Elizabeth O’Farrell, The woman with the white flag - Transcript

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The following is a transcript of "Elizabeth O’Farrell, The woman with the white flag"  a talk by Ian Kelly, grand-nephew of Elizabeth O’Farrell, at Dublin City Hall on Monday, 25 April 2016.


Welcome to the Dublin City Public Libraries and Archive Podcast. In this episode Ian Kelly talks about his great-aunt Elizabeth O'Farrell, her role in the 1916 Rising, her work as a midwife in Holles Street and her legacy. Listen to 'The Tricolour Ribbon' sung by Antoinette Heery, to Ian reading Liam Mac Uistín's poem "We saw a vision", and to Divisional Librarian Anne-Marie Kelly performing her original vignette 'Elizabeth Looks Back'. Part of a seminar held in Dublin City Hall on 25 April 2016.

Firstly, on behalf of all our family, I’d like to say many thanks to Dr Mary Clark from Dublin City Library and Archives for organising and inviting us, all of the family of Elizabeth O’Farrell, here to this fantastic venue today.  I’d also like to thank the Lord Mayor of Dublin Críona Ní Dhálaigh for receiving us here at the City Hall on behalf of the people of Dublin and finally I’d like to thank Elizabeth D'Arcy for the magnificent work on restoring and conserving the Proclamation donated by our family.  So thank you very much one and all.  (Applause)

Just regarding the Proclamation, I think it’s the most important words that were ever put to paper in Irish history.  When Pádraig Pearse wrote this with the help of Connolly and made it so inclusive for everybody it was so far reaching, ahead of its time, and even at that time. It’s a magnificent piece of work and it’s great to hear that this Proclamation that we have for the people of Dublin will last forever.  So hopefully future generations will read it and take on board what it says and especially in the last few years, the way country is moving forward now.  Rather than looking back all the time I think a Proclamation will always be ahead of its time so and it’s interesting to note, I just copped this in the last few days while reading it and studying it that Ireland to me always was feminine, she’s regarded as ‘she’ and its mentioned 12 times in the Proclamation, the word ‘she’ and ‘her’.  So Pearse was obviously well aware of the inclusiveness and the fact that women were equal and obviously if not more important than men.  We really only sit in the background maybe, the women run the show.  So this confirms that and it was highlighted by Yeats in his play ‘Cathleen Ní Houlihan’ which he wrote in 1902 and staged in the Abbey and this, again, was before the Rising so they obviously knew, this Gaelic Movement, that women had a really important role to play coming forward in the Rising.  And they are just the few words I wanted to say about the Proclamation.  We are absolutely delighted that this was found and restored and we always knew our family would have given away things all the time.  They would have given ... Joseph Plunkett’s suit was given away.  The stuff – you touched on it earlier Mary – people didn’t hold onto things.  They weren’t materialistic like today but it was great that it is there and it’s preserved for all time.

So moving on to the main act today which is Elizabeth O’Farrell.  Firstly, I’d like to introduce Antoinette Heery who is a friend of mine.  Not unlike most people in Ireland and in Dublin, Antoinette would have a connection as her grand uncle James Heery was in the GPO with Elizabeth during the week of the Rising.  So Antoinette is going to sing us a song now and it’s a song that would have been heard in our home McGuinness Square which was Elizabeth’s sister’s house and most Sunday nights we would gather there and this song was mostly sung in the house and it’s called ‘The Tri-coloured Ribbon’.

Antoinette Heery: And please join in the chorus if you know it.  I’m sure a lot of you do. (Singing)  (Applause)

Thanks Antoinette, that was fantastic.  So I’m just going to move on to the story of my Great Aunt, Nurse Elizabeth O’Farrell whom we all know was the woman in this iconic photograph with the leader of the Rising, Padraig Pearse, at the moment of surrender to General Lowe, Commander of the British Forces in Ireland.  I am often asked how she came to be in this position.  Well, I want to share with you the life behind this woman.

So Elizabeth was born in City Quay in Dublin on the 5th of the eleventh, 1883.  Her father was Christopher Farrell and her mother was Margaret Farrell née Kenna.  She had one sister Bridget who was our grandmother.  She was christened Elizabeth Farrell without the ‘O’ which was purposely dropped.  This was quite common at the time as a way of avoiding ethnic description in a country that was rife with it.  This was her father’s second marriage.  His first wife was a Mary Connolly and he became a widower when Mary died.  Mary was from Lower Mount Street and Margaret was from City Quay so he kept his courtships to the local area.  (laughter)  He didn’t marry anybody from Ringsend.  (laughter)  Sorry Ann.  (laughter)

So Elizabeth in her formative years attended school at the Sisters of Mercy on Townsend Street along with her best friend, Julia Grennan, and Julia would have been known to all of us in our family as our Aunt Sheila.  She was the Aunt Sheila.  Sheila was from nearby Lombard Street and would remain Elizabeth’s best friend throughout her lifetime and the two of them quickly became inseparable as they both developed a love of the Irish language and Irish culture from quite a young age and in fact they were listed as fluent Irish speakers on the Census of 1911 which was highly unusual.  They both became members of the Gaelic League and Inghinidhe na hÉireann which they joined in 1906 and that had been founded by Maud Gonne, and the attempt of this organisation was to help promote all things Irish – as in Irish products, the language and the culture – and at the heart of the Movement was also Irish independence and a right of women and children which years later were also at the core of this Proclamation we see here today.

Her father, Christopher, died in 1907 when she was still relatively young and out of necessity she took a job in Armstrong Printers on Amien Street.  So at this stage of her life, along with Sheila and many members of her family – including both my grandmothers – she became very Republican in her thinking.  Many years later she said that her Republicanism was already in her soul at the age of 16.  I really believe this was fostered by an era where there was no TV, no internet and probably more importantly no pubs open on Sundays so that meant that people could gather – families could gather – together, sing songs, tell stories and talk about, more importantly, politics and freedom.  All of these feelings of Republicanism and rebellion were fuelled by the poverty and deprivation in Dublin that was particularly prevalent among the Catholic lower or classes and at that time Dublin was the second city of the Empire but was also widely acknowledged as the biggest slum in Europe.  So the only way out for most local boys and men was down to the Docks or join the British Army.  So it was around this time, 1913, that the Irish Volunteers were founded as a direct counter to the UVF that had been formed in the North to fight Home Rule.

So Elizabeth joined Cumann na mBan on its foundation in 1914.  Initially 250 women joined the Movement and they came from all sections of society with no discrimination but had one common goal and that was Irish freedom.  They actually considered themselves to be the women’s section of the Irish Volunteers.  Their agenda was to fight alongside the men in the struggle for freedom and during a Rising, if and when it came about.  So like all women in the Movement, Elizabeth would have been trained in the use of fire arms, transport of weapons, dispatches to the Volunteers and nursing and this training was overseen by Countess Markievicz and the great doctor, Dr Kathleen Lynn.  Cumann na mBan was also heavily influenced by the Suffragette Movement in its desire to further the rights of women to vote, hold political sway and improve social conditions for the underprivileged and especially for the children of that time.  So this would manifest itself later in the wording of the Proclamation.  In this respect, their biggest ally among the future leaders of the Rising was James Connolly, given that the backdrop to this was the devastating effect that the 1913 lockout had on the working classes.  It also must be remembered that the generation of the time still had first hand family experience of the Great Famine and all its awful consequences as well as a view, a strong view, that the ruling British were to blame.  All of this led to an immense cultural, socialist and patriotic revival which already had led to the formation of many bodies like the GAA, the Gaelic League and the Trade Union Movement. (Music) Thanks Shay.  (Applause)  Go raibh maith agat Shay.

So now to the Rising.  So in the build up to 1916 Europe was in turmoil and without doubt the British focus was elsewhere as they fought a devastating and horrific war on the European western front.  In fact the events of the Great War and the total disregard for human life, particularly for the foot soldiers, probably influenced the subsequent decision to execute the leaders of the Rising.  At this time Home Rule agenda was gathering pace leading to tensions between the southern Catholics and the northern Protestants and it’s possible to believe Home Rule could come about and it could have led to a civil war in Ireland.  So even though there wasn’t a general ground swell of support from the general population the rebel leaders believed that this was the right time to strike for freedom and in the build up to hostilities it must be remembered that communication methods were still pretty basic and given the number of informers that had always been the bane of the Movement this was quite dangerous.

So on the eve of the Rising Elizabeth was dispatched by Eoin MacNeill who was originally asked by the IRB to lead the forming of the Irish Volunteers and she was ordered to Galway to inform the Volunteers that the Rising was cancelled and little did she know that Pearse himself had countermanded these orders and was intent on proceeding with the Rising.  So when she got back to Dublin and realised what was happening she headed straight to the GPO along with the other women Volunteers and she set about nursing and feeding the soldiers.  So later in the week as the fighting intensified Pearse ordered all the women to vacate the building except for Elizabeth and two others – Winifred Carney and Julia Grennan.  In fact, they actually refused to leave the building, the GPO, and he couldn’t persuade them otherwise so they remained there until it became futile as the GPO was in ruins and the order was given to evacuate the building.  So they then left the side of the building onto Henry Street with Connolly on a stretcher and under heavy gunfire, with the remaining Volunteers, they made their way down the laneways to 16 Moore Street.  So they witnessed some horrific things, sights, actually on that journey down the laneways.  For instance, there was a young girl called Bridget McKane, she was aged 15, and she was shot dead at her home on Moore Street and she was killed by a bullet that pierced her forehead which had already passed through her father’s shoulder and right lung and Padraig Pearse himself, on hearing what happened, said ‘My God I’m sorry this happened, what can we do?’ and it was also on this journey that The O’Rahilly lost his life.

So under siege and after another 3 people bearing white flags coming down the laneway of Moore Lane Pearse decided enough was enough.  So in number 16 Moore Street when they broke through all the buildings, and people would be very familiar now with it, they called it mouse-holing through the different buildings and they decided to hold the Council of War there.  So the women were actually set aside to the other room with Julia, Winifred and Elizabeth and the Rising was then going to be called off and this is probably one of the most significant parts of the week.  It probably is the most significant part.

So Pearse knew all along himself that the Rising was going to be, in his own words, ‘a glorious failure’ and he needed a trusted Volunteer to approach the British position and offer a conditional surrender.  So the trusted Volunteer was Elizabeth and it’s remarkable because he didn’t pick any of the other Volunteers – the male Volunteers – he went straight for Elizabeth and I think he was making a massive statement to the British that he wanted a woman alongside of him to do this.  So Elizabeth, at 12.45 on Saturday the 29th of April, under heavy fire she approached the British position waving a white handkerchief and with a great deal of good fortune made it to the commanding officer.  So this commanding officer was at the bottom of Moore Street and behind him was all guns pointed down Moore Street, actually where The O’Rahilly was killed.  So they were still firing as she was making her way up that street so she was quite brave to do what she done, like it was amazing how she actually made it up to the barricade and then the officer at the barricade he was flabbergasted that a woman should be in this position and announcing herself as a Volunteer which in no uncertain terms she did announce herself as a Volunteer.  And at first they assumed she was a spy and they removed her Red Cross Insignia and detained her around 2.25pm that afternoon and they said to her ‘Go back to Pearse and tell him there will be no terms and that only an unconditional surrender would be accepted’ and she was also instructed that Pearse was to come with her to the position at the corner of Moore Street and Parnell Street to surrender to General Lowe.  She followed the instructions and at 3.30pm General Lowe received Commandant Pearse and Elizabeth at the designated point leading to this now immortal picture we see here which, for the purpose of newspaper reporting, was unfortunately doctored to remove part of her image.  At this time General Lowe asked that Elizabeth be the one who delivered Pearse’s surrender orders to the various rebel garrisons around the city and she being Pearse’s comrade, for want of a better word, she asked him would that be okay with him and he said yes he agreed that it would be.

So in the hours after surrender Elizabeth continued her role as a dispatcher delivering those surrender orders to the rebel garrisons.  So she made her way around a lot of the city still in danger of being shot because a lot of confusion was going on and how she survived it is a miracle.  So all the deliveries went off and she finally needed to get to Boland’s Mills where de Valera was the officer in charge and on the way she came under heavy fire and I live in the area where this shooting took place, it’s on Grand Canal Bridge, and I work between Grand Canal Bridge and my house – I walk it every day – and on this way to Boland’s Mills a man just beside her was running alongside her and he was shot in the back, a fatal injury to himself.  So indeed it is a miracle that she survived.  So when she got to de Valera of course he refused to take the order unless it came from Commandant MacDonagh and it’s no surprise that he wouldn’t take the order from a woman you see.  So she had to track (laughter) ... so we all know the story there.  So she had to go back to town and return with MacDonagh’s orders.  In fact she didn’t get back down with the orders.  MacDonagh delivered the orders back to de Valera himself and I think that instilled, in later life, when talking with the family she had a high disregard for de Valera.  She didn’t put him up on the pedestal that people thought of de Valera and she obviously had a lot of her own reasons for that you know.

So after all the dispatches were delivered and the Volunteers had surrendered she was subsequently removed to Kilmainham Jail where despite previous assurances by General Lowe she was strip searched, had all her possessions taken from her and was treated as a prisoner in the true sense of the word.  So when she protested she was told by a British officer ‘Don’t be silly, sure we know for a fact that you shot 6 British soldiers’.  So it’s remarkable that the General and his commanding officers recognised her bravery and the role that she had played even though she was clearly a committed Volunteer and as a result the General kept his word and she was released from Kilmainham Jail and all her possessions were returned.  So when we were growing up and you’d talk about what actually happened among the family it was agreed that General Lowe actually was a gentleman.  So in terms of the bigger picture of the rebels and the war itself, everybody liked to behave properly in the situation they found themselves in.  So even, for instance, when I heard yesterday that the guys who took the tram into town he paid for 52 tickets, he didn’t just hijack the tram and left it an IOU (laughter) so they were very careful ... say even if they took food from a shop they’d leave an IOU in the shop so everybody got fixed up later on.  So it’s remarkable how they went about their business and behaved properly.

And as a footnote to this release from Kilmainham Jail she actually had in her possession £13 in gold coins which was given to her by a young Volunteer and this was this young man’s wedding fund and he was in lodgings and he took the money, the gold with him – the gold coins, to the Rising on Easter Monday rather than leave it in the lodgings he actually gave it to Elizabeth to mind for him.  So in many ways they were simpler times and this is the way the people behaved which was amazing.

So I want to move on now to the famous airbrushed iconic photograph and there are many theories as to why this photograph doesn’t show her more clearly but two in particular are most believable.  Firstly, is Elizabeth’s own account when she stated that she wanted to get out of the way as not to detract from Pearse at that historic moment.  And the second accounts for the airbrushing which is believed happened so that Irish men fighting in World War I wouldn’t be stirred against the British by photographs of Irish women fighting for Irish freedom at home.  I think there is so much speculation on the photograph I would actually go with the latter but we might never know the reason.  She wasn’t a very extroverted person.  She was very introverted but I do believe the way she was positioned and the way she was airbrushed was done by the British not to show her in her true light as a rebel as well as a Volunteer.  So post Rising as they say the rest is history.  The execution of the leaders became the most potent weapon in driving public opinion in the formation of a Republic.  So this was Maxwell, we’d all be well aware, there was two Generals, there was General Lowe and then he was replaced by General Maxwell.  Maxwell came over from Britain and had experience all over Asia etc., as a General so he would be the type of guy who would have ... when I think of the young Volunteers that crossed Mount Street Bridge, the Sherwood Foresters, he sent them over the bridge because they were large in numbers and Malone and Darcy who were positioned on Northumberland Road, there was only two of them and they picked off 200 young soldiers and these young soldiers though they were in France but it just gives you an insight into the way this Empire worked with their young foot soldiers.  They were willing to sacrifice 200 young lads over the bridge, they get shot, 30 of them are killed and their bodies, I’ve heard from a funeral director in town – is Nichols Funeral Directors – they say that in their records that they actually placed the bodies in the laneway behind Northumberland Road and the bodies were then taken by the undertakers to Glasnevin and as well they were also placed in a massive grave.  So there was no real regard for ... they were cannon fodder basically.

So getting back to Elizabeth and the Women’s Movement, nothing changed as they continued as before with their struggle for freedom.  The revolution had to begin again after the Rising and sadly this was a different revolution and in Elizabeth’s eyes and in most of the women’s – I’d say 100 per cent of the woman in Cumann na mBan – the focus now was Anti Treaty.  So in reality these strong willed women were ‘never going back to the kitchen sink’ as Elizabeth herself was quoted as saying, the war wasn’t over.  But in fairness to them, they had won major victories for the poor and for women’s rights.  So, for example, in 1921 women won the right to vote in Ireland a full 7 years before their British counterparts which was an amazing achievement.  It’s small if we look at it nowadays but at that time it was an amazing achievement.

So Elizabeth herself then returned to normal life, if you could say it was normal life.  She still was very active in the background during the War of Independence and post Treaty.  But she had a lifelong ambition to have an education and become a Midwife.  So in early 1921 she started her training in Holles Street Hospital and she passed her basic exams with a 69 per cent score and was described by the matron as ‘a fair nurse with a fair education’, right, so that was quite funny at the time.  I suppose matrons being matrons that’s the way they were.  But before I move on regarding the matron, I just want to go back to Holles Street itself, the hospital, the family – we were invited to Holles Street there just 3 weeks ago by the Master who is great to see is a woman, Rhona Mahony.  She is the first lady Master of the hospital and we were allowed ... I was allowed access to the records in the hospital of what happened in Easter week and one young girl came in to have her baby but she had been shot in the leg and it’s recorded during the week but in fact a healthy baby was delivered.  But in the middle of the women giving birth during the week there was also the Rising going on all around the area – whether it be Mount Street, Grand Canal Street, the back of Holles Street.  And I just came across something there, this lady would have been neighbour of Elizabeth’s and she is from a place called Grant’s Row which is actually, again, just around the corner from us.  So she explained.  Margaret Jordan* was her name.  She was from Grant’s Row near Holles Street.  She has given an account of the British Army attack in the family home and shooting her father and brother.  This was within 15/20 feet of the hospital.  So the father died in Holles Street Hospital because he was taken in there and her brother never recovered and died 2 years later and she was 12 years of age and she had witnessed the removal of 100 bodies from Holles Street Hospital by the British and they were also taken and buried in a mass grave in Glasnevin.  So as a 12 year old this had a huge influence on her, for want of a better word, but she actually ended up herself becoming a member of Cumann na mBan on witnessing this.  So the activity around the local area was incredible, what was going on.

So getting back to Elizabeth’s subsequent idea of becoming a Midwife.  She as I said, she passed her score with a 69% score.  And I say the Matron herself, getting back to the Matron, I don’t think she has a plaque named in her honour, and a nurse of the year award, which Elizabeth has in recognition of her decades of devoted service to the hospital. And for that matter, Elizabeth this month coming in May, has her face with Kathleen Lynn on a stamp. So even to this day she’s still delivering, right.  (Applause)

So she lived in 37 Lower Mount Street, is where she set up residence with Julia Grennan, her Aunt Sheila and they lived there and Julia was a dressmaker. She went back to her dressmaking days and worked away. And Elizabeth became one of the major midwives in Dublin, not just in the area. She actually delivered babies in the locality and also delivered all the babies in my own family, and they’re all here today. And Moya being the eldest girl, and Brid being the youngest, or sorry the last baby that Elizabeth delivered is Brid and she’s here today. (Applause)

So throughout this time, Elizabeth never lost her devotion to republicanism and in the 50’s after the border campaign went wrong and Sean South was killed, she delivered a speech where I thought was on College Green, but in fact it was outside the GPO because a gentleman just pointed that out to me on the way in here today, Simon’s brother. This man down here. He was actually present when Elizabeth gave one of her last speeches and it was a massive crowd outside the GPO. And she wasn’t one for turning as Thatcher said later on. But she wasn’t one for turning at all. She believed in the 32 county, which she stood alongside Pearse for. And as well as that, I’m noticing nowadays that we’re living in a society where we’re all equal, which is fantastic. And a lot of people don’t know that Elizabeth was actually engaged to be married to a chap called Eamonn Kelly. And Eamonn was intent on moving to Chile to mine for silver. But when push came to shove Elizabeth couldn’t leave Ireland with unfinished business. So to every extent her marriage was to the cause.

Recently, I also met, you meet some amazing people when you’re on this journey, it’s great. We were invited up to Arbour Hill and I met a lady by the name of Nuala Fitzgerald at a commemoration in Arbour Hill. And she’s the Niece of Michael Malone, who I would have mentioned earlier on from Northumberland Road. And she’s also a Niece of Leo Fitzgerald, who are famous in a way from the area, the local area where we come from. And this lady was also a great friend of Elizabeth and Sheila, and I would know this, and she was one of the last people to see Elizabeth before she died. Elizabeth went out to Enniskerry to visit Nuala and her husband and on this trip she took ill. In those days as well it was quite simple, Nuala got the husband to go down and get the bus man to drive the bus up to her house, collect Elizabeth and bring her back into town. But they got as far as Loughlinstown, she was dying at the time, and they got as far as Loughlinstown and Sheila actually remarked to them in Loughlinstown Hospital that she wanted her brought back into the city, through Bray into Patrick Dunn’s. So she reminded the man who was driving the ambulance of who Elizabeth was, because Sheila was, if I could just go on to her for a second. She had a more outgoing personality, she was the more jollier of the two. Elizabeth would have been quite stern, would have been non-dramatic, where Sheila in other words she could talk for Ireland, so basically that’s what she could do. So they made their way back into town and Elizabeth, she died on the 25th of June 1957, and is buried in the republican plot in Glasnevin Cemetery, alongside Julia Grennan. And her great friend Eamonn Mac Thomais gave the oratory at her graveside and Eamonn Mac Thomais would have been a fellow republican, and his son became one of the historians, just recently in the last number of years, Shane Mac Thomais, and he tragically died just recently as well. And he’s actually buried with Eamonn beside Elizabeth and they loved Elizabeth through Eamonn, you could sense that often when I met them.

So the Elizabeth O’Farrell Foundation was set up in Holles Street and a medal is awarded to the student nurse of the year each year. And in fact it’s going to be awarded again this year and I think Maria or Frances is going to attend the hospital. They want people in the family to acknowledge this and award the medal to the student of the year this year. And also within Holles Street, if you’re familiar with Holles Street Hospital, when you go in the door of Holles Street Hospital you see a plaque and that was designed by an architect artist called Gary Trimble. These would have been friends of Elizabeth’s originally, hence they lived in Mount Street, and this plaque was unveiled on the 50th anniversary of the Rising in 1966. And our Mother Una is the face that was used for Elizabeth, such was her likeness. So when I go into Holles Street and my daughter just recently had a baby there, I can see my Mother there on the wall so, that’s good you know. And my Grandson is called Padraig, I thought she called him another name, it’s a long story but that was just quite unintentional so it’s great to see that there’s still a great presence there. And I must say that the people in the hospital actually really recognise the women who were involved, Kathleen Lynn, Elizabeth O’Farrell, Stopford Price, all of these amazing women. It’s great to see that their story is being told now and it’s coming to the fore, which is fantastic. And I just spotted here, this lady over here is called Mary Murray. So in 2006 a chap called Donal O’Kelly and a lady called Barbara Ni Caoimh approached me about the story of Elizabeth O’Farrell, and he wanted to stage a play in Kilmainham Jail. And so the play was to run for a week and the last play that was held in Kilmainham Jail was actually by the Volunteers back in the day, the put on the odd show if they were allowed. So Mary played Elizabeth O’Farrell in the play and she done such a remarkable job the likeness that my sister Moya thought Mary was Elizabeth, she in fact she was, so it was fantastic.

So the Proclamation which Elizabeth had in her possession in the GPO which is on display here today was originally donated to a republican museum Mary tells me in south Frederick Street and in 1966 I’m told by my sisters it was leant in trust by our family to the people of Dublin. And it’s fantastic to see that it’s restored and it’s amazing that it’ll be there and we’re happy that it’s with the people of Ireland and the people of Dublin because there’s few artefacts around that you can honestly say that you can be proud of. And I think we’re all proud of the Proclamation in itself, it’s remarkable. So Elizabeth herself, I think her life’s ambition can be summed up in the conversation she had with my Grandmother in the mid ‘50s. Now my Grandmother’s name was Bridget. And I have to really state this, she is the only sister that Elizabeth had. There was two sisters, Bridget and Bridget herself was a strong republican. And Bridget had all the babies. So Bridget was the woman who got married and Elizabeth stayed single. So our Grandmother was also a remarkable woman, and was also a great woman for delivering babies as well. And actually my Mother was also handy at delivering babies too. So they didn’t need to go to hospitals or anything like that. So they took a trip out to Sandymount Strand and I think the way they thought in those days that my Grandmother would have predeceased Elizabeth. But in fact Elizabeth died before Bridget. So one of the days they had off which was very unusual, the place you would go to if you lived in our area was up to Sandymount Strand. So they sat on the beach in Sandymount Strand and looking back on life, how lucky were we said my Grandmother to Elizabeth. And you were very lucky Bridget, you had all your children around you, but I didn’t get what I wanted. And that was a 32 county Ireland. So on that note I’d just like to dedicate this poem, it’s called “We saw a vision” by Liam Mac Uistin and I think it’s very appropriate because I think it nails exactly what the Proclamation is all about and the vision for the country and what it will do for future generations. So he wrote this for the 50th anniversary in 1966 and it’s on display up in the Garden of Remembrance. So it’s “We saw a vision”.

"In the darkness of despair we saw a vision.
We lit the light of hope and it was not extinguished.
In the dessert of discouragement we saw a vision.
We planted a tree of valour and it blossomed.
In the winter of bondage we saw a vision,
We melted the snow of lethargy
And a river of resurrection flowed from it.
We sent our vision aswim like a swan on the river,
The vision becomes a reality.
Winter becomes summer, bondage becomes freedom
And this we left you as your inheritance.
Oh generation of freedom, remember us
The generation of the vision."

Mary Clark: And we’re just going to finish now with another poem about Elizabeth O’Farrell and this here is my colleague Anne Marie Kelly, who is a self confessed Elizabeth O’Farrell groupie, I think perhaps even more so after today. But Anne Marie is also a divisional librarian with Dublin City Libraries and she has been one of the people who has delivered the wonderful 1916 programme that was done by the libraries. So there you are, Anne Marie, whenever you’re ready.

Anne-Marie Kelly: Thanks Mary. I don’t know if I’ll match Liam Mac Uistin’s poem now, I think it’s a bit more bawdy. The title of this poem sketch is "Elizabeth looks back"

"Drastic and all that this may seem,
But I think the women of Dublin should stop having childer
You see, I know they’re jaded with it
But not half as jaded as us midwives,
Although if they stopped having childer, I’d be without a job I suppose
And that would be bad, but worse still the country would be without future rebels.
And of course it’s in the deliverin’ of rebels that was, is and always will be the aim of this midwife.
And who are you says you in all that’s good and holy to be telling us what this country needs?
Well sorry, I should have said the name’s Elizabeth O’Farrell, of City Quay.
Some say history airbrushed me,
A printer, a rebel, a midwife am I,
A woman who looked General Lowe in the eye,
You see I was there that week in the GPO, a proud Cumann member who fought the foe.
MacNeill, he really set the cat among the pigeons with the decision, a decision and an unholy revision.
And no luck for Casement and the ammo, and you see that did make the fight a tale of woe,
Yet still we struggled against the Empire.
You see we were dreaming of a world beyond this quagmire.
Well by the end of the week the city was in chassis, the fire brigade, they’d saved it for the masses.
The rebels’ names were mud for upsetting the applecart.
And sure what cared we, weren’t we doing our part.
Pearse surrendered with me in tow,
And sometimes you can see my feet below.
Rebel woman in the photo who helped permission was rubbed out.
Did somebody say rubbed out?
Yes, says I, rubbed out when the struggle was won."


(Recording ends here)

*In the audio recording Ian Kelly refers to Margaret Hennessy. Margaret's great-nephew Diarmuid Gannon subsequently got in touch to correctly identify the girl in question as Margaret Morrissey (nee Jordan).  This transcript was corrected on October 8th 2018.

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Where did Ian get his information from? Did Elizabeth keep a dairy during the rising?

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