During our semester of study, we talked extensively about the Easter Rising of 1916, and during our travel time. We visited Arbor Hill. Being a historically women’s college, we would have been remiss if we didn’t talk about the airbrushed woman, Elizabeth O’Farrell. We openly and thoroughly discussed the roles that women had in the Rising and we also took a look at how O’Farrell was slowly taken from the photo of the surrender of the Rising. (Click here to see the erasure of O’Farrell). During our travels, we also visited Glasnevin Cemetery (and had an amazing tour). It was here that I got to see Elizabeth O’Farrell’s grave.
O’Farrell was born in 1884. She “was a member of the Daughters of Ireland (Inghinidhe nahEireann), a radical republican women’s group that pledged to fight for the complete separation of Ireland and Britain” (Walshe). During the Rising, O’Farrell operated as a nurse, helping to tend to wounds in the GPO, and as a dispatcher. She was also later chosen by Patrick Pearse to be the one to deliver the surrender. However, O’Farrelll was airbrushed from the photo of the surrender (Walshe). O’Farrell has been featured in plays and shows, including RTE’s Insurrection; however, she was omitted in Neil Jordan’s film Michael Collins (which starred Liam Neeson) and was replaced by a man delivering the surrender. Despite these slights and erasures, O’Farrell is very much remembered and respected today. In Dublin, the City Quay Park is now referred to as Elizabeth O’Farrell Park. The 1916 Rebellion Museum also continues to help O’Farrell and her story live on. However, these two physical monuments were not what I wanted to focus on.
On April 28th, 2016, Theo Dorgan published an article in the Irish Times, “Eight Women of the Easter Rising”. In the article, Dorgan shares, We Carried It Here As Best We Could, a poem “commissioned by the Irish Writers Centre as part of the 1916 centenary celebrations”. The poem is written in the first person and is from O’Farrell’s point of view. It takes the reader from the GPO (I believe) where O’Farrell is tending to a wound to the moments that she walked to the surrender to the surrender itself. In the final stanza, the last lines of the poem read:
I stepped to one side, stood
out of the record – for the dignity of our cause, yes,
and for a second reason, one that came suddenly clear:
I knew we would fight on, would rise from this burning carnage,
I saw no reason the enemy should have my image:
I held myself out of their history, to make my own.
To me, this takes away from the wrongness of the airbrushing and puts it on O’Farrell that she wasn’t in the photographs anymore. “I held myself” literally puts the power and control over the situation back into O’Farrell’s hands. It was a conscious choice on her part rather than an imposition made by society.
Walshe, Sadhbh. “Eight Women of the Easter Rising”. The New York Times. 16 March 2016. The New York Times Company. 2018. https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2016/03/16/opinion/eight-women-of-irelands-1916-easter-rising.html
Dorgan, Theo. “Rising poem: Elizabeth O’Farrell commemorated by Theo Dorgan”. The Irish Times. 28 April 2016. The Irish Times Company. 2018. https://www.irishtimes.com/culture/books/rising-poem-elizabeth-o-farrell-commemorated-by-theo-dorgan-1.2625023