THE WEIRD SISTERS

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Since only the victors – usually men –

get to write history, so the renown

of the poet and of the painter, Willie

and Jack Yeats, has almost totally

obscured the sisters’, Lolly and Lily,

and their Cuala Press: from an era

when misogyny was even more

commonplace than now, and most members

of either gender accepted it.

 

They published new work only – all set

and printed by hand by a female workforce:

Willy’s poems, of course, and Jack’s graphics,

J.M. Synge, Oliver St John Gogarty.

They were one of the keys to the Celtic

Revival; recasting the South, the Free State,

Eire, the Republic of Ireland;

erasing the simian images

of the centuries’ of uprisings,

and the skeletal icons of the Famine.

 

The literary editor was their big brother.

The Press was frequently in the red

with cash flow problems, which the bank manager

seemed to believe resulted entirely

from a business run and owned by women.

William would grudgingly settle the debts

when he had cash to spare, like the Nobel Prize,

seeming to forget that the hard work

of his unmarried sisters had financed

the whole Yeats’ household – father, mother, siblings –

during crucial years of near penury.

Almost the last book they printed was

Patrick Kavanagh’s long and angry poem,

The Great Hunger, published during World War 2,

about Paddy Maguire, loveless, childless,

farming the unrelenting fields of Armagh.

 

The Yeats sisters, who had always wished

to live separately but were forced

to share the same dwellings throughout their lives,

share the same grave and simple headstone

in St Nahi’s Church of Ireland graveyard,

Dundrum, now a suburb of Dublin –

with the largest shopping centre in Ireland –

a village when the sisters lived there.

 

Lily and Lolly have been immortalised

in James Joyce’s Ulysses. Buck Mulligan,

holding court in the Martello Tower,

remarks: ‘Five lines of text and 10 pages

of notes about the folk and fishgods of Dundrum.

Printed by the weird sisters in the big wind’.

Was it tact, or misogynistic

disdain, kept them unnamed?

 

 

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