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Remembering a Country Girl

The Duignan homestead in Edenmore in Longford where Chicago May grew up - picture from Google Streetview
The Duignan homestead in Edenmore in Longford where Chicago May grew up – picture from Google Streetview

Verses pondering the life of May Ann Duignan (Degnan), aka Mrs May Churchill Sharpe, aka Chicago May, as I walked past her families homestead on the way to my own one summers evening. Indeed, any of us could have turned out the same, if we take the path she took when adversity struck us? Longford does not do bad girls normally, but when she does, they are the baddest of the bad bad girls!

Mary Ann Duignan was the daughter of Francis Duignan of Edenmore in Ballinamuck where she grew up, and Ann Grey of Mohill in Leirtim. From a poor background she would rise - or fall as we may see it! - to being one of the biggest conwomen of her time, who would call herself the "Queen of Crooks", in time though, the law caought up with her and she died in poverty and obscurity. She was the Ronnie Biggs of her day...
Mary Ann Duignan was the daughter of Francis Duignan of Edenmore in Ballinamuck where she grew up, and Ann Grey of Mohill in Leirtim. From a poor background she would rise – or fall as we may see it! – to being one of the biggest conwomen of her time, who would call herself the “Queen of Crooks”, in time though, the law caought up with her and she died in poverty and obscurity. She was the Ronnie Biggs of her day…
She walked this lane where here I walk
To go to the village, the town, school, and mass
She spoke as the people to whom I speak
As I, walking here, them pass.

She tired of being a second mother to her siblings young
Her heart yearned for something more
This simple girl from an Irish lane
Would be like few others since or before.

She blazed a trail the world around
As one does who has nothing to lose
For she burned her bridges when the left that night
Her sister was born – her path she did choose.

She was to see Broadway from the stage
The streets from the bars of a prison van
The high life with the best, the bordels with the worst
Chose to call the roughest men as her man.

But, this prodigal daughter, was to return –
What was said when she turned up at their door? –
Between them leave it be – its not for you and me
To discuss between us anymore!

She was not to stay for long, it was not her style
She disappeared as sudden as she had some
Her mother went to her grave perhaps more at peace
May too having reconciled somewhat with those of where she was from.

She was to die in middle age prime
Not by the knife or the gun was her luck
But in the humblest of ways, as if she never left home
She was laid low by the “buck” (1)

Her tale on paper was set by the words of a man
Who said to write for others to read what she could recall
Maybe it shows some shame though she brazenly denied any
She left out she was from Longford at all.

Of a Dublin birth, and romantic tearaway years
Was the words in deceit that she weaved…
The latest of lies in a life made of mats of the same
The readers the latest victims she decieved.

She was from honest folk from hard cruel land
She had good and bad as we all do and all are:
I walk to my home past hers as the night falls down
I remember this country girl who went wrong but went far!

Glossary:
(1) the Buck – Hiberno English term for cancer, it was said to be bad luck to refer to it by name, so it was given a round about reference. Lit. “the thing”


Chicago May: Her Story – May Churchill Sharpe (neé Duignan)
[[Amazon_Link_Text]] Her writing of her story, in which she claims she was born in Dublin, and not in Longford, and as some women do, takes a decade or more off her age!

[[Amazon_Link_Text]]Nuala O Faolains book giving her take and commentary as a feminist on this trail blazer who showed what a woman could be but no-one should be!

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