued the Catholic Church’s influence on Irish sociopolitical affairs, especially in terms of child abuse and the control of women in the Irish state. Her collected writing was also omitted from the bibliography section.

I was pleased to see it had been recorded that McCafferty received an honorary doctorate in UCC in October for her contribution to the Irish feminist movement through the years. I was lucky enough to speak with McCafferty at this occasion.

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Source: Author’s own

Anne Enright’s Wikipedia page had some very important information missing. I was completely surprised to see that no one had recorded her appointment as the inaugural Laureate for Irish Fiction. Was it because she is a woman? Would it had been different if it was a man? It is a prestigious position to hold, and extremely validating for Irish women to see such a successful woman be held to such high regard.

My classmate, Daniel, did extensive work on Enright for his contribution to #EditWikiLit. You can check out his post on his work here.

My final edits for #EditWikiLit were minor contributions to Edna O’Brien and Marina Carr’s pages.

 

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My contribution to Marina Carr’s Wikipedia page: A section of the programme note from the Abbey production of By the Bog of Cats…

Overall, #EditWikiLit was an incredibly rewarding and enjoyable experience, as well as an eye-opening one. Although I have written about this before on this blog, I think it is important to reiterate the erasure of Irish women’s contribution and achievements. I am proud to have contributed to adding this very important biographical information to the pages of Nell McCafferty and Anne Enright. There is revolution in writing.

Thank you to Dr. Alexander, to my fellow MA students and to all those who followed our Edit-A-Thon!

Works Cited

Arts Council. “Laureate For Irish Fiction.” http://www.artscouncil.ie/laureate/. Accessed 8th February 2017.

McCafferty, Nell. Goodnight Sisters: Selected Writing of Nell McCafferty, Attic Press, Dublin, 1987.

McCafferty, Nell. Goodnight, Sisters…: Selected Writings, Volume Two, Attic Press, Dublin, 1987.

McGuinness, Frank. “Programme Note.” The Theatre of Marina Carr: ‘before rules was made’, edited by Cathy Leeney and Anna McMullan, Carnysfort Press, Dublin, 2003, pp. 87-88.

O’Brien, Edna. The Country Girls, Hutchinson, 1960.

RTE Archives. “Women’s Lib and Contraceptive Train.” http://www.rte.ie/archives/exhibitions/1666-women-and-society/370226-contraceptive-train/. Accessed 8th February 2017.

Stopper, Anne. Monday At Gaj’s: The Story of The Irish Women’s Liberation Movement, Liffey Press, 2006.

 

Sea-Change?: The Symbol of the Sea in Irish Cinema

 

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Still from We Face This Land. Source: YouTube.

As part of our Irish cinema class, we were required to present on a film that we had studied. For my presentation, I decided to focus on the imagery of the sea in the film Rocky Road To Dublin, and how this imagery has pervaded throughout Irish cinema across generations to symbolise women’s isolation within Ireland. This blog post will detail the content of the presentation, but I would also like to include some more thoughts that I have been musing on about the imagery of the sea in Irish cinema since I gave the presentation.

The field of semiotics is difficult to pin down: each sign and symbol is open to a number of different interpretations. For example, Carl Jung saw the sea as a symbol of the collective unconscious, calling it “the birth of visions” (177-8). This is because the life experiences of each person differ greatly, even if we are unified by one culture and/or one nation.

As standpoint theory suggests, marginalised people’s experience is shaped by the power exerted over them; and therefore they have a greater understanding of the world around them, and what is needed to improve it (Hartsock 218). In Ireland, the Church-State and/or the coloniser are the authoritative forces that sculpt the lives of the Irish people.

For my presentation, I hypothesised that marginalised people within Irish society could find meaning in oppositional imagery than the one being produced by the State. Previous imagery of Ireland in cinema place a great focus on the land, which was heavily feminised. Films like The Quiet Man presented Ireland as a place of childhood nostalgia, a return to the motherland, but also a place of sexual fulfilment.  This is illustrated by the shots of curvaceous, rolling hills at the beginning of the film, interjected with Maureen O’Hara as the red-haired maiden Mary Kate, who will become Sean Thornton’s bride.

Gerardine Meaney has stated that Irish women were “not merely transformed into symbols of the nation”, but were emblems of a territory that needed to be conquered by its ‘rightful owner’ (“Nation” 191). Both Ireland and the British are responsible in reproducing images of Ireland as a woman. As we have studied in our programme, the aisling poems of the late 17th, and 18th centuries, Irish poets began to depict Ireland as an old woman calling on her sons to fight for her, or a beautiful maiden captured by the imperial forces. This was replicated in the poetry of James Clarence Mangan and W.B. Yeats. The British in turn feminised Ireland and constructed images of Irish people as “primitive” to argue that their presence is for the greater good: their invasion was a civilising mission to eradicate an uncouth culture. And although these images were constructed years before, British and American films about Ireland continued to appropriate these gendered images of the Irish nation, and the State did not do anything to combat this.

Enter Peter Lennon: One of the directors who challenged the status quo through the medium of film. Rocky Road To Dublin gave a scathing critique of Irish society, especially focusing on the Catholic Church’s influence on the people. Starting from early education, boys and girls were taught how to behave properly and live sinless lives. What I found most interesting about Lennon’s film was his use of the sea imagery in the section on the bodily autonomy of women.

The unnamed woman voices her concerns about her own bodily autonomy because of the influence of the Catholic Church on societal norms and values. The woman states that she is “terrified of getting pregnant again” and is disgusted that the authoritative powers do not understand the adversity that women face daily. Her closing remark in this sequence of tracking shots of the sea is one filled with vitriol: “[they] think women should grin and bear [pregnancy]”. The absence of human life in this scene constructs a sense of desolation and despair – she has no one to turn to because no one understands, or is willing to even try to. This scene is extremely poignant; her account proves that women are not seen as equal under Irish Law. The scene also has an eerie prophetic quality: the same year that Rocky Road To Dublin was filmed, the UK passed the 1967 Abortion Act. As a contemporary viewer of the film, this seems to be illustrative of the travel women have had to make to receive appropriate healthcare since the film’s release.

While it can be argued that the married woman’s anonymity is a protective measure against societal stigma, the absence of women in Lennon’s film as a whole disregards the importance of women’s involvement in revolution: a concept which has historically been coded as masculine. A focal point in Lennon’s film is the criticism of censorship. As well as this, there is an absence of Irish women authors on the banned books list, with only two women writers featuring at all – both are French. Lennon completely disregards the banning of Edna O’Brien’s The Country Girls (1960), which explicitly deals with the exploration of female sexuality. Archbishop McQuaid referred to the book as “a smear on womanhood” (O’Connor “Girl Trouble”), and O’Brien’s parish priest in her native village of Tuamgraney, Co.Clare burned the only existing copies that made its way to a bookshop in Limerick (Cooke “Edna”). So whilst Peter Lennon condemns the Church’s involvement in State law, he omits one of Ireland’s most prolific and daring authors, who wanted to challenge the status quo just as much as he did. Lennon’s intentions were good – yet still plays into a patriarchal assumption that masculinity can be the sole revolutionary gender.

The next film I analysed for my presentation was Margo Harkin’s 1990 drama Hush-A-Bye Baby. The film follows the life of fifteen-year old Goretti, who is growing up in Derry in the 1980s. Amidst the Troubles and the often painful act of growing up, Goretti finds herself pregnant and unable to obtain an abortion. Goretti’s agency is suspended due to many conflicting forces: her Catholicism, her nationalism and her ‘traditional’ Irish identity come up against British occupation, sectarian violence, and her desire to have bodily autonomy. She cannot reveal that she is pregnant because of the shame associated with illegitimate pregnancy and extramarital sex, and when she tries to communicate with her imprisoned boyfriend, Ciarán, the letters are confiscated because they are written in Irish.

Like Lennon’s film, Harkin focuses on the symbol of the sea in order to highlight Goretti’s alienation under these authoritative forces. Harkin’s physical placement of Goretti by the beach is much more direct than Lennon’s tracking shots of the sea in expressing the movement of Irish women into liminal spaces. Gerardine Meaney refers to this placement as “the site of keenest desolation for the young pregnant protagonist” (Meaney “Landscape” 33). The scene at the beach could be read as an attempt at revolution, as Goretti ponders and discusses the possibility with her friend, Dinky on the beach. However, Goretti’s attempt to be liberated of the burden of her unwanted pregnancy is fruitless. This is marked especially by her journey back from the beach where her and Dinky come into contact with a figure of the Virgin Mary. The grotto’s colour reflects the same bright blue fabric being washed away in the scene previously, highlighting the pervasiveness of Catholicism in Irish society.

The final film which I discussed in this presentation was Dave Tynan’s We Face This Land. Tynan’s film interweaves the setting on the sea with the dialogue to highlight the threat that water has posed to women over hundreds of years. One of the women asks: “How do you have any other choice but the water?” – a question which has multiple layers, but all the while signalling to the question of enforced pregnancy and bodily autonomy in Ireland. The title of the film (written by author Sarah Maria Griffin) immediately rejects the idea of woman as an emblem of the land. The notion of Mother Ireland is deconstructed further as one of the cast members defiantly states, “A body is a body […] not a country”. The women triumphantly walk towards the sea in an almost purging fashion to remove themselves from the land, casting off the poetic tradition imposed on them. Although the water has marginalised women for centuries, out of oppression springs revolution. The women of We Face This Land cleanse themselves of Ireland’s sociopolitical past, and in doing so birth a new vision and a new hope.

To conclude the presentation, I argued that the progression of Irish cinema has called for a deconstruction of the symbol of woman as nation, and reclamation of the isolating image of the sea as revolutionary. However, I have reconsidered my position after watching Lenny Abrahamson’s Adam & Paul and Garage.

Whilst these three films all discuss the revolutionary potential women have in fighting for bodily autonomy, Abrahamson’s films focus on marginalised masculinities who are pushed into liminal spaces. Adam & Paul does not offer much hope in terms of late capitalist society and its effect on masculinity for the underclass. The final scene shows Adam and Paul lying on a beach opposite the Poolbeg Generating Towers. This image is a callback to the first scene which shows the towers in the distance. The movement of Adam and Paul closer to the sea symbolises their further marginalisation away from the hearth of Dublin’s Celtic Tiger economy. In the same way in Garage, the final scene shows Josie entering the stream, which suggests that he will commit suicide. Water for the male protagonists in these films cannot be seen as a liberating force; rather, the water is a means to an end for their tragic existences.

After reconsidering the image of the sea with these films in mind, I was reminded of Patricia Hill Collins’ theory of the matrix of domination: that one’s race, gender, sex, sexuality and ability etc. create an interlocking grid of oppression depending on how privileged one is.

In Ireland, there is a lot of erasure of class and race in terms of social problems. For example, we talk about fighting for bodily autonomy for all, but often leave those who are refugees out of the narrative. Under neoliberalism, there is a greater focus on the ‘individual’, and the individual’s capacity for agency and empowerment in this ‘free’ society (Willis et al. 5). However, this focus on “individual subjectivities” allows blame for societal malfunctions to be placed on “individual recklessness”, because according to neoliberal ideology, a person makes their own life choices with little state intervention (5).

Women who need access to abortion because they have been become pregnant due to rape are seen as “asking for it”. Refugee women seeking an abortion “made the choice to leave their own country”, where it may have been legal before. A homeless man dies from exposure, but it is his own fault: his addiction led him there.

For these filmmakers, they have the power, agency and the money to make films with a sociopolitical narrative. It is unsurprising that they are mostly middle-class white men making these films. I fully believe that art can change the world, and can be demonstrative in tackling oppressive structures. However, it is important to look beyond that, and critique our own viewpoint and ideologies. Whilst these films have offered scathing and powerful critiques of Irish society, we must ask: do they really give a voice to the voiceless?

One’s feminism is nothing if it is not intersectional.

 

Works Cited

Abrahamson, Lenny. Adam and Paul, Element Pictures, Ireland, 2004.

−−−−−−. Garage, Element Pictures, Ireland, 2007.

Cooke, Rachel. “Edna O’Brien: ‘A writer’s imaginative life commences in childhood’.” The Guardian, 2011, https://www.theguardian.com/books/2011/feb/06/edna-obrien-ireland-interview?INTCMP=SRCH.

Harkin, Margo. Hush-A-Bye Baby, Derry Film & Video Workshop, 1990.

Hartsock, Nancy. “The Feminist Standpoint.” The Second Wave: A Reader In Feminist Theory, edited by Linda J. Nicholson, first edition, Routledge, 1997, pp. 218.

Jung, Carl. “The Psychology of the Child Archetype.” The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious, translated by R.F.C. Hull, second edition, Princeton University Press, 1968, pp. 177-178.

Lennon, Peter. Rocky Road To Dublin, 1968.

Meaney, Gerardine. “Introduction.” Gender, Ireland, and Cultural Change: Race, Sex, and Nation, Routledge, 2010, pp. xix.

−−−−−−. “Landscapes of Desire: Women and Ireland in Twentieth Century Film.” Gender, Ireland, and Cultural Change: Race, Sex, and Nation, Routledge, 2010, pp. 21-40.

−−−−−−. “Sex and Nation: Women in Irish Culture and Politics.” A Dozen Lips, Attic Press, 1994, pp. 191.

O’Connor, Maureen. “Girl Trouble.” Dublin Review of Books, 2014, http://www.drb.ie/essays/girl-trouble.

Tynan, Dave. We Face This Land, 2016, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=571vnkdrWC0.

Willis, Katie, et al. Social Justice and Neoliberalism: Global Perspectives, Palgrave Macmillan, 2008.

 

 

Revolutionary Remembrance: UCC’s Department of English Commemorates Ireland’s Forgotten Women

Followers of this academic blog will know that I am very interested in Ireland’s past, specifically in terms of memory and remembrance. I am very interested in what is omitted, especially when those gaps should contain the narratives of women. I am thankful that in the month of November UCC’s English department had several seminars which involved Irish women, memory and commemoration.

I was privileged enough to have been able to attend readings by both Éilís Ní Dhuibhne and Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin in UCC as part of the English department’s Reading Writing series on the 8th of November. Both authors read very emotionally charged work, but Ní Chuilleanáin’s poem “Bessborough” particularly interested me because of her reasoning behind writing it. Many of the experiences that she cited in her reading were not her own; yet I could see that Ní Chuilleanáin has a continued empathy for the marginalised in the Irish past, especially women.

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Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin.  Source: Poetry Ireland.

Ní Chuilleanáin explained that Bessborough was a Mother and Baby Home in Cork, that was a well known place to her as child. Often used as a threat if she was behaving badly, the Mother and Baby Home was truly a place of punishment for ‘wayward’ women. Ní Chuilleanáin revealed to the audience that she wanted to write about the experiences of others that were still important to her.

After the readings, I did some research on Bessborough, and my findings were simultaneously unsurprising and shocking. From forced incarceration due to societal stigma, to falsified death records to allow ‘brokered’ adoptions,  the reports from Bessborough illuminate the horrors that the women had to endure. The women who are often forgotten, marginalised and nameless.

Ní Chuilleanáin’s want to commemorate the women of Bessborough (as well as the other women in her poetry) highlights the lack of attention paid to suffering women, rebellious women and women that have faded out into the past like a wisp of smoke.

On the 16th of November, Dr. Heather Laird presented a paper on RTE’s Rebellion, and the importance of commemorating women in history. Dr. Laird asserted in this seminar that history is a selective attempt to make sense of the past. Unfortunately, this selective attempt has often relegated women to a sentence in the history books.

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Rebellion cast. Source: RTÉ.

Dr. Laird also commented on the idea of ‘exceptional’ women, which I have mentioned my previous post on women’s poetry. Dr. Laird explained that there was a select few women who defied the class and gender ‘guidelines’ of commemoration to be allowed recognition in the centenary of 1916.

Unfortunately, I had not seen Rebellion before I heard Dr. Laird deliver her paper; but her findings on the problematic aspects of the series illuminated many issues to the audience about Ireland’s difficulty with remembering a past that is not flooded with masculine revolutionaries. One very revealing point in Dr. Laird’s seminar was that the creator of Rebellion, Colin Teevan, did not know that women had been so involved in the Rising. This is because of the constant regurgitation of state history as patriarchal.

And although Rebellion attempted to move away from these traditional accounts of history, the series still remains problematic. Dr. Laird found that the politicisation of the women characters was often due to their relationship to men, or their need to mimic men in order to make history. However, the series did interrupt the normal historical narrative of the 1916 Rising. Dr. Laird stated that the foregrounding of women within Rebellion has the ability to be read as positive even with its problems, as it challenged the patriarchal construction of males as the sole revolutionary gender.

Following Dr. Laird’s seminar, Dr. Maureen O’Connor gave a seminar on Irish suffragettes and vegetarianism on the 23rd of November. Following on from this idea that what is male is revolutionary, Dr. O’Connor commented on the gendered political meaning behind meat eating, and how this relates to ecofeminism and activism. Meat eating, Dr. O’Connor stated, has been associated with male privilege. In my view, meat eating is also destructive, invasive and unnecessarily violent.

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The Irish Citizen Newspaper. Source: National Library Of Ireland.

Dr. O’Connor’s research focuses on how Irish fin-de-siècle feminism challenged patriarchal structures through suffrage campaigns, anti-imperial movements and ‘green’ sensibilities. Her research focused specifically on the work of Eva Gore-Booth, Margaret Cousins,  Charlotte Despard and Alice Stopford-Green. Dr. O’Connor outlined how these women fought for equal pay, suffrage and animal rights, as well as fighting against conscription and imperialism. In my opinion, it is impossible to discredit these women as revolutionaries; yet before hearing O’Connor’s paper, I knew very little or nothing at all about each woman.

The women that Laird and O’Connor spoke about were written out of history as quickly as they were making history. The women of Bessborough were psychologically and physically exploited for profit, yet only received an apology in 2013 from Taoiseach Enda Kenny.

It is impossible to know if or when the Magdalene women will receive sufficient reparations and apologies from the State and the Catholic Church – for some, it is already be too late. But it is important to consistently remind the people of Ireland of the women who suffered at the hands of the state. Artists like Ní Chuilleanáin commemorate the women of the Magdalene Laundries through mediums accessible to all facets of Irish society. Researchers like Sinéad Mercier (who I had the pleasure of meeting at Sibéal 2016) are continuously interrogating the State’s involvement in crimes against these women. You can download her paper on the Magdalene Laundries here.

Dr. Heather Laird and Dr. Maureen O’Connor’s papers both raised the question of whether or not the Irish State would commemorate the centenary of the introduction of women’s suffrage into Irish law, which falls in 2018. Of course, 1916 was a revolutionary year for Ireland and deserves to be nationally recognised and remembered – the Rising was a turning point. But the women involved in the Rising had to continue revolting and rising after 1916 in order to get the right to vote. Many of the women Dr. O’Connor spoke of continued to challenge the status quo for the rest of their lives.

But that begs the question – Does the State see any importance in commemorating women who have never even been remembered before?

The patriarchy appears to choose what we remember and what we forget; but thankfully with the work of these woman writers and researchers, there has been a redefinition of what qualifies as worthy of commemoration.

 

Works Cited

Laird, Heather. “Reading Rebellion: Women, History and Commemoration.” Department of English Research Seminar, 16 Nov. 2016, University College Cork.

Ní Chuilleanáin, Eibhlín. “Bessborough.” Reading Writing Series,  8 Nov. 2016, University College Cork.

O’Connor, Maureen. “Animal Souls and Votes For Women: Vegetarianism and Suffrage in the Work of Fin-de-Siècle Irish Feminists.” Department of English Research Seminar, 23 Nov. 2016, University College Cork.

 

 

“Outsiders, Always”: Kathy D’Arcy and Irish Women’s Poetry.

 

Although over a month has passed, Kathy D’Arcy’s seminar on her poetry has left a lasting impression on me. D’Arcy’s work is focused on “re-articulating” Irish women’s poetry within Irish history, and her MA dissertation involved recovering many forgotten Irish women writers. I recall Kathy saying that through her research, she found that all these amazing subversive writers were either silenced, forgotten or were just “someone’s daughter”. This frustrated Kathy, and it also frustrates me. The erasure of Irish women’s voices of past generations has not left enough to validate the current generation of aspiring female authors. D’Arcy is seeking to change that by taking history into her own hands.

Her own poetry is personal and political, drawing on the intersections between religion, history and gender in her life and the lives of Irish women. The spoken word piece she performed at the seminar used two recordings in tandem with her own live reading. This created a hypnotic chanting, an echo of not only D’Arcy’s past, but the women who have suffered throughout Irish history. Listening to her perform her work in 2016 is significant; not just because it is the centenary of the Easter Rising, but also because of the ‘debate’ over the Eighth Amendment that has seemed to have peaked in the coming years. The intertwining of gender and nation is seen in D’Arcy’s work, but it is not Éire, the fair maiden, who seeks to be free. It is D’Arcy herself.

D’Arcy’s use of the three separate yet simultaneous voices evokes this idea of “collective memory”, the idea that the experiences of past generations have been carried on and felt by the next. The reverberations of past traumas and anxieties of Irish women writers, and Irish women in general continue to be felt by us in the present day. The conflicting voices in the performance – Kathy’s own experiences, an altered “Hail Mary” or the song “Ave Maria” – are all trying to drown one another out. Emotion and experience are rivalled with Church and State, the latter always seeming to drown out the former in the daily lived experiences of Irish women.

In “Between Memory and History: Les Lieux de Mémoire“, Pierre Nora states that memory and history have become mutually exclusive (8). Nora states that memory is borne from lived experience of people, and is “susceptible to being long dormant and periodically revived” (8). In contrast, history is “the reconstruction [of the past], always problematic and incomplete” (8). I believe that D’Arcy is drawing on “collective memory” in order to create a new history for Irish women in contrast to the problematic historical view that has been written from a male perspective, which have often omitted women’s stories or experiences. For instance, I only learned that one fifth of the participants of the 1916 Rising were women earlier this year when I went to talk by Dr. Mary McAuliffe (UCD) about her book “We Were There” – 77 Women Of The Easter Rising. When I took History for the Leaving Certificate, Constance Markievicz was the only woman ever mentioned. The unique exception.

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A bus advertisement commemorating women’s involvement in the Easter Rising in Limerick.

According to Maurice Hawlbachs, the collective “does not stop with a mere display of its unhappiness, a momentary burst of indignation and protest” (4). That is, the collective power of the oppressed group (i.e. Irish women, in this context) continues to be the driving force behind achieving equality and autonomy; and although it can appear there is nothing worth fighting for, there is always a glimmer of hope that we can achieve more. D’Arcy is one of the Irish women contributing to this. She is reigniting the memories and emotions of women that have been extinguished by historians through the masculinised representation of Ireland’s social, political and cultural history and urging us to reconsider the place of women in Ireland before history repeats itself.

During D’Arcy’s seminar, I was reminded of Eavan Boland’s  essay “A Kind Of Scar: The Woman Poet In a National Tradition”, and how the power of women writing has allowed women to be agentic rather than emblematic (Boland 75). In this essay, Boland comments on how Irish poetic tradition affected her writing as a woman. She consistently read poetry where the figure of the Irish woman was used represent the “nation” or used as a”national muse” – for example, in the poetry of Yeats and Mangan (81).  For her, women were always being used as “elements of style rather than aspects of truth” in the national poetic tradition (81).

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An excerpt of “Dark Rosaleen” by James Clarence Mangan. Source: The Irish Traditional Music Archive.

Boland also wishes she could go back and talk to her younger, more naive self: “You are Irish. You are a woman. Why do you keep these things at the periphery of the poem?” (79).  Boland recognises the importance of the representation of women in Irish literature, which has largely been dominated by men. She acknowledges that women are worthy enough to be heard, rather than sidelined. Boland noted in her essay “that the women of the Irish past were defeated” and through her work, she refuses to let them be defeated again (82). In the same way, D’Arcy has situated Irish women at the forefront through her research.

Our Irish cinema class had a discussion about gender representation last week, which reignited my thoughts about D’Arcy’s poetry, and Irish women’s involvement in the creation of a national culture in general. I came to realise at the end of class that I had been asked for years about why I was so vocal about hearing women’s voices in Irish daily life. Why talk about representation? Why complain when we have come so far? Why Waking The Feminists? Why bother?

“Scream quietly, or the neighbours will hear,” writes Nell McCafferty in 1984 (14). The idea of a ‘quiet life’ is held so dearly in the hearts of Irish people. A silence so loud, it is defeaning.

More than twenty years after McCafferty’s piece was published, Irish women are still experiencing the same silencing. The constant washing away. The idea that we do not need to be liberated any more. That is why Irish women writers must continue to make waves.

As a conclusion, I would like to draw your attention to the final line in “Outside History” by Eavan Boland. A line that always brings a thick lump to my throat:

And we are too late. We are always too late.

We are, and have always been, too liminal to make it to the centre before we are pushed out again.

Together, as women, we must face this land.

Kathy D’Arcy is a poet based Cork city. She is currently completing a Creative Writing PhD in UCC, where she teaches with the Women’s Studies and Creative Writing departments. You can find out more about Kathy’s work at http://www.kathydarcy.com/.

Works Cited

Boland, Eavan. “A Kind Of Scar: The Woman Poet In a National Tradition.” A Dozen Lips, Attic Press, 1994, pp. 72-92.

Boland, Eavan. “Outside History.” Outside History: Selected Poems, 1980-1990, Norton, 1991, pp. 50.

Hawlbachs, Maurice. “Space and The Collective Memory.” The Collective Memory, Massachusetts Institute of Technology E-book. 1950, pp. 1-15, http://web.mit.edu/allanmc/www/hawlbachsspace.pdf.

McCafferty, Nell. “Chapter Title.” Goodnight Sisters, Attic Press, 1987, pp. 14-15.

Nora, Pierre. “Between Memory and History: Les Lieux de Mémoire.” Representations, vol. 26, Spring 1989, pp. 7-24, https://www.jstor.org/stable/pdf/2928520.pdf.