Allies, not handmaidens

Jenny Wyse-Power. Elizabeth O’Farrell. Stasia Twomey. Mary Colum. Mary MacSwiney. Nora Connolly O’Brien. Dr Dorothy Stopford Price. Dr Ada English. Kathleen Clarke. Dr Brigid Lyons Thornton. Ring any bells? Hint: We’re talking Irish history here. 

A few of those names are probably more recognizable than others - Nora Connolly O’Brien, daughter of James Connolly; Kathleen Clarke, wife of Tom Clarke. In the main, however, and despite their extraordinary lives, these women’s stories were to a large extent left untold. 

We recently passed the 100 year anniversary of the foundation of Cumann na mBan, the organisation formed by Irish women to further the cause of Irish liberty in 1914. It wasn’t the first time women had come together to discuss their ideas and get involved in events that have now become pivotal historical moments, but Cumann na mBan is perhaps the most well known of those groups. 

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(Cumann na mBan convention, photo courtesy of the Military Archives)

That’s not saying much, considering the number of people I have met who had no idea of the extent of what these women did for Ireland and Irish society at a time of terror, violence and unrest. 

When I heard about the Centenary events, I was almost giddy with excitement at the chance to work on something that’s been a passion of mine for years. There was a full State commemoration ceremony at Glasnevin Cemetery attended by the President, a plaque was unveiled at Wynn’s hotel in Dublin to mark the first meeting of the organisation, and a two day conference was held by the Women’s History Association of Ireland.

Requesting and receiving the images in this post and more from the Military Archives and Kilmainham Gaol Museum made my week and I couldn’t stop examining them, imagining myself in them. What must it have been like for these women? Thrilling? Terrifying? Or was it just an essential part of life for them?

Friends and family members have sighed and rolled their eyes as they realised I was off on one about “the wimmin” again.

Seriously though, this shouldn’t be a niche interest - these women contributed to the formation of our state just as much as the next volunteer did, some of them more so. Anyone with an interest in Irish history should also have an interest in them. 

Being a bit of a history nerd and a feminist, I’ve always been fascinated by their stories. I’ve read several books on the women who took part in the numerous rebellions this island has seen - among them Sinéad McCoole’s excellent No Ordinary Women, or A Noontide Blazing by John Colwell, if anyone’s looking for recommendations - and I’m in awe of their bravery. 

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(Cumann na mBan members, “Mrs Ceannt, Miss Ffrench Mullen and Madam Markievicz”, photo courtesy of the Military Archives)

Women have often been just a footnote in the history of the struggle for independence, despite the fact that hundreds played a part in the 1916 Rising, and the War of Independence. There were women fighting on both sides of the Civil War, and throughout these years, across the country, women were providing safe houses, treating wounded fighters and risking their lives carrying messages between rebel groups (one carried messages in her plaited hair). 

As Mary McAuliffe, President of the Women’s History Association of Ireland, tells me in the video, women were at the frontline, and “they experienced that violence directly”. For women, expected to keep family homes together when everything was crumbling around them, there was no option to go on the run or into hiding. In a way what they did was braver than the men’s exploits. On top of that, they faced social backlash in the form of society’s disapproval of their actions. It wasn’t considered very ladylike to bear arms (and still isn’t…) and joining a secret organisation and learning to shoot a gun went against all of society’s expectations. 

Many of the women had family who were involved in the fighting, brothers or husbands or fathers. 

Countess Markievicz is about the only one of their number whose name found an unquestionable place in history. Hundreds, maybe thousands more simply faded into the background again once the war was over, never uttering a word about what they did. It wasn’t until historians and writers took a particular interest in them that their stories began to emerge. If you have the time and interest, delving into this forgotten corner of Irish history is pretty fascinating, and highly recommended. Watch the video for a taster!

Persistence of Memory

Our memory is a powerful, tenacious thing. It can bring us great pleasure or great sadness. It becomes particularly important when we lose someone.

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We often fill the empty days that follow loss with stories, attempting to conjure up our lost loved one from thin air, trying to keep a part of them alive even as we process their death. Our lost loved one’s character is suddenly amplified, as is our memory of them. We find a new appreciation for everything they gave us.

Something that came to light in the days and weeks following the death of my grandfather, John O’Toole, became the inspiration for this project. My grandmother Kit discovered he had preserved letters she wrote to him in the early 1950s, before they were married. I felt the need to preserve this moving piece of my family’s history, along with the true essence of my grandfather’s character.

Through interviews with my grandmother, and my mother and her siblings, I extracted a picture of John O’Toole seen through the eyes of the people who loved him the most. Of course, he was never “John O’Toole” to us. To us, his grandchildren, he was “Goggy”. To my mother and her siblings he was “Dad” and to my grandmother (“Nanny”), he was “Johnny”. 

Beginning with tender words from his soulmate, “My dearest Johnny”, and expanding to little details that were just as essential a part of him, that picture is represented here through images, audio, and one of his favourite things - jazz.

More pictures of Max and Jazz from a recent trip home. I’m still trying to get the perfect shot of Max’s slobbery, affectionate doggie kisses which he bestows on whoever he deems worthy. 

Liebster Award - Discover new blogs

My lovely friend Marese of Marese’s Pieces (check her out here ) has very kindly nominated me for a Liebster Award. This is an award for bloggers with less than 200 followers, and basically a tool for bloggers to spread the word about each others sites and discover new blogs in the process. 

Now, I think my followers come to a grand total of 3, so it’s safe to say I’m in desperate need of a helping hand from fellow bloggers like Marese. To be honest, I didn’t set this blog up with a view to attracting followers and I do very little promoting of it on social media, mainly because I’m a bit of a coward. 

I set up An Béal Mór to host the odd set of photos, article, video or rant as the mood strikes me. Posting has been at best sporadic and not usually on a coherent theme so I can hardly blame the good folk of Tumblr for not bothering to follow me. However, reading Marese’s blog and some of the other blogs she nominated has inspired me to make more of an effort to write about my life on here. 

So without further ado, here are the rules: 

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11 Facts about me: 

1. I was born in Stanford University Hospital, California. This fact leads many of my friends to refer to me as a "Yank" despite the fact that I grew up in Ireland and I along with my entire family hail from Kilkenny in the not so sunny South East. 

2. I adore food. My favourite dish is Pasta Alla Norma, but I’ll settle for anything Italian.

3. I love photography. I may sort of do it for a living but I still have a LOT to learn about it. 

4. I have a younger brother called Pierre. My parents just couldn’t settle for calling us Mary and John, they had to be different

5. I’m not a girly girl, but I’m not a tomboy either. I like to think of myself as straddling those two clichés. 

6. I love to run, but what I really love is martial arts. I have a Yellow Belt in Krav Maga, but my plan to be just like Chuck Norris is stalled at the moment because my KM gym was sadly shut down. I’m on the lookout for a new one, however.

7. I love music, but I can’t settle on any one kind of music. I love every type of music (with a few exceptions) and a glance at my music collection and playlists would lead anyone to believe I have multiple personalities. If I had to pick one genre though, gun to my head, it would be blues.

8. I’m a complete bookworm

9. I can’t.stop.talking

10. I originally wanted to be a vet, but changed my mind when I realised I wouldn’t have the heart to put animals down day in, day out. So I became a journalist instead.

11. I’ve been writing short stories and living in a world of my own since I was a child.

Next up, here are the 11 blogs I nominate for a Liebster Award: 

http://12monthsinestonia.wordpress.com/

http://thegreatbritishtakeoff.wordpress.com/

http://ornacunningham.wordpress.com/

http://eileenevans.blogspot.ie/

http://aislingorourke.com/?page_id=271

http://mrsmichaelmyers.tumblr.com/

http://cookiteatitloveit.com/

http://dermotswineblog.blogspot.ie/

http://daydreamingfoodie.com/

http://gwenscheeseboard.com/

http://aseaofneoncolours.wordpress.com/

Now, for Marese’s 11 nosy questions:

1. What made you decide to start writing a blog?

I had stopped writing in any creative way or even writing just for the pleasure of it, as the job and the social life slowly took over. I decided setting up a blog would give me a place to put anything I might want to write, and hoped it would give me a push to do a bit more writing!

2. Facebook/Twitter – share your link!

Twitter.com/Saschaotoole

3. If you met your idol, who would they be and what 1 question would you ask them?

My idol of the moment is Sheryl Sandberg. I’d ask her how to know what risks to take, both in life and in your career.

4. If you could give your younger self advice, what would it be?

Try to spend at least ten minutes of each day NOT daydreaming. Also, exercise more, and don’t be afraid to try new things.

5. What’s the first thing you do in the morning?

Check my email. 

6. Do you have any regrets?

Tons. Nothing life changing though, thankfully. Mainly I regret spending too much time regretting. 

7. If you could live off one food for the rest of your life, what would it be?

PASTA.

8. I believe everyone is either a cat/dog/horse person. Which would you choose (or would you choose another animal?) and why?

That’s difficult for me, because I always thought I was a cat person until I got my dogs. Now I can only think of myself as both a cat and a dog person. Is that cheating? Ah well. The only animal there I can rule out is horses. I enjoy horse riding but I’m a complete beginner and still a little afraid of them.

9. Where is the best place you’ve ever visited?

Paris. I know, original!

10. Reading/Writing – which do you prefer?

It’s hard to say - I love both! I love writing and find it very therapeutic, but I’d probably have to go with reading.

11. What 3 things would you like to do in the next 10 years?

- Get a Master’s degree (don’t ask me in what, I’m still deciding!)

Travel to at least 2 new continents (the current plan is South America and South East Asia)

- Learn to drive

This was fun! Thanks very much for nominating me Marese, and I hope the blogs I nominated enjoy filling out these 11 nosy questions: 

1. What inspires you to write a blog post?

2. How often do you blog? 

3. Explain the name of your blog. 

4. What’s your pet hate on the internet? (it can be anything from abusive comments to spelling errors in tweets, etc)

5. What (if any) New Year’s Resolutions did you make this year?

6. Would you rather a) A brand new car or b) An all-expenses paid trip to a place of your choice?

7. Can you cook? If so, what is your go-to dish to impress guests?

8. Name three things you love about Ireland.

9. What’s the most embarrassing thing that has happened to you in the last year? 

10. Tell me about the last time a book, or a piece of music (song, album, etc) changed your life.

11. What is your favourite (non blog) website?

The Irish Coast Guard - Volunteers

These portraits are part of a project I’m working on at the moment to capture the members of our incredible Coast Guard teams around the country. These photos are of the members of the Skerries team. I don’t think I’ve ever met a group of people more generous with their time and willing to help. I have such respect for volunteers everywhere, but the Coast Guard in particular interests me. It’s incredible to think that the people who are available around the clock to help you if you’re in trouble on the coast, are actually volunteers with full time jobs to go to. 

While I was taking these portraits I chatted with the members of the team about how it fits in with their day to day life. Each one of them was very positive about it, and not one of them complained. I suppose if they were going to complain about getting up at 2am for a call out on a work night they’d hardly be part of the Coast Guard.

Oonagh Murray, who has been a member for 2 years, told me that the most difficult part of it is thinking fast:

"You learn so much. You just never know when you get the pager, what’s going to be going on at the other end of it. It’s really challenging. When you come on the scene, it’s figuring out what needs to be done. But when you have good team mates, you work well with the team and it’s grand."

Some of the members have been in the team for years, and others had just joined up. I’ve been pondering whether there is something that ties Coast Guard volunteers together, a piece of their identity that just motivates them to help people. There is in a lot of cases a family connection, a tradition. The Officer in Charge in Skerries, Vanessa, told me that her father had been a member before her. Her brother Stephen is also on the Skerries team.

"It can be trying at times, but that’s part of the game. It just goes to show  you the dangers out there," says Tommy Grimes, a retired County Council worker who has been a member for 6 years. 

Tommy admitted that at almost 65 years of age his time in the Coast Guard was “winding down,” but said that if he could continue past that, he would.

He spoke of the “buzz of getting a call out, the adrenaline”, and the fact that everyone has something to contribute, no matter their size, background, or experience. Every one of the team were happy to talk about their experience in the Coast Guard, and each one of them had such an obvious passion for it that I found myself getting a little jealous. 

The other aspect of being part of the Coast Guard is the social aspect - people of all ages and from all walks of life are part of it, and unlikely groups of friends have been made. It was clear from the few hours I spent with this team that they all have a great time together and are fairly close. 

These are the kind of people you want to be around, and I found myself pretty tempted to join up after spending the morning with this team. 

For more information on the team, check out http://www.skerriescoastguard.com. 

The National flag was at half mast at Government Buildings last week in honour of Nelson Mandela.

Since he passed away, I’ve seen many of Mandela’s very memorable and thought-provoking quotes being shared. This was my favourite:

"No one is born hating another person because of the colour of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite."

An incredible man, who lived an incredible and inspiring life. RIP.

When someone you love is missing, “everyday is a long day.”

Missing Persons Day at Farmleigh House

Approximately 4,000 people are reported missing in Ireland each year. Now we have a national day to remember them. 

Ireland’s National Missing Persons Day will take place on the first Wednesday of each December from now on, and I attended the ceremony to mark the beginning of this new tradition this week at Farmleigh House. 

Farmleigh was looking as beautiful as ever, and with the addition of clear blue skies and crisp winter weather, the day turned out beautifully. There was music, speeches, and a tree planting ceremony. All involved were thinking of their missing loved ones, and no one who took to the podium was able to keep from breaking down. My heart went out to every one of them as they relived their own experiences.

Unidentified people who have been found around Ireland were also remembered in the ceremony. Their remains rest near where they were found, tended by locals, who still hope to one day reunite them with their families.

The whole day clearly meant a lot to the families gathered there. Seeing the numbers who attended brought the sheer volume of missing people into sharp focus for me.

Alice Cairns, mother of Philip Cairns who went missing at 13 years of age back in 1986 in South Dublin, told me that when someone you love is missing, “everyday is a long day”. 

Dermot Browne, Chairperson of Missing in Ireland Support Services (MISS), spoke at the ceremony. The group run a Missing Persons helpline, on 1890 442 552. Their website has a comprehensive listing of missing persons cases, with photos and details on the case.

One glance at their website’s “Search Missing Persons” section is very sobering. 

MISS also runs a phone line for people who are missing and want to let their families know they are safe and well: 1800 911 999.

The service is run, Dermot told me, almost completely on a voluntary basis, and Alice Cairns is one of their volunteers. However, they’re in desperate need of more volunteers. 

I left Farmleigh that day with a heavy heart and a lot of food for thought. I’m in awe of the people who turned their grief into action and give their time to groups like MISS and Searching for the Missing, in an attempt to help others in the same situation. 

Alice Cairns still has hope, after 27 years searching for her son. That is what united the people at Farmleigh this Wednesday- hope. 

Photo captions: Alan Shatter speaking with Helen Grealis of Searching for the Missing and Dermot Browne of MISS; Homing pigeons are released at Farmleigh; Soprano Celine Byrne performs “A Candle for You”; Helen Grealis, Dermot Browne and Alice Cairns among family members at the ceremony; Alan Shatter addresses the ceremony; A view of the audience at the ceremony; Penston Vocal Academy, a youth choir from Arklow, Co.Wicklow, performing at the close of the ceremony; the homing pigeons take flight. 

Humans vs Animals

This blog is called Big Mouth because, well, I have a big mouth. I don’t do subtle, withheld, or understated. When I feel strongly about something, someone is going to hear about it (apologies, friends and family). Yet, I haven’t posted anything here but photos. That’s because lately I’ve become a bit wary of the dangers of talking to myself on the internet. For now, however, I’m going to talk. 

I’m here to talk about humans. 

Humans do horrible things. The news is full of stories that I’d rather forget about. Sometimes the torrent of stories of human corruption, cruelty, neglect and abuse seems unstoppable. 

What I want to ask though is, do we humans have a finite number of cares to give about these tales of cruelty? I personally don’t think so, but lately I’ve been wondering. 

What set me off was the response I would get from certain friends if I brought up a story I read/heard about an animal who was rescued or found, having been abused. I would mention this in conversation when talking about the news of the day, and the response I sometimes got blindsided me. The response was something along the lines of: How can you talk about that when there are children dying in Syria? 

Similarly, when this year I decided to run a 10km race, and raise funds, for the Dublin Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, I was met with calls for me to reconsider my chosen charity, because how could I when last year I ran for Crumlin Children’s Hospital?

Finally, when our family pet, a cat named Duchess, passed away, a friend asked me why I seemed down. I replied that my cat had died, and his immediate response was “So what? It’s not like it was a human.”

I was puzzled, to say the least.

If a dog is attached to a pick-up truck and dragged behind it (that happened this week in America), before being lucky enough to be rescued and rehabilitated, do you think it’s a story worth sharing? By sharing it, am I suggesting it’s a more vile act of abuse than the Ian Watkins child abuse case? 

Similarly, if I raise a few hundred euro for a children’s charity one year, and an animal charity the next, is that to say that I believe the children’s charity is less important than the animal charity? What is an appropriate charity to move on to, if that’s the case?

If my pet passes away, am I allowed to be sad, or should I just move on and pretend nothing happened, because his/her life was worth less than mine?

To me these assertions were outrageous. However, there is such a lack of sympathy among certain people (don’t ask me what kind of people, I’m still figuring this out) for animal welfare that it’s almost an insult to them when it is brought up. They scoff at the “tree huggers” who give their time and money to care for animals neglected by others, and roll their eyes when they see a news item about an animal/animals.

These people don’t necessarily hate animals, they just consider them unimportant, not worthy of our tears. Some of these people even have pets themselves, and love them very much from what I can see. However, it doesn’t stop them having strong views on the “Humans vs Animals” question. 

Well, here’s my question: Why does it have to be Humans vs Animals? These creatures comfort us when we’re sad, keep us company when we’re lonely, entertain us, make us laugh, and above all as pets, they love us. I’d go so far as to argue that your dog might love you more than your significant other does. So why is it us against them? 

If you find yourself in this mindset, please consider changing it. To me, it’s a cynical, arrogant way of thinking and it’s not doing any of us any favours. 

Photos from a trip to Bull Island this weekend. Not the kind of images you would normally associate with North Dublin, this place shows the prettier side of the county.