Saturday 22 October 2016

Clarke's poem for our Independence women

Ulick O'Connor

Published 26/06/2016 | 02:30

Countess Markievicz
Countess Markievicz
Helena Molony
Kathleen Lynn

The recent election resulted, in a very positive way, in increasing the number of women from one in 1918 (the first Dáil) to 35 in the Oireachtas today.

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A magnificent poem by Austin Clarke, 'The Subjection of Women', demonstrates the part Irish women played in Irish independence yet how they were still seen as inferior to men when the State came into being.

Countess Markievicz, who had been a military commander in the Rising and condemned to death, as well as the first women elected to the Westminster parliament, found no place in the new State that satisfied her idea of justice and political change.

Helena Molony is now known to have been Collins's top spy and someone who saved many lives in Mountjoy prison during the War of Independence. She was an extraordinary woman, whom I knew, and was held by some to be one of the finest actresses ever in the Abbey theatre.

Then there was Dr Kathleen Lynn who was a Senior Medical Officer in the Citizen Army and surrendered to the British in the City Hall after a bitter fight in the 1916 Rising. She went on to found St Ultan's Hospital, the first one in Ireland devoted exclusively to the treatment of children.

Their memory is important in recognising that while the current change is exciting, it is only after a hundred years from the Rising that we are beginning to get back to the beliefs and actions of the women who were fighting for equality in their professions.

from The Subjection of Women

Now praise Kathleen Lynn, who founded

A hospital for sick babies, foundlings,

Saved them with lay hands. How could we

Look down on infants, prattling, cooing,

When wealth had emptied so many cradles?

Better than ours, her simple Credo.

The countess curled

With death at sandbags in the College

Of surgeons. How many did she shoot

When she kicked off her satin shoes?

Women rose out after the Rebellion

When smoke of buildings hid the churchbells,

Helena Maloney, Louie Bennett

Unioned* the women workers bent

Women, who cast off all we want,

Are now despised, their names unwanted,

For patriots in party statement

And act make worse our Ill-fare State.

The soul is profit. Money claims us.

Heroes are valuable clay.

Austin Clarke 1896-1974

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