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Sean Bean Ama.jpg

Sean Bean Ama - Old Woman Of Time

Oil on Canvas, 50X40 cm

This is a painting of Maine Ryan.

An Irish woman who lived from the late 1800s to the early 1900s,she was from Ballalog,Tullagher Co.Kilkenny.

For more than half of her lifetime Manie lived in an Ireland subjugated by the colonial power of British Empire under the rule of Queen Victoria. 


By the time Maine had reached her 50s,the Irish Free State came into being following the signing of the Anglo Irish treaty with England in December 1921. Ireland was granted dominion status of the 26 of the 32 counties.


In the midst of deep political, religious and cultural upheaval of her time, Maine lived a rural life, she was a Mother to 8 children, she was also a Midwife or 'Handywoman' as it was known back then.

The 'Handywomen' traditionally assisted at births all across Ireland and for this they were respected figures in their local communities. Their skills were never based on formal training but rather on experience, observation, and shared wisdom.


Should the call come, the Handywomen were always ready to walk miles,night or day, over hills and fields, if that was what was needed to deliver a baby. This is how it was in Ireland well into the twentieth century, most especially in isolated and rural areas.


Maine also undertook the laying out of the dead in her local community or 'holding wake' as it was then known.

An Irish wake started with women washing the deceased, dressing them in their Sunday best, and placing the body on a large table in the main room of the house. The body would be wrapped in a shroud, tied and decorated with ribbon or flowers and surrounded with candles. 

The wake would last a few days during which the body would never be left alone.

In Ireland, the wake tradition was very much a heady admixture of Paganism and Christianity. 

The “piseogs” as they were know were native magical practices surrounding death ,they included Stopping clocks, opening windows for the spirit to fly out  and covering mirrors at the time of death. There was also the practice of smoking next to the deceased to keep evil spirits away.


Like birth, death is one of life’s most important transitions. Anyone who has known or observed these times of transition knows that it is seeped through with a powerful sense of liminality, a charge that electrifies the space between light and nowhere.

Maine Ryan throughout her life was wedded to the mystery of the liminal, she was edge walker, with a sense of the spirit world, attuned by time and experience. Her work was to serve her tribe in their crossing between worlds, and to talk with the spirits on their behalf. On many occasions Manie saw the ancestral spirits of the Irish who foreworn of a death coming to a family.

Stories recount how Manie saw visions of and heard the caoineadh or the keening of the Bean-Sidhe. She also saw The Cóiste Bódhar the (Death Coach).


Maine courted the otherworld and so it courted her back and for it her story echoes down through her family line, Manie Ryan is the Great Grandmother of one of my good friends, when I saw her picture and heard her story I wanted to honor her wild old Irish soul for all it saw, said and endured in its time. A richness worth remembering. Most especially at this time of year at Samhain when the veil is thin and the ancestors move in procession between worlds. 

Manie Ryan, the old woman of time died in 1948 during the Great Irish Blizzard, the coldest and longest winter Ireland had ever seen.

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