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***Eileen Farrelly’s “Irish Washer Woman” is #278 in the never-
ending series called BACKSTORY OF THE POEM where the Chris Rice Cooper Blog (CRC) focuses on one specific poem and how the poet wrote that specific poem. All BACKSTORY OF THE POEM links are at the end of this piece.(Right: Eileen Farrelly in April of 2021. Credit and Copyright by Eileen Farrelly)
The Irish Washerwoman is a popular Irish jig that my father used to play on the mandolin when I was a child. I also play the mandolin and decided to learn this tune because it reminded me of my father. It was while playing the tune all these years later that I got the idea of writing a poem about it.
As I wrote I was able to tap into that childhood memory and could visualize the scene which seemed to get clearer and stronger as I wrote it.
I considered making it more rhythmic and keeping it in the mood of the jig, but that made it feel forced and a little bit contrived and so in the end let it keep the fairly loose form that had come originally.
Click on the below link to listen to IRISH WASHERWOMAN.
Where were you when you started to actually write the poem? And please describe the place in great detail. I was in the sitting room of my flat in Glasgow and jotted down some initial ideas and phrases before I transferred it onto the laptop. I don’t have a particular place to write. I live alone so can write and play music where I like without being disturbed. I mostly write on the couch in the sitting room. I am not a very tidy person so am usually surrounded by books and half-empty coffee cups. I would have written some on the couch and some sitting by the window which has a wonderful view of trees, a river and a Victorian bridge which is always busy.
What month and year did you start writing this poem? September 2019. I only know this because it was my submission to my writers group that month. (Right: Eileen Farrelly in September of 2019. Copyright by Eileen Farrelly)
How many drafts of this poem did you write before going to the final? (And can you share a photograph of your rough drafts with pen markings on it?) I wrote a very rough initial version, mostly ideas and key phrase that form the basic framework. I usually move on to the lap top quite quickly to move the text around. The first ‘complete’ draft was a good bit longer than the final version. I tend to put in everything I can think of then whittle it down. By the third or fourth draft, I am usually just playing with line breaks and making small subtle changes here and there. Unfortunately, I don’t have a copy of the early versions. (Left: Eileen Farrelly's writing space. Credit and Copyright by Eileen Farrelly)
What do you want readers of this poem to take from this poem? In part, I hope they can see the washerwoman as clearly as I can, going about her work and perhaps remember the heavy labor that our grandmothers’ generation seemed to take in their stride. And also that it may help them to connect with music or other childhood memories that were particularly significant to them.
(Right: Eileen Farrelly's mandolin on the left. Her father's mandolin on the right. Credit and Copyright by Eileen Farrelly)
Has this poem been published before? And if so where? Not yet but it will be included in my first chapbook Somethings I ought to throw away which will be published by a small Scottish press called “Deich”, later this year. Dreich is a Scots word to describe a dull, miserable rainy day!
The Irish Washer Woman
When my father played,
I could almost see her
dancing her washer woman’s jig
through the steam, stepping
between the white sinks,
her basket piled high.
As his fingers skipped
across the strings
she tipped the week’s washing
into the bubbling tub.
Bow backed, bobbing
the smell of bleach on her hands,
as she soaped and scrubbed,
knuckling the washboard
in a steady rhythm
And when they were done
it was back to the start
all over again
never missing a beat
All of the Backstory of the Poem LIVE LINKS can be found at the VERY END of the below feature: