'Marriage was a licence for sex': Ireland and women in 100 quotes

The Women’s Podcast celebrates its 100th episode with 100 quotes by and about women in Ireland

A year ago today, RTE journalist Teresa Mannion went viral on social media following her live report on Storm Desmond for RTE News. Video: RTE

 

“I recognise no partition. I recognise it as no crime to be in my own country. I would be ashamed of my own name and my murdered husband’s name if I did . . . Long live the Republic!” – Hanna Sheehy-Skeffington

“It has been said that time heals all wounds. I don’t agree. The wounds remain. In time, the mind, protecting its sanity, covers them with scar tissue, and the pain lessens, but is never gone.” – Rose Kennedy

“There were great big heavy rollers. The sheets would be red hot. It would be the work of an adult man. I was up at six in the morning and every time the bell rang you went where you were told to go. I didn’t know how old I was. There were no mirrors and birthdays were never celebrated. We didn’t speak to each other. We were too frightened.” – Kathleen Legge, Magdalene laundry survivor

“I am an old woman now with one foot on the grave and the other on its edge.” –Peig Sayers

“Had you fought like a man, you need not have been hang’d like a dog.” – Anne Bonny, the Irish pirate’s alleged last words to her lover, John “Calico Jack” Rackham upon his capture.

“The State acknowledges the right to life of the unborn and, with due regard to the equal right to life of the mother, guarantees in its laws to respect, and as far as practicable, by its laws to defend and vindicate that right.” – Article 40.3.3 of the Irish Constitution also known as the Eighth Amendment

“Marriage was a licence for sex really and if you had sex you had babies. You then entered into the nightmare of unremitting pregnancy. Now in 1971, the average family size was 12 and not unusual to have 13 or 15 children. Northern Ireland was under British rule, slightly more liberal and we thought right, we’ll get the train to Belfast, break the law, get the contraceptives, bring them back to Dublin” – Nell McCafferty, journalist

“I hope they will be smartly dressed, that their uniform will be smart and will look good. I hope it will not be frumpish but, instead, well-designed and attractive. The girls will have that extra feeling of smartness if they know they look smart and they will be better Guards for that reason.” – Fianna Fáil TD Honor Mary Crowley

“The English may batter us to pieces, but they will never succeed in breaking our spirit.” – Maud Gonne

“I saw my husband in his cell for ten minutes. During the interview the cell was packed with officers and a sergeant, who kept a watch in his hand and closed the interview by saying, ‘Your ten minutes is now up.’” – Grace Gifford Plunkett on her “honeymoon” meeting with her new husband, Joseph Mary Plunkett, shortly after their wedding and hours before he was executed at Kilmainham Gaol

“What a misfortune it isto be born a woman! Why seek for knowledge, which can prove only that our wretchedness is irremediable? If a ray of light break in upon us, it is but to make darkness more visible; to show us the new limits, the Gothic structure, the impenetrable barriers of our prison.” – Maria Edgeworth, author

“If curses come from the heart, it would be a sin. But if it is from their lips they come, and we use them only to give force to our speech, they are a great relief to the heart.” – Peig Sayers

“Dress suitably in short skirts and strong boots, leave your jewels and gold wands in the bank, and buy a revolver.” – Countess Markiewicz

“It has been said here on several occasions that Pádraig Pearse would have accepted this Treaty. I deny it. As his mother, I deny it, and on his account I will not accept it. Neither would his brother Willie accept it, because his brother was part and parcel of him.” – Margaret Pearse, mother of 1916 leader Pádraig Pearse.

England and Ireland each turned to the other a closed, harsh, distorted face – a face that, in each case, their lovers would hardly know.” – Elizabeth Bowen, novelist

“We were born into an unjust system. We are not prepared to grow old in it.” – Bernadette Devlin, MP and republican activist

“Contrary to what the Women First page in the The Irish Times seemed to suggest, Irish women were not invented in 1971.” – Elgy Gillespie, journalist

“There are no makeovers in my books. The ugly duckling does not become a beautiful swan. She becomes a confident duck able to take charge of her own life and problems.” – Maeve Binchy, author

“The sacredness of the female reproductive system vanished forever with the publication of Humanae Vitae. From there on ovaries, wombs and menstruation became became acceptable items of popular, as well as clerical, obsession.” – Mary Leland, writer

“She is a girl and would not be afraid to walk the whole world with herself.” – Lady Augusta Gregory, poet

“Ms will catch on if for no other reason than it’s practical. Because there are more women around now in a position to get letters from people who don’t know whether or not they’re married.” – Mary Maher, editor

“The vote, I thought, means nothing to women, we should be armed.” – Edna O’Brien, writer

“In particular, the State recognises that by her life within the home, woman gives to the State a support without which the common good cannot be achieved. The State shall, therefore, endeavour to ensure that mothers shall not be obliged by economic necessity to engage in labour to the neglect of their duties in the home.” – Article 41.2.1 of the Irish Constitution

“We are a vibrant First World country but we have a humbling Third World memory.” – Mary McAleese, former president of Ireland

“I am possibly the wrong person to write about the liberation of women because ever since, by various manoeuvres, I managed to finish my formal schooling by myself I have been liberated. I find the stove and chopping board far from being restricting influences and indeed a relaxation.” – Theodora Fitzgibbon, cookery writer

“All kinds of everything remind me of you.” – Dana (in the words of songwriters Derry Lindsay and Jackie Smyth)

“We enjoyed the struggle, at least at the beginning. It was like shooting fish in a barrel, the obstacles to women were incredible, ludicrous, and stood out like a sore thumb. Ireland was full of men in suits who never had to deal with the likes of us before and to see them challenged by someone as formidable as Mary Robinson – it was great. It is terrific if you are a revolutionary, and you can achieve the revolution in a short time!” – Nell McCafferty, journalist

“I was elected by the women of Ireland, who instead of rocking the cradle, rocked the system.” – Mary Robinson, former president of Ireland

“Us nurses? We didn’t leave because we didn’t see any alternative and we suffered out the year counting the days like nurses in most Irish hospitals afraid of that horrible, faceless thing called victimisation.” – Mary Cummins, journalist

“Sometimes being Irish feels like a job you never applied for. I don’t mind being Irish, but I am not a big fan of nationalism.” – Anne Enright, novelist

“In a slow dance of this kind the boy and girl or man and woman stand as close as physically possible with the girl’s arms around the boy’s shoulders and his arms around her waist. The shoulder grip keeps both heads within kissing distance, a position taken obvious advantage of, while the waist grip keeps the bodily pressure on. Thus held together they move over a few square inches of floor to break apart at the end of the dance and take up the same positions with someone else for the next one.” – Mary Leland, journalist

“What Ireland shares with many societies around the world is a dangerous reality: once a group of people is isolated as being in some way inferior, the general population becomes less concerned with how they are treated, even in the face of evidence of cruelty and abuse.” – Mary Raftery, campaigning journalist

“I’m not so bad either, Mr Byrne. ” – Annie Murphy, who had a son with the late bishop Eamon Casey, to Gay Byrne on The Late Late Show

“G’way, ye wife-swapping sodomites.” – Úna Bean Mhic Mhathúna challenging pro-divorce campaigners during the 1995 referendum

“Women seem to be extraordinarily dependent on their handbags. Ask a woman what she would grab if the house went up in flames and in all probability it would be her handbag first and the baby second.” Gabrielle Williams, fashion journalist

“It’s a terrible shock . . . Being married for 25 years, and finding out your husband’s a prick.” – The Snapper, by Roddy Doyle

“Of course the bishops may be right, but I don’t think they are. I think they are just frightened. They cannot deal with a situation that has developed rapidly over the last ten years when the gradual change in society was accelerated and left them and most of us without a philosophy. What it produced among other things was a new working woman beginning to see her life more positively than ever before, beginning to realise her value to society, the family, the church and state. Beginning to make her own demands.” – Mary Leland, journalist

“I was a Flower of the mountain yes when I put the rose in my hair like the Andalusian girls used or shall I wear a red yes and how he kissed me under the Moorish wall and I thought well as well him as another and then I asked him with my eyes to ask again yes and then he asked me would I yes to say yes my mountain flower and first I put my arms around him yes and drew him down to me so he could feel my breasts all perfume yes and his heart was going like mad and yes I said yes I will Yes.” – Molly Bloom

“What will the well-dressed man wear during 1974? The well-dressed man will wear clothes this year because if he does not he will be very cold.” – Nell McCafferty, journalist

“I think being a woman is a bit like being Irish. Everyone says you’re important and nice, but you take second best all the same.” – Iris Murdoch, novelist

“Anyway – and I think it’s my mother’s blood in me – I am blessed, blessed with determination. Nothing stops me and nothing will stop me. It’s very nice to be praised and it’s not nice to be kicked but you yourself are the judge and guardian of your own talent and you yourself have to mind it.” – Edna O’Brien, writer

“Young men were totally ignored and sex for them was something you got away with. You don’t think this is true? I promise you this is true. Where do you think all the illegitimate babies came from? Why do you think all those women went to England to have their babies in secret and have them adopted? Why do you think there were so many Irish babies being put on planes? There has been a change. You don’t have to deal with it if you don’t want to but other people are going to have to deal with it and you have no right to stop them.” – Ann-Marie Hourihane, journalist, debating with a member of the audience on The Late Late Show during a discussion about AIDS.

“Never before has your show stooped so low to discuss so little. Oh boy, what a show it turned out to be. Not a holy show but a dirty, disgraceful, rude, garbage heap of codswallop.” – A female viewer reacts to discussion of sex on The Late Late Show

“At the top of the steps to the Forty Foot is a sign reading Gentlemen Only and on the strength of that sign women have been refused the simple pleasure of a dip here for years. On Saturday 20th of July the Women’s Liberation Movement of Ireland invaded that male bastion of chauvinism to put an end to this ridiculous form of prejudice.” – Rosine Auberting, writer

“The first song that ever moved me was Van Morrison’s Listen to the Lion. He sings, ‘And I will search my very soul’ – and that’s me to a tee, I have to get at everything.” – Mary Coughlan, singer

“This is a Catholic country.” – Ann Maria Burke of University Hospital Galway to Savita Halappanavar

“My purpose was not to persuade anyone to use contraception, just to make clear that it was in no way immoral or sinful. I remember one woman who exclaimed, ‘Then what will I have to say in confession?’” – Maire Mullarney, family planning volunteer

“We are not allowed in law to kill our neighbours or people in the street – why should unborn children be any different?” – Catherine McSweeney in a letter to the Citizen’s Assembly

“It’s not that I haven’t always wanted to marry, I have but I always felt there was so much I wanted to do before I got married. First it was travelling and living abroad, then it was university, and after that came career and rightly or wrongly I have seen marriage as an obstacle to an interesting, demanding job. I get positively claustrophobic whenever the possibility of marriage presents itself.” – Christina Murphy, journalist

“There is no disagreement that can’t be solved with a good cup of tea, in the face.” – The Nualas

“Ireland’s always been known as a rebellious little country and it’s become a terribly sedate little country that doesn’t insurrect itself against anything. Waking the Feminists was the new insurrection.” – Olwen Foué, actor and writer

“For seventeen years. There wasn’t one minute when I wasn’t afraid, when I wasn’t waiting. Waiting for him to go, waiting for him to come. Waiting for the fist, waiting for the smile. I was brainwashed and brain dead, a zombie for hours, afraid to think, afraid to stop, completely alone. I sat at home and waited. I mopped up my own blood. I lost all my friends and most of my teeth. He gave me a choice, left or right. I chose left and he broke the little finger on my left hand. Because I scorched one of his shirts. Because his egg was too hard. Because the toilet seat was wet . . . and I never stopped loving him. I adored him when he stopped. I was grateful, so grateful. I’d have done anything for him. I loved him and he loved me.” – Paula Spencer, from The Woman Who Walked Into Doors by Roddy Doyle

“I met a government minister in the last few days who was up to high doh. ‘I will not curtsey,’ she said between gritted teeth, ‘I will not.’ A sigh of relief went around official female Ireland when it was revealed that only the Queen’s own subjects are expected to curtsey.” – Olivia O’Leary, columnist and broadcaster welcoming the Queen to Ireland.

“A Uachtaráin agus a cairde. Prince Philip and I are delighted to be here and to experience at first hand Ireland’s world-famous hospitality.” – Queen Elizabeth the second on her visit to Ireland.

“ When the blood flows from abortion, Satan has his day and that has consequences for everyone. Jesus told us in the Garden of Gethsemane, all who draw the sword will die by the sword. God forbid Ireland to fall on the sword but when it comes to God – ’tis all or nothing.” – Bridget Sherlock, in a contribution to the Citizen’s Assembly

“I hadn’t wanted to be pregnant and felt in no way capable of parenting. The term is ‘choice’, but it didn’t feel like having one. If I had been forced to continue with the pregnancy, I cannot with certainty say that I would still be here.” – Tara Flynn, author and comedian

“Our society is unequal, and bodily difference is used to justify that inequality.” – Emer O’Toole, academic and author Girls Will Be Girls

“This is dawn.

Believe me

This is your season, little daughter.

The moment daisies open,

The hour mercurial rainwater

Makes a mirror for sparrows.

It’s time we drowned our sorrows.” – From Nightfeed, a poem by Eavan Boland

“We live in a world that is absolutely cruel to fat people, fat people’s bodies are up for discussion all the time, people feel entitled to talk about them, tell you about it face to face.” – Louise McSharry, broadcaster and author of Fat Chance

“A young woman in my care is having an abortion,” I say. “It’s the right thing for her. Are you pro-choice?”

He seems startled. “Of course.”

“You Brits,” I say. “You’re so lucky to be free of all that guilt and shame. But living in Ireland, it’s impossible to escape the shame, it hangs in the air.”

“You can’t really blame the air for shame,” he says. “The shame is generated by Irish law. Fourteen years in prison, for taking a pill? That’s quite a judgment.”

Marian Keyes, extracted from her upcoming novel

Author Marian Keyes speaks at an Irish Times’ Readers evening with Sali Hughes. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw/ The Irish Times
Author Marian Keyes speaks at an Irish Times’ Readers evening with Sali Hughes. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw/ The Irish Times

“I feel like I grew up in this south Dublin bubble so I didn’t experience any outright racism but I think one of the major things muslim girls do face on an insidious level is discrimination when it comes to the workplace. I think they face a triple threat. First of all they are women and then they are coloured and they wear this headscarf.” Raneem Saleh, medical student

“Given that some time in the next 10 years the global population aged over 65 will outnumber the global population aged under five, and four-square in the knowledge that I’ll be bang on target for that sexagenarian shindig, I too have been on the lookout for a mantra. It’s this: ignore all advertising and marketing, from ophthalmics to orthotics, aimed at the over-50s.” – Hilary Fannin, columnist and author

“Everything came together. That’s happened to me a couple of times in my life, but not very often. Things worked out. In the past they often didn’t; I was always just on the wrong side of something.” – Annalise Murphy, rower and Olympic silver medallist

“We are the family values campaign.” – YesEquality co-director Grainne Healy, 2015

“My mother gave me a belief and a confidence and a worth that I could do anything anyone else could do. I may have to manoeuvre myself or find different ways of doing it but it should never stop me. And whether that was college or setting up a blog or going to London fashion week, standing at the front of a room or doing a PhD, that principle has stuck with me.” – Sinead Burke aka Minnie Melange, blogger and little person

“God has the most wicked sense of humour.” – Maureen O’Hara, actor

“What pisses me off is when I’ve got seven or eight record company fat pig men sitting there telling me what to wear.” – Sinead O’Connor, singer and musician

Singer-songwriter Sinead O’Connor performs during a concert at the Koninklijk Circus - Cirque Royal, in Brussels on April 12, 2012. Photograph: Christophe Ketels/AFP/Getty Images
Singer-songwriter Sinead O’Connor performs during a concert at the Koninklijk Circus - Cirque Royal, in Brussels on April 12, 2012. Photograph: Christophe Ketels/AFP/Getty Images

“Everywhere I go, I’m asked if I think university stifles writers. My opinion is that they don’t stifle enough of them.” – Kate O’Brien, writer

“I do think I’m a mess. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. It’s fuelled all my work, and I’m hoping it will continue.” – Sharon Horgan, writer and actor

“I urge you to travel to Cork City and to marvel at the dark-eyed, charming storytellers that populate the streets and taverns there. Many of these enchanting creatures are likely to be my sisters but you must not approach those ones. Particularly please do not approach them and tell them that I sent you because they hate that. ‘Fuck sake, Maeve,’ they will say on WhatsApp.” – Maeve Higgins, comedian and author

“My family are from Ireland and I go over there a lot, and I always forget when I go over there. You’re walking around and you suddenly remember this is a country where women do not have control of their bodies and their futures . . . I’ll just be walking down the street and suddenly remember this . . . it’s a chill through your bones.” – Caitlin Moran, writer

“Our battle is nothing to what their battle is.” – Karen Gearon, Dunnes Stores anti-apartheid striker

“I find it very hard to do my homework, because I can’t concentrate at all. When you close the door, you can still hear my brother and sisters crying. There are five of us including my mother . . . it’s very hard: you can hear her crying at night. It’s very hard for me to sleep.” – Minahil, aged 12, on her life in a mobile home in an Irish Direct Provision centre

“The fear of failure: that’s the one that has snuck in to my life now and found itself a prominent perch, and it’s going nowhere. Of course, that is what we do as humans – we fail – so I shouldn’t be surprised by it trying to take over. Sometimes we fail well, sometimes less so.” – Pauline McLynn, actor and author

“Changing nappies at 3am, having milk leak all down my top, walking with an ache from my womb – all with contentment and deep understanding that I chose this. All of this. This hard and holy work. I would never ever place this work of pregnancy, of mentally preparing to birth and physically birthing within the Irish system where choices are lacking. I would never want a woman who doesn’t want a(nother) child to have to go through it all.” – Catherine Connelly in a contribution to the Citizen’s Assembly

“People do not change, they are merely revealed.” – Anne Enright, The Gathering

“I wanted the reader to finish this book and be absolutely furious. Furious about what happened to Emma, furious about our low rate of [rape] conviction, furious at the fact that the victim is blamed. That rage is the only way change will be enacted.” – Louise O’Neill on her book Asking For It

“To be honest I live among the English and have always found them honest in their business dealings. They are noble, hard-working and anxious to do the right thing. But joy eludes them, they lack the joy that the Irish have.” – Fiona Shaw, actor

“I fight like me Da as well.” – B*witched

“The people of this country are full of kindness, but always to strangers. When a relationship is required – landlady, mother, husband, wife – complications arise. They do not have the facility for intimacy.” – Clare Boylan, from Black Baby

“Above all else, deep in my soul, I’m a tough Irishwoman.” – Maureen O’Hara, actor

“Still mulling over the Abbey Theatre’s male-dominated programme for 2016. Found myself seething. Wrote a giant list of questions. So here is a barrage of thoughts and questions if only to get them off my chest. Answers or more questions welcome. Deathly silence welcome too.” – Lian Bell, set designer, from a Facebook post that kickstarted #WakingTheFeminists

“I can’t draw my house. I can’t remember what it looks like.” Lucy, aged five, speaking to Irish Times journalist Kitty Holland

“I know now that I began writing in a country where the word ‘woman’ and the word ‘poet’ were almost magnetically opposed. One word was used to invoke collective nurture, the other to sketch out self-reflective individualism. Both states were necessary – that much the culture conceded – but they were oil and water and could not be mixed.” – Eavan Boland, poet

“In any culture, a woman’s mistakes are rarely forgiven.” – Rosaleen McDonagh, traveller and playwright

“Go on, go on, go on, go on, go on, go on, go on, go on, go on, go on, go on, go on, go on, go on, go on, go on, go on, go on, GO ON!” – Mrs Doyle, housekeeper

“Give the government a grilling, my foot. This lot couldn’t grill a rasher.” – Miriam Lord, journalist

“We ask for the land over the water, home over trial, choice over none, for our foremothers, for ourselves, the generations yet to come, witches or women, these are our bodies which will not be given up.” – Sarah Maria Griffin, That We May Face This Land

“Watch for the imminent explanation, once familiar in post-communist countries, the one that goes: ‘The ideas were good, it was the people who failed.’ – Kathy Sheridan, Women’s Podcast presenter, on Brexit

“Are you somebody?” – Nuala O’Faolain, writer

“All my young life I’ve struggled and overcome barriers. I’ve surprised doctors, strangers, friends and even my own family by what I’ve achieved. I don’t want to live in the shadow of others because I want to make my own journey in life and I know if I’m given that chance I can and will succeed.” – Joanne O’Riordan, student and campaigner

“I became an actor to hide, you oscillate between being really tough when you’re told you’re not good enough to having this really translucent skin so you can absorb people and their vibrations. It’s no wonder we’re all so peculiar.” – Ruth Negga, Oscar-nominated actor

“I had no idea I was funny until I was in my 30s and I started going to AA meetings. I was telling people all these awful stories and they were roaring laughing. I realised I was hilarious and thought, ‘jesus, maybe I’ve a gift for this.’” – Marian Keyes, author

“Increasingly if you look across technology, particularly in Ireland and across leadership, it’s becoming female-dominated,” she said. “I think we need to be careful of the male-dominated narrative; that becomes an obstacle in itself.” – Sinead McSweeney, MD, Twitter Ireland

“Age has never bothered me; in fact I’ve always quite enjoyed getting older, but I think Ireland has always been an ageist society. I always felt that people were put on a scrapheap who had so much to offer.” – Moya Doherty, creator of Riverdance

“I believe we did not pay enough attention to birth in this country. It was a women’s issue. There’s a tendency to turn off for women’s issues. But here’s the thing: everybody is born and women’s issues matter.” – Dr Rhona Mahony, Master of Holles Street Maternity Hospital

“I think we do know, and I think Ireland, as a whole, recognises that the sham has to stop. We have to stop pretending that abortion isn’t a reality for women in this country. Yes it is. And we need to take account of that and provide for it in an appropriate way. And, really, the time for hiding is definitely over. It’s time now to right the awful wrong that has been done to women for so long and put our house in order.” – Ailbhe Smyth of the Coalition to Repeal the 8th Amendment

“Don’t make unnecessary journeys.” – Teresa Mannion, RTÉ broadcaster

“The idea of death is too final for me.” – Orla Tinsley, Cystic Fibrosis campaigner.

“We will always think it is great to be a woman. It is a broad tie that binds when so much divides us. You can stop us sitting on your electoral bus in equal numbers. You can stop us having agency over our own amazing bodies. You can pay us less. You can murder us. You can rape us. You can punch us. But we have our biology and we have our bodies and our beauty. So, most of the time, we are glad to be women.” – Anthea McTiernan, Irish Times journalist

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