Our lives are full of choices. Every day we face them – some small and trivial and others that change lives. If we’re lucky (or unlucky as the case may be) some even change the course of history – and it is important to acknowledge those choices with the gravitas they deserve. The North of Ireland is about to have one of those game-changing elections and it needs to be carefully considered because the next few decades and any remaining scraps of the Good Friday agreement are just the beginning of what’s at stake.
Many musicians and bands have sung traditional Irish rebel songs throughout the years and one of the most powerful females to do so was Kathleen McCready Largey. She was an amazing songstress and a strong voice both inside and outside of Ireland. Her voice even graced New York’s mighty Carnegie Hall once or twice and audiences on both sides of the ocean loved her.
Sheena Campbell was an enthusiastic and dedicated woman, who was born on this day in 1962. She was a young Irish Republican whose groundbreaking ideas energized and won an important election for Sinn Fein in 1990. Those same ideas, called the torrent strategy, have shaped the foundations of every Sinn Fein campaign since. Ms. Campbell would probably be very proud of this achievement had she not been killed in 1992, just two years after reorganizing the way Sinn Fein prepared for elections.
Reading headlines from Ireland over the last few weeks was strange because I could have sworn I’d read them before…and I have. Hunger Strike commemorations, anger over parades, riot police protecting interlopers over residents, arson fires at community centers, the birth of new political parties, and spies in the IRA have dominated the media of late. The anger, frustration, and general sense of “what the fxck” that came with it all was a bit stronger in the last couple of weeks than it has been in much of the last few decades. The pictures, headlines, and videos gave me a sense of foreboding and a lingering confusion which kind of felt like I was having a bad flashback. Unfortunately, that was not the case.
Josephine McGowan was one of the many women who participated in Ireland’s struggle for freedom. She was a member of the Inghinidhe na hEireann branch of Cumann na mBan and was stationed at the Marrowbone Lane garrison during the 1916 Easter Rising. She was one of twenty-five women who reported for duty and according to one witness statement, Marrowbone seemed to have more women than men at the beginning of the fight. Some of the women vanished throughout the week but Josephine stayed until the very end.
There was more than one amazing Gifford girl. Grace has been immortalized in the annals of Irish History and song, but her sisters were just as political, in fact more so, than the tragic bride of 1916. Sidney was one of the first Gifford sisters to get involved in politics, even though she did it quietly and under the assumed name of John Brennan. In a world where women weren’t listened to, Sidney made her voice and her opinions heard.
One hundred years ago today, Roger Casement was executed at Pentonville Prison in London. In record time, Casement had gone from being a world-renowned humanitarian and a Knight in high standing to a treasonous pervert who was shunned by many of those he once called friends. He was hanged on August 3rd, 1916, for his failed attempt to bring German support and weaponry to Ireland for the Easter Rising and for other “crimes” he committed in his pursuit for Irish freedom.
Casement’s knightly betrayal embarrassed the English government and they were not content to simply kill him.They stripped him of his knighthood and thoroughly destroyed his reputation before making him face the noose. He was the only man associated with the Rising who was killed in this fashion and the only one who died on foreign soil. This was an added insult to someone who had devoted many years of his life to Ireland and its fight for independence.
Well, you learn something new every day. Yesterday I attended a Bernie Sanders rally in Oakland, CA which was the very last place I thought I’d learn a new tidbit of Irish history but I was mistaken. One of the speakers had just returned from the North of Ireland. He butchered the pronunciation of Sinn Fein but he told the crowd that Bernie Sanders was one of the only politicians in the United States (and the world) who had taken the time to write an angry message directly to Margaret Thatcher in 1981.
I haven’t written much about my month-long journey through Ireland culminating with the Centenary because to be frank, I am left speechless by most of it. I have no words to convey how much it changed me and how blessed I was to connect with so many amazing people. Many of the greatest moments of my life happened on this trip, including being one of the Constance Markievicz 1916 Societies standard bearers near the forefront of the centenary parade(s). I still can’t believe that happened and I owe the honor to a couple of incredible women named Anna Harvey and Emma Radford.
The English government could never really figure out how to deal with Sinn Fein or its increasing popularity after the Easter Rising of 1916. They blamed the insurrection on the “Shinners” even though the burgeoning political party had little to do with the battle and they were surprised when much of the Irish population flocked to the organization after the government executed all the leaders of the Rising. They tried to downplay Sinn Fein’s popularity and remove its influence on many occasions, but most of the time whatever they tried had the opposite result. The same was true when the government decided to arrest nearly every leading ‘Shinner’ in Ireland ninety-eight years ago today.