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The Armagh Women

Margaret D'Arcy
Language: English


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In contrast with the overall impression the prison protests for political status in the late 1970's and early 1980's weren't limited to the H-Blocks of Her Majesty's Prison Maze, also known as the Long Kesh Detention Centre. The Armagh Women are often mistakenly forgotten.

The path for Internment was paved by activating the Special Powers Act in August 1971. The slightest suspicion was enough to put about every male behind barbed wire without too much judicial fuss, such as judges or juries. In all several thousand, mainly Catholic, men were taken from their families and workplaces in the course of the Internment.
In the early 1970's the division of roles between men and women was still very traditional in Northern Ireland, and especially in the Catholic community. By removing the men the women suddenly had to tackle issues traditionally belonging to male territory and in addition they had to deal with new matters, such as legal assistance. More or less as a matter of course the women got organised in committees. These committees not only acted acted as sounding boards, but also provided practical support. To put it briefly: the liberation of Northern Irish women moved into gear due to Internment. Please note that the women's liberation in Northern Ireland was motivated by pragmatism and can not be compared with the permissive, ideological based, liberation that took place in parts of Western Europe at the same time.
Although the Cumann na mBan, or League of Women, an women organisation originating from the Irish Volunteer Force (IVF), was closely linked to the Official Irish Republican Army (oIRA), and later with the Provisional Irish Republican Army (pIRA), the participation of women in the Republican movement was confined to the traditional female sphere of activities. It was just a matter of time though before the women of Northern Ireland would claim a position in the frontline. The government anticipated on this and as soon as December 1972 internment for women began. The Provisional Irish Republican Army (pIRA) needed more time to get used to the changed position of women and lifted the difference between male and female volunteers not until the early 1980's.

Most female detainees were imprisoned in Her Majesty's Prison Armagh. The women of Armagh Prison were subject to the same prison regime as their male fellow prisoners in the Maze, with one exception. The women of Armagh Prison were permitted to wear their own cloths. Instead of living on the blanket they protested against the repeal of the Special Category Status by wearing berets and black skirts associated with the uniform of the Provisional Irish Republican Army (pIRA). Other than that there was no difference between the prison protests in Long Kesh and Armagh Jail. The women too refused prison work and joined the dirty protest by smearing excreta and menstruation blood on the walls of their cells.
When seven prisoners in Long Kesh, among which Brendan Hughes, went on hunger strike on 27 October 1980 several women in Armagh Jail volunteered to join. In spite of disapproval from the staff of the Provisional Irish Republican Army (pIRA) three women, Mairéad Farrell, Mary Doyle and Mairéad Nugent, went on hunger strike on 3 December. The male prisoners ended their hunger strike on 18 December and the women followed the next day. The reasons why the hunger strikes of 1980 ended are still to be discovered. It is said that the British government agreed on some demands, but there are no documents to support this statement.

In conclusion: the association of Goddess Macha with war on one hand, and fertility on the other makes her an perfect icon for women in combat. In addition Armagh is derived from Ard Macha, meaning Height of Macha.

triskelle.eu
In Black Armagh of the Goddess Macha
Last February in the grey cold jail
The Governor Scott in his savage fury
Came down to break the women's will
Forty jailers my forty jailers
From the hell of Long Kesh came down
And help me break these warrior women

The forty jailers put on their armour
Strapped on their helmets took up their shields
Then they beat the Armagh women they beat them down
They were sure they'd yield
Three days he kept them locked up in darkness
Locked up in filth you would not believe
When he released them he was so conceited
That one and all he thought they would yield

If you have suffered he smilingly said
It never happened it was all just a dream
Come out come out and obey my orders
But the Armagh women they would never yield
They'd never yield to Scott the governor
They'd never yield till they broke him down
He and his jailers were all locked in prison
By the women of Armagh jail

And there they remain those warrior women
Locked up in filth you would not believe
They hold Scott and his warders powerless
They hold them there, they'll never concede
Women of Ireland stand up and declare
Women of Ireland understand your power
Make us see that together we'll do it
We'll tumble down their stone grey tower

In Black Armagh of the Goddess Macha
Last February in a cold grey cell

Contributed by DonQuijote82 - 2011/4/8 - 11:28



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