Scathach the Shadowy was a female warrior, trainer of fighters, and soothsayer in ancient Ireland who allied with the great hero Cúchulainn in Scathach's war against Aoife, another Celtic warrior queen. Mother Jones, born Mary Harris in County Cork in 1830, acquired her rebelliousness at a young age, and later became one of America's most combative labor agitators during the era of violent strikes and lockouts. Beautiful Maud Gonne was more than just a muse to Irish poet William Butler Yeats (who dubbed her "Cathleen ni hÉireann") -- the English-born Irish nationalist spent her adult life organizing protests against the English occupation of her adopted homeland, and was jailed for her efforts.
These are just a few of the legendary and real-life heroic women in Trina Robbins' new book, Wild Irish Roses (Conari Press, $14.95 paper). Robbins, the San Francisco-based feminist cartoonist and author of the GoGirl! series, A Century of Women Cartoonists; Catswalk; Califa, Queen of California; and Tender Murderers evidently wants us to forget about the demure Irish colleens of old-fashioned popular imagination, and to focus instead on such take-charge female combatants as Queen Maeve or the Morrigan, the tripartite pre-Christian goddess of war, sex, and death. Says Robbins in her publicity kit: "The women in Wild Irish Roses are not always nice girls or even good girls, but they are women who know how to get things done, whether on the battlefield or in the bedroom." Like Countess Markievicz, née Constance Gore-Booth, a London-born aristocrat who spurned the life of nobility to join the Irish nationalist movement Sinn Féin in time to fight on the barricades with Pádraig Pearse in the Easter Rebellion of 1916 in Dublin. After all, Robbins says, "In ancient times, before Patrick, as the story goes, the first people to land on Irish soil were fifty women and their queen." But how does she account for the Sheela-Na-Gig?
Ask Robbins about that when she makes her appearance tonight (Wednesday, 7 p.m.) at Belladonna in Berkeley (2436 Sacramento St., 510-883-0600), to read from Wild Irish Roses. It's free and open to all.
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