Rising poem: A Demonstration by Jessica Traynor

This centenary poem celebrates Dr Kathleen Lynn

Irish poet Jessica Traynor recites her poem celebrating the life of Dr Kathleen Lynn. Video: Irish Writers Centre

 

This poem was commissioned by the Irish Writers Centre as part of the 1916 centenary celebrations. Tomorrow’s poem, Íota an Bháis, is by Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill and celebrates Mícheál Seosamh Ó Rathaille – The O’Rahilly

 

A DEMONSTRATION

Letter by this morning’s post to say I may go home for Xmas if I won’t have a demonstration (do they picture bands?) 
– Dr Kathleen Lynn


What might drive me, a doctor,
to jump out of reason and into the fire
of rebellion? Haunted by skulls
that boast through the thin skin of children
who ghost the alleyways, dying
young in silent demonstration,

I raise my own demonstration
against my limits as woman and doctor.
I remember those I’ve watched dying
of gulping coughs, praise the mercy of gun-fire
that scythes through women and children.
I number those dead, count their skulls.

Outside city hall, a policeman’s skull,
shattered by a bullet. This is less a demonstration,
more a bewilderment of poets and children,
watched over by one errant doctor.
My convictions temper in the fire
and quicklime of what follows, the dying


man brought out and shot at dawn, the ever-dying
Cuchulainn with his necklace of skulls –
all that spitting, revolutionary fire.
And my part in that demonstration
won’t be forgotten, but as a woman doctor
put down to hysteria, or a lack of children –

for what are women really but children
themselves, living and dying
without reason? They say a real doctor
might cure me, could measure my skull
and tell its emptiness, demonstrate
my zeal was nothing but a mindless fire.

A rebel dying stokes the nation’s fire,
but starving children? Ask this doctor
to number our gains in skulls. Expect a demonstration.

3. Kathleen Lynn
Location: City Hall

Kathleen Lynn, who was born in Mayo in 1874, was one of Ireland’s great humanitarians. She cared for the sick and for 35 years ran St Ultan’s hospital. Her Rising connection was via her interest in women’s suffrage and her sympathy for Dublin workers, whom she supported in the 1913 Lockout. She didn’t prioritise fighting, saying “I never drilled, I never had time for that sort of thing”, but joined the Irish Citizen Army and taught others how to treat battlefield wounds. She risked her career and liberty to help the rebels organise and (when female vehicle owners were relatively scarce) undertook missions for the Citizen Army, such as driving with a car full of weapons hidden under theatrical garb from St Enda’s school to Liberty Hall. Made captain of the Citizen Army on Easter Monday, Kathleen Lynn climbed the high gates in front of City Hall to take up her post under Sean Connolly, who was shot in front of her. Soon the whole garrison was under fire; she remembered “the bullets fell like rain”.

When City Hall was captured by the British army, Lynn could have escaped, as an officer thought she was attending the wounded, but she proudly declared herself to belong to the Citizen Army. Held for eight days in Ship Street Barracks, she and her companions were starving, sleep-deprived and lice-infested when they were marched to Richmond Barracks and then Kilmainham Gaol. There she heard the firing squads in the mornings.

Lynn was deported to England, and returned to Ireland in 1917. She was wanted for arrest and was on the run until the great flu epidemic of 1918. She gave herself up to treat the sick. She died in 1955.

  • Jessica Traynor was born 1984 and comes from Dublin. Her first collection, Liffey Swim, was published by Dedalus Press in 2014 and shortlisted for the Strong/Shine Award. She works as literary manager of the Abbey Theatre