It’s time to recognise Ireland’s women – starting with the naming of Dublin’s new bridge
The time is long past for fairness in how we name and honour the women of Ireland in its capital city. We must publicly recognise the extraordinary women who have contributed to Irish society, writes Máire Devine.
by Máire Devine
CÁ BHFUIL Mná na hEireann? What tributes does Dublin City have to women? The time is long past for a sexual democracy in how we name and honour the women of Ireland in its capital city.
While there is a handful of extraordinary women whose contribution to Irish society have recognition, albeit not with equal billing to men, the ordinary extraordinary woman has no place in the annals of our history. Where were/are our women? Recent events would suggest that a sizeable portion of the male establishment prefers to keep them barefoot and pregnant. Still.
What tributes does our capital have to women?
We are still the spare rib. What tributes does this city have to women? Real women and those legendary or imagined. How, if at all, does Dublin recognise the 52 per cent of its inhabitants? (Census 2011). What portion of our social spaces reflect this statistic?
I am aware of the well endowed “Molly” ( Southside as home!) , “The Meeting” (Woollen Mills) and the curious tapestry rug, a tad creepy (displayed in a carpet shop window Dame Street) of Mary Robinson – but little else of any tribute to women appears known or visible. Even though we constitute more than half of Dublin’s population, women have inspired relatively few place names, and even fewer once you eliminate the blessed saints.
Public called on for naming suggestions
Dublin City Council had asked the public for suggestions regarding the naming of the new bridge due to open in the autumn. No bridge spanning the Liffey is named in honour of an actual woman or in reference to us women. Poor Anna Livia – sweeping from mountains to sea – dominated and bounded by visible substantive structures accorded to men. Trampling over her – the floozie!
It goes without saying that women have been neglected yet are equally deserving as the men whose names grace our capitals’s public spaces. Have we just become accustomed to not being important enough, immune to the masculinity that pervades our city? Time is long past for a sexual democracy!
Tasked by SF earlier this year to organise the event of 2013 for International Women’s Day, we explored women’s roles in this the centenary year of the Dublin lockout: 1913 was the turning point for Irish workers which flung open the gates for trade unions to flourish. It was a critical watershed in a struggle, still not over, to bring economic justice to governing of Ireland, to pay a fair wage to all workers, to spread wealth to those in need, to ensure that it was the Irish people who had ‘ownership of Ireland and the unfettered control of Irish destinies’.
I spent two days rediscovering my city and photographed 23 statues/sculpts depicting Mná Na hEireann, confining my curiosity to those artefacts we pass by in our everyday lives. The postcard represents just five of these – a banner designed for the event last March displays more of the photos. womenspostcard_2-1
We subconsciously accept that public life is male-dominated
We all are accustomed to public life as essentially male-dominated. Subconsciously we have accepted this without much thought or question. Despite being stakeholders, who individually and as a group have contributed enormously to our historical and evolving community that is our city, the feminine, has been carelessly and detrimentally ignored.
Recently, as part of a longstanding debate over official efforts to undo entrenched gender roles that pervade all countries, several major cities have considered the idea of striving for gender parity on signposts. This might seem a simple and frivolous measure but in some cities politicians have passed legislation that requires streets and public places be named for women until parity is reached with men.
I imagine that our absence at street level, so to speak, has and continues to impede sexual democracy at all levels. Perhaps Dubliners should seek a quota when naming public areas – whether it be streets, squares,(or as we now hipstery call them ‘plazas’), buildings, bridges, forests, parks – in fact anything within the public realm. The quota would need to be weighted higher than electoral ones to balance this imbalance.
I can think of places which ought to be stripped of their name- defrocked so to speak. Sín sceal eile.
(Of note; the one global “honour” bestowed upon women was the naming of hurricanes after us. A dubious tribute that suggests unpredictability, wrath, destructiveness but definitely awe inspiring and fascinating. From 1978 male and female names were alternated.
The six photos in “The Good The Bad and The Ugly” are; L-R
ASPIRATION: Treasury Building, Grand Canal Street (formerly Boland’s Mill site of 1916). Sculptor Rowan Gillespie (1995). A naked woman scuttling up the exterior of the building looking back for others to follow. It depicts the uphill struggle for Irish freedom. The sculptor had to change its sex when the wealthy business man who commissioned it felt uneasy at the thought of a naked man crawling outside his office! So she’s there by default.
MURDERED MAYORESS: St Marys Pro-Cathedral, Marlborough St. Dublin. Conall McCabe (2001). Mayoress Margaret Ball refused to renounce her faith or take the Oath of Supremacy to the English Monarchs. Her son Walter, a turncoat, had her arrested and imprisoned in Dublin Castle. She died there of neglect and ill treatment in 1584.
MAEDHBH WARRIOR QUEEN: Connaught House, Burlington Road. Patrick O’ Reilly (2004). Tall she stands in naked glory holding a bulls head and spear in her hands. The legendary Queen of Connaught who took no prisoners. Some accuse her of being a misandrist while others, in that Dublin parlance, reckon “she’s a bit of a goer”. A maelstrom of magnificence.
COUNTESS MARKIEVICZ AND POPPET: Tara Street. Sculptor Elizabeth McLoughlin (1998). According to her contemporaries Poppet was” a dog you’d love to root” as written by Seán O Faoláin in his biography of the Countess. The statue was bluntly criticised in an Irish Times review at its unveiling as “vulgar, coarse” and a “gift shop item enlarged”.
ANNA LIVIA: Croppies Memorial Park, Wolfe Tone Quay (formally of O’ Connell St). Designed by Eamonn O Doherty to commemorate Dublin’s Millennium in 1988. At 5.5 metres long young Anna symbolises the river Liffey in female form. AKA “Floozie in de Jacuzzi/Hoo-er in de sewer”.
FIONNUALA-CHILDREN OF LIR: Garden of Remembrance, Parnell Square. By Oisín Kelly 1971. A Legend connected with Thuatha Dé Dannan. King Lir’s daughter, Fionnuala, along with her three brothers were transformed into swans by the jealous Queen Aoife and spent 900 years on the lakes of Ireland. It symbolises the birth of anation following 900 years of oppression. “O generations of freedom remember us”.
This article first appeared in the Journal.ie on Monday 5th August, and has recorded over 15,000 views! Impressive.