Lá Na mBan

by Sighle Meehan

To Alice Stopford Green 1947 – 1929

It is 1923 and I find you in the Seanad,
Alice Stopford Green, an elderly woman
still striving for your ideal Ireland
autonomous and sovereign.
You vote to retain divorce,
advise on the Garda Síochána bill,
research Irish manuscripts.
Words blur as light fades and 1923
draws in her evenings. You are
unsettled, ghosts move in the shadows
you think you hear gunfire, sister fighting sister.

You pause, let the years unravel.
1918. A bill passed in Westminster!
Conscription of Irish men!
Enforcement without consent is tyranny, you declared
and called for Lá na mBan, a day
for Irish women to show their strength,
sign a pledge, resist conscription.

In City Halls and Town Halls,
beside churches, monuments
they signed in thousands,
tens of thousands.
Womens’ Unions, Womens’ Franchise,
Munitions workers, Cumann na mBan,
women of the Irish Citizen Army,
business girls, housewives, convent nuns.
Two thirds of Ireland’s women pledged
We will not fill the places of men deprived,
We will help the families of men who suffer.
We are resolved.

You wave at the ghosts. Mná na hÉireann,
their strength will not be vanquished.
Saorstát Éireann.
You taste the words,
taste the constitution
every person, without distinction of sex

This poem was composed during a series of creative writing workshops for Comhrá na mBan Centenary Writers Group led by Emily Cullen at Westside Library, Galway during September – December 2023, as part of the ‘Reflections – A Commemoration of the Irish Women of 1923.This project was presented by Galway City Council, Galway Public Libraries & Galway City Museum & supported by the Department of Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sports and Media. 

Cover Image: UCD School of History and Archives. UCD Archives. Tierney/MacNeill Photographs. LA30/PH/402 http://dx.doi.org/info:fedora/ivrla:34550