All of Ireland is like a small town -- everyone knows everyone else's business and often makes it their own. But that's not necessarily a bad thing: In Cork, Ireland's largest county, that simply translates into a deeply invested tradition of volunteerism among the women, who consider spreading good works a matter of course. You do what you can, after all.
If that quality's been underappreciated throughout the history of Ireland (and most would say it has), you wouldn't know it -- not, that is, if you were to meet the Snippets. A group of Cork women in their fifties and sixties who found one another while enrolled in a two-year university program titled Women in the Community, the troupe of mothers and grandmothers stayed together after the course (during which they researched the lives of their ownmothers and grandmothers) to "write the women back into history" through a mixture of song, storytelling and drama. The all-volunteer group performs gratis throughout Cork and other parts of Ireland for community groups and the disabled and -- more often than not -- women much like themselves. They've traveled to China, where they participated in the 1995 International Conference for Women in Beijing, and now six of them (three of them sisters) are traveling to Denver, largely at their own expense, to perform as part of Women's History Month events at the Auraria campus.
"We have no mission," member Betty Moore says of their journey, in a modest fashion that's typical for a Snippet. "It's just a great adventure, a great opportunity. Most of us in the group have never been in America, so it's like a dream to us -- traveling to the other side of the world." By the same token, Moore and her friends prefer to remain apolitical as a group, in spite of what appears to be an inspirational or feminist motive. "No, it's a grace," Moore says simply, in a businesslike brogue. "We're able to do it for the people more than anything else, you know."
If that sounds like they're thinking small, you're right. They're proud of the fact, and named themselves accordingly: "We don't do big shows," Moore explains. "We do small shows about various different topics -- it's like a taste or a flavor. We do a lot around history and try to bring in the Irish culture -- songs and stories and folklore and dancing." That combination might include remembrances of their own no-nonsense school days, in times when teachers were all-powerful and students were expected to question nothing; sketches on women and the law focusing on divorce, a relatively new concept for many Irish Catholics; the dramatization of an immigrant daughter's letter home from America during the famine; or a lively tribute to women in Irish literature and music -- all subjects the Snippets have discussed for their Denver appearances.
These hardworking women don't come here unconnected. Dr. Maureen Lancaster of Metropolitan State College of Denver's Center for Individualized Learning, who met the Snippets while on sabbatical in Cork (where her own family has roots), encouraged their journey here. It was out of great respect and friendship that she invited the unpolished, grassroots collective on an overseas adventure to Colorado.
"They have about 95 years of volunteer work logged between them," she notes. "They all went back to school in middle age; they had all, prior to that, had community commitments; and they all made an extraordinary commitment to the course. And afterward, they all felt they just couldn't just go back to living in the neighborhood -- they felt a commitment to continue to tell the story of Irish women. My perception of them is that they are very courageous women. They keep body, soul, children and grandchildren together -- and partners or spouses -- and at the same time, they've never lost sight of their service to the community. They really believe that they can have an impact on their communities and the future of Ireland, and there's not a doubt in their minds that individuals can make a difference."
But that doesn't mean the ladies don't kinow how to have fun. "I go back once every year or two," Lancaster says. "We always go out and close down at least one bar when I'm home." And that's a spirit she foresees for their visit here, especially at the culminating performance Wednesday -- on the cusp of St. Patrick's Day -- at the Mercury Cafe, where city councilman Dennis Gallagher will make introductions and local musicians will join in the Celtic fray.
The ever-adventurous Snippets, who've lived through an overnight stay in a Moscow hotel and been followed around by Chinese soldiers, say they'd like to travel more, eventually visiting all the continents to spread their goodwill. Lancaster is certain they have more than enough energy, forthrightness and inner resources to make that dream come true. In fact, she declares with a Corkish lilt, "I'm just hoping I can keep up with them while they're here." -- Froyd