Random musings

Some year

Well 2020, you’ve been some year and not in a good way. We’re not going to recap what a shitshow it’s been. We are blessed that we haven’t lost loved ones, but people we love have. Writing a round up of the year amid such global loss and upheaval seems frivolous. But this was the year we chose to launch our Wild Gees blog. A year in which the adventures we had planned to capture in the blog were curtailed. So we’re reflecting, ok?

The plan was to launch the blog based on previous adventures around Ireland in search of untold and undertold stories of Irish women from history, pre-history and mythology, then closely follow that with our next trip. That couldn’t happen, but we decided to launch anyway and hope (vainly as it turned out) that the summer’s plans could be moved to October. So we went ahead in August, with a tiny flutter of fanfare on Twitter.

What we hadn’t foreseen was that, with all three of us working in education, Autumn 2020 would be the worst time to try and devote any time to the blog. Term-time began and any spare time we had evaporated. We were working at full tilt in challenging circumstances and our collective stress levels went stratospheric. Our poor blog was a victim of this, and as we reflect this is only our third post since August. We feel both guilty and meh about this. 2020 had different priorities.

But there have been some highlights. We have a small but perfectly formed Twitter following that we love engaging with and who have provided some bright spots amid the gloom of 2020. Here are some of them:

Sheela na Gigs were the original motivation for our adventures, and in October we were delighted to discover artist John Flynn posting a print of a Sheela per day as part of Inktober. One of us may have been lucky enough to get one of these for Christmas.

Print of Ballyfinboy Sheela na Gig by John Flynn
The Ballyfinboy Sheela, as depicted by John Flynn

We became card-carrying members of the Cliterati! Thanks to the wonderful Vagina Museum in London, whose innovative approach to surviving the lockdowns also included online sessions on The Vulva in Art History which featured – of course – Sheela na Gigs.

Meeting your heroes is kind of challenging in lockdown and we were particularly disappointed to lose the opportunity to see Roxane Gay in actual person at the West Cork Literary Festival this summer. But one of us (who is also valiantly working on her PhD through the pandemic) got to zoom with feminist academic hero and all-round badass Rosi Braidotti. Blog post to follow when she comes back down to earth.

Books kept us going when our trips were cut short, and we continued our adventures vicariously through writers who managed to bring women’s histories back to life. One highlight was Doireann Ní Ghríofa’s A Ghost in the Throat, a “female text” through which we discovered the absolute legend that was Eibhlín Dubh Ní Chonaill.

Dr Mary McAuliffe’s books have helped us dig deeper into the lives of the women of 1916, and our particular shero Margaret Skinnider – the only woman to have been injured in the fighting, a challenger of gender norms and an activist her whole life. We stan.

Margaret Skinnider pictured dressed as a man, with a woman on each arm
Margaret Skinnider (centre) dressed as a member of Na Fianna

Wild Gees fav Sinéad Gleeson’s anthology of Irish short stories The Art of the Glimpse was the gift that kept on giving in 2020. Through it we discovered writers like Norah Hoult and Maeve Brennan whose work had been largely forgotten since their deaths. It also introduced us to Oein DeBhairdúin, whose collection of Traveller folk tales Why The Moon Travels opened up a tradition of storytelling it felt a privilege to access. His description of St Jarlath’s day and the unmarked Minceirí graves in Tuam was a timely reminder that the historical abuses of the Church extended into death. As #RepealTheSeal showed us (again), power protects power and activism is often the only thing that forces justice for the powerless. This gave rise to one of our ragiest tweets of 2020. On a similar theme, A Tomb with a View – Peter Ross’s stories from graveyards – reminded us that it’s not just an Irish phenomenon and we added a detour to London’s Crossbones cemetery to our post-Covid travel plans.

A stack of books from 2020

The megalithic ‘Latitude’ site that is Rathcroghan was one of the many highlights from our first trip and its very meaty guidebook helped us to explore its myths and legends at Halloween, as well as delve into a bit more of Queen Meadhbh’s adventures and misadventures. She was some woman for one woman / goddess.

One of the books we kept returning to for reference was Where Are the Women? by Sara Sheridan, which reimagines Scottish place names, statues and buildings as if our foremothers’ achievements were as commemorated as the men’s. Some of these women had Irish connections of course, but it would be fabliss (as the lovely Marian Keyes would say) if we could have a similar book for Ireland. We’d be up for doing the research for this if some kind publisher would give us a book deal and a year off from the day jobs. Please and thank you.

A relatively easy way we can all get involved in preserving women’s (especially queer, trans, and women of colour – who are even more disproportionately under-represented) achievements for history is to write Wikipedia articles for them. Dr Rebecca O’Neill has just finished her Wikipedia-article-a-day challenge for 2020 – many of whom were ‘women in red’. Bualadh Bos Rebecca!

Crowd of people at protest with speech banner 'we can edit'
Image from the ‘Protests and Suffragettes’ Wikipedia editathon

Another Wikipedia highlight was the online editathon organised by Glasgow-based Protests and Suffragettes, who are very creatively bringing these stories to a new generation with packs for schools and – we can hardly contain our excitement – a forthcoming top trumps set of Scottish suffragettes. And yes, we would like to do something similar. The 77 women of 1916? Or the collected Sheelas?

As the year drew to a close, one of the small gifts of 2020 was witnessing the dawn light enter the inner passage of Newgrange on the winter solstice as it was broadcast live. Perfect conditions on 20 December, coupled with the engaging and illuminating (no apologies for puns) commentary from Clare and Frank of @newgrangeknowth gave us all the feels.

But that wasn’t the best thing about 2020, not by a long shot. Wait til we tell yiz… we got quote tweeted by BOSCO!