From former president Mary Robinson to current president Mary McAleese, we can’t help thinking, today, in the midst of our current election, about strong Irish women who reached the highest office in the land in that small Catholic country across the pond …

Yes, controversies abound there … but so often unmarked by personal meanness. From the glorious Anne Marie Hourihan in The Irish Times, on the serious matter of teaching the native language:

… If only Irish came by itself, instead of trailing the puritanism, the cliquishness and the superiority that have been its death knell for the past century. In modern times the Irish language has always been a protest. It became the hijab of our fragile Irishness – a little fragment of cloth which was a symbol of rejection of the modern world, and hatred of it. It was imposed by men and women who had won some sort of ideological war, but who were a tad short on ideology. Let’s not take it up again now just because we’ve been forced to take a break from house buying.

To hear teenagers quietly speaking Irish. To read Maurice O’Sullivan’s Twenty Years A-Growing. To find out that the endearment “macushla” comes from the Irish word for pulse. These are the things that would encourage a person to look more closely at the Irish language.

Or from legendary journalist Nuala O’Faolain, who covered it all and now writes about the controversy over Hillary Clinton’s contributions to peace:

Lord Trimble, who was given half a Nobel prize to unprize certain grips from Northern Ireland, says Clinton was just a cheerleader—and while he’s at it, he insults the few other women who tried to come into the political endgame. “The Women’s Coalition will think they were important,” he’s quoted as saying. “Other people beg to differ.”

The stuff is hardly worth passing on.

But it is worth revisiting the broken Belfast of the end of the twentieth century, where Hillary put in her time …

I do know ordinary women weren’t allowed anywhere near all that. About 95 percent of all the women in Northern Ireland were outside every loop. No one took any notice of women’s attempts at activism.

What Hillary did to transform matters was turn up. She turned up. She turned up with hope and energy to a city which, when I moved there in 1998, was leaving one murdered Catholic a week just on my street, merely to keep the level of intimidation going. A city where women were almost all tribally opposed to each other. A city where there were very few meetings and if they were women’s meetings they were jeered at or ignored. She came at least four times with President Clinton — and twice on her own.

It may sound small to people now that what she came for was a woman’s conference on one occasion and a lecture on another, that she knew people’s names and histories and took note of them — and was no doubt sometimes lied to and misled and laughed at by women as well as men (outsiders often strike skeptical locals as simpleminded).

But she kept turning up anyway.

It was not small what she did.

Not small at all.

When the old guys obediently trot out their criticisms of what she did in Belfast, ask yourself: Who else did what she did? Who else gave what she did? Who else gave at all?

Even today, when it is all over, I don’t know whether even Hillary Rodham Clinton knows how much someone like me thanks her—how aware I still am of what her bright, friendly, caring  presence meant, when despair was very near.

So celebrate this day by celebrating Irish women … voices for a new day, voices for change.

Elaine L.

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