From a supportive text to providing a blueprint for how to live your life, in PART ONE of our piece to celebrate this Sunday’s International Women’s Day, some of our rogue founders write about the woman who made an impact on them.
Fionnuala Jones on her mam
Is it a cliché for me to pick my mother as my inspirational woman for International Women’s Day? So be it – clichés are clichés for a reason. Last week, I tweeted about something that Mam had done, as I often do – she drove from Cork to Dublin to drop up the new tax disc for my car while I was in work. She also brought with her several home-cooked dinners, a dozen eggs and a jug of pancake mix from my dad (on Pancake Tuesday, you must admire the efficiency).[restrict]
“Sure, I’m looking forward to the day out,” she insisted on the phone. People look at me wide-eyed when I give examples of the times she’s gone to such lengths, the things that I’ve (admittedly) taken for granted until now. I’ve never seen someone look as a proud as she did when I announced to my nan that, not only had I written a book about fairies at nine years old, but I’d also written an accompanying single for when it eventually got adapted for the screen. Naturally. At 10 years old, having openly wept in the optician’s upon learning I had to get glasses, Mam bought a book from some guy who seemingly retrained his eyes to see again. I didn’t read it, and I still feel guilty to this day – not that she’s ever brought it up since.
She’ll watch every television slot I do, despite not always understanding the context of my discussions (see: Love Island). I’ll sit in my car and wait for the inevitable text after. “Good on you, mighty! Your uncle was watching as well, delira with you. Buzz anytime when free, take it easy.” Sometimes I’ll call from the car park. Sometimes I’ll wait until I’m back at home in my drive. Sometimes I think it’s psychotic how often I call her. Most of the time, I feel like calling her back immediately after hanging up.
I look back on my earliest memory of her, of her being my mother. It’s like I’m looking behind the curtain at an intensely private moment between strangers. The house is quiet – everyone else is elsewhere. We’re at the table in the kitchen, pre- getting-it-done-up as I remember it now. We’re scheming about something – or at least that’s how it felt to me at the time, an intensely intimate conversation… over chocolate coins. Never has there been such glee over edible currency, the epitome of a treat.
A year or so later, on a Sunday evening pre-bath time, I remember asking her about what happens when we die. I feel like Scrapheap Challenge was on the telly in the background. She put me on her lap (I wish I was still small enough to do that) and pointed out the window. “What do you see?” she asked. “Clouds. What will you see tomorrow? More clouds. And the day after that? More clouds.”
I’m more conscious than ever of time’s relentless march. I try to get home as often as I can to steal moments with her in the car, talking about politics and what my friends are doing. I find I miss her more now than I ever did in college or earlier, despite the societal view that I might ‘need her’ less now as a grown-up. I don’t think I’ll ever stop needing her, or the fridge she amply stocks for my return visits.
I love her. I love that she tolerates me WhatsApping her pictures of dishwasher detergent despite my big age. I love that she sends me cat memes. I love that she loves me despite it all. I hope this piece makes up for not dedicating my fairy book to her.
Louise Bruton on Lana Del Rey
WWLDRD – What would Lana Del Rey do – I wonder at the peak of a romantic conundrum. Knowing her through her songs but feeling like I know her soul, I know that she would absolutely do the wrong thing but in her readiness to explore her emotions, she teaches me why I should or shouldn’t act on my impulses.
Through her stories, I get to live them out beside her and in her sadness, she helps me realise what risks I need to take. If the final scene of her story sees her crying mascara tears against a fiery sunset backdrop silhouetted by palm trees, then I get to play out those scenes with her and decide if this ending is the one I really want.
Norman Fucking Rockwell, her sixth album, saved me from myself on my very first listen in August 2019. “Goddamn, man-child, you fucked me so good that I almost said ‘I love you’” and, with that, I realised that good dick can be a prison, and I broke out of jail.
Her music to me is literary. She captures moods of different generations while being a sharp narrator of our own. She absorbs the feelings of the people around her – the ageing starlet, the misunderstood ‘hard man’, the supportive wife, the jilted lover – and gives them a cinematic narrative. She has helped me master my own emotions and without her music, I think I’d be too afraid to feel anything at all.
Louise McSharry on Dolly Parton
I have loved Dolly Parton for as long as I can remember. As a sucker for glamour, her style drew me in in childhood, and her intelligence, strength and generosity kept me as an adult. Born into poverty, Dolly fought her way to the top of the country music industry, at a time when men very much ruled the roost. Her talent is undeniable. She has had twenty-five number one songs, and been nominated for a Grammy forty-seven times. Dolly wrote Jolene and I Will Always Love You on the same day.
Dolly Parton is generous with her success. She started Dollywood, her theme park, specifically to provide jobs and investment in the area of the Smokey Mountains she’d grown up in. She started the Imagination Library in 1990, which sends a carefully selected and age appropriate book each month to every child registered with the programme. Last year it launched in Ireland. She may not call herself a feminist, but she’s been acknowledging women’s pain and setting an example for women in music and business for her entire adult life.
Dolly Parton is a good person, but what makes her extra special to me is that she is unapologetically herself. She has never apologised for her existence, let alone her style. She has a sense of humour about herself but she is somehow never really the butt of the joke. You only have to watch clips of old interviews with her to see that she managed every male talk show host who ever tried to belittle her. She knows how to take charge, without making anyone else feel bad. She is kind, but she is herself. I love her for it.
Taryn de Vere on Mara Clarke, Founder of Abortion Support Network
Mara Clarke saw a problem and then went about fixing it. As a result of her compassion, drive and vision she’s had a life-changing effect on thousands of people, most of them women. Mara says that no woman should become a mother because they are too poor to have options and ASN provides grants to people who are in need of an abortion, helping them arrange every aspect of their trip.
I’m in awe of Mara and the work she does, even spending a small amount of time in her company you know that she deeply cares about every person who reaches out for help. Mara has a justified and righteous anger at how governments, like Ireland’s, are still leaving some people behind with regard to abortion access.
Abortion Support Network relies solely on donations to survive and caters to people who have nowhere else to go. ASN say: “Our clients tend to be those who are marginalised and at risk – those in and escaping abusive relationships, people with insecure immigration status, families with pregnancies diagnosed with fatal foetal abnormalities, people who are poor. At ASN we do not ask our clients how they got pregnant or why they want abortions, as the rich do not need to justify themselves”.
I admire that ASN look after people on the margins, so often forgotten about by governments but not forgotten by Mara and the organisation she started. ASN are constantly looking for new ways to support more people and they now help people in several countries, including Poland and Malta. They are still helping women from Ireland to access abortions, as so many people fall outside of the confines legislation provides for. Mara’s work brings little glory, little thanks but it is so momentous and far-reaching that Mara is one of the women I value the most. I feel privileged to call her a friend.
Sophie White on Pauline Bewick
When I was nine, I met a woman who had the life I wanted. She was an artist, she worked in a beautiful studio in a wild and remote part of Kerry. She was 60 when I met her first but her passion meant she felt ageless, there were 50 years between us but she spoke to me like a friend. Before I met her, I wanted to be an artist like her. After spending time with her, I knew I wanted to be a woman like her.
Pauline Bewick has always made her own rules. Like the women she’s painted for over 60 years, she grew up wild, fearless and among nature. Her own mother, Harry, was also a true original. She raised her daughters, Hazel and Pauline, in many unorthodox homes from a houseboat in England to a glass house in Wicklow and an isolated farm in Kerry. Bewick began painting as a toddler, encouraged by her mother.
By the late 1950s, she’d written and illustrated an animation for the BBC and used the money to travel before settling back in Ireland to give birth to her two daughters and pursue her painting. Over the next decades, Bewick’s curiosity and drive forged an eminent career in art. She worked across many mediums and her appetite for learning has never waned. In her 50s, she spent two years in the South Pacific, documenting her life there.
When she turned 70, she staged a huge retrospective, The Seven Ages and donated 500 works to Ireland. At 85, she is as full of fun, curiosity and energy as ever. I didn’t become the artist I thought I’d be and I’m still working on being the woman I want to be but it’s undeniable that knowing Pauline and getting to be in her orbit even in some small way made a huge impact on me. She created another idea of what a woman can be in a time when, in many cases, women were still required by law to give up their work after marriage. She helped to rewrite the terms of Irish womanhood as an artist and a mother and an intrepid explorer.
Image with permission from Nina Finn-Kelcey[/restrict]