In November 2022, Galway City Museum took part in an all-island project, ‘Poetry as Commemoration’, in which participants, under the expert guidance of poet Gerry Hanberry, responded creatively to local objects connected to the revolution. An initiative of UCD Library, delivered in partnership with Poetry Ireland and Arts Council Northern Ireland, the project uses poetry as a means to explore the challenging period in our history relating to the War of Independence, 1919 to 1921, and the Civil War, 1922 to 1923.
Over two Saturdays, participants gathered at the Galway City Museum to hear the stories behind the revolutionary objects on display. Then, responding to the objects, the group were guided to write their own poem or piece of prose. Among the objects on display in the museum’s new exhibition, ‘War of Friends, 1922–23’, is a portable Beatrice stove, which was used by Galway TD Pádraic Ó Máille and members of the West Connemara flying column for cooking and heating while hiding out in the Maumturk Mountains during the War of Independence. Responding to the object, participant John Gilligan penned the following lines:
Pádraic Ó Máille, alone. In a cave. On the run.
A drear price he pays. It has to be done.
The fight is for Ireland. Freedom the call,
Whether up on the Maumturks, or above in the Dáil.
The landscape is bleak. Trackless, the bog.
Without hint of a warning, down comes the fog.
No trees to give shelter. Countless lakes that impede.
Without perseverance the spirit would bleed.
The Beatrice stove given, keeps him alive.
As he cooks and warms, troubled spirits revive.
Under cover of darkness, smoke rises high,
No comfort it serves to the scorned spying eye.
Left: Galway TD Pádraic Ó Máille (1876–1946), who spent periods in a hideaway in the Maumturk Mountains during the War of Independence. Right: The view from ‘Ó Máille’s Cave’ in the Maumturks in Connemara.
A brass petrol cap – inside which is a faded photograph of Margaret ‘Peg’ Broderick of Prospect Hill, a teenage member of Cumann na mBan – on display in the Museum’s ‘Revolution in Galway, 1913–23’ exhibition is a potent reminder of the terror endured during the War of Independence. The cap comes from a petrol canister used by Crown forces to douse the walls of her family home in September 1920 as they attempted to burn down the house – thanks to the efforts of their neighbours the house was saved. The photo inside was taken a week later after members of the Crown forces took Margaret from her home and cut off her hair as a reprisal for a similar attack on another young Galway woman by republicans. Inspired by the story behind the object, project facilitator Gerry Hanberry put pen to paper:
Worse Things Happen
(i.m. Margaret (Peg) Broderick Nicholson, Cumann na mBan)
Otherwise they ‘weren’t too rough’ she said later,
those men in crude masks
who dragged her from her home
into the darkness of the street,
-‘What wonderful curls you’ve got’-
hacked them with a scissors,
blunt as their brutal warnings,
then laughed and said ‘Goodnight now, girl!’.
Next day, alive and grateful for it,
she made two stops First to the barbers
to have her cropped head shaved to the scalp,
all the better for fresh growth.
Next to the photographer’s,
her defiance captured in a half-smile,
indefatigable, –‘Worse things happen in war’-
then never again spoke, not even once,
of the shudders in her chest
on the long nights after,
spent counting down
the slow silent hours to the dawn.
Left: Margaret ‘Peg’ Broderick of Propsect Hill, Galway. Right: Petrol cap with photo of Margaret ‘Peg’ Broderick with cropped hair, 1920.
According to Gerry Hanberry, ‘the Galway Museum proved to be the perfect place to host a poetry workshop with its fabulous setting overlooking the River Corrib and the Claddagh Basin. The participants in the workshops could not help but be inspired by the location and more importantly by the amazing selection of objects on display there. The ink flowed like the river below and great work was produced by all who took part. These pieces will now be archived in UCD Library, a permanent record of how people in 2022 viewed the historic and often difficult events that took place as the Free State was born’.
Left: Poetry workshop participants in the new Education Room at Galway City Museum. Right: Brendan McGowan shows participants objects on display in the new exhibition, ‘War of Friends, 1922-23: the civil war story of Pádraic Ó Máille and Liam Mellows‘.
The all-island project is funded by the Department of Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media under the Decade of Centenaries Programme 2012–2023. The submissions will be added to the Poetry as Commemoration archive for posterity and to a dedicated website. For further details, visit www.poetryascommemoration.ie