Poetry as Commemoration
by Máirín Lankford
Annie Coyne née McGuire
Born January 1896
Sign of the Goat,
Place of the Goat,
In 1918, at twenty-two
You learned to leave your bed
So men on the run could rest.
You boiled their breakfast eggs
And toiled to keep their clothing
Dry and mended.
Pinned messages in your underwear and went
And risked whatever road they needed you to go.
And no one marked the things you did without —
You were a woman, after all.
Annie Coyne, File 34/51978
Military Pensions Board,
Where requirements under the Acts are everything.
And you didn’t meet them, Annie.
Initial Pension Claim, December ’36,
Under 1934 Act.
Outcome: ‘Not a person to whom the Act applies’.
Your second claim, May ’51,
Under the 1949 Act.
Yours not to reason why,
Nor mine, except to say
Your file records many memoranda
In Defence Department offices,
Initialed SÓC or DÓB,
Or even MÓD.
Male Ó underpinning male pronoun,
e.g. ‘Applicant must supply further details of his income,
On his application form’.
A related file, MD/31534
Shows they gave you a medal in 1959.
And so well they should.
But I’m wondering, Annie.
What you thought of it,
And if you wore it
And how it looked,
On your thread bare coat — you were sixty-three.
And, if, in 1959, they found you worthy of a medal
Why make you grovel further?
Why request a Social Welfare Officer — male, no doubt,
To verify your circumstances?
A final file: DP/30174
Shows they granted you a Special Allowance,
In 1963, you were sixty-seven,
Yearly sum £26
I hope you were, by then,
Still fit enough to enjoy it.
A chromosome stacked the odds against you, Annie,
For military history was meant for only men, then.
And so it is, for some still.
But you are my history, that’s why
Your letter sings to me, Annie,
Dances from the page your pen ploughed,
In the unschooled idiom of your place and people,
And I sing back to you from 2022,
Of freedom, choice and opportunity,
All won for me by such as you.
We’ll sing together.
Reproduced with kind permission of the author. This poem was composed in Poetry as Commemoration workshops held at Cork City Library in September, 2022. The workshops were led by poet Thomas McCarthy.
Pension application form of Annie Coyne of Aughagower, Westport, Co. Mayo
Date: 30th May 1951
Collection: Military Service Pensions Collection