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Brigid the Green takes her place among the founding fathers

Miriam Lord’s Week: Eamon Ryan makes a seasonal selection for a portrait alongside Collins and De Valera in Taoiseach’s office

For the bank holiday weekend that’s in it:

The dandelion lights its spark

Lest Brigid find the wayside dark,

And Brother Wind comes rollicking


For joy that she has brought the spring.

Young lambs and little furry folk

Seek shelter underneath her cloak.

The poem, St Brigid, by Winifred M Letts, is on a famous poster from the 1920s printed by Cuala Press. And from next week a print of Kathleen Verschoyle’s sparkling representation of Brigid will hang in Taoiseach Leo Varadkar’s office in Government Buildings.

She will take her place among the portraits of powerful political men, thanks to the leader of the Green Party.

It seems that when Varadkar took over as Taoiseach, he noticed something amiss with the artwork on the walls in his office. He got in touch with Eamon Ryan.

“I have a portrait of Michael Collins and I have Éamon de Valera, but I have nothing from the Green Party. Have you any suggestions? Is there something you could recommend?”

Ryan takes up the story: “I thought about it and we don’t have a portrait of Christopher Fettes [founder of the party] or, for that matter, Trevor Sargent. But anyway, yet another man on the wall? I thought, no. What female or feminine-orientated artwork could we use?”

And he thought of the time of year – spring – and instantly thought of St Brigid, a woman who looked after the environment and had a very strong sense of social justice.

“She reflects a lot of our Green values.”

And he thought of the Cuala Press, a women’s co-operative set up by Lily and Elizabeth Yeats – sisters of the more famous WB and Jack. The women, it would appear, were the brains of the outfit while the two boys scarcely managed to make tuppence from their artistic endeavours. Much of their output is part of a treasure trove of Yeats material in Trinity College.

“They were quite revolutionary and modern in their own way. So why not take a St Brigid from the Cuala Press? It’s very Green in its outlook, it’s a nice message and it would suit the room.”

The picture depicts the saint with lambs and dandelion (St Brigid’s flame). She is protecting the newborn spring lambs under her sweeping cloak.

For the modern era, perhaps the three little lambs could represent the three strands of Leo’s coalition as they strive to avoid slaughter in the next election.

The Taoiseach also requested a second Green-themed artwork to hang in the anteroom. Eamon chose a modern piece called “We are the flock…” by Tanya de Paor, a recent PhD graduate from the Burren College of Art.

It features a series of landscape photographs depicting the hope and gloom of climate crisis. They have motion sensors which activate the recitation of a poem translated into Irish when the viewer steps close to the image.

One of these interactive photographs will go into the room next to the Taoiseach’s office.

The Minister for the Environment is clearly very excited by the project.

He is also delighted to see St Brigid getting her rightful place at the heart of power. In 2016, he made the case in the Dáil for the introduction of a bank holiday to honour Ireland’s, until recently, less-recognised patron saint.

“Our country will be far stronger and far better when we celebrate and follow our feminine side, and listen and involve,” he told the House during a Sinn Féin debate on introducing a “republic day” to mark the sacrifice of the men and women to died in the pursuit of an independent Irish republic.

“Why not start by recognising our great patron saint, Bríd, as well as our other? Why do we merely celebrate Patrick and forget about Brigid?

“This is a woman who could speak for many women and men in our country if we had a holiday to mark her name, and it would mark that critical point between the winter solstice and the spring equinox.”

“Having a public holiday at that time would give us a sense of hope.”

Winds of change

Charlie McConalogue is on the road again.

Following his legendary Every County Covered tour in 2021 when he performed live in mart canteens everywhere, the Minister for Agriculture kicked off the first leg of WFRI ‘23 (Windbagging for Rural Ireland) in Leitrim on Tuesday night.

If only they could remember, the farmers of Ireland would have lasting memories of Charlie’s first nationwide tour when he threatened to take his Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) consultation show “to every milking parlour, every calving shed, every tillage field and every kitchen table” in the nation.

“And I am doing that,” he added, before he even started.

In the end, though, most of the tour dates were pencilled in for the canteens.

It was a huge success. The McConalogue sessions – before and after – got great coverage for Charlie, with reports and photographs carried by all the local media outlets.

But his tour was not without controversy. In Galway, for example, the decision to perform in Maam Cross in Connemara caused outrage among farmers not based in the far west. The chairperson of the Galway branch of the IFA said it was a “big disappointment” to members right across the county, while a councillor in Tuam called the Minister’s choice of venue “a slur on East Galway”.

It has taken the Minister a year to recharge his batteries and have some new material written for him. But finally, the wait is over and Charlie’s barely anticipated “Working for Rural Ireland” roadshow roared into action this week in the more than half full auditorium of the excellent Corn Mill Theatre and Arts Centre in Carrigallen, Co Leitrim.

Solo artist Charlie commanded the stage, speaking from the set of a new play by Alice Lynch which opens next Friday. His set list was dominated by issues raised by members of the audience, with three matters causing most concern.

First of all, what is he doing about the sell-off of Irish forestry to rich foreign landowners when the Irish people struggled so long to shake off the yoke of English oppression?

Secondly, why are Fianna Fáil and Coalition partners Fine Gael allowing themselves to be led by the nose by the airy-fairy Green Party and its anti-farming agenda?

And lastly, the thorny question of planning permission to build one-off houses proved to be a very hot topic.

Afterwards, one man told a member of the Minister’s entourage it is so difficult to get the green light for a one-off build in Leitrim that “even Damien English himself would struggle to get planning permission here”.

McConalogue’s WFRI tour continues around the country over the coming months. He will be trying to woo the farmers in Co Louth on Valentine’s night.

Back in Leitrim’s Corn Mill Theatre last week, it did not go unnoticed that the title of the play opening on Friday night has particular resonance for the Minster for Agriculture and his audience. It’s called The Cheque’s in the Post.

Those prized farm payments from Brussels have always been known as “the cheque in the post”.

Presidential ambitions

Thirty-two months is not a long time in presidential preparation politics. Not many people will be aware, or even care, that the election to find a successor to Michael D Higgins will be in October of 2025.

But for some it’s a signal to get their skates on and their ducks in order because jockeying for position in the preliminary rounds of the race for Áras an Uachtaráin is already starting. Behind the scenes, the wannabes are eyeing up their chances and quietly putting out feelers.

People are beginning to talk about possible contenders. Former taoisigh Bertie Ahern and Enda Kenny are regularly mentioned in dispatches, while Tánaiste Micheál Martin is seen as Fianna Fáil’s best chance of retaking the Phoenix Park.

The bookies have installed EU commissioner and former MEP Mairead McGuinness as early favourite. Mairead made a bid to run as Fine Gael’s candidate in 2011 but lost out to Gay Mitchell, who had a disastrous campaign. Other names in the mix of potential nominees include EU ombudsman Emily O’Reilly, Labour’s Fergus Finlay, Senator Lynn Ruane and Sinn Féin MP John Finucane.

However, news this week that the Tánaiste has signed off on plans to purchase a new Government jet is being seen in some quarters as a sign that Sinn Féin’s dream scenario of Mary Lou in Leinster House as taoiseach and Gerry Adams in the Áras as president may come to pass.

And just to put the wind up their political masters in Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, some staffers around Kildare Street have started referring to the new jet as “Ger Force One”.

Aengus in the pink

Sinn Féin’s Aengus Ó Snodaigh cut quite the dash around Leinster House this week with his curly grey locks dyed a shocking shade of violet.

Or lavender pink, depending on the light.

Aengus agreed to his temporary new look to encourage more people to donate to his daughter’s haircut fundraiser for the children’s hospice LauraLynn. Nineteen-year-old Éadaoin cut more than 13 inches of hair from her flowing ginger tresses and donated it to Locks of Love, a charity which makes wigs for children going through cancer treatment.

“I did it because the wife chickened out,” said the TD for Dublin South Central. A neighbour who used to be a hairdresser did the deed.

So will it wash out quickly?

“No. It’s still on me, that’s the problem. They said it was just going to be a quick rinse. They didn’t tell me at the time that it’ll take around 20 washes to get rid of the colour. I’ve washed me hair more times in a week than I would in a year. If anything, it seems to be getting brighter.”

On Monday, he had to chair a sub-committee of the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly.

“Thank God were weren’t some of those Tory MPs around. The ones who were there were grand, they just laughed.”

And then on Thursday, Deputy O’Snodaigh said he tried to keep a low profile when entering the Dáil chamber for European Parliament president Roberta Metsola’s address to the Oireachtas. “I said, ‘Where am I sitting?’ and I was told, ‘You’re down there, in the front row.’ I was mortified.”

Father and daughter’s efforts have raised more than €3,000 for LauraLynn.

Aengus in the pink is in Berlin this weekend for a family do – a 60th birthday party. He’ll have a ball. We hope he brought his lederhosen.