Tuesday, August 10, 2010
It was this blogs honour to launch a book last Friday about Eileen
Howell, our friend and compatriot in many enterprises.
This commemorative project was sponsored by John and Betty. Lorraine and
Danny M’did the research and writing and Mark Joyce designed and did the
lay out on the book.
Jim Gibney, Sile Darragh and Sal Brennan also made important
contributions and many of Eileen’s friends and family had an input.
Malachy McCann provided the cover photo which is reproduced here. It
catches animpishness, an essence of Eileen.
It was daunting to speak at this event. It was chaired by Liz Groves in
the Falls Community Council at a lovely gathering of Eileen’s clann and
comrades. Eileen died suddenly after a short illness in June 2004. It was
a deep shock to us all, especially her husband Ted. He had instructed me
that the book launch was a celebration not a wake. He was wise. There was
always the possibility that we could be sad when we needed to be merry. I
for one, wanted this launch to be therapeutic.
I started my remarks with a poem written by Gerry Kelly in Colombia where
he got the sad news of Eileen’s death.
‘The invasion of whitethorn
Embroidered the summer with hope
Lulled into optimism
A petal, bright as the Sixties
Fluttered, out of season
Through the frantic clasping of love
As the petal settled to earth
Sorrow and joy mingled
New life bloomed
Neither love nor loss is ever simple’.
I then went on to pay tribute to Ted and to recount some of my experiences
of him from our prison days before reciting a few lines of Bertolt
‘There are those who struggle for a day and they are good.
There are those who struggle for a year and they are better.
There are those who struggle many years and they are better still.
But there are those who struggle all their lives:
They are the ones we cannot do without.’
And that’s what women do. They struggle all their lives.
And that is one of the reasons why community, society, Ireland cannot do
Enlightened women set a compass for humanity. Ireland needs them. We
cannot do without them.
We also cannot do without friendship. Maire na daoine is scath a cheile.
We live in each others shadow.
Tom Hartley once said ‘you don’t have to like your friends for them to be
your friends’. Friendship is at the core of our existence.
All human beings have a basic need for friendship – especially in times of
trouble. All of us need allies we can depend on. Is suile na chara – an
scathan is fearr. A friend’s eye is the best mirror.
We also – all of us – have a need – a very deep need - to know that people
can depend on us. We need that contact – that link – that nasc with other
human beings. Out of that comes community.
Community is an essential part of our humanity. It gives us meaning,
focus, purpose, succour.
It keeps us grounded. It keeps us right. It gives us hope.
Without hope we are diminished.
We come from a community with great hopes. Eileen was part of a whole raft
of women activist which this community has been blessed with. Many of
them were at her event.
Eileen was a woman with great hopes. As Doris Day would say - high hopes –
high, high hopes for her clann and for her three boys – Eamonn, Prionsiass
and of course, her oldest lad, Ted.
She had high hopes for herself and for us.
She was unique – as we all are – one of those unmanageable activists.
Community does not happen by chance. It needs nurtured, developed,
empowered, strengthened, respected, cheered up, cherished, united,
It needs music and song and craic.
It needs high hopes and great expectations.
And that’s what our community and voluntary activists are about.
They and Eileen are about freedom.
Maire Comerford dedicated her book on the First Dáil “to those who gave
what they had to give when they had it to give.”
Talented, generous, principled, selfless people.
And that’s what this book is about. It is a tribute in particular to Eileen.
And more generally a tribute to the co-operative enterprise of women
activists who gave so much and continue to give to their community.
So celebrate the life of a good and decent woman in a community of good
and decent women. I finished with a few lines from Lucilita.
Anam cara do Ted
Máthair dá mic
Bean I measc pobal na fhFál
Bean Béal Feirsteach
Bean lasta ar son an chirt
Cara I measc comrádaí
Ceiliúrann muid Eileen
And that was that. Eileen would be pleased. So rejoice. Lift your glasses