In this second part of our International Women’s Day pieces, musicians, mothers, colleagues, friends and even a poet make the list of incredible women we have all been influenced, encouraged and strengthened by…
Cassie Delaney on her mum
I can’t talk about the woman that inspires me most without talking about the woman that inspired her. Everything I appreciate and value in life, I have learned from my Mother and her mother before her. My Nana was exceptional. She was (probably more through necessity than passion) a keen sewer, DIYer and baker. If something was broken, she fixed it and at her encouragement I learned to use a sewing machine, bake soda bread and produce the village’s favourite marmalade.[restrict]
My Mother is not like my Nana. She would tie herself in knots sooner than attach a button to a blouse and I would suspect the act of painting a room would fill her with frustration. But my mother is determined, ambitious and smart. She is all the best parts of my Nana, minus the obvious crafting practicalities. Where my Nana was quiet, my mother is loud. It was commonplace that a trip to our local Superquinn would take anywhere between 15 minutes to 2 hours, dependent on the amount of people my Mother would stop to talk to. I suspect there are very few people that have encountered my mother that do not feel immediately as though they are an old friend. Planning her 60th will be a nightmare.
My nana was, as my mother continues to be, more concerned about giving away money than taking it in – a generosity that has become ingrained in me, much to the detriment of my own savings account. They have taught me to be patient, to persevere, to be purposeful. They have shown me how to lead with love, to empathise and to observe. Most importantly they have taught me to be kind; a quality that may never result in a fruitful savings account but one that has resulted in a life filled with happiness.
Aisling Keenan on Beyoncé
I’m very lucky in that many women have had profound impacts on me. I have a mother, sister and aunts who have taught me more about life than I could write in a thousand books. Likewise, my incredible group of female friends – I’d know nothing about unconditional friendship were it not for them. But honestly, and the aforementioned family and friends will understand this, the first person who came to mind when posed the ‘woman who had an impact’ statement?
Beyoncé. While I’m inspired by her as a businesswoman and creative artist, it’s her ability with music that’s had the biggest impact on me. Seeing her live (which I have many, many times – 22, but who’s counting?) is indescribable for me, and her shows have been among the most exhilarating experiences of my life. No matter how bad anything ever gets for me, her music always sounds the same. It always lifts me, encourages me, reminds me of who I am.
It brings me back to my fearless, pre-teen self, the ‘me’ that believed anything was possible with enough love and work. I don’t go a day without her in my ears, and whether B7 (her much-anticipated seventh solo album) arrives in 2020 or not, that won’t change.
Liadán Hynes on Anne Harris
The first time I saw Anne Harris, she was wearing all black, with a huge rose pinned to her coat, and a fur hat (vintage), and I thought she looked like someone out of Dr Zhivago. Specifically Lara. She has a sort of presence most people don’t; there is a quality of magic to Anne. Small children know it, they uniformly adore her. My own daughter met her and would have run away with her.
At the time I was professionally lost. Or so I thought. Actually, I was twenty-four; two years out of college and I see now not in any way to be expected to have yet found my career path.
But at the time, I thought I had a mere handful of steps to make in order to get my life right, and if I got any of them wrong, I had messed things up irreversibly. What those steps would be, I had no idea, hence being a year into a job which had started as a part-time summer filler. I was working in a boutique with Anne’s daughter, and Anne would visit us regularly, for a break from the job.
Anne had the dream job; she was a journalist. The deputy editor of a national newspaper. Several months after I first met her, she asked me to come write for her. To cover the leave of the fashion editor. She knew I had studied English in college, and she knew that I loved clothes. At the time. I was weeks away from moving to London to do a Masters in fashion buying. It wasn’t that though that nearly caused me to say no when she rang. It was fear.
Even though I had always wanted to be a journalist since I understood what it was to have a job, I had moved from editing the primary school newspaper, to squirming in embarrassment at my essay being read out in secondary school, to simply not making it through the door of the college newspaper. I was crippled by fear and shyness. I had certainly never confided in her my lifelong dream of being a journalist, but somehow Anne, a person with great intuition, seemed to have divined this, and offered me a job.
My dream job.
Anne was the kind of boss who had a talent for picking the right people for the right things, putting them together then letting them get on with it. Not a micro manager, she trusts the people she employs. If you come back to her because an issue has arisen, she gets on board with the solution, rather than fussing over things not going the way she had originally outlined. I feel lucky to have spent my twenties working with a boss who held a hugely powerful position, but who never attempted to tailor herself to a male mould. She never dressed to fit some imagined part, and she never behaved in a way that wasn’t anything but herself. Her office was fronted by a glass wall. Looking into the weekly news meeting, I would always get a kick at the sight of her, resplendent in green, or purple, sitting at her large desk surrounded by a darkly clad crowd of men, Anne running the show.
She is the best kind of journalist, one with an interest in the minutiae, and an understanding of the overall. She gives feedback lightly, never chastising or criticising, but what she says sticks with you and affects your work from then on. She asked me one day to help her with some things, and I booked a flight in her name, but going in the wrong direction. Horrified, I confessed my mistake, and she behaved as if it was barely even worth discussing, the most minor of things. It was incredibly kind.
It’s a huge thing, to run a Sunday newspaper, but there would always be time for the personal. Passing by my desk one night on her way to the lift, both of us working late, she stopped and murmured “You know I think you’d be the kind of person who would suit meditation”. Years later in the middle of the divorce I did a meditation course and it saved me.
When Anne’s husband Aengus passed away far too early, we all stood in the newsroom when she made a speech accepting the role as the new editor, the job her husband and colleague of decades has occupied until his illness. Many amongst the group had worked with AnneandAengus, as their names were always rolled together, for years and were devastated. But even though her own loss was the greatest, she held it all together, became the sticking point. It was one of the most impressive shows of personal strength I’ve ever seen. I feel very grateful to have spent much of my twenties watching a woman like this in such a hugely powerful role, doing things her way. But much more than that, I am deeply grateful for the opportunity she gave me, dropping my dream career into my lap.
Nadine Reid on Dr Maya Angelou
Growing up I have been surrounded by the work of Maya Angelou. There was the bible, and there was Dr Maya Angelou. My mom and aunts still have books, essays and her framed poetry across their homes. The women of my family are not always great with words of sentiment, but they would always guide me to find the words I needed for any situation. Failed a school exam? Still I rise. Heartbroken? Still I rise. Problems at work? Still I rise. Lacking confidence? Still I Rise.
For my mother’s 40th Birthday, the poem Still I Rise was printed on a scroll like paper. All guests were given a copy as a party favour wrapped in a yellow ribbon. Maya Angelou’s work is now part of my DNA. I breathe courage, strength and self love through her words especially in times of adversity, sorrow or trauma. On this 2020 International Women’s Day, I offer everlasting gratitude to my mom for guiding me to Dr Maya Angelou for the lessons of a lifetime I found, and regularly return to, in the book of poems Still I Rise.
Fiona Hyde on Kate Bush
I can’t really remember when I fell in love with Kate Bush. Culture is steeped in her music, and I grew up with it like everyone else, but her records particularly soundtrack my early twenties. I was living on my own properly for the first time in a flat in the Liberties, working in a job I hated for a pittance, going out ferociously every weekend and sleeping it off on Sunday afternoons. I used to joke that I had the musical taste of a middle-aged male Geography teacher – I bought myself a rubbish turntable in Tower and started collecting vinyls by Fleetwood Mac, Simon & Garfunkel and of course Kate.
Look: everyone says this. But Kate Bush really is a unique beast, a wildcard amongst masculine rockstars and posturing ego-driven front men. She stopped touring entirely in 1979 and controlled her image carefully, guarding her private life and generally being a bit of a cloudy-haired mystery. Arguably she doesn’t need to do press or feed the machine. Her music and videos speak powerfully for themselves in terms of visionary artistry. Why engage? Burnt by her first exposure to fame, she said: “The media just promoted me as a female body. It’s like I’ve had to prove that I’m an artist in a female body.”
I love that basically Kate does whatever she wants, she resists but in her own way, and operates in the murderous music industry with her own set of rules, which she breaks if she feels like. She decided to tour again in 2014, so she did. I flew to London to see her, sitting amongst fellow devotees who had waited decades for just this, and cried with catharsis and joy to see her perform the Ninth Wave side of Hounds Of Love in its entirety, like a beautiful short film about love and loss, as she had originally envisaged it. She’s wild, she’s weird, she’s so wonderful, she calls the shots, but she’s soft and feminine and delicate and tender. She’s everything. She’s Kate fucking Bush.
Sarah Maria Griffin on her friend Helena
I text Helena and ask if she has pictures of us when we were teenagers, and of course she does. When I open the image, I scroll back through our shared media: pictures of her son, Theo, look back at me. He’s the perfect mix of both his parents, I can see his dad’s cheekiness and her elfin features in him, too. I can’t believe she’s a mam, but I also have seen her step into this new role with such grace and ease that I equally can’t believe she ever wasn’t. During his naps she sits at her work desk and carves paper with a tiny scalpel into pieces of elaborate, complicated art. She has never been more herself, in this way. Somehow grown into the person she was always going to be. A stunner.
Look, I don’t know where to begin when I talk about having a best friend. Like a person who you just know was designed to walk through this life in your orbit, always. We missed each other’s weddings, though we texted each other on opposite sides of the planet when both were happening. We have hidden at terrible house parties together, sat in silence at a kitchen table doing our homework together, I don’t actually even want to tell you how many times we watched Moulin Rouge in her living room together. I implicitly trust her: her opinion, her taste, her advice, her secrecy. She has always been a few steps ahead of me but I feel lucky that I can see her footfall and think, yeah, that makes a lot of sense. To admire someone is a gift: to be made warmer by their glow.
Helena is absolutely silly to her bones. A brilliant weirdo. We are different in this way: she will go to the dance floor on a night out, I will go to the smoking area to talk. She is a do-er, shyer than me, but infinitely more practical, capable, organised. When I think of her at her desk now with her scalpel and paper, I think of the long nights in school on the phone in my parents’ house where I would read her the stories I had written, and she would sit on the other end of the line, painting the scenes I was describing. Blink and it’s fifteen years later and we are both still doing this, still painting, still writing. I believe in what I can do because of what she does – a counterpoint.
I am lucky that in my life I have nothing short of an infrastructure of women I love and admire: I think that is where I am most lucky, really, a chorus of girls who grew up or women who watched me and helped me grow up – they thread my life like how punctuation works, like how we couldn’t communicate or express ourselves through words without it. Helena in this way is my exclamation point: a shock, a celebration, a bright laugh, emphasis. Stunning. I have no idea who I’d be without her.[/restrict]