Maisie Gaffikin’s Shoes.

I’m an awful one for getting distracted. Working from home this past few days due to being a bit poorly has allowed more time than I normally would for catching up with ideas and issues on social media. There’s been a lot of discussion about women in STEM, and it’s an interesting debate. That being said, I think of the  female archaeologists of the past and how we have chances they would have killed for. let me introduce you to an unsung hero – Maisie Gaffikin. Despite the most immaculate work of any human on Ballynoe stone circle, the rescue operation of Lyles Hill in 1937, the immaculate recording of ceramics found after winter storms in the early 30s, she was always referred to as an ‘amateur’.

I don’t know what she looked like, but her writing is direct and to the point. She was brought up in a castle, wealthy Ascendancy parents – I refuse to think of her as conventionally pretty, but as a strong faced and empowered woman, who would have loved the chances we do have today. In my imagination I like to think of her striding out, with a voice that would blister the back of the hounds she also loved to ride out to. This obviously says more about my alter-ego than anything, but husha! this is my imagination!

So, a bit of froth but with a big message – let’s have the courage of those women long ago and take on the challenges the way they did – by keepin’ our eyes on the prize  of good work, well done, played fairly and worked at with passion!

Oh, and yes – I did buy a pair of very 1940s style shoes recently, as a consolation for having relapses of flu. that’s where this idea all sort of came from….

Maisie Gaffikin’s Shoes

These feet are small but sturdy, and they’ve walked a lot of roads

There’s been a lack of princes, but I’ve kissed a lot of toads.

I slipped down off the beaten path as a fugitive to the past,

The stony hills and brambles – my footwear wouldn’t last.

So I bought some sturdy leather brogues, laced up, of fine brown leather

The sort of shoes that smack of hikes in any kind of weather.

Now, maybe recent reading had influenced my choice –

There’s sometimes someone from the past who speaks with a clear voice

down decades, wars, and social change can somehow change your views:

These were no red soled Louboutins- these were Miss Gaffikins shoes.

I’d read her work on Ballynoe, and caves in Ballintoy,

Friends with Jackson, Mahr, Van Giffen, all the hard core boys.

She’d trampled out the rescue  for Lyles Hill ‘37

Leading the charge with McGregor and, of course, Estyn Evans.

Her  name and work is plentiful, yet all she’s ever known

As ‘amateur archaeologist’ in the academic tomes.

Times have changed for good and bad; I ache for the dash and style

Of those 1940s paragons who raised our game by miles.

We’ve come some way to equality in this game of sherds and stones,

The adventures of the trowel don’t belong to boys alone.

As a woman in a PhD, I’ll think of those who came before

Who never had a chance at academia’s open door.

I’ll  try to take each step with courage, each triumph and each bruise;

I get to walk the whole damn  road in Maisie Gaffikin’s shoes.


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