An Phoblacht 2 - 2022 small

13 June 1997 Edition

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New in print

Out of the shadows

Guns and Chiffon, Women Revolutionaries in Kilmainham Gaol
By Sinéad McCoole
Guns and chiffon, women revolutionaries in Kilmainham Gaol is the culmination of three years work by Sinéad McCoole who also wrote the biography of Lady Lavery. Sinéad brings to life women who have been in the shadow of their male revolutionaries for far too long. These women, ranging in age from 12 to 70 and from all walks of life both urban and rural, working class to college educated, were the fabric that held the republican cause together from 1916-1923.

During 1916 these women, although not wanted at first, proved themselves fearless and useful. 77 women were incarcerated after the Rising. Through their organisation Cumann na mBán following the Rising they took the lead in fundraising, looking after interned men's families, hiding documents and weapons and because some of their leaders were widows of the 1916 men, such as Grace Clifford and Mrs Tom Clarke, they became the living symbols of the Rising. During the Tan War these women provided safe houses, gathered intelligence and hid guns and ammunition as well as carrying on the duties of mothers and wives.

When it came to the Treaty the majority of Cumann na mBán opposed it by 419 to 63. After this Cumann na mBán lost its moderate support and was thus left with dedicated republicans.

The Free State, recognising the vital role these women would play in the civil war, arrested and detained them without charge under the Emergency Powers Act. Arrests were made for possession of republican literature, Cumann na mBán meetings, collections and distribution of funds.

The death penalty was not carried out for serious crimes such as when my aunt, May Zambra, who was 17 years of age, shot at a CID agent. She was arrested and was one of the youngest republican prisoners to go on hunger strike. These arrests of republican women must have finally helped to defeat the republicans in the civil war.

After the civil war these women suffered financial loss and found it hard to find work, some emigrated and some never married. As was said at the time, who would want to wed these `wild women'' who had been excommunicated by the church?

At last we have a book (available as part of an exhibition in Kilmainham Gaol, entrance fee £5 includes a copy of the book) that gives the credit to these brave women and girls who gave everything and more for Irish freedom. Sinéad's book is well laid out, with lots of good photographs, and is easy to read except some text is very small and I would have liked a roll call of all the women imprisoned in Kilmainham Gaol but otherwise a super book. It is summed up by the spirit of my aunt May Zambra when she wrote in her jail journal:
Here's to those in the union
Here's to those on the run
Here's to those that are active
And here's to those that can carry a gun.

By Joe Tierney

Good in places

A World Full of Places and other stories
by Michael Carragher
Published by The Blackstaff Press
Price £7.99

Michael Carragher is actually a good writer, even though having the cachet of being published is never any proof of such. Born in Newry, the 44-year-old was a teacher at Arkansas State University and is currently a visiting writer to Arkansas state schools.

For me many of his stories are uneven, rarely resolved and lack the leavening of traditional Irish humour. Furthermore, I'm not really into fairies, Pookhas or banshees. Darby O'Gill, begorrah, was certainly a fine film but Hollywood is the best resting place for de Little People.

The opening story is about an Irish couple, married and based in Montana. The husband is an academic who when driving home from college hears a banshee and is convinced that his father back in Ireland is going to die that night. Professor Phelim McGilloray (even his name sounds derived from a poitin haze) and many of the other characters in this book of short stories are thinly Christianised peasants who revert to superstition at the drop of a pixie-hood.

McGilloray's bored and childless wife of 15 years is at home drinking vodka and he is having an affair with a student, whom he is just about to learn is pregnant. It's the stuff of full-blown domestic tragedy with great potential which is unnecessarily squandered in melodrama.

`Brotherhood' is about an attack on an Irish landlord by two IRB militants, the younger of whom, Jem, is indecisive with his pistol (killing the landlord's horse instead of the landlord) and is sent back with a knife to finish the job. Again, Carragher is more in danger of effecting an attitude of apathy in the reader rather than revulsion, given that the moral quandary is undeveloped, if stated at all, and one has no sense of the brutality one suspects he is trying to communicate. Even the paranoia of an innocent fugitive in England (`Coward!') who believes the IRA (mistakenly) thinks he is an informer provokes little empathy, the story lacking in tension.

The simple stories are his best, reminiscent of early Walter Macken (though without his nationalism): a farmer's encounter with a savage bull as both are trapped in a corral; the stress (and superstition) experienced by a poor farmer awaiting news of his wife in confinement; a Protestant boy's disillusionment with his passive father when the IRA (during the Tan War) seize the family's legally-held firearms.

In a `World Full of Places' a young man, Teddy, is crushed by the claustrophobia of a marriage in which he was entrapped. For inspiration he reflects upon the life of his incorrigible Uncle Con who travelled the world and was beholden to no man or woman. It is the finest story of the collection, even if hope and a life can only be found in flight.

by Danny Morrison

An Phoblacht
44 Parnell Sq.
Dublin 1