Roller Skating in Kilmainham

by Emily Cullen

Grace Gifford Plunkett in 1923

They say I’ve the saddest expression in history
but wouldn’t you, too, after all I’ve been through?
My Joseph, a poet, soldier and mystic
murdered for being a Signatory…
How we conspired over caricatures,
my cheeky sketch of George Moore
during our days at The Irish Review.

It’s like a decade of sorrowful mysteries,
our marriage, here in Kilmainham,
witnessed by British soldiers with bayonets…
Now they’ve condemned me to this inferno
where they shot my Joseph, seven years ago.
Did they forget it was here we tied the knot,
that it’s an honour to stand in the stonebreaker’s yard?

So I stride in these corridors, faith unbroken
in the Republican dreams of our noblest dead.
On the walls of our cell, I’ve painted the Virgin
and I’m adorning the programme for our concert
and play, when Dorothy will perform her poems
and Nora will read the Proclamation

and I’m writing to ask for sugary sweets,
Player’s cigarettes, the ones with the pics
with a special request for roller skates
to exercise when it’s too wet outside to
swing my rounders bat. The skates will buoy
my spirits, raise me above cold flagstones.

When I slide my foot onto wood and wheels
and tie my ankle straps, I am buckled up.

This poem was composed as part of the ‘Reflections – A Commemoration of the Irish Women of 1923.’ As part of her poetry residency on this project, Emily Cullen led a series of creative writing workshops for Comhrá na mBan Centenary Writers Group at Westside Library, Galway during September – December 2023. The initiative 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 photo: Mrs Joseph Plunkett and Sir William Orpen c.1904-1910.
Collection: Irish Political Figures Photographic Collection. National Library of Ireland Ref: NPA POLF253

Artefact: Letter written by Grace Plunkett, while imprisoned in Kilmainham Gaol, to William Orpen requesting roller skates, cigarettes, and sweets. National Gallery of Ireland Archive. Featured in the Roller Skates & Ruins exhibition.