Graffiti: Irish Language

One of the ways that the women wished to articulate their Irish republican identity was through their use of the Irish language. Whilst there were a significant number of women who could speak and write Irish fluently there remained many who had lesser knowledge and who spent time whilst imprisoned trying to improve their language skills.

The use of the Irish language can be found throughout the autograph books, often pages were filled with women’s names written in the Irish script that was current at the time. Interestingly, the women who were imprisoned in Kilmainham Gaol who had been deported from England and Scotland – often Irish women by birth or descent – often wrote their names and even addresses in Irish. They also often wrote these together – filling the same page of an autograph book. This example from Mary Twamley’s autograph book reveals women from London and Glasgow, a number even using ‘Lonnduin’ in place of ‘London’.

Two pages in the Autograph book of Mary Twamley (Kilmainham Gaol Archive)

Two pages in the Autograph book of Mary Twamley (Kilmainham Gaol Archive)

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It is clear from the easy articulation of the script by women such as Fiona Ni Pluingeoid [anglicised to: Plunkett] that their language skills were advanced – this can be seen in both her autograph book insertions:

An example of an autograph from Fiona Ni Pluingeoid in the Autograph book of Brigid Brophy (Kilmainham Gaol Archive)

An example of an autograph from Fiona Ni Pluingeoid in the Autograph book of Brigid Brophy (Kilmainham Gaol Archive)

and graffiti signatures:

Pencil over whitewash located in a cell on Corridor 1 of the Top Floor.

Pencil over whitewash located in a cell on Corridor 1 of the Top Floor.

However, the vast majority of examples of the Irish language were completed by women writing their names (closely followed by where they originate from) in a more stilted hand that revealed a lack of long-term use of the Irish alphabet. Indeed, it is clear that not all women had a background or training in writing confidently in Gaelige and there is evidence throughout the Wing of alphabets being written and inscribed on the walls. Whilst the Irish language in this period still diverged from the Roman alphabet (it was largely standardized in the 1950-1960s) there seemed a desire to practice the alphabet:

Partial Irish alphabet (underlined in red) located in a cell on Corridor 1 of Floor 1.

Partial Irish alphabet (underlined in red) located in a cell on Corridor 1 of Floor 1.

and vocabulary (including a list of the months of the year):

Partial list of the months of the year in Irish located in a cell on Corridor 3 of the Middle Floor.

Partial list of the months of the year in Irish located in a cell on Corridor 3 of the Middle Floor.

 

The Irish language appears throughout the Wing, not restricted to autograph books but also on cell walls and even over doorways:

This painted text of 'Anna Ni Dubgaill' is also located in a number of autograph books.

This painted text of ‘Anna Ni Dubgaill’ is also located in a number of autograph books.

There are also examples of extensive bits of script found on the cell walls. At times the more fluent, rather than stilting hand, actually make it more difficult for our unaccustomed eyes to easily translate:

Pencil over whitewash located in a cell on Corridor 1 of the Top Floor.

Pencil over whitewash located in a cell on Corridor 1 of the Top Floor.

Irish was also put to good use in creating slogans, writ large on the walls of cells with a number that have been directly associated with the women. One is located in a cell on the top corridor where many of the women resided during their Civil war incarceration

Irish slogan located in a cell on Corridor 1 of Top Floor.

Irish slogan located in a cell on Corridor 1 of Top Floor.

and two appear in the cell on the middle floor where Sighle Humphries had resided during the same period including the emblem of Cumann na mBan, which appears elsewhere in the Wing.

Painted over whitewash. Slogan in Irish ' An Poblacht Abu'. Located in Sighle Humphries's cell (Corridor 2, Middle Floor)

Painted over whitewash. Slogan in Irish ‘ An Poblacht Abu’. Located in Sighle Humphries’s cell (Corridor 2, Middle Floor)

Clearly, the Irish language was considered a major aspect of Republican identity for these women alongside more pictorial representations of their Irish identity [See Origins].

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