Irish Women Better than St. Patrick, A Series. Day 6 – Medb, a Goddess

I am not saying I’m running out of actual Irish women to be inspired by. I was looking for women before the Irish wars of the early 20th century. I read a story about a kickass Irish goddess that I didn’t know existed. (I’m now in an American Gods-inspired thought spiral wondering when she was lost.) So while it’s cheating a little, real Irish women and men once worshiped today’s heroine.

Day 6 – Medb (or Maev), Sovereign Queen and Goddess of War, Earth and Fertility

Maev
I love this expression so much. Goddess of resting bitch face. By JC Leyendecker

Medb, or Maev, who’s name means “she who intoxicates,” may be an etymological beginning of mead. She was bequeath the land of Connacht in the west of Ireland by her father and from there on it was impossible for a man to rule that land without marrying her. She had many husbands.

It’s important to note that Queen Medb “reigned during a time when Celtic women maintained a status of freedom and equality not granted to women in most other parts of the world. They both owned property and held important positions in society. Who ever possessed the most wealth in a marriage, could be considered the ruler of that household.”

Stories of Medb describe clothed “with live birds and animals across her shoulders and arms.” She could run faster than a horse. According to Bard Mythologies, “Medb was a strong and independent character, with a knowledge of magic and sorcery. She never shirked her part of the work, and knew well how to encourage and lead her followers.”

The most famous story of Medb is the Táin Bó Cúailnge (or the Cattle Raid of Cooley). Her is a description from a blog:

In the Táin, Medb has a dispute with her husband, Ailill, over who is more affluent. Ailill turns up to be the one more wealthy, because of one white-horned bull. Incensed, Medb decides to obtain the even more famous brown bull of Cooley from the neighboring province of Ulster. Long story short, Medb doesn’t head the words of a prophetess (who would?), and marches into Ulster. She’s eventually routed by Ulster forces, lead by Cú Chulainn (but not before an epic duel with his foster brother, Fer Díad, who is in exile and fighting with Connacht forces) BUT DAMMIT, SHE GETS THAT BULL, which defeats Ailill’s bull, causing a truce. Oh, and this time she was having an affair with the legendary hero Fergus. Because why not? Eventually, tired of living in the shadow of his Queen, Ailill ditches Connacht and goes elsewhere.

An important thing to note is that in this conflict, Medb lead her own troops into Ulster, and fought in the battle herself, with her own weapons. Medb didn’t need magic to obtain victory, she just needed her own spears and sword. 

The worst thing about Medb, in my opinion, is that her reign was brought down by a piece of cheese. A son of a woman she killed sought revenge and killed her with a sling shot of cheese while she bathed. (I have questions. This would have to be a hard cheese, like parmesan, yes? Or maybe a wheel of cheese? They say piece, but a big piece, right?)

Medb is buried upright in a cairn facing her enemies.

I really like this quote from Feminism and Religion: Medb opens the door to the acceptance of our own sovereignty, to owning our power, to claiming our truth. With Medb by our side, we can ride forth to battle those who would rob us of our birthright as fully sovereign beings.

Irish Women Better than St. Patrick, A Series. Day 5 – The Rebel Physician

The 20th century is really fascinating to look at as a whole. So much innovation and invention and ingenuity in any one decade of the 1900s more than past centuries. Technology of course, illustrates this, but medicine as well. At the beginning of the 1900s, not all doctors yet believed hand washing helped stop the spread of germs. One hundred years later, we not only fully adopted germ theory, cured diseases, we eradicated a few from human populations.

Day 5 – Dorothy Stopford Price, The Rebel Physician

priceDorothy Stopford Price was born in 1890 in County Dublin, one of four children. After her father died when she was 12, her mother sold their home and moved the family to London. She first studied social sciences, but by the time she was 25, Price decided to study medicine. According to Wikipedia, “She graduated with a BA in 1920, BAO (Bachelor in Midwifery), BCh (Bachelor in Surgery) and MB in 1921. As part of her training she worked in the Meath Hospital, Dublin, as a clinical clerk. In 1918-19, she witnessed the Spanish flu at first hand. She tended to victims during the day and cycled to the mortuary at night to carry out post mortems.”

Though she was Protestant, Price sided with Republicans in the War of Irish Independence in (1919-1921) and the Irish Civil War (1922-1923), and served as a medical officer tending to wounded. She also gave lectures on first aid in battle. After the war, she relocated to Dublin and worked at St. Ultan’s Children’s Hospital. It was here she witnessed the ravages of tuberculosis and began investigating international best practices in the prevention and treatment of the disease.

From an Irish Times biography of Price, “Her work on TB testing made it possible to establish whether a patient had TB or not (many did not) and treat those who did. It turned out that a large proportion of the Irish population, particularly in rural areas, had never been exposed to TB, and therefore had no immunity, making a vaccination programme all the more essential.”

Price began importing the Bacillus Calmette-Guérin (BCG) vaccine, and in an unusual step for the day, asked for parental consent before beginning trials on children. However, “as usual in Ireland of that time, she ran foul of the ongoing battle for control of health between church and State.” In 1943, there was much pushback against her attempt to set up an Anti-Tuberculosis League, something which existed in all other European countries, due to the fact that she was Protestant, and that an Atheist was also selected for the Board. Price was named head of the vaccination board in 1949.

Dorothy Stopford Price, “her research and publications, her work on voluntary national committees and her continuous highlighting of the problem of tuberculosis in Ireland as well as her efforts to introduce tuberculin testing and BCG vaccination were pivotal in the ending of the Irish tuberculosis epidemic in the mid-20th century.”

Irish Women Better than St. Patrick, A Series. Day 4.

I’m doing a very short post tonight to not get in the way of any red carpets. And it influenced my choice for the day.

Day 4- Veronica Guerin

(You may recognize the name from the film starring Cate Blanchett, who was nominated for a Golden Globe, not Oscar).

Veronica Guerin was born in Dublin in 1958, and grew up with four siblings, attending Catholic school. She was a star athlete in basketball and soccer, played for Ireland’s national women’s basketball team and national football team. She graduated from Trinity College Dublin and made a career in public relations, especially in politics. She got married in 1985 and had a son in 1990.

In 1990, Guerin became a journalist, writing for the Sunday Tribune and Sunday Business Post. From Wikipedia, “Craving first-hand information, she pursued a story directly to the source with little regard for her personal safety, to engage those she deemed central to a story. This allowed her to build close relationships with both the legitimate authorities, such as the Garda Síochána (police), and the criminals, with both sides respecting her diligence by providing highly detailed information. She also reported on Irish Republican Army activities in the Republic of Ireland.”

As she started to write more about the drug and crime rings in Ireland, Guerin received significant threats. Two shots were fired into her house after she wrote about one crime boss, and after her story on Gerry “The Monk” Hutch, “she answered her doorbell to a man pointing a revolver at her head. The gunman missed and shot her in the leg.”

(Pause. Can you even imagine? Opening the door to a revolver pointed at your head, and somehow you “only” get shot in the leg?! I can only think she her athleticism was very well matched by quick-thinking.)

Though she was given a police escort, and installed a security system, serious, violent threats to Guerin and her family continued.

“On 26 June 1996, while driving her red Opel Calibra, Guerin stopped at a red traffic light on the Naas Dual Carriageway near Newlands Cross, on the outskirts of Dublin, unaware she was being followed. She was shot six times, fatally, by one of two men sitting on a motorcycle.”

Due to the uproar surrounding her murder, the Irish Parliament “enacted the Proceeds of Crime Act 1996 and the Criminal Assets Bureau Act 1996, so that assets purchased with money obtained through crime could be seized by the government. This led to the formation of the Criminal Assets Bureau (CAB).” The investigation into her murder also led to drug crime reduction by 15 percent in one year. Her legacy also includes a scholarship at Trinity College for students pursuing a career in investigative journalists.

 

Irish Women Better Than St. Patrick, A Series. Day 3.

Getting right into the post tonight because this Irish lady might have a lot to teach us.

Day 3 Constance Markievicz, The Rebel Countess

Constance Markievicz, who preferred Madame to her proper title as Countess after her marriage, was born in London in 1868, as a member of the Gore-Booth family of Sligo. She was presented at the court of Queen Victoria and seemed to be living a typical aristocratic, and Protestant, life. She did marry after some prodding from her parents, though she omitted the line about obeying her husband – something quite unusual for the time. She and the Count parted amicably sometime before World War I,  and left their daughter to be raised by her parents as Markievicz became instrumental in the Irish Revolution – as part of the Catholic, unification side.

According to the BBC, “in 1909, she first became known to British intelligence for her role in helping found Na Fianna Éireann, a nationalist scouts organisation whose purpose was to train boys for participation in a war of liberation.” And she taught shooting there. Markievicz “was also active in the Irish suffragette movement and focused much energy into Inghinidhe na hÉireann, a militant women’s organisation.”

As stated in a Rejected Princess biography, Markievicz trained women for the Irish Rebellion, giving the advice “dress suitably in short skirts and strong boots, leave your jewels in the bank, and buy a revolver.” In later parades, she showed up so heavily armed “that the casual onlooker might be readily pardoned for mistaking her for the representative of an enterprising firm of small arms manufacturers.”

During the Easter Rising of 1916, Constance Markievicz was second-in-command to Michael Mallin at St. Stephen’s Green/College of Surgeons and was active in a fighting capacity throughout the week.” Markievicz is mythologized in her surrender, as she kissed her revolver before handing it over to the British officer. She was tried, and sentenced to death, but spared execution due to her gender. She was released after 13 months, but re-incarcerated over the next few years. During one of  her stints in jail, Markievicz “was even elected to parliament, making her at the time one of the only female politicians in office anywhere in the world.” She never took that seat, but later served as the Minister of Labor. She became a mechanic.  Constance Markeviecz died in 1927.

 

Irish Women Better than St. Patrick (Who Wasn’t Even Irish Anyway), A Series. Day 2

It’s been a day. The winds a ripping through my neighborhood. I heard my patio table fly into the fence. I’m half-expecting Mrs. Gulch/the Wicked Witch to go cycling past my window as my little apartment is carried off to Oz. While many planes are grounded in Philadelphia today, we’re going to remember:

Day 2 – Lilian Bland, The Flying Feminist

14-Lilian-Bland-089-editedLilian Bland is listed as a “photographer, markswoman, martial artist, sports journalist and aviator” though it is the aviation she is most famous for. Bland is the first woman in Ireland, and maybe the world, to build her own airplane. She was born in 1878 to Anglo-Irish parents in Kent, England but moved to Belfast after the death of her mother. As a sports and photojournalist in the early 1900s, she was known for her “unconventional lifestyle for the period, smoking, wearing trousers, and practising martial arts.”

The Irish Times also mentions that she “rode horses like a man, that is, astride, rather than side-saddle, and was also proficient at the traditionally male-dominated sports of hunting, shooting and fishing.”

(Biopic, please.)

Seven years after the Wright Brothers first flight at Kitty Hawk, and an ocean away, Bland built her own aircraft. She started with a biplane glider, using bicycle handlebars as controls, practicing on the Carnmoney Hill. She quickly wanted to build something with an engine, which arrived from England before a fuel tank did. Impatient and imaginative, Bland used an empty whiskey bottle, decanted fuel in an ear trumpet, but unfortunately, did not fly. A bit later when the fuel tank did arrive, she completed the build on her aircraft, called the Mayfly, and in August 1910 took flight over Ireland.
(Ok, so she flew about 30 feet in the air in a series of short flights, but this was historical!)

Bland_Mayfly
Flight International archive

Her father wasn’t thrilled with his daughter’s new hobby and promised to buy her a car if she stopped flying. She agreed, brought a Model T to Belfast from Dublin, and opened a car dealership!

Bland married her cousin, Charles, and moved to Vancouver. She had one daughter who died at age 16. In the 1930s, Bland moved back to London where, according to The Irish Times, she “apparently retained her unconventional spirit by partaking in some gambling.” Lilian Bland died in 1971 at age 92.

MAKE THIS MOVIE. Smoking, drinking, pants-wearing, martial arts-doing, flying, mechanic, engineering, entrepreneurial woman in the 1910s?! Yes. Please. While I’m not about to have any children, my next cat might be named Lilian Bland Bohannon.

Irish Women Better than St. Patrick (who wasn’t Irish anyway)- Day 1

So it’s March. 2018. (Sorry, I’ve been busy over the last year, but I’m coming back to writing.)

March in my life has been focused on St. Patrick’s Day. Irish music, Irish Dancing, green donuts, green carnations, church when we were younger, beer and whiskey as we were older…

I’m older now. Absolutely annoyed by anyone on the Erin Express, buses of bar-hopping 20-somethings in a drink as much as you can without dying that happen on the weekends leading up to the High Holy Day of the Irish Catholic Church. Absolutely annoyed by people who center the Irish experience when discussing racism “People were terrible to the Irish! The Irish were like slaves!” Sit down and listen here, Bridie (and Paul Ryan), no one is racist against you, and a lot of that is propaganda, and as soon as Irish Americans got a wee bit of power we went bloody mad with it, and owned slaves and killed people.

While we aren’t about to change the culture around St. Patrick’s Day, here I come to merge my Irish month with Women’s History Month and present to you:

Irish Women Who Are Better Than St. Patrick (Who Wasn’t Irish Anyway).

Day 1 – Frances Browne, the Blind Poet of Donegal

 

I recently read an historical fiction account of Frances Browne’s fight to be educated in a collection of short stories, The Woman Who Gave Birth to Rabbits by Emma Donoghue. I had never heard of the Blind Poetess of Donegal and thought about the many women of Ireland I know nothing about. So Frances Browne, and Emma Donoghue, directly inspired this series.

Born in 1816, in Stranolar, County Donegal, Frances Browne contracted smallpox at about 18 months old and lost her vision. She was one of twelve children, and she bribed her siblings to read their lessons allowed in exchange for doing their chores. She learned through memorization, and wrote her first poem, re-imagining the Lord’s Prayer, when she was seven years old.

Frances_Browne_7
Frances Browne, 1816-1879

Her first poems were published when she was 25 years old, and in 1847 she became a regular contributor to the Chambers Journal for 25 years. She moved to Edinburgh with her sister and aide in 1847, and relocated to London in 1852. She moved through literary circles of the time, and expanded her writings beyond poetry to essays, short stories, children’s literature, and novels including, My Share of the World. Her best known work, Granny’s Wonderful Chair, is still in print today. Browne died in 1879 in London.

Read Granny’s Wonderful Chair by Frances Browne works on Project Gutenburg. Below is perhaps her most famous poem, Songs of Our Land. How is this not a ballad, or taught with the other bards of Eire?

Songs of Our Land

Songs of our land, ye are with us forever,
The power and the splendor of thrones pass away;
But yours is the might of some far flowing river.
Through Summer’s bright roses or Autumn’s decay.

Ye treasure each voice of the swift passing ages,
And truth which time writeth on leaves or on sand;
Ye bring us the thoughts of poets and sages,
And keep them among us, old songs of our land.

The bards may go down to the place of their slumbers,
The lyre of the charmer be hushed in the grave,
But far in the future the power of their numbers
Shall kindle the hearts of our faithful and brave,

It will waken an echo in souls deep and lonely,
Like voices of reeds by the summer breeze fanned;
It will call up a spirit for freedom, when only
Her breathings are heard in the songs of our land.

For they keep a record of those, the true-hearted,
Who fell with the cause they had vowed to maintain;
They show us bright shadows of glory departed,
Of love that grew cold and hope that was vain.

The page may be lost and the pen long forsaken,
And weeds may grow wild o’er the brave heart and hand;
But ye are still left when all else hath been taken,
Like streams in the desert, sweet songs of our land.

Songs of our land, ye have followed the stranger,
With power over ocean and desert afar,
Ye have gone with our wanderers through distance and danger,
And gladdened their path like a homeguiding star.

With the breath of our mountains in summers long vanished,
And visions that passed like a wave from the sand,
With hope for their country and joy from her banished.
Ye come to us ever, sweet songs of our land.

The spring time may come with the song of our glory,
To bid the green heart of the forest rejoice,
But the pine of the mountain though blasted and hoary,
And the rock in the desert, can send forth a voice,

It was thus in their triumph for deep desolations,
While ocean waves roll or the mountains shall stand,
Still hearts that are bravest and best of the nations,
Shall glory and live in the songs of our land.

Getting back to basics

It’s been over a month since my last post, and honestly, I’ve been too busy in my new found (unpaid) activism life to put words to paper – er, pixel. I started this blog with an idea to blend my nerdy, artsy, creative life and parenthood. To highlight some of the things I do, and create something for Henry to look back on (since his baby book is 90% unfinished). But I find it hard to talk about Star Wars when I feel like the world is imploding.

I’m going to get back to writing. I promise to update you (for him) on the things we have and will be doing. Here are some highlights since the women’s march in January.

  • We met Senator Bob Casey at a townhall on the environment
  • I joined Tuesdays with Toomey and Philly United for Progress (Philly UP), meeting every Tuesday at lunch to demand a townhall from our other Senator
  • Henry led the March for the Paris Agreement
  • I presented a one-minute improv speech on Activism with Children at Ignite Philly
  • I called my representatives over 3 dozen times
  • I co-presented a workshop “How to Contact Your Elected Official”
  • I got a bib for the Broad Street Run and am slowly learning to run 10 miles (while H is in swim team practices)
  • We found ourselves addicted to the Flash (both of us) and Riverdale (just me) from The CW.
  • I hung out with over 300 fellow constituents to learn how we can Go, Grow, and Give to help our causes Beyond the Protests
  • We went to a Philly UP monthly meeting on Feminism and Racism (intersectional feminism) which led to some important discussions at home.

It’s been busy and my introvert self has at times wanted to hide under the covers. But I’m not going to. I’ll be back more frequently, and hope to announce something really cool that we are doing in the next few weeks! Stay tuned.

Here are some picture highlights of our month.

 

And please support my awesome women friends in their resistance and creative businesses: demfeminist.com, curvygirlsstickerco.etsy.com and sabbaticalbeauty.com

 

 

A letter to my pink hat wearing, unabashedly feminist son

January 23, 2017

Dear Henry,

I am incredibly proud to be your mother. Always, but especially today, especially after this weekend. It was because of you that I bought last minute tickets on the only bus left with seats to DC for the Women’s March on Washington. I would have been fine going to a sister march here at home, but you wanted to go to Washington. And you were right.

We didn’t get much sleep – on a 10:30 pm journey, arriving close to 2 am Saturday. A couple hours on a sofa bed and we were up and ready to march. Over 7 hours, nearly 7 miles of walking and standing, you were so good. Yes, you complained a bit that your legs and feet hurt, but you willingly walked along with us. Then another night with little sleep to catch an early bus home on Sunday. You were a trooper, and I thank you for it.

What makes this even more impressive is that Saturday’s march was not about you. You are a white boy, almost a man, in a country where you just learned being a white man, no matter how reprehensible, is rewarded. You can easily live your life with a blind eye turned to the struggles of the non-white, non-male. You don’t have to care. But you do. You already understand that none of us are free until all of us are free. You understand that women deserve equal pay. You understand that access to health care, to education and to justice is a human right.

It may not feel like you have privilege. You are being raised by a single mom, and you know that I’m trying my best, working two jobs, to make ends barely meet. You went to a failing school for a few years. You see us as the “have nots” in a world full of “haves.” But you do have privileges that many people do not. Yes, we are poor, but we have a safety net. Our family would never let us starve or be homeless. So many Americans do not have that. You got out of your failing school and are in a wonderful music-based magnet school. Think of your classmates who will never get the chance at a better education. When you are sick, we have health care. When you are hungry, we have food (even if you might not like it).

You can walk down our street, and into the bodegas, and not be assumed to be a criminal. You might wonder why I don’t want you and your friends taking nerf guns outside of our house. I’m not worried for your safety at all. I don’t want another incident of police shooting an African-American boy ever, let alone in our neighborhood, because he was playing with your nerf guns.

I know I annoy you telling you about love and sex and consent. Be prepared to be annoyed for a while; I’m just getting started. You’ll know too many women – hell, you already do – who have been mistreated, assaulted and raped. I will be confident when I send you to college that you will never do anything without full consent of your partner, and will speak up against the misogyny and rape-culture present on your campus.

Henry, Saturday’s March on Washington was historic. The crowd alone in DC broke records and with the sister marches around the country, we were part of the largest day of protest ever in American history. Never forget you were a part of it. Never forget you asked for the pink-crocheted pussyhat. Never forget the people around you, of every gender, race, sexual orientation, religion, ability asking for the guarantees of liberty, justice and equality for all of us. Never forget that your voice, your presence can make a difference whether you are one or one in a million.

This is what democracy looks like. And you are part of it.

I love you more.

Love,

Mom

 

Mourning

Death has been on my mind a lot. 2016 seems to be intent on taking us all down with it. This year, personally, I lost my grandmother. She was a few weeks shy of turning 97, so while hardly a tragedy, I am still mourning her. Granny was my last grandparent. I know I’m so lucky to have reached my late 30s with a grandparent still alive. But there is something about this loss that makes me feel more of an adult in a way I don’t want to feel.

I have many friends who have already lost of a parent, or both parents. And this week, my cousin lost her husband, just 44 years old, to cancer. Mortality in general, but also my own mortality, has become a big, flashing neon sign I’m not able to ignore anymore.

And I picked this year to taper off antidepressants?! The universe is laughing at me.

We all know the many, many celebrities that have died this year. Christmas Day, we learned of George Michael’s passing. A spontaneous dance party broke out in my aunt’s kitchen – a fitting tribute to the voice behind the name of my childhood imaginary friend, Go-Go.

But learning of Carrie Fisher’s passing has stopped me in my tracks. This woman personified feminism in film before that was something we paid attention too. And she was more open about mental illness than just about anyone. I have so much to say about her I’m not quite sure where to start. Here are some great quotes that have been circulating the past few days. (Photos from Buzzfeed)

She said, “To the father who flipped out about it, ‘What am I going to tell my kid about why she’s in that outfit?’ Tell them that a giant slug captured me and forced me to wear that stupid outfit, and then I killed him because I didn’t like it.”

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“Movies are dreams! And they work on you subliminally. You can play Leia as capable, independent, sensible, a soldier, a fighter, a woman in control – control being, of course, a lesser word than master. But you can portray a woman who’s a master and get through all the female prejudice if you have her travel in time, if you add a magical quality, if you’re dealing in fairy-tale terms.” (Rolling Stone, 1983)

sub-buzz-15785-1482879571-1

She also had an advice column in the Guardian: “Ask Carrie Fisher: Advice from the Dark Side” on living with mental illness/bipolar disorder:

We have been given a challenging illness, and there is no other option than to meet those challenges. Think of it as an opportunity to be heroic – not “I survived living in Mosul during an attack” heroic, but an emotional survival. An opportunity to be a good example to others who might share our disorder. That’s why it’s important to find a community – however small – of other bipolar people to share experiences and find comfort in the similarities.

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My favorite illustration from just after Disney acquired Star Wars.

Thank you, Carrie Fisher. Thank you for showing us that princesses can rescue themselves (and others). Thank you for teaching us to be revolutionaries. Thank you for being open and honest about your illness, and survival, and breaking down some of the stigmas attached. Thank you for aging just the way you did – it was perfect.

May the Force Be With You.

(And 2016, just stop already.)

 

Anti Day

Today is my anti-day. In a mix of astrology, mythology, pagan rituals, and my own imagination, I imagined it into my antiholiday. I was born on the summer solstice. I love summer and sunlight, swimming and freckles. Just thinking of summer scenes make me happy.

This time of year, the Winter Solstice, is the opposite of everything in my being. It’s dark and dreary (when not night, it is gray). It’s cold, and heavy (clothing, and food, and feelings). It is the opposite of all that makes me thrive. And because of my situation, in even years, I don’t spend the holidays with my son. In a word, depressing. The whole lot of it.

(Seasonal Affected Disorder is real, and I do think I have a touch of it. Generally, I find January and February more difficult though the daylight starts getting longer now.)

Part of me, a big part, wants to come home from dropping Henry at the airport, and stay in bed, under the warm covers, forcing the cat to cuddle with me, and ignore the holidays. “Hello Netflix, my old friend…”

I’ll do a little of that. I’ll also try to go to a few movies since I have time too. But for today, my anti day, I’m going to take care of myself (bath bomb, face mask, funny podcasts), and hug the kid until he’s annoyed at me. I’m going to think of sunshine and the ocean.

Take care of yourself. Take care of others (not just loved ones). It will be light again soon.