Under her hat

by Cassie Smith-Christmas

Christmas holidays 1915:
I decked my hair with detonators
wrapped wires round my body;
the sea groaned beneath my feet;
yet no one on the boat suspected
it could be me, Margaret Skinnider,
the wee schoolteacher from Glasgow,
bombs tucked like brightly-coloured baubles
under her hat.

Easter Holidays, 1916:
Clouds softening to lilac,
birds warbling their way to bed.
The spring air fresh, cool.
Birds screeching into the sky.
We clapped our hands, embraced.
It’s worked, our bomb has worked.
The Countess and Madeline crafted another one;
we sent it up to the sky,
our offering.

The Rising
I could trace their silhouettes
on the roof of the Shelbourne Hotel.
I’d fire my rifle and they’d go down.
Ironic, given they’d trained me, back in Scotland;
I’d give a pound to see their faces now,
realising it was me,
the wee schoolteacher from Glasgow.

Commandant Mallin wouldn’t let me go at first,
said it was too much of a risk.
But I replied I had as much right to give my life
for Ireland as any man.
He relented; we were trying to stop their retreat
with a blaze on Harcourt Street
when I was hit.
My wounds had to be coated
in corrosive sublimate.
They put on too much;
it singed most of my skin away.

Lying there wounded,
I knew we were losing.
I wanted to scream,
to summon a warp-spasm,
grab the nearest rifle and take them down,
each and every one of them.
But I couldn’t.
Just as I can’t now, sitting in my jail cell
in 1923, where I still have as much right to die for Ireland
as any man;
but I ask, what kind of Ireland will it be?

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.’