Thursday 19 July 2018

Ulick O'Connor - poetry: A great gift from a rebel girl

Ulick O'Connor
Ulick O'Connor

Ulick O'Connor

I was introduced to the Abbey Theatre in my early days when my school sent me along to FJ McCormick to take acting lessons.

It was heartening to know then and later on that I was being taught by one of the greatest actors of the 20th century.

It was only a one off, a small school chancing their arm with a scarcely known play by RB Sheridan, and I hope I didn't let my sponsors down with the performance.

Alice Milligan, was still around at that time, in the late 1940s. Her energy had been enormous. It was fun to go out and have coffee with her and see people nodding to her.

She wanted to learn Irish and she later organised the Gaelic League throughout the country.

Alice had this great gift of simplicity. Take a look at the poem here 'When I was a Little Girl'.

The language is incredibly simple but it tells her story, that of being a rebel, not unusual among many in the first half of the 20th century.

The change in the public mind has never, I think been told, as she has done in those last four lines here:

Wished she had been a boy

And a good deal older

Able to walk for miles

With a gun on her shoulder.


When I was a little girl,

In a garden playing,

A thing was often said

To chide us delaying:

"Come in! for it's growing late,

And the grass will wet ye!

Come in! or when it's dark

The Fenians will get ye."

Four little pairs of hands

In the cots where she led those,

Over their frightened heads

Pulled up the bedclothes.

But one little rebel there,

Watching all with laughter

Thought "when the Fenians come

I'll rise and go after"

Wished she had been a boy

And a good deal older

Able to walk for miles

With a gun on her shoulder.

Alice Milligan 1866-1953

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