Edwina Guckian's last visit to Vesnova Mental Asylum Belarus. “These are many of the inspiring women that have had huge impacts on my life that I'll be thinking of this International Women's Day”
International Women's Day takes place this week on March 8 and is a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. Significant activity is witnessed worldwide as groups come together to celebrate women's achievements or rally for women's equality. Marked annually, International Women's Day (IWD) is one of the most important days of the year when we celebrate women's achievements; raise awareness about women's equality; lobby for accelerated gender parity and fundraise for female-focused charities. This week the Leitrim Observer is acknowledging Leitrim women who have made an impact on life in our county whether that be through volunteer work, promoting the county, through music and inspiring us during Covid. It is a way of thanking and acknowledging them for all they do to enhance life for the better for their county men and women. Here they outline their early life, their influences and why promoting women is so important...
I’ve always had a burning pride for my county but there’s been times on my creative journey that I thought I needed to go beyond my homeland to find inspiration and answers.
It took time, experience, and many trial and errors for me to realise everything I needed, I already had in abundance right in front of me.
“I have travelled far from these great lands from the East and to the West, but of all the islands I have seen I love my own the best.” The wise words of Val Fitzpatrick. Leitrim is not just a county, for me; it’s a way of life. I feel we move at a different pace to the rest of the world and I’ve seen more and more people discover and appreciate this fact since Covid forced the world to stop and listen. In many ways, life in Leitrim has continued much the same for me and many other, regardless of this pandemic. There's no other place like it: The stillness, the wildness, the simplicity, the people, the sense of community, the characters, the humour, the music, the sound of its landscape, it's history, the loyalty, the welcome. Leitrim and its people have been my greatest influence.
On a day that I have some time to myself, you’ll find me sitting above on Sheemore watching the Black n Tans travel from Gowel church to their awaiting ambush, or sitting on the fence in Effrinagh watching the locals shim sham in Gralton’s dance hall, or exploring the Shannon with the Vikings and the kingfishers or playing a tune for the Tuatha De Danann on the top of the Iron mountain.
I was surrounded by music, song, dance and great stories of the past
My creative journey began for me as a child. I was surrounded by music, song, dance and great stories of the past that fuelled my imagination. My earliest memories are of my wonderful mother dancing with me around the kitchen to the Sally Gardens with my grandad Ned Lee on fiddle and aunt Finola on the box.
They brought me to house dances, ceilis and sessions and gave me my great love of our Irish culture that I am so grateful for today. My wonderful father ran with me to music classes and concerts across Ireland at the drop of a hat. His father, Hughie Guckian, amongst many things, gave me my great love of the land and ways of his generation. He taught me to be compassionate, to fight against injustice and to stand up for what you believe in.
My grandmothers were beautiful, happy, quiet and gentle souls. They loved us so much. Yet now that I am a mother myself, looking back on their lives and the unlimited roles they played, all the children they reared and loved, the people they lost, the beautiful homes and gardens they kept, the land they farmed, the families they held together, I think they were warriors.
I'm very proud to be the person and lead a life today that was shaped by these women. We won’t see the likes of that generation again. Us 21st century women don’t know how easy we have it! Like many women all across Ireland, they were the backbone of rural life.
Our history books tell us many stories of great Irish men but seldom the stories of the great Irish women; whom many of these men would not have made it into our history books were it not for them.
Sharing a house on Home Farm Road with Barney McKenna of the Dubliners
At the age of 15, I began teaching dance in parish halls across Leitrim which led to me setting up Áirc Damhsa Culture Club. 14 of those pupils that started their first steps with me back then, are now 14 of the powerful women that teach alongside me at the club today. I attended St Patrick’s College Drumcondra studying music, psychology, English and education where I was introduced to John McGahern, JM Synge, Brian Friel, Pat McCabe, Flan O’Brien and the powerful writings of Edna O'Brien and Eavan Boland. By chance, or fate, I ended up sharing a house on Home Farm Road with Barney McKenna of the Dubliners.
Many assignments were handed in late due to this man, his music, his songs and his two hour long stories at breakfast! During my free days in college I worked as a sub teacher in inner city Dublin. An 18 year old, Leitrim girl working in O'Connell’s Boys NS Ballybough. If ever there was an eye opener, that was it but I’m very grateful for the years I spent with those boys and all they taught me.
I never stayed a weekend in Dublin during my 5 years in college. I couldn’t wait for Friday to come so I could get home. Race to Connolly station with the suitcase, the fiddle and the half tonne laptop, to get the students’ 1 o'clock train and find a free space so the gang could all sit together and have our weekly session. I’d usually find my friends Sean Óg & Cian already there playing a good high - pitched slow air on the whistle to ward off any crowd thinking of gathering in “our” carriage. And as the old orange train would come to a halt before it would cautiously proceed along the old bridge across the Shannon at Gortinty, I’d run to the door and stick my head out the window and gladly take in a great whiff of fresh Leitrim air.
In 2015, after 8 years of primary school teaching, with the support of my family and great friends I made the decision to become a full time artist. I’ve seen the majority of my classmates from primary and secondary school move to Dublin, Canada and Australia for work and I am so grateful to be able to continue living and working in Leitrim.
Bringing communities of all ages and cultures together and create an environment that is welcoming and inclusive
In my work today my ambitions are to give as much back to my community as they have given me, to bring communities of all ages and cultures together and create an environment that is welcoming and inclusive of all. To pass on to the next generation the skills and knowledge that have been passed on to me, to harness children’s beautiful characters, unique traits and skills and how to use these to express and empower themselves artistically in everyday life. To show these children a future within the arts can be a career; anyone can be an artist; everyone is an artist!
To highlight our county is a place to live and work, grow and protect, a place to cherish and celebrate; a land that I am very happy to be rooted in.