Sunday 25 September 2016

Revolution that touches up our radical roots

Lay of the land

Fiona O'Connell

Published 27/03/2016 | 02:30

'Women especially are always being told that they can't have their cake and eat it. Even though they're the ones who usually bake it - as well as make the dinner' Stock photo: Getty
'Women especially are always being told that they can't have their cake and eat it. Even though they're the ones who usually bake it - as well as make the dinner' Stock photo: Getty

'Let them eat cake," - the advice attributed to Marie Antoinette - might apply this Sunday to many of us who aren't into Easter eggs. Even if those words were actually written by the political philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau when that unfortunate aristocrat was just 10 years old.

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But how different her destiny might have been had this scapegoat of the French Revolution indeed made that quip - except on these shores. For she might have lost her heart, instead of her head, at a Cake Dance - one of the most popular Easter traditions in Ireland up to a few decades ago.

A cake was placed in a prominent position on a piece of fine white cloth before the music began. The winners were the couple that danced the longest or sprightliest, giving them the right of "taking the cake".

It's a tradition of which another famous female, the Russian-born political activist Emma Goldman would surely have approved, given that she famously declared: "If I can't dance, I don't want to be part of your revolution."

But perhaps revolution only in the sense of coming full circle back to our roots applies in Ireland - at least where the welfare of women is concerned. Because Brehon Law was fairer to the so-called fair sex than most systems of the time.

For women especially are always being told that they can't have their cake and eat it. Even though they're the ones who usually bake it - as well as make the dinner. Often while also playing their part in bringing home the metaphorical bacon.

Fortunately, Irish females have never been wallflowers who conform to sappy stereotypes of delicate flowers, as The Quiet Man movie famously celebrated with the fiery Mary Kate.

City slickers discovered this when we were packed off to the Gaeltacht as teens, and encountered the wonderfully named 'bean an ti'. They were the brave hearts who held the whole thing together.

As, fortunately, is the case countrywide, this town is teeming with similarly formidable females. Many run businesses that lie at the core of the community.

Instead of the limp "lovely girls" of the Father Ted comedy, V is for victory, lady vets and valorous legal eagles - while the term 'femme fatale' is taken to a whole new level with blonde bombshell butchers.

Some women work behind the scenes, focusing their energies at home or in charities that support senior citizens and others who are genuinely vulnerable. They were among the first on the scene when winter floods hit this town, offering solidarity and practical support.

They do all this, as well as facing cancer and other catastrophes, with not so much a stiff lip as lipstick. If life throws them lemons, they don't waste it on making hair rinses. Not when a glass of lemonade goes down so nicely with gateau.

Sunday Independent

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