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Caroline


Interview with Caroline Rowan, Women's Studies MA Student

CR=Caroline Rowan
MT=Melissa Thompson
MB=Marie Bashford-Synett

CR: Hi, I’m Caroline Rowan.  I’m an MA student doing Women’s Studies in University College Dublin.  I’m doing my thesis on Gráinne, Granuaile. She’s sometimes known as Grace O’Malley. I’m just going to shorten her name to Gráinne when I refer to her.

Entrance to Rockfleet Castle

Entrance to Rockfleet Castle

She was an Irish pirate.  She had somewhere around 200 men under her command.  She had about between 4 and 10 ships -- the number is unsubstantiated -- and she basically carried out trading and raiding between Galway, Mayo and Spain, Portugal, between the various coast lines.  At that time Irish traders weren’t allowed to trade in the city of Galway, which would have been the closest port, so she just sailed to Spain and Portugal, traded goods there, and made a fortune.  One of the reasons put forward for the men following her was because she was so successful in all her ventures, whether it was attacking English ships that happened to be passing, or selling off sheep’s wool and things like that in Spain.  She made an absolute fortune, and she always made sure that her men were well looked after, that their families were well looked after.  She became sort of this notorious figure to the English because she saw them as legitimate targets for her piracy.  They were foreigners, they were in what were technically her waters, as she saw it, so she would raid their ships, either take hostages, or just take whatever cargo they had on board and send them back to England with their tails between their legs.

She basically took control of the legal and social circumstances which surrounded her and became this incredibly powerful female figure in Irish history.  Of course she isn’t really in Irish history because she was completely ignored. You’ll actually find no reference to her whatsoever before 1939 or 1942 when a paper was done by Commander or Captain Anthony McDermott for the journal Irish Genealogist .  I don’t know where he got his information from because of course he didn’t reference it.  He’s got like all these wonderful points in there about her and no references at all, which is really really annoying but you kind of have to live with it.  There is a very very limited amount of information on her.  There’s two comprehensive books, one by Anne Chambers and one by Mary Moriarty and Catherine Sweeney.  Anne Chambers’ book is sort of the bible, my bible.

I’m hoping to show how Gráinne manipulated the social and legal morays of her time to become a leader of men, to become a chieftain.  She could never legally be a chieftain, you know, she would not be recognized as The O’Malley because she was a woman.  But she was in fact leader of huge amounts of men.  She was responsible for smuggling English Protestants from England to Spain and France during Queen Mary’s or Bloody Mary’s rule.  She was responsible for shipping goods to the O’Neills and the O’Donnells.  She was recognized by all who knew her as a very very powerful woman.  And my focus is on how she managed to achieve all this in a time when woman are commonly accepted to have been powerless.

I’m going to research the laws, Brehon Law, English Law, the social customs, the status of women and things like that. There tends to be sort of a differentiation between, “Here’s how life was in Medieval Ireland,” and, “Here’s how it was under English law.”  And Gráinne was kind of in the transition period, just after King Henry and during the time of Queen Elizabeth, so she kind of gets passed over a lot, or at least life gets passed over a lot there.  She was born in 1530 and she died in 1603.

MT:   Did the English already have a pretty good foothold in Ireland at that time or was it the beginning of the colonial period?

CR:  Well, the English had strong footholds in Dublin, Galway, Wexford, and a few of the ports.  But apart from that the rest of Ireland was pretty much Irish. Galway, Mayo and various regions in Connacht were sort of seen as the wild west.  There were monsters and swamps and you know terrible things.  The English were very much afraid to go over there because they couldn’t stand the wet weather.  I think it’s Edmund Spencer records that most of the Englishmen who came over to Ireland, the hundreds and hundreds of thousands of troops who were sent over, most of them caught what was known as Irish Auge which was a kind of a wasting disease that they got from the weather.  They got really really sick, and they either died or they had to return home because they just wasted away.

So the English were very wary of heading over to Connacht, which was this completely unknown place, where there they sort of saw the Irish savages living their own lives, completely uncivilized and not under English rule.  The Irish had their own laws, their own chiefs, their own family systems, which was a clan system rather than a patriarchal family system.  They were completely responsible to themselves alone; they had no authority except for the chiefs of their clans and God.  And that reference to God is not in the Catholic tradition, it was the sort of Celtic God.  They took him when they needed him and left him alone at other times.  It wasn’t  organized religion by any manner of means, you know, they sort of had the priests for baptisms and deaths and that was it.  In the meantime they did their own thing and they weren’t really too bothered.

MT: As you’ve said Gráinne's not mentioned a whole lot in books, so how did you first find out about her?

CR:  The initial way I found out about her was in second class in school.  We had these kind of readers, you know, books to teach you how to read.  Poetry and short stories.  One of them had an excerpt from “The White Seahorse” by Elinor Fairburn.  So I read that and I loved it, and then I went and got the book and I wore it out reading it from cover to cover.  Then I decided that I would try and get more information on her and couldn’t find any for years and years and years.  I mean there was nothing, and I hadn’t any idea of Anne Chambers’ book.  It was out of print at that stage.  When I went to find a new copy of “The White Seahorse,” I was told it was also out of print.  Then about four years ago Wolfhound Press re-released “The White Seahorse”  as the comprehensive novel on Gráinne.  And then Morgan Llywelyn published another novel on her.  And then I found Anne Chambers’ book, which is, “Granuaile, the Life and Times of Grace O’Malley” [see Wolfhound Press]. And later on, “Granuaile” by Mary Moriarty and Catherine Sweeney.

And that was it, sum total of work about Gráinne.  This year I’ve just been researching various journals and historical books.  Historians never write about her at all in fact, and it’s only in books written after 1980 that you’ll find sort of token references to Gráinne, and I mean like one or two lines maximum.  And they’ll be very dismissive of her in fact, sort of mention, “Oh, that there was this woman who was marauding on the Galway coast,” you know, which is technically a very English view of it because you know she wasn’t marauding, she was providing for herself.  I mean, one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter, and she was just making sure that the families under her control were going to survive by whatever means necessary.  It wouldn’t have arisen if Galway hadn’t been closed off because then she would have been able to legally trade with the families there.  But she didn’t have that option, so she took piracy as her way out.

MT:   Why was Galway closed off?

CR:  Galway was closed off because it was an English town and they were afraid of the “wild Irish” as they saw them.  English colonists and settlers who were living in Galway had this terror and fear that the Irish would come in and kill them all in their beds.  So, it was closed off, and on one of the city walls there’s actually a little sign which says, “From the ferocious O’Flahertys, good Lord Deliver us.”  In a city ordinance, I think it was 1525, there was a law introduced that, “Neither Mac nor O shall swagger through the streets of Galway,” which basically meant that no Irish person was going to be allowed through the gates, on pain of death.  Those who did enter weren’t allowed to wear Irish cloaks, because they were afraid that they would carry weapons under them or steal their goods and smuggle them out under their clothes.  So they had some interesting laws about the Irish and very interesting ideas, too.

MT:  So how old were you when you first read about Gráinne?

CR:  I would have been 7.

MT:  And did it seem a surprise, I mean, do you remember what your response was?

CR:  Oh, my response was: “This is absolutely fantastic.  Look, there’s a girl in here!”  Because everything we read was still very much: “girl in the house, boy in the field or having adventures.” And if a girl does have an adventure it’s always related to the house -- you know a burglar is breaking in or whatever.  So, I read this and I was absolutely fascinated, you know, here’s this amazing woman who had completely defied every convention, didn’t care what anyone thought, and her dad backed her up!  On that point, I’ll just qualify that, her father actually supported her when she was left destitute after the death of her first husband.  He took her home and provided her with a ship to start her off, and then you know took his share of whatever she gained.  But essentially she really defied this whole notion of the good woman at home who just bears lots of sons.  Also the fact that she did combine motherhood and piracy was amazing.  She had four children.  She had three children by her first husband, two sons and a daughter, and a son by her second husband.  And in spite of this she still continued to do whatever the heck she wanted to.

I think in she was fourteen the first time she defended her castle.  She was fourteen and she was pregnant.  She defended her husband’s castle against the Joyces from the neighboring counties who had come over to attack the castle.  Her attitude was that they were not going to come in there and get her infant son, you know, and she defended the castle.  And it then became known as Hen’s castle.  She was this protective person.  Her husband Donal was known as Donal the Cock because he was always fighting, not for any reason but because he was always picking fights with the neighboring areas, things like that.  So, that really inspirational -- you know here was this woman, not even a woman, I mean she was a girl, and she really did absolutely everything she wanted to.  And she was very very successful at doing it.  Even when she was hauled up before the English and thrown in prison she still got away with it.  Right up until the day she died she was still doing exactly what she wanted.  She petitioned Queen Elizabeth and got a full pardon for all her piracy.

She really inspired me to look for more women in Irish History and in history in general and to keep needling all my teachers.  You know, “Where are the women?”  Which really annoyed them because it meant they actually had to go research something outside the strict history text and what was already written.

MT: Do you think she was unusual for her time?

CR: I initially thought that she was very unusual because the image we get from historians is that during the 16th century women stayed at home, that they didn’t do anything that their husbands didn’t want them to do.  But then when I was actually researching it I found out that Irish Law actually allowed women an awful lot more freedom than is generally acknowledged.  They had the freedom to choose their own husbands with their parents’ approval, and they could divorce their husbands anytime they wanted.  They could take lovers if they felt like it, if their husband was unable to give them a child, and they could own their own property.  Depending on how much money or how much property they had brought with them into a marriage, they could officially control their husband.  They could decide to pay his debts or not to pay his debts, to ransom him, to do anything they wanted.  They were essentially very very free.

The only restrictions on them were in relation to the fact that they were at all times under the control of a male relative, not in the strict sense that they had to do what he said, but he was responsible for them. Irish Law was very restitutional rather than punishment based.  If a man’s wife stole something, instead of her being punished for it, what happened was that her husband would pay a fine up to the amount that she had stolen.  If she wasn’t married it would be her father.  If she was married but widowed it would be her son.

So in a lot of ways that was actually very beneficial to women because they got away with a hell of a lot, you know, and it wasn’t really until English Law was imposed that women lost all this freedom.  To a large extent the first restrictions were because Irish lords were afraid that the fact that their daughters could own property would be used against them by the English.  That the English would insist on the daughters being married to English lords and therefore the property would pass to English hands -- because English law was patriarchal it would pass from English father to English son instead of from Irish mother to Irish daughter, as had been the tradition.

MT:  So, have you found any other women pirates from that time?

CR:  Not from that time.  Captain Anthony McDermott mentions that about 100 years after Gráinne’s death there was another female pirate raiding on the Galway coast.  He doesn’t give her name, he just sort of tossed out this tantalizing reference and left it hanging, which really irritated me.  I haven’t found anything more about it yet, but I am continuing to look.  Later on we have Anne Bonny and Mary Read, but they’re kind of in a different tradition because they didn’t really command.  They were pirates but they weren’t leaders of men.  They were members of a crew.  Which is not to dismiss them in any way but it’s just that they aren’t in the same league as Gráinne.

But Irish history in general has a very strong tradition of powerful women, and a lot of that has been ignored.  You know we sort of think of Queen Medbh, end of story, but there is a very strong Goddess culture and a lot of powerful women.  There was another Grace O’Malley before the 16th century one.  She again had retained great control -- she would have been Gráinne’s great great great great grandmother, I think.  And there were various other women  around.  But they literally have been completely ignored by history, which tends to ignore the strong female control that was there. And of course a lot of that was because there was huge superstition about women as well.  Women in Irish culture were reputed to have great magical power.  They  had the power of life, and they had the power of satire as well.  For a woman to slight a man or to lay a curse on him was a very serious thing.  “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned” was held to be this complete maxim.  A woman was a very... you had to treat her with great respect.  And again this follows through in law: husbands literally had to watch what they said about their wives.  They had to always be very respectful, and they could be divorced at any time for criticizing her performance in bed.  If he decided to take another lover she could divorce him.  Or if he failed to give her her due in any way, either to give her children, to give her money, to provide support for her, to give her something that she wanted, she could dismiss him quite easily.

Rockfleet Castle, near Newport, Co. Mayo

That’s something that Gráinne apparently did, legend has it.  Her second husband was Richard An Iarann, Richard in Iron is what it would be in English. She married him under Brehon law, which was the old Irish law, and the Brehon law entitled a woman to divorce her husband.  So after one year, when Gráinne was now pregnant and had what she wanted, control of the castle, when her husband went to submit to the English and claim friendship with the English, he came back to Rockfleet Castle and found the gates barred against him. Gráinne stood up on the battlements and simply leaned down and told him, “I dismiss you,” and their marriage was finished, over.  It was as simple as that because under Irish law a person who takes possession has only to hold it against the entering party.  She was perfectly within her rights to do it, and if he couldn’t break the siege then he’d have to give it up.  And in the end he did give it up.  Now apparently she later on took him back, more as a convenience to her because she wanted access to his ships and things, but you know she did very much what she wanted in her own way.  I wouldn’t say that she had no respect for men but she knew what she wanted from them, and she didn’t buckle into this whole idea that a woman in love should do this that and the other.  Because  I think she did love her husbands, both of them, but she just knew that she was the dominant one.  She wasn’t going to take any nonsense from either of them in marriage or in any other way.

MT:  So how do you account for getting from this tradition of powerful women in Ireland to the point where women like Granuaile aren’t even in the history books?

CR:  Well, I think a lot of that is basically because the English law took over and English culture, and English culture is very much patriarchal.  Father and son are what matter and women are literally there just to produce sons and that’s it.   They’re not acknowledged in their own right.  I mean the only powerful women that you’ll hear mentioned are sort of the Queens and the you know maybe the odd Duchess or whatever who caused a scandal, but apart from that women aren’t even noticed.  And this you know filtered through into the Irish culture then and they were completely subsumed and everything was done by the English law.  I mean you had thousands of English settlers coming over and deciding, creating this whole new way of life, and in order to survive an awful lot of the Irish lords had to forfeit their lands and then be regranted them by the King or by the Queen.  And this meant that they had to accept English customs, English laws, English behavior, and this affected the women very very badly.  Because once Brehon law was gone, all their rights effectively disappeared.  So this whole male dominant culture arose and was perpetuated and is perpetuated today.

I mean even now in the 1990s, you’ll still very rarely see a history book that mentions women except as an aside.  And it’s not just in Ireland of course.  I saw this wonderful book of photographs and documents from Auschwitz, and there were no women, absolutely none.  This book was printed I think in 1992.  I turned around to the guy who owned it and I said, “Well, where are the women?” And he turned to me and he was like, “Well, Caroline, you know it was the 1930s.”   And I was like, what does that mean?  There were no women in the 1930s?  Did we not exist?  Did we just spring into existence in the past 10 years?  But that just really indicated this whole attitude that people have, and not just men because I have met women who say exactly the same thing, this whole idea that women were a complete irrelevancy in history.  I took history for the Leaving Cert, and girls in my class would tell me, “Women didn’t do anything in history.”

Every piece of education in our schools is focused on the male, the very strict historical scientific cultural idea in which women supposedly had no part to play at all because women stayed at home and bore children.  Now that’s an achievement in itself, if it wasn’t for women you know there wouldn’t be a human race, but you know they’re kind of dismissed.  And there is no acknowledgment of women who did differ, like Gráinne, like Anne Bonny, like Mary Read.  And if they are mentioned they’re practically criminalized.  It’s like these are the exceptional women, and exceptional in a bad way, that this is not what a good woman does.  A good woman stays home, minds her children and doesn’t actually participate in history.  She doesn’t take control of her own destiny.  And that’s still something that comes through in Irish schools.  I mean I’m only  out of school for five years now and that was still what we were getting coming up through school, still no mention of women in science, no mention of women in history, geography, music, art.  So I’m not sure how it stands in other countries but I know in Ireland it’s still very very much the focus on the woman in the home, and I don’t see that changing in the near future.

MT: I know you’re trying to do a project that’s different then the other pieces of writing about Granuaile.  What stuff is out there and what stuff is not out there and how do you see your project as being different?

CR:  Okay, there’s Anne Chambers’ and Moriarty and Sweeney’s books.  There’s the two novels, “The White Seahorse” and “Grania.”  And there are kind of little snippets of information.  All the information that we have on Gráinne, everything that these books are based on, comes from England.  It comes from the English State papers and it comes from information which Gráinne had to give to Queen Elizabeth when she went over to ask for her pardon and pardon for her family and the families under her control.  She had to fill out several questionnaires about her life, about her family, about everything in Irish culture.  If it wasn’t for that visit actually we wouldn’t have any information about Gráinne, she would have sort of disappeared, because Irish historians don’t mention her.  The Four Annals, the books which would have been written during Gráinne's lifetime, make no mention of her at all.  They mention the O’Donnells, the O’Neills, all the marauding men.  They mention her father, they mention her sons, but they do not mention Gráinne at all.  And it just seems to be this incredible dis.  I don’t know whether it was a dislike of the idea that a woman could do this or it was fear that it would incite other women to behave in this way, but there is absolutely no mention of her in the Irish records of the time.

So, the difficulty is that all this information is in England, it’s in the British museum, and well I can’t exactly nip over to England anytime I want to research these things. Thankfully Anne Chambers has a very very detailed transcript of the actual papers: letters which Gráinne wrote, letters from her son, and poems which were written around the time.  Apart from that it’s keep digging, keep digging, and keep questioning anyone who’s written about her to find out where they got their information.  It’s very very difficult.  Anyone who’s researching women in Irish history, certainly before the 18th or even the 19th century, will have great difficulty in doing it because they really aren’t mentioned at all.  You have to go back to the original source work, the original transcripts, poems, anything written at the time.

It’s also very annoying to have to read English versions of stories about Gráinne because they’re biased, which is not to say they wouldn’t be biased if they were Irish, but you know they were coming from the view that this notorious pirate, she’s marauding and she’s impudently passed the point of womanhood and that she was this complete anomaly in the system.  And on top of that then you have the whole language barrier.  I mean do you have any idea how annoying it is to be trying to read people who can’t spell her name right or spell place names right or trying to figure out what towns they’re talking about or what people they’re talking about cause their names are so badly mutilated?  That I find very very frustrating.  And I think it’s an absolute shame that Irish historians didn’t write about her because I think she really could have been inspirational to so many women. I think it’s a terrible loss for those of us coming up now who are looking for these women and can’t find any information -- not because the women didn’t exist but simply because their existence was not acknowledged.

MT:  I’m curious about how there’s all these different names for her.  Like Granuaile, is that an Irish name that somehow got anglicized into Grace O’Malley?

CR: Well there’s various theories about how she became Granuaile.  The story about how she got her name was that when she was seven years old she wanted to go to sea with her father and she was told that she couldn’t because she was a girl and girls didn’t go to sea.  And you know her long her would blow in the sailors’ eyes.  So, when her father arrived home that night he found his wife and all the women in the household crying, and they were totally distraught over Gráinne, and he asked what was going on, and Gráinne came out, and she had skinned her head.  She had cut off all her hair with his hunting knife and was completely bald.  And when her brothers came in and saw this they started teasing her, calling her Gráinne Mhaol, because mhaol means bald.  And so she in English that would be Gráinne the bald, but the Irish became Granuaile.  So the nickname was picked up then and used by those who knew her.

Another version of it is that when she went to Spain and people asked her her name she knew that they wouldn’t be able to pronounce Gráinne Ui Máille so she simply said Granuaile.  And so this became this name for this little girl, little boy, they couldn’t tell because she had her head shaved and she wore boys’ clothes.  So they called her Granuaile and the name stuck.  Again, I mean that’s the folklore surrounding her; it’s possibly more likely that it was simply that the English couldn’t get the hang of the name Gráinne Ui Máille and so they simply called her Gráinne or Grani Malley or Granny y Malley, or Grace of the Umhalls, which was the area that the O’Malleys ruled.  Over time this simply became commuted to Granuaile because it was a name that they could pronounce, terribly mutilated.

I prefer the version where she cut off her hair!

MT:  I’ve never heard that, that’s great.  Also, to go back a bit, why did she have to go ask for a pardon?  I never heard about that either.

CR:  She had to go for a pardon because Sir Richard Bingham was the Queen’s emissary in Connacht at the time and he was persecuting her.  He saw her as this dangerous pirate and so what he was doing was, he had murdered one of her sons in cold blood and he stole her live stock, he had soldiers on her land so that she couldn’t maintain herself.  She decided that the only solution to the problem was to go over his head and go straight to the Queen and ask for a pardon.  So she went to the Queen and instead of approaching her you know sort of begging for a pardon, she walked in there, walked straight up to the Queen as an equal and demanded that she be pardoned, and also demanded that she be given the lands that were due her from her marriage to her first and second husbands.  She demanded that all her family be pardoned and spared and that she would be allowed to continue her raiding, which she called “lawful maintenance by land and sea.”  And apparently the Queen was so impressed that she did in fact concede to all those demands.

Gráinne was a very skilled diplomat because she knew if she went in there and she begged the Queen that she wasn’t going to have a hope in hell.  There was no way the Queen was going to pay any attention to someone groveling.  Whereas when she walked in and treated her as an equal the Queen saw her as an equal.  She saw her as a woman who essentially mirrored everything Elizabeth was dealing with at the time.  She was a leader of men, she was very powerful in her own right, and she was surrounded on all sides by men who would give their eye teeth to see her fail.   No doubt this had a great effect on Elizabeth because she gave Gráinne everything she wanted.  She gave her a royal pardon, she gave her full license to return to her trading, and she allowed her in her in lifetime control of the lands which had been due to her but denied to her at the death of her first and second husbands.

MT:  What was the story you were telling yesterday about Howth castle?

CR:  Well, on her return visit from Queen Elizabeth apparently Gráinne stopped in Howth.  She sailed up to Howth castle and she stopped.  She was looking for you know dinner and a place to spend the night because Irish hospitality dictated that any stranger was entitled to a meal and a bed.  But when she got to Howth castle she was informed that the lord of the castle was having his dinner and didn’t want to be disturbed.  She was absolutely infuriated and when she was returning to her boat she met one of the maid servants with a young boy and asked who the boy was and was told that he was the son of the castle’s lord.  She took the boy, sailed away, and sent a message back demanding a ransom for him, and the lord of the castle was totally horrified at this.  He was going to give anything to get his son back, didn’t care what she asked for, and what she did in fact ask was that from now on the gates would never be shut at Howth castle and that anyone who came would always be entitled to a meal and a place to stay.  And right up until this day the family that live in Howth castle still set an extra place at dinner so that if an uninvited guest turns up they will always have food for them.

MT:  Wow. And what was the bit about her son had being taken hostage by Elizabeth?

CR: In Ireland there was a system of fosterage where when a child was 5 or 6 years old they were sent off to be fostered with a different family.  This sort of created very strong ties between two families and also insured that they weren’t mollycoddled.  It brought them up to be very strong and independent.  And the English saw this as a way of maintaining control if, for example, Gráinne was disobeying the English law and she was raiding them.  In this case what happened was that she had been imprisoned and in order to secure her release she was ordered to hand over her son, not technically as a hostage, not as a hostage as in he was kept in captivity.  What happened was that he was sent to be fostered with an English family and this meant that he would be brought up learning the English language, learning English customs, and what Elizabeth hoped was that he would be brought up as an English lord, so that when he returned to Ireland he would be more English and rule by English law.  And this was a policy that she followed with an awful lot of the Irish nobles and their families and it was in fact a very effective way of securing their good behavior.  Until of course Sir Richard Bingham decided to murder people in his captivity, and then all hell broke loose, and the Irish were completely enraged and drove the English back, only for a few years but it still worked for a while.

MT:  Did she ever get the son back?

CR:  She got him back but he was changed.  He wasn’t her son anymore.  I mean biologically he was her son but there was now a huge gap between them because he had been brought up with English manners, English ways, and he would have perhaps viewed her as a blemish on his status, you know.  Here was this Irish pirate, still living this sort of savage life and doing her own thing instead of behaving like a good English woman and staying home and doing what her husband told her to, or her sons.

MB:  I’m just wondering in the books that you’ve read, is there any particular attitude there, any questioning from a woman’s central point of view?  Or are they just telling the story neat?  Do you get the sense because they are all women who are writing about a woman that that’s made a difference?

CR:  I think the fact that they’re women made a difference in that they have a lot more respect for Gráinne.  And they tend to view what she did as extraordinary, that what she did really transcended huge boundaries.  I mean even today if you think about it, the idea of a woman with four children, being a pirate... I don’t know what would be a modern day equivalent, a terrorist or a sort of a Robin Hood character.

I wouldn’t say that they were extremely feminist in their attitudes.  They try to be as historical as possible; they try to be very objective. I think there’s a great degree of admiration which actually comes out through their work.  But no, I wouldn’t say that they are woman centered.  They focus a lot on the men in Gráinne's life and her relationships to these men.

Gráinne wasn’t a feminist by any means at all; in fact she married her only daughter off when she would’ve been I think 16, which actually was quite late.  She married her off to Richard Burke who was known as the Devil’s Hook, and that was the last that was heard of her.  She didn’t encourage her to become a sailor, she didn’t encourage her to follow in her mother’s footsteps, she simply married her off and that was that.  But it was a political alliance, and I think Gráinne saw it as a way of cementing a friendship or an alliance rather than as a way of making her daughter happy, which is  probably no bad thing. I think she was very focused.  She knew what she wanted and she did whatever it took to get it.  So she certainly wasn’t feminist and never in fact encouraged any other women to join her on ship or to do any of the things that she was doing, which is an interesting fact in itself.  She may have recognized that there was no hope for anyone to follow, or she may simply have thought that there was no one who was quite her equal, because from what we know about her it appears that she had a very high opinion of herself.  She was extremely self confident, she knew what she wanted, and generally saw herself as superior to most of the men that she knew.  This wasn’t pride; it was an actual fact.  She was more skilled, more intelligent, and more politically aware than most of the Irish men that she was dealing with, and certainly an awful lot of the English.  She was extremely well educated.  She spoke Spanish, Latin, English and Irish.  She was able to deal with men, and it was all men except for Queen Elizabeth that she was dealing with.  She commanded over 200 men and she did all of this simply through force of will.  She simply demanded that they accord her the respect that they would give to a man in her situation, and she got it.

MB:  And she also combined the idea of making sure that her people were looked after well, that the families were looked after.

CR:  Yes, she was very well aware of the fact that if her men’s families were in danger the men weren’t going to be focused on what they were doing, so she insured that whenever she took the men off on a raiding trip or a trading trip that the women always were well fed and organized.  That the families were all right and that they would be defended should the need arise.  Again there was a very strong matriarchal situation there where women controlled the running of the castles and organized various things like that.  So all Gráinne would have had to do would be say to her daughter or her daughters-in-law, “Make sure that they’re well fed and if anything happens simply contact my father, my brothers, whoever and have them send men to protect the families.”  But financially what she did was she insured that as soon as the men had finished trading or the raid had been completed that the men could stop at the nearest port and buy little bits and bobs, jewelry  or scent or clothes or silks for their wives, toys for the children, various gifts.  So, they all thought that they were the most important thing in her life, you know.  If they were happy they would be loyal and this was one of her ways of insuring that she was always in control.

MB: Why did she have such a good education and how do we know anything about that?

CR:   The Irish were very much into educating their families, unlike the English, who felt that only sons should be educated and only then if they were going to be sent to a higher career.  The Irish were very much into learning and it’s a very strong ethos. Gráinne would’ve traveled with her father and been in these places.  It was very important that she would learn all these languages. Now she wouldn’t have had a good command of English, in fact she would have had a very poor command of English, because Galway was so far away and because you know she would really have had no interest in contact with them.  She would have spoken Latin because Latin was commonly spoken by all the Irish nobility and most of the common people as well would have spoken Latin.  It was sort of a universal language because it meant that you could then trade with people from other countries.

MB:  Did I hear that it that it was Latin  she spoke with Queen Elizabeth?

CR:  Yes.  She spoke to Queen Elizabeth in Latin and I think that that probably impressed Queen Elizabeth as well because the Irish were commonly considered savages and barbarians and therefore the idea that they would be able to converse in languages other than Irish was completely unheard of.  It would have been quite a shock to Elizabeth to discover not only was Gráinne treating her as an equal but that she required no interpreter and was able to speak to her quite freely and voice her own opinions.

MB: Has anybody else done a thesis on her, you know in academia?

CR:  Yeah, as far as I know, no one else has done it, no.  That’s a huge sweeping statement to make because I’ve only actually had access to the theses in UCD and I’ve seen a list of ones done in Trinity and Cork which, you know, their titles didn’t indicate that they were about Gráinne.  But they were only for the past I think 3 years, so I would have to look further and contact all the colleges first to find out if those theses have been written and if they are available to me for further information.

MT: You said something a couple times and I think you were talking to Marie before we were rolling about how a lot of the information is in folklore sources.  What kind of sources are there out there and what are some of the frustrations you are having of doing more research on her?

CR: Oh, everything is a frustration!  The lack of information is the main frustration.  An awful lot of the information we have about Gráinne is folk lore and unsubstantiated folk lore at that.  The library in UCD or rather the manuscript archives do have several manuscripts of folk lore about Gráinne, basically covering the stories I’ve already told you, how she got her name, the story with Howth castle, also the story about the birth of her son by her second marriage, and you know the generally known myths about Gráinne.  They vary from teller to teller, depending on where or what part of the country you hear it, it will be different!   I mean folk lore, you sometimes just have to take it as a basis because it’s the only written record we have -- or oral record -- of anyone, and especially with women.  An awful lot of their history is oral because women throughout centuries have always been the story tellers.  They have been responsible for passing on these you know simple things like poems, songs, telling stories to their children at night.  But it is frustrating  that there isn’t more known about her, more written about her, and that there isn’t a wider access to information about her.

The O’Malley clan, which is a genealogical society all claiming descent from Gráinne, do have some of her original letters and things like that, but they’re not available to be accessed by the public.  First of all because they are very old and they’d be damaged by everyone handling them.  Second of all because the government is unwilling to finance the restoration of them.  They are not considered of national importance.  There was an article, I think it was in the Connacht Sentinel, about  2 years ago, about this very fact that we have a huge amount of historical documents about Gráinne which are literally under lock and key and just molding away.  They’re turning to dust because the government is unwilling to have them rehoused either in the National Museum or to have them restored in any way.  They simply don’t view it as financially viable.  They viewed it financially viable to put up a big spike in the middle of a O’Connell Street, but their not interested in saving our history!  I wonder if it had been the letters of Eamonn DeValera or Robert Emmett, would they have the same qualms about spending that much money on them?

I mean, I think I am incredibly biased because she’s always been this hugely inspirational figure to me.  So, I can’t stand to have anyone sort of be negative about it and I get very annoyed when people sort of go, “Oh Granuaile, Grace O’Malley,” like you know, “Big deal, so what?”  And I’m just like, yes it is a big deal, it’s a huge deal in fact.  You know this woman was incredible.  She was incredibly powerful. She was charismatic, she was very very much in control of her sexuality.   I mean she didn’t let anyone boss her around.  She had kids when she wanted to have kids and she did exactly what she wanted.  So you know I think that’s just incredible.  I think given her circumstances, given the time she was living in and all the transitions that were taking place, I think what she did was amazing.

So, I reckon my thesis’ll  probably turn out something like that you know, having this wonderful glorification of Gráinne, how she was fabulous, she did this that and the other, and then comments on various men who’ve written about her afterwards -- and not very complementary ones either!

MT:  How are you going to do your research, are there places you’re planning on going?

CR:  Yeah, first of all I need to get in touch with Anne Chambers and Catherine Sweeney and Mary Moriarty, and Morgan Llwyelyn, who wrote “Grania,” which is kind of a... I won’t say it’s a romance novel, I mean there is romance in it but it’s a novelization of Gráinne’s life.  It’s very psychological, you know, you really get into her head and what she was thinking and how she manipulated every situation.  It’s really fascinating and recommended reading by me.

I’m hoping to go to Louisburg in county Mayo where there’s a Granuaile heritage center.  I’m not sure how helpful that will be because you can’t access a lot of the actual material, but I’m sure they’ll be able to point me in the right direction as for visiting places of interest.  My interest will be in sort of the social and legal aspect rather than the actual buildings and things like that, but I do want to go and visit Clare Island and see all her areas.  I want to visit Rockfleet.  I will be going to Mayo, and I’ll do the grand tour of all the heritage sites there.

Rockfleet is where Gráinne's home with her second husband was. Rockfleet Castle is the one she locked Richard out of.  Clare Island is where she lived a good deal of her life.  It’s where she controlled from.  The Irish leaders of the time, especially the O’Neills and the O’Donnells and any of the Irish male leaders who were standing up to the English, saw her as this fanatic who would defend her territory,  you know come hell or high water.  And so they wanted her on the furthest outpost,  so that she would give it her all before the English got any further.  So that’s where Clare Island would be, where the O’Malleys lived and grew up and possibly where Gráinne is buried.  That’s debatable there, you know, she is rumored to be buried at the Abbey on Clare Island.  There is also a castle at Belclare I think. An awful lot of them are in ruins, there isn’t much left.  I think like with most old Irish sites at one stage or another people took the stones away, to build their own houses and walls, and what was left was a ruin.

MB: You talked about her story coming down through folk lore, and do you know the tradition of Shanogs, old songs, that kind of thing.  Has anything come down of her through music?

CR:  Well, there are various poems, but there’s only one song and it was actually written by Pádraig Pearse.  It’s actually in here,  [in Anne Chambers’ book].  It’s called “Oro se do bheatha ‘bhaile” and we used to sing it in school.  It kind of sounds like, “What shall we do with a drunken sailor.”  It’s an old Irish tune, they put whatever words they want to it.

MT:  So what does it mean?

CR:  It’s, “Welcome home, summer is here. Granuaile is coming home with all her Irish soldiers.  They’re Irish, not English, not Spanish, and they will get rid of the foreigners, the English.”  It’s not very politically correct, now that we’re trying to welcome them all in!

MB:  Is there any imagery of her at all, any sort of engravings or...?

CR: There are no images of her. There are no pictures.  There are no engravings.  There are no wood carvings.  There is nothing, we only have our imagination to tell us what she was like.  Of course the Irish didn’t really go in for portraiture or anything like that.  What we have are vague descriptions, and again it depends on who you’re talking to.  Some describe her as a red head, some say she had long black hair, that she was tall.  They all agree that she was very beautiful and she charmed both the English and the Irish.  Edmund Spencer was particularly taken with her, as was Thomas Ormond. Morgan Llwyelyn suggests that the reason she never married for a third time is because of the whole theory of being available to all men and yet to none, you know that if she was unmarried they could all sort of lust after her, whereas if she was married therefore she belonged to one man, although I don’t think Gráinne would ever have belonged to anyone.  But she’s very much em an enigma. She was extremely feminine and very beautiful and yet she combined all of this with getting exactly what she wanted and doing what she wanted and embodied an awful lot of what are considered masculine qualities.

MT:  Could you hold up the various books and tell us about them?

CR:  Okay, this is Anne Chambers’ book, this is my bible.  Anyone who is interested in Granuaile should read this book because it is the most comprehensive.  It has the photos of various sites, it has the transcripts of her letters to Queen Elizabeth, to her sons, the articles of interrogatory that she had to do.  It also has the poems and the songs which I sang.  It also has a very comprehensive bibliography at the back.  So, if you want to do further research yourself, this is where you should start.

This is Moriarty and Sweeney’s book.  I recommend reading this before you read Anne Chambers’ one because otherwise it’s going to appear very childish.  That’s not to put it down -- it’s an excellent book -- but it’s just much smaller and doesn’t have the sort of the depth of historical fact that Anne Chambers’ one does.  It is an excellent introduction though, has all the folklore, has an excellent time line at the back of it and has some interesting photos of artifacts from the time.

This is the book that started it all, this is Eleanor Fairburn’s “The White Seahorse.”   It is newly available now from Wolfhound press.  It also has a very good bibliography at the back.  The only fault I would find with it is that it is phonetically written so the spellings are all wrong.  You won’t have any idea that these are Irish names.  But it’s an excellent book.

MB:  Is there any significance in the white seahorse?

CR:  That was the pennant that the O’Malley clan used or that Gráinne used.  Her flag on her ships was a white seahorse.

This is Morgan Llywelyn’s book, a lovely novel whether you like Gráinne or not.  It’s a wonderful romance novel.  Morgan Llywelyn has written various books on figures from Irish history.  She’s written about Fionn McCool.  She’s written about Cuchullain.

So those are the sources on Gráinne.

MT: This has been a great education, thank you.  Before we finish I’d like to ask you some more general questions about women in Ireland given your background in Women’s Studies.  Hearing you talk about Gráinne, and about how she was such an inspiration for you, makes me wonder if you have any more recent role models.

CR: I would have to say I think there are very few.   And I think to a certain extent, the girls who are growing up today are looking outside Ireland for their role models.  They’re looking at the Spice Girls and Madonna.  Hillary Clinton.  I think Mary Robinson was a very good role model. As a woman in Ireland she achieved an awful lot. Before she became president she tried to push bills through for abortion and divorce.  But in terms of Irish role models I think we’re very limited. Girls looks to pop stars, film stars, not politics.

The history books are still male oriented. You’ll find Countess Markievicz.  You’ll find Maud Gonne.  In English courses you’ll find very few women poets.  You won’t find Lady Gregory; you won’t find her until you come to university if you can make it to university.  The books are still stereotyping: “Sean is out in the garden playing with the ball; Marie is inside helping Mommy in the kitchen.”  It needs to be changed.  We do need to find role models. But in order to provide the girls coming up with role models, it’s up to women my age and older to go and hunt them down and find them out.  We need to contact agencies which produce text books, write to publishers, to ensure there are more equal gender roles and that the stereotyping is cut down.  I don’t think it’s even conscious, it’s accepted, it’s seen as normal.  And a lot of people don’t question.  They don’t argue.  It’ s left up to the individual to do something.  If you want your daughter or your son to learn about women in Irish history, you have to go yourself and tell their teachers you want them to learn this.  And even then it’s still structured within the curriculum so that it’s very limited.  The whole point system in Leaving Cert encourages you not to read outside the course.  You just don’t have time.  You’re cramming as much information as possible into your head so that you can pass these exams and get to college, where you can hopefully choose what you want to study.

MT: To me it seems like there are these two different stereotypes about Irish women.  One is women in Ireland have no power.  And then there’s this other stereotype of incredibly powerful women.  Do either of these have any truth in them?

CR: I would say that Ireland is ideologically woman centered.  Ireland is always portrayed as a woman: a beautiful woman, or an old woman mourning for her four green fields and the loss of her sons.  There’s great lip service paid to women. We have a constitution which acknowledges that by her work within the home, woman provides services to the state without which the state would not be viable.  Women have been put on a pedestal.  And an attempt has been made to mold them into shapes that they don’t fit.  We have the Maud Gonnes, beautiful women who send men off to die. We have the Countess Markieviczs who inspire men to fight.  And then we have the mothers who stay at home and look after all the other children. I think there’s a degree of truth in most stereotypes.  I think that Irish motherhood has had a focus on keeping the family together.  I don’t think all of this came from women, a lot of it was imposed.  It was imposed by the state, it was imposed by the church, but it was taken to heart by a  lot of women because it did empower them.  By giving women this central role in the family, it did empower them, at least they had some power.  They had control over their children, they were seen as a force in their community, even though they were not accepted in the community.  I don’t think they are extremely dominant figures in the  family.  Women have a lot of emotional power and authority but they have no economic power.  An awful lot of Irish women are full time housewives.  They may receive an income from their husbands, but at the end of the day they are still dependent on him.  This is not a bad thing if it’s an equitable relationship but it has given rise to a lot of women who are unable to make independent decisions because they have to consult with their husbands.

Women are expected to do an awful lot. They are expected to look after the children, nurse the old and the sick, look after the family relatives, to provide an awful lot of services, and yet they are still accorded no status.  A housewife is an incredibly powerful figure, you know, she affects so many people and yet is treated by the state as almost a child.  Any tax benefits will be paid to your husband. When you marry, it is automatically assumed that your husband will control the finances unless you specifically state otherwise.  I think the ideology has failed women in a lot of ways, it has restricted them.  It has some positive aspects, but I think there is a need to branch outwards, to acknowledge women as people rather than as you know relations of men.  They are more than just wives and sisters and mothers and aunts, they are people, and they should be accorded the respect and the financial support that would be accorded to a man in that situation.

There has been a lot of talk about having women in Parliament, the fact that four of the last presidential candidates were women.  I think it was just tokenism.  The women were put up there to fill the gap left by Mary Robinson.  It wasn’t because the political parties thought that they would be the best candidates.  It was because they thought it would be good to have a woman.  A good figurehead.  And I think this is really obvious from the state that the country is in now.  There is still lip service being paid to women: “Yes we have one of those in management positions, one of those in government.”  I think there’s an awful long way to go before we break any of the stereotypes and change any of the attitudes toward women in Ireland.

MT: What do think the impact has been of having more women in government?

CR: I don’t actually think it’s made that much of a difference. I’ll be quite honest about it.  We haven’t actually got that many woman in Parliament.  If you compare the amount of women who are in government now to the amount of women who have been in government throughout the history of the Irish Republic, even from the Free State times, I think we’ve had a total of 81 women in government during that time.

MT:  That’s how many years?

CR:  That’s in let me see, say from 1918 to 1998, 80 years.  In 80 years we’ve had 81 women.  It’s a pretty bad track record. I don’t think that women in government have made that much of a difference, which is not to say that women in government don’t make a difference, I just think there aren’t enough of them there.  I think that the women we have are career women, and I would say that unless we have a lot more women , younger women, married women, women with children in there making decisions that we are going to continue to see a very poor track record on women in Ireland.

Ireland is still one of the only countries which hasn’t ratified the UN convention on women -- and also one on torture.  The justification for that is because they haven’t actually got around to dealing with women’s issues.  Well I think they just don’t want to deal with women’s issues.  This year in the budget they completely dismissed women’s calls for improved child care, but last year in the budget they gave 20 million to the Gaelic Athletic Association. Now I think it’s wonderful that they’re willing to put money into sports but I think they need to pay attention to the fact that children need other things besides sports.  They need child care.  Women need child care.

The attitude is still very conservative towards women working.  You know, if you are working you still have to look after your children as well because child care is far too expensive.  There are women who will work because they love their job, and all the money that they earn will be spent on child care so that they can work.  I really think until we have 50/50 women to men in the government we’re not going to see that position change, because there’s still a very strong attitude that a woman’s place is in the home.  They can deny it all they want but all social and legal policies are still concerned with women as dependents of men, their relationship to men.  I mean even claiming social welfare you are a lone mother, not a single parent. You are a deserted wife, you are a widow.  These are the allowances you get, and if you do receive an allowance it’s based on your relationship to a male, if you are living with a male. You may not be having a sexual relationship, you may actually just be sharing a house with a man, but you can still be denied benefit because the assumption is that he is taking care of you.

MT:  Are there any other issues in particular that you think need to be addressed in terms of women’s issues?

CR: In terms of women’s issues, oh yes. And I’m going to start straight off with abortion and the lack of sex education in Ireland.  I think there’s an attitude with a lot of people that if you give children contraception they’re going to just jump into bed.  And I say children in the broadest sense of the word because under Irish law you’re a child up until you’re 21, something not a lot of people know.  However I’m talking about everyone from 0-21 -- they should have access to sex information.  Whether it’s in school or through private programs.  I don’t think giving contraception is encouraging sex.  Sex is happening all the time.  People are going to have sex, with or without contraception.  If you give them contraception, and give them an education, at least they can make an informed decision. If you educate them about feelings, if you educated them about their own biological cycles, then they have the information to make an informed decision.  I think there’s a failure to acknowledge children and teenagers as rational human beings.

We also have a serious problem in Ireland around abortion.  There is a tendency to dismiss women who have crisis pregnancies or to push them into a situation they don’t  want, be that to keep the child or to abort the child. Yes there is pressure to have an abortion because like it or not there is still a stigma on women who are unmarried who have children.  This is reinforced through the social welfare system; it’s reinforced through society’s attitudes; it’s reinforced by the media. There are pressures on these women to have an abortion, to not have a child.  I don’t believe women should be prevented from having an abortion.  I believe they should make an informed decision.  They should have the option to have it in Ireland if they want.  I think it is penalizing women to make them go to England -- it’s exporting a problem.

It’s a problem which obviously isn’t going away.  It means that only women that have money can afford to go to England. Other women are left to resort to means less effective. They will get themselves kicked in the stomach; they will try self abortion.  They will use knitting needles or hangers.  Or they will resort to infanticide.  And as we’ve seen there have been cases of girls of 14 and 15 like Anne Lovett who hide their pregnancies, and then leave the child to die or die themselves in childbirth. I think people are ignoring this situation.  It’s not going to go away.  It is an issue and it needs to be addressed comprehensively.  I think the government needs to address the situation; I think schools do, too.  And I think people have to face up to the reality that premarital sex is happening, that crisis pregnancies happen, and that abortion happens.

I don’t think women should be stigmatized because they have been let down by the system. They’re let down by the school system which educates them in a moral code that just doesn’t live up to what they’re feeling.  They’re told that sex is wrong.  They’re not told that it’s pleasurable, they’re not told that it’s going to make them feel good.  So when they do experiment, and they do find out these things, everything goes out the window.  They’re uninformed so they believe boyfriends or friends who tell them, “You don’t get pregnant the first time you have sex...”  I think they also fail to recognize the issue of sexually transmitted diseases.  I remember two years ago having a conversation with a friend of mine, who would now be 24, she is sexually active, and she casually informed me that HIV does not happen to heterosexuals.  This is an attitude that comes to us through Irish society.  There was an article in the Irish Independent two weeks ago in which the author claimed that it was homosexual sex that was spreading AIDS and HIV.  This is an attitude that is extremely pervasive in Ireland.  “It doesn’t happen to me.  If we ignore it it will go away.”  Well it won’t go away.  Women don’t go away.  Girls don’t go away.  They’re here, they’re having problems, and we need to address them in a serious and rational manner.  We need to take the time to tell our children, our friends, what’s happening.  And we need to have the information to do it.  We don’t need a government telling us that they’re going to bow down to a Catholic hierarchy or to pressure from various groups, “pro-life” or whatever else.

I don't think anyone has the right to tell you what you can or can’t do with your body.  It’s your own decision.  And I think anyone who tries to enforce a situation in which you can’t make an informed decision is a fascist.  A dictator.  And they have no business calling this country a democracy.

MT: Do you have any idea what you’d like to do as a career?  Will you continue with Women’s Studies?

CR: First of all I thought I’d like to be a solicitor. Then I wanted to go into schools, as an equality inspector, to change the curriculum, to ensure that women receive an equal amount of time in certain subjects. But then I realized that was never gong to happen -- the government was never going to elect an equality inspector in the schools.  It would require an acknowledgment that there is a gender imbalance,  and they’ll never admit to that.  We still have a predominantly male government, and they like the way things are.  So then I thought I’ll go and be a lecturer, I’ll teach.  But now I can’t see that happening either.  There’s a shift away from Women’s Studies.  A lot of schools are now calling it Gender Studies and they’re trying to equalize.  The last thing they want is a radical feminist in the ranks.  Now personally I wouldn’t consider myself a radical feminist, but my friends consider me a radical feminist.  Most of the people who meet me will tell me that I’m an extreme feminist.  For me, an extreme feminist means Andrea Dworkin.

MB: What about an Irish extreme feminist?

CR:  Ailbhe Smyth!  I would consider myself quite conservative. I don’t go round breaking windows and saying “no pornography.”  I ask awkward questions, I needle people, and I’m very happy with that.  When people ask, “What political party do you vote with?” I say, “I don’t vote with any political party, I vote for women,”  and that scares them!   When I say that I’m a feminist I might as well say that I’m an IRA terrorist, I’d get the same response.

Probably I will end up going into law. I think there’s a very pressing need to change the legal system. I have several friends who have experienced sexual abuse and rape.  They have been very badly treated by the system.  If I were in that situation and went to court I’d be very badly treated by the system.  That’s something that has to change.

MB: Aren’t there a lot of women in the legal profession?

CR: There are a lot of women solicitors.  There are fewer women barristers.  It is barristers who become judges, and it is judges at the end of the day who decide sentencing.  That’s a serious problem.  I think Irish women who choose to study the law choose to become solicitors because they lack the self confidence to stand up in front of the courtroom and put their opinions forward.  To a degree they’re afraid of being seen as aggressive, as career women, as if this is in some way a bad thing.  We have a situation where women are discriminated against in the legal system, and there is still an attitude of, “I don’t want a woman solicitor.”  More and more women are using women lawyers, women bricklayers, women doctors.  But it’s up to women to change.

I think the legal system will require radical change.  A lot of our laws are based on English law, from the 19th century.  The law against abortion is based on the 1861 Offenses Against the Person Act. A hundred and forty years later we’re still in a  situation where woman are being dictated to. I think it’s through the law where the changes might come.  The government is not going to legislate.  I think the only way the legislation will be beneficial to women is if it’s made by women.  We need to achieve critical mass, 50/50.  Saying we need 30% to affect change won’t work.  Men will still be in the majority.  And I think they are at the end of the day very conservative.  Most men do not want to see women in power positions, it threatens them.  They won’t admit it.  Most of them will tell you they’re perfectly happy seeing women doing this, that, and the other.  But at the end of the day, if it was up to them, if they could do it anonymously, they would have all men. And I think to a certain extent women do that too.  There is still a suspicion of a woman who wants to change things, who wants to have power, who wants to have a career.

Women have to work twice as hard, be twice as good, to get the same status as men. There is inherent discrimination against women.  The most confident of my female friends -- and I do it too -- if I’m in a situation where there’s a large amount of men it is very intimidating.  It may be blatant or it may be subtle but there will always be the put-downs.  Don’t be shy about saying your a feminist or what you believe.  I think women should be taught that feminism is not a dirty word. I think they should be taught to assert themselves in school.  Girls are still being educated into this role of the passive woman, caring woman.  They’re getting mixed messages: be competitive, get into college, get into the male roles and systems.  And on the other hand, they’re told: be caring, be passive, be the nurturer.  It’s this kind of schizophrenia that’s required to deal with the situation. You have girls coming up who say, “I don’t need feminism, I know what I want, I know where I’m going.”  Well that’s great but the girls coming up behind you are in a backlash. Because there is a backlash towards women.  That’s been really obvious from the budget, from sentencing in women’s cases, from the media.  There’s still very much a regressive tendency -- we take three steps forward and two steps back.  We’re inching our way towards getting what we want.  We need to make sure that the backlash doesn’t affect those coming up behind us.

MB: Why is it that young girls are so anti-feminist?

CR: I think there’s such a visible difference between where women in Ireland were 20 years ago and where they are now.  The marriage bar is gone.  There is theoretically equal pay. Women have achieved a lot.  There are women heads of companies, women getting into management.  They are getting into the Dáil and the Senead.  But I think also the media has vilified feminism.  It’s this dirty word conjuring up these man-hating psycho bra burning women who are completely unfeminine, who won’t let you wear make up and high heels.  As if feminists are dictating to girls what they can and cannot do and say.  This is the image being put across in the media.  We need to counteract that image.  The problem is how to do it.  A lot of women’s work is done at the community level, so it’s invisible.  If I didn’t know Dublin, I’d think there’s no women’s movement here. It’s invisible. Unless you’re in Women’s Studies, unless you’re working in a  rape crisis center or an outreach program, you’re unlikely to know.  How do woman get in touch, find out that these things exist, when the media is completely backlashing against them?  Another attitude that’s prevailing now is that men have changed.  We have the new man, the caring man, who stays at home.  So women are saying we don’t need feminism -- because men have changed.  But men haven’t intrinsically changed.  Individual men have changed -- they’ve changed their attitudes, they are more liberal, they are more willing to share power.  But men on the whole, older men especially in power positions, are not going to relinquish that.  So they perpetuate the idea that you don’t need feminism.  You don’t need to organize.  Because the greatest rule of all is divide and conquer.  If you have younger women turning against older women because they feel that they are being dominated or controlled, then they’ll spend time fighting the older women instead of joining them and fighting oppression by men, by the government, and by various systems.

The problem is getting the message across, short of going to the schools and bringing women and feminists and getting them to speak to girls.  I don’t think that’s going to change.  We still have a large population that subscribe to the idea that of the good wife at home.  A lot of girls like that.  And there is an extent to which that is very beneficial.  It’s wonderful that girls feel that they want to stay home.  But they need to realize they have the choice to leave and go to work if they want.  That’s something that women have had to fight for.  And unless we make the younger generation realize this, it will slip away.  We can see it now in recruiting people who are younger or who are past childbearing age into careers.  There is a focus on the younger person, premarried.  And also I think the later age of marriage is having an effect. There’s more pressure to have a career.  And girls who don’t fit into that category, because they have a boyfriend or whatever, they feel threatened by feminism.  They feel that feminism will encourage them to break up with this person or is looking down on them for being involved with a man.  Again it’s the media stereotype -- that you can’t be a feminist and have a relationship with a man. It’s very intimidating. Because these girls are growing up in a much more egalitarian society.  They’re growing up where they can relate to men, they can go out to the pubs, they have male friends, without this being seen as sinister or strange. And they like it. It’s very positive.  So they’re afraid that they’ll be taken away from them by feminism -- because they don’t realize that that’s not what it’s about.

MT: And one last question, one that I’m asking all the women I’ve interviewed: Were you named for anyone in particular?

CR:  No. I was named Caroline because my parents could agree on that, and then I was named Nora and Frances for both my grandmothers, they’re my second names.  Caroline was nice and neutral with no favoritism on either side.  I wasn’t named for anyone in particular, just a nice name, sort of reach into the baby book and there you go.

MT:  Do you have any idea what it means?

CR:  Caroline, yeah, it’s apparently a feminization of Charles, and it means “little womanly one,” which I think is completely ridiculous, given that I was always a tomboy when I was little!
  

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