By Dymphna Lonergan
I was priviliged to have spent more than my usual time in Dublin this year not only catching up with family and friends but also serving a short stint as a visiting fellow at University College Dublin doing my own research and teaching in the Irish Studies topic.
Who Was Síle?
For some years I have been researching the Irish word Síle.
We find it as a girl’s name, in the name for the heron (Síle na bportach ) and the earwig (Síle na bpíce), in the description of the lewd statues found on church buildings (Sheela na Gig), as St. Patrick’s wife, as the name of a particular snowfall around St. Patrick’s Day in Newfoundland (Sheila’s Brush), and as a generic name for a girl in Australia (which I have suggesed previously comes from Síle, the Irish word for a homosexual).
It seemed to me after all these years that there is possibly one word that is the basis for all these variants of Síle, and so I was looking forward to spending some quality time in UCD’s Irish Folklore Department. I found, to my surprise, other girls’ names attributed to Irish fauna such as Siobhán alla (‘Joan Spider’ alla is the word for ‘spider’) and Máire fhada, ‘Long Mary’ (crane). My conclusion is that, for whatever reason, a girl’s name can be used in Irish in a generic sense, and that name is often Síle . During an email correspondence with Professor Nicholas Williams he provided the very interesting information that
Síle is one of the few Gaelic names that survived into modern times. The only others I can think of are Meabh and Sadhbh. Further names like Clíona, Aoife, Órla, etc. have been revived since the Gaelic revival at the end of the 19th century.
Professor Williams also suggests that the name Síle might have its origin in nature, specifically the word Síol ‘a seed’.
Who Was Molly O’Reilly?
Last year in Dublin I visited the 1916 exhibition in the Ambassador Hotel at the top of O’Connell Street. At that time I was impressed by a statue of young Molly O’Reilly who was plucked from obscurity by James Connolly on April 16, 1916 to raise the flag over Liberty Hall. Here is Connolly’s report of that day:
On Sunday, April 16, 1916, let the date be forever remembered, Dublin witnessed a scene that moved thousands of men and women to tears of joy and thanksgiving. On that day the Irish Citizen Army, the armed forces of Labour, on the top of the headquarters of the Irish Transport Workers’ Union, hoisted and unfurled the Green Flag of Ireland, emblazoned with the Harp without the Crown, and as the sacred emblem of Ireland’s unconquered soul fluttered to the breeze, the bugles pealed their defiant salute, and the battalion presented arms, strong men wept for joy, and women fainted with emotion.
From early in the day the historic square was the centre of Dublin. Crowds were continually arriving to assure themselves that the ceremony was really to take place. All sorts of rumours were current all the week. Field guns were to level the Hall with the ground, all the avenues of approach were to be occupied by masses of troops with machine guns, Mr Connolly and all his officers were to be arrested at dead of night, martial law was to be declared on Saturday, and so forth; the stories were endless, and the bearers of the stories came from all quarters and ranks of society. But the preparations were quietly proceeded with, and the appointed hour found Beresford Place and all its avenues of approach blocked indeed, not by troops, but by tens of thousands of a breathless, excited, and jubilant crowd.
The duty and honour of unfurling the flag was allotted to Miss Molly Reilly, a young and beautiful member of the Irish Women Workers’ Union.
In front of the Hall the Irish Citizen Army cleared a space and formed into three sides of a square. Inside their formation positions were occupied by the Women’s Section, who made a splendid and beautiful show, the Citizen Army Boy Scouts, under Captain Carpenter, and the Fintan Lalor Pipers’ Band. Captain Poole and a Colour Guard of sixteen men escorted the Colour Bearer who was accompanied also by the three young girl dancers known as the Liberty trio.
The flag was deposited first on a pile of drums in the centre of the square. After inspecting the troops, Commandant Connolly took up his position in front of the drums with Commandant Mallin on his left and Lieutenant Markievicz on his right. Then the Colour Bearer, Miss Reilly, advanced from her escort, received the Colours from the Commandant, and turned about to face the Colour Guard. As she did so the Guard presented arms, and the buglers sounded the Salute. When the Colour Bearer had retaken her place in the centre of the Guard that body moved off around the square, whilst the Pipers’ Band played appropriate music.
As the Colour Guard reached the entrance to the Hall again, and reformed to their original front the Colour Bearer carrying the Colours across her breast bore them into the hall, and up to the roof. At this point the excitement was almost painful in its intensity. So closely had the crowds been packed that many thousands had been unable to see the ceremony on the square, but the eyes of all were now riveted upon the flag pole awaiting the re-appearance of the Colour Bearer. All Beresford Square was packed, Butt Bridge and Tara Street were as a sea of upturned faces. All the North Side of the Quays up to O’Connell Street was thronged, and O’Connell Bridge itself was impassable owing to the vast multitude of eager, sympathetic onlookers.
The Fintan Lalor Pipers’ Band is among the very first rank of the Pipe bands of Ireland, but so anxious and prayerfully eager were the people that its fine music was scarcely heeded as the hearts of all beat rapidly with longing for the appearance of the Flag upon its position.
At last the young Colour Bearer, radiant with excitement and glowing with colour in face and form, mounted beside the parapet of the roof, and with a quick graceful movement of her hand unloosed the lanyard, and
THE FLAG OF IRELAND fluttered out upon the breeze.
Those who witnessed that scene will never forget it. Over the Square, across Butt Bridge, in all the adjoining streets, along the quays, amid the dense mass upon O’Connell Bridge, Westmoreland Street and D’Olier Street corners, everywhere the people burst out in one joyous delirious shout of welcome and triumph, hats and handkerchiefs fiercely waved, tears of emotion coursed freely down the cheeks of strong rough men, and women became hysterical with excitement.
As the first burst of cheering subsided Commandant Connolly gave the command, “Battalion, Present Arms”, the bugles sounded the General Salute, and the concourse was caught up in a delirium of joy and passion.
In a few short words at the close Commandant Connolly pledged his hearers to give their lives if necessary to keep the Irish Flag Flying, and the ever memorable scene was ended.
When I had finished my search for Síle I turned my mind to the whereabouts of ‘Molly’. I expected to find her in some prominent public spot, perhaps taking Molly Malone’s old one at the end of Grafton Street.
Molly O’Reilly was nowhere to be found, and what’s more, I kept getting blank looks when I asked about her, until I asked at the GPO exhibition where it was suggested she might be in Collins Barracks. After much more searching I found out the name of the sculpture and his email address and discovered in subsequent correspondence that Molly was not in Collins Barracks but rather in his studio having been returned to him. Moreover, there was no consideration of having her publicly displayed in some prominent place, although Stuart would very much like that.
Where are today’s Irish women?
The longer I spent in Ireland this time the more complicated I found life to be there. I can’t imagine where to start a campaign to have the Molly O’Reilly statue publicly displayed. There are so few statues of Irish women of status that it would be wonderful for young Irish females to see one of their own being publicly recognised as a symbol of the part played by Irish women in the development of the modern nation.
On my final day in Dublin I watched the spirited and joyful march by hundreds of young mná na hÉireann from the universities having their say on the Section 8 of the Constitution Repeal proposal. I thought that perhaps this was, in a way, a manifestation of spirited free Irish womanhood that surpassed any public statue. Their counterparts in 1916 did not even have the vote and any marching for any cause might have resulted in being locked up.