A text came through from the artist Alice Maher, inviting me to go to Limerick to march in the Artists Repeal the 8th procession, part of the opening of Limerick’s biennial art festival, EVE International.
‘I should go.’
‘When it is?’ the husband asked. ‘Friday’ I said. The day after tomorrow - short notice and a long journey. The weekends are already too short for our crazy lives. Any reason for one of us to be away without earning actual money is a big commitment for our small family.
Niall sighed - then said; ‘Yeah. You should go.’
Niall would not describe himself as a ‘feminist, but the rugby rape case really got under his skin, and pushed women’s rights onto his agenda. Plus he’s an artist and, if he couldn’t go himself, at least I could report back.
I spent the day before making arrangements and wriggling about in anticipation. Contemporary artist Alice Maher is, possibly, the coolest woman I know. I find all women artists dead cool, to be honest. Way cooler than writers. When I was a teenager, I wanted to go to art school. But you needed academic prowess to study art and I didn’t have any. I settled for writing but that yen has turned me into art-groupie. I hang out on the fringes or Irish art scene, worshipping the likes of Alice and feeling honored that she’s my friend.
Just like school really.
I put a call out on Facebook and within an hour three artists got back to me offering me lifts from Mayo, there and back. Tinka Bechert and her partner, Philip, kindly picked me up outside the Gallery in Claremorris . On the journey down we mostly talked about art and publishing. I know what I believe but, despite being here, when the subject of ‘Repeal’ came up, I was quiet. I had not quite nailed my colors to the mast.
The sun was shining as we pulled into the imposing frontage of Limerick College of Art. Alice was placing a plethora of brightly colored, intricate banners up again the wall of the old Magdalene laundry. Fellow artist Rachel Fallon, was fitting ‘Magdalene women, recruited from the arts community, with her handmade silk aprons - with with a slogan meticulously embroidered and appliquéd on it;s reverse. One girl lifted the spoon skirt above her head and it read ‘We Shall Overcome’. Artist and singer, Breda Mayock, stood out from the crowd in a long blood red coat - her black hair scraped back into a scarlet flower crown.
I shuffled over to Alice who greeted me warmly and thanked me for making the journey. I was so flushed with schoolgirl pride that I almost forgot why I was there.
As we gathered with our neat repeal placards, still wet with glue, I got talking to Cecily Brennan, one of the main proponents of this artists movement. ‘Some people I have spoken to in the additional needs community are worried about being further marginalised,’ I said. She was not judgemental - but passionately explained the semantics. ‘People must be properly informed,’ she said. ‘There is so much misinformation flying about.’
Pictures of aborted foetuses and eugenics fictions have silenced many of us. I want the 8th repealed but I don’t want to offend anyone.
At midday, we stood, in a solemn line behind the dramatic costumes and banners while Alice exhorted people to ‘rejoice’ in our power to change what is wrong and imagine a better future.
Standing among those artists, sisters, daughters, mothers, wives - and the many men who had joined us - I realised every one one of us was vehemently pro-life. Pro bringing a child into a life where they are wanted and loved. I have two children who I loved from the moment of their conception. I never got pregnant with a child I didn’t want or couldn’t care for. I have never had to carry a dead baby to full term because the state is in charge of my body. I am pro babies bringing joy - not suffering. Pro choice is pro life. Because if we cannot exercise choice over our own bodies - what kind of a life is that?
As I walked through the streets of Limerick I transformed from an art-groupie on a day out to an Irishwoman with a voice that was willing to stand up and be heard. I walked for an hour, waving my banner for the lives of women, past, present and future.
Artist Bernadette Kiely drove me home - and talked out her aunt who had been a nun in the laundry - back in the day. A warm, compassionate woman by all account. There is light and shade in every situation. But you still have to know where to stand to catch the sun.
Sensible shoes and sunglasses......