The Mighty Margaret Skinnider

When you listen to or read accounts (including my own) of Margaret Skinnider’s life it’s immediately clear that she was a fighter and a warrior. She was brave and devoted to Irish freedom. She was gravely wounded in the Easter Rising but somehow survived her injuries to continue fighting for Ireland, for recognition and pensions for women, and for Irish workers for the next five decades or so. Her fierceness has inspired many and we’ve all rushed to applaud Skinnider’s fighting spirit, using it to highlight and recognize the important (and often atypical) roles that Irish women played throughout history.

It’s pretty common knowledge that Margaret Skinnider was a teacher, a revolutionary, a union boss, a devoted suffragist, a deadly sniper, a commanding officer, an explosives expert, a smuggler and so much more. We’re used to seeing her as a dedicated, cross-dressing, sharp shooting freedom fighter so it might be a little jarring to hear one of her best friends say that Skinnider was love and kindness incarnate and that she was gentle. Sure she was a soldier who spent most of her life fighting for one cause or another but she was also full of empathy and love, kindness and compassion – and many of the historical narratives (including my own) overlook those aspects of Skinnider’s life.

This is part of a bigger problem. In our rush to make sure that women are counted among the heroes of history, we often highlight only the fiercest and more traditionally “male” aspects of them. We tell tales of how they outsmarted others and how they aggressively fought for something and proved themselves worthy of remembrance and praise. We often ignore their traditionally “feminine” sides in favor of a glorious and heroic tale. The famous photo of Margaret dressed as a boy with a cigarette dangling out of her mouth is a perfect example of that. We remind people that that she was a female sniper and one of only two women who wore a soldier’s uniform during the Easter Rising, and we set her apart from the hundreds of other women who were there in their Easter skirts and dresses. There were many other brave women on active duty and they each brought their own fighting spirit and individual set of skills…some of them even saved Skinnider’s life after she’d been shot multiple times. These women are just as worthy of remembrance whether we know their names and stories yet or not, even if they had more traditional roles. Margaret’s exciting and unusual tale has become more popular in recent years but in telling it we’ve done her a disservice. We’ve all celebrated her deeds but most of us ignored the other aspects of her life. It’s less common knowledge that Skinnider was as gentle, loyal and loving as she was aggressive. She lived a long life full of love, music and long lasting friendships. Her favorite song about Ireland was a somewhat sappy love song called The Jackets Green. She was a lesbian in a committed and life long relationship in an era when that was not only frowned upon, but illegal. Mary McAuliffe’s newish book about Margaret Skinnider uncovers that love story and much more. It is an overdue biography that focuses on Skinnider’s life as a whole, rather than highlighting one or two of her legendary acts. It gives our inspiring hero her entire life back, long after she passed away.

Which brings us to the point, dear readers. On this day in 1971, the mighty Margaret Skinnider threw off this mortal coil. She is buried in the Republican 1916 plot at Glasnevin Cemetery, where she rests next to many of her dearest friends and comrades. To remember her today, why not listen to this interview with Mary McAuliffe where she talks about some of the lesser known aspects of Skinnider’s life or you can listen to Margaret tell her own story of Easter week right here. If you’re like me and you still haven’t been able to break up with the written word, you can find Skinnider’s own 1917 propaganda masterpiece, Doing My Bit For Ireland in various places on the web and in bookstores throughout Ireland. While you’re at it keep an eye out for Margaret Skinnider by Mary McAuliffe as well.

An easy list for everyone

Yes it’s that time of year again. St. Patrick’s Day is upon us and here on the U.S. side of the puddle, it can quickly become a trash fire of epic proportions. This year I’ve decided to improve the easy list I started a few years ago so that we can hand it out to our shamrocked, leprechaun hat wearing, fake Irish-dancing friends in order to keep them (and us) from acting the fool. Here’s five simple DON’Ts and one DO that will make the Wearing of the Green safer and more palatable for everyone, no matter where you live or where you’re from.

1. Don’t pinch people. It’s rather hard to believe in the age of the #MeToo and #TimesUp campaigns that anyone still has to be told that aggressively grabbing, touching, or pinching strangers is wrong. However, just in case you thought that rule didn’t apply on St. Patrick’s Day let me remind you that it is still wrong to pinch (or touch) any part of anyone for any reason without their permission. It will always be wrong to to touch or pinch people in any way without their consent and many people will be too intoxicated to give consent anyway, so keep your little pinchy urges and tiny crab claw fingers to yourself and just say no. Everyone, male or female, with thank you for it.

2.  DO. NOT. ORDER. AN. IRISH. CAR. BOMB. Seriously folks, I don’t know how many times I have to say this to people. Nothing personifies ignorance, caricature, and casual cruelty better than walking into an Irish pub and ordering up an Irish Car Bomb. You wouldn’t walk into a NYC bar and order a 9/11 would you?! Then don’t order a fuc%ing carbomb, for the same reason.

This horrifically named cocktail is American-made and designed to get you very drunk very quickly. It is highly effective but it’s also named after a weapon that has been used to kill and maim literally THOUSANDS of people in the country it’s named after. No one who grew up in Ireland (or knows its history and/or has a deep love for it) can tolerate the obnoxious name for this drink and for many Irish people, it brings up trauma and terrible memories. It is not funny, not appropriate, and not cool for you or your friends to sell or order any drink by that name. It may get you kicked out of your favorite Irish pub and it could (and should) get you kicked in the face.

That being said, Irish Whiskey, Irish Cream, and Guinness are all very tasty treats. You can order and pay for a glass of each, mix the ingredients yourself, and try a delightful, super-intoxicating elixir. If you work at a bar, you could make up a new drink special just by calling it something else (it’s also been referred to as the ‘Holy Trinity’ and ‘the Ulster Flip’) or you can just refuse to serve it at all and many Irish people and Irish history fans would thank you for it.

3. Don’t misspell the name of the day. If you’re hunting for Irish-themed decor or clothing, choosing a hashtag, or you have some other reason to shorten the name of this holiday, please remember that the correct shortened spelling is P-A-D-D-Y. It’s not St. Patty’s. There are no Ts in the Irish spelling of Padraig, nor any Ts in the abbreviated and shortened version of it. Just remember what a very good friend of mine once said, (very loudly and proudly I might add) – “I always remember to stick with the Double Ds”.  We were actually talking about his taste in women at the time, but the same rule applies here just as well. Which brings us to another important thing to consider.

4. Don’t buy into stereotyping or bigotry.  If you want to celebrate St. Paddy’s Day good on you but you don’t have to propagate the stereotypes to do it. Pass on anything that conveys the message that Irish people are drunks, fighters, leprechauns, or idiots. Find something that celebrates Ireland’s rich culture instead of something that mocks it. The Irish have fought against these stereotypes for years and buying a T-Shirt that propagates them may seem harmless but it isn’t. The only way companies will ever offer a wider, more celebratory variety of St. Paddy’s Day swag is if their customers quit buying awful, bigoted costumes. Pass on the ‘Kiss me I’m Irish’ stuff too unless you are actively consenting to anyone doing just that. (See #1)

Don’t insult Ireland’s culture while you claim to be celebrating it.

One more thing along this line – when you’re using your outside voice, please realize that no one says “Top o’ the morning” or “Give me my lucky charms” ever and that fake accents of any kind are obnoxious whether you’re drinking or not. Just keep that lilt in check.

5. Know your history. In IrelandSaint Patrick (Padraig) is celebrated for “driving the snakes out of Ireland” which is a metaphor for bringing Christianity to the island and systematically erasing its pagan roots. Thankfully that is not what most people are celebrating these days and many of the bigger parades and parties are more secular in nature. The Catholic influence is also why the color code of the day is green, which is traditionally associated with that faith in Ireland. You shouldn’t have to wear it on St. Patrick’s Day if you’re not a Catholic but you try to explain that to a million and one drunken Grabby McPinchersons! It’s exhausting and just easier to wear green. (See #1.)

I’m all for transforming the holiday from a religious one to a party and cultural celebration but I’m also a firm believer in the whole live and let live thing. Feel free to preach about the wonders of St. Patrick, go to mass, and have a quiet night in if that’s what you wish – or party until dawn howling at the moon if that’s your thing. However, NEVER insist on telling others (ESPECIALLY if they’re Irish) how to celebrate their own holiday. That makes you the asshole, not them.

And there you have it. Five things you shouldn’t do this year or any other for that matter. As for the one DO – DO WASH YOUR HANDS A LOT AND STAY HOME IF YOU ARE SICK. If you’re  happy and healthy have fun, get wasted, dye your hair green, take the green Mardi Gras beads out of the closet, go to mass, wear a shamrock or a lily, sing some rebel songs or do whatever else you were planning to do – just try not to be a complete asshole when you’re doing it. Be sure to think ahead and plan a way home so you don’t hurt yourself or anyone else. Have a blast and remember one simple thing – treating other people and other cultures better every single day makes the world a better place. Start today.

See you out there in the trenches.

Sláinte.

The Poet of the Fenians

The remarkably short life of John Keegan Casey was full of lyrical rebellion and inspiring, seditious poetry. His pen was at least as dangerous as the sword, if not more so and it made him a warrior and a target at a remarkably young age. His best known work is “The Rising of the Moon“, which he reportedly penned at the tender age of just fifteen and it is still in heavy rotation to this day.

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Arms Around Moore Street

There have been various groups rallying around Moore Street in Dublin for the last few decades – and some have dedicated a good portion of their weekends and lives to protecting the area from wanton destruction. This weekend (and every other for that matter) you have a chance to stand with them, both literally and symbolically.

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Another heartbreak for Derry

The short time I spent in Derry utterly changed me. The wounded city stole a large part of my heart when I took my first steps into it – and my life, my writing, my opinions, and my studies have changed drastically in the years since that first visit. It is why I regularly set the alarm for an ungodly time here in the states to watch events as they unfold in Derry in real time. This morning was one of those days that I got up before the sun with my digital eyes glued to the news from The Town I Love So Well because after so many years of determination and stubborn hope, it was finally possible that the families of the innocent people who were shot and killed on Bloody Sunday would get the justice and the vindication that they deserved. It was easy to be optimistic when I woke up. After all, if the Prime Minister can call the killings ‘unjustified and unjustifiable’ why wouldn’t there be consequences for those who pulled the trigger? But my heart sank quickly as the news came in. The vast majority of those responsible for murdering innocent people and firing indiscriminately into a crowd of peaceful protestors will not be charged with any crime, despite overwhelming evidence that they should be.

It’s more salt in the wounds for the survivors and the families of those who were murdered. To see their astonishing grace and determination in the face of even more injustice this morning was mind blowing. Words are not sufficient for what they must be feeling and to remain so dignified in the face of this fresh devastation is beyond my comprehension. They will continue their quest for justice, despite this setback and the many other obstacles they’ve faced on this journey.  Please support them in any way you can.

One of their many incredible statements can be found here.

https://www.derrynow.com/news/justice-one-family-justice-us-say-bloody-sunday-families/271169

 

Their fight continues. Something inside so strong.

Dan Breen

Dan Breen was an integral and powerful man in Ireland’s long fight for independence. He was a husband and father, a gangster, a politician, a speakeasy operator, and an author, but first and foremost he was a self-described soldier who was dedicated to freedom.

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Political snowballs

Politics in the north of Ireland are a tricky thing. For generations words, weapons, petrol bombs and more have been tossed from one side of the divide (and the border) to the other in an ongoing struggle for power. On this day in 1967 a different sort of projectile was thrown into the mix (ahem) when Rev. Ian Paisley launched snowballs at Jack Lynch, the Taoiseach of Ireland.

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Dublin’s Bloody Sunday

When one thinks of Bloody Sunday, what usually comes to mind is the 1972 civil rights march in Derry, where English soldiers opened fire on marchers and brutally murdered fourteen innocent people. This incident shocked the world and spilled over into pop culture leading to multiple songs, movies, documentaries and more – making it one of the most notorious moments in Irish history. It was not the first “Bloody Sunday” in Ireland, but (thankfully) it was the last. There have been four dreadful days known as Bloody Sunday in recent Irish history and the second (and most deadly) one occurred on this date, November 21st, 1920, in Dublin.

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Greysteel Devil’s Night Massacre

The conflict known as the Troubles was a long war on many fronts. There were some people fighting against those they saw as invaders and oppressors and others fighting to show how loyal they were to the country they felt part of. There was also a propaganda war being fought as various groups tried to reach sympathetic audiences (and large pocketbooks) around the world. The third battleground was the deadliest of all and it was comprised of all the tit-for-tat, mostly Sectarian killings between various paramilitary groups. This last front resulted in the vast majority of civilian deaths throughout the region and it was the hardest to prepare for or justify. It includes the Devil’s Night massacre at the Rising Sun bar in Greysteel, which happened on this day in 1993.

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Robert Emmet Day

San Francisco does a lot to stay in touch with its Irish roots and Ireland in general. The St. Patrick’s Day Parade in San Francisco is still one of the largest in the country and the Irish community in the Bay celebrates the parade even when it’s six months away. The “Halfway to St. Patrick’s Day” weekend party culminates in a gathering at Golden Gate Park in the heart of the city. This park event is also referred to as Robert Emmet day, because the festivities include laying a wreath at the base of his statue, located right in the middle of the park.

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