Reclaiming the Secret of Love

Feminism, Imagination and Sexual Difference

by Katherine Zappone (Author) Anne Louise Gilligan (Author)
©2021 Monographs XVI, 182 Pages


This book presents a bold hypothesis: the social transformation at the heart of feminist theory will be concretised only when women, and men, use their imaginations to empower new ways of being in and understanding our world. Feminist theory and the history of the philosophy of the imagination are used as resources to outline how the practice of «sexual difference» as an ontological vocation, and its application to religious language, can be a call to live love and mutual relations in a new way. Poetry, art, cultural and literary works are key resources too.
Gilligan invites the reader to apply this theory, history and art to their own unfolding gender identities through an imagination no longer hindered by patriarchal characteristics and restrictions. She offers a special focus on the becoming of female subjectivity. She knew that if people, especially, though not only, women, image the possible for themselves and our world, through doing the hard work of becoming subject, not object of any other, such agency would necessarily change even the most intransigent social, economic and cultural problems to shift violence towards peace, lies towards truth, poverty and inequality towards the flourishing of every one. She bore witness to this in her own life, with others.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the authors
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Contents
  • Permissions for Poetry and Art Images
  • Acknowledgements
  • Foreword
  • Introduction
  • Chapter One Imagining Female Difference
  • Chapter Two The Social Analysis of Language: Imagining a New Symbolic
  • Chapter Three Divine Difference
  • Chapter Four Towards a Feminist Imagination
  • Chapter Five Dreaming Love
  • Appendix A
  • Appendix B
  • Bibliography
  • Index

Permissions for Poetry and Art Images

Extract from A Grafted Tongue by John Montague from New Collected Poems (2012) reproduced by kind permission of the author’s Estate and The Gallery Press. www.gallerypress.com.

Permission to quote from Misogynist by Michael Harding from The Crack in the Emerald: New Irish Plays (London: Nick Hern Books, 1990) by kind permission of the publisher. www.nickhernbooks.co.uk.

Permission to quote from We Are Damned, My Sisters by Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill, from Selected Poems. Translated by Michael Hartnett (Dublin: Raven Arts Press, 1988) by kind permission of the publisher.

Excerpt from “Letter to the Front” © Muriel Rukeyser from The Collected Poems of Muriel Rukeyser, 2005, University of Pittsburgh Press, by kind permission of William L. Rukeyser, in personal correspondence with Katherine Zappone.

Permission to quote from The Art of Grief by Eavan Boland from A Time of Violence, (Manchester UK: Carcanet Press, 1994) by kind permission of the publisher and by Norton Publishing.

Permission to quote from Home by Paula Meehan, from As If By Magic: Selected Poems (Dublin: Dedalus Press, 2020), by kind permission of the publisher.

Permission to quote Plays 1 by Brian Friel (London: Faber and Faber, 1996) by kind permission of the publisher.

←vii | viii→

Permission to quote from The Settle Bed by Seamus Heaney, from Seeing Things (London: Faber and Faber, 1991) by kind permission of the publisher and the family of Seamus Heaney.

Permission to quote from The Canton of Expectations by Seamus Heaney, from New Selected Poems 1966–1987 (London: Faber and Faber, 1990) by kind permission of the publisher and the family of Seamus Heaney.

Permission to reproduce images from Sounding the Depths, a collaborative installation by Pauline Cummins and Louise Walsh. Images by kind permission of the artists, and the Irish Museum of Modern Art.

←viii | ix→


I know there are many people that Ann Louise would want me to thank, on her behalf. She never let a kindness pass, without expressing gratitude – one of her many attributes.

I shall begin by thanking Dr. Paul Downes, her friend and colleague of St. Patrick’s College Drumcondra, Dublin City University, and a man she did not know when she wrote this. Paul was the one to ‘discover’ the value of her manuscript for the twenty-first century, when he expressed an interest to read it after her passing. He believed in its potential, and led me to Anthony Mason of Peter Lang. Ann Louise would have loved you, Tony. Dr. Anne Frances O’Reilly, another Pat’s colleague and close friend and confidante of Ann Louise, assisted in getting permissions from the poets and playwrights that Ann Louise quotes. Anne Frances, a poet herself, spent hours and days on this project, because she knew how much it would mean to Ann Louise – her friend who was so fluent in the appreciation and teaching of poetry. I want to thank too Sarah Murphy, who worked closely with me to copy edit the manuscript, to ensure its technical beauty.

Two more folks from the Dublin City University family I know she would want me to thank. Dr. Daire Keogh, current President, colleague and friend who had the ‘office next door’ when they worked together. She would be so proud of you Daire. And Dr Brian MacCraith, past President of DCU, friend to me in my membership of the Irish government, and the man who honoured Ann Louise’s professional legacy in so many ways.

Two colleagues of Boston College deserve special mention. Professor Thomas Groome, Ann Louise’s doctoral advisor and friend, was so supportive of her writing of this manuscript. Professor Richard Kearney, her colleague and friend, inspired so much of Ann Louise’s love for and understanding of the philosophy of the imagination, especially as found within the works of Paul Ricoeur.

I want to thank the artists – poetic, artistic and literary – who resourced Ann Louise’s writing, and life. Very special thanks to: Gráinne ←ix | x→Dowling, Pauline Cummins, Louise Walsh, Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill, Eavan Bolan, Paula Meehan, Muriel Rukeyser, Seamus Heaney, Michael Harding and John Montague. I also want to express my gratitude to all of Ann Louise’s students in Pat’s and in The Shanty/An Cosán. You gave her life such vivacity and meaning.

Finally, family was very important to Ann Louise. I know that she would have acknowledged her sister June, and husband Michael, her brother Arthur and his wife Margaret, her nieces and nephews Sally, Hilda, Shane, Colin, Cait, and their spouses Bruce, Dermot, Muireann and Trina, and all their children.

Katherine Zappone



Ann Louise Gilligan was always a woman ahead of her time. Her eyes, mind and heart were forever imaging the possible. Even after she was blinded by her first major brain haemorrhage in 2013, she practised the art of the female imaginaire1 coupled with learning from key insights of neuroscience, to heal herself and begin to offer methodologies for others to do the same.2

She is my late spouse, lover, counsellor and best friend. When she wrote this manuscript in the late 1990s,3 I typed and edited every word. It was not a heavy task. In fact, it was a joy to witness the ways in which she wove together dense philosophical ideas with her own praxis of love to invite creation of the new – in the classroom, community and public stage. Ann Louise’s gift for communication, rooted in a profound understanding of the philosophy of the imagination, and a tenacious grasp of feminist theory of the late twentieth century, enabled her always to speak and to write a common language so that no one was left behind.

As Ann Louise outlines in the introduction, this book represents her life’s work as an educational philosopher up to the point of its writing, starting in the aesthetic Parisian 1970s where she did a master’s degree, through the liberatory and feminist 1980s of her PhD studies at Boston College, and her subsequent interrogations of how feminist theory, rooted ←xi | xii→in a practice of love, could motivate the becoming of female subjectivity as a prime source for individual, social and global change.

Ann Louise taught for over thirty years at St Patrick’s College Drumcondra, Dublin City. It was known as one of the prime ‘teacher training colleges’ in Ireland, administered by the Vincentian Fathers, and managed by the Archbishop of Dublin. She was a ‘teacher of teachers’, an educator extraordinaire.

Her passion for the art of teaching was legendary. Her educational approach engaged students to create new ideas, and to place these in dialogue with the theory presented. Prompting the power of each student’s imagination, rooted in a genuine love for them, was at the core of her professional work, and provided a base for her own subsequent theory, much of which is represented in these pages.

She would not tolerate misbehaviour in lectures, however, and one stern glance in the silence of a pause quelled the disrespect. Often the offenders later appeared at her door for support and counsel. They knew they were welcome, regardless. I have lost count of the number of letters and times being stopped by former students on Dublin streetscapes subsequent to her passing in 2017, to describe how she influenced their own approach to the teaching of and love for their students. Perhaps this has something to do with why Dr Brian MacCraith, the (former) President of Dublin City University (which now incorporates St Patrick’s College) has named a lecture theatre after Dr Gilligan to honour and to remember her.

When Ann Louise returned from Boston College to Dublin in 1983, with myself in clandestine tow as her life-partner, we were both deeply concerned about the number of adults, especially women, who could not access higher education because of growing up in socially and economically underserved communities. So we founded, along with a small group of women, The Shanty Educational Project, named after our home, ‘The Shanty’, where classes took place for the first fifteen years, not far from the communities of Tallaght West. It was extraordinary to witness her teaching women from these communities – many of whom had not finished second level education – the history of the philosophy of the imagination and the feminist theory of sexual difference. It literally changed their lives, and opened up new ways of their being in the world. This, of course, was ←xii | xiii→not all she taught! And others joined us to offer a range of courses so that participants would have a ‘second chance’ to be educated and to move into employment and leadership opportunities. Ann Louise refers to this ‘practice of love’ often throughout this book.

Thirty-five years on, the educational organisation, now known as An Cosán, and located in the heart of Tallaght West, has contributed significantly to the eradication of intergenerational poverty due to the leadership and participation of thousands of others from inside and outside these communities. From a systemic perspective, what is of equal import is how Ann Louise’s leadership promoted this type of learning as a new form of higher education, to be recognised and valued by the State. While it was originally known as ‘adult education classes in the informal sector’, with little state investment, she encouraged state officials to see it as ‘community education’ with a unique approach towards ensuring the educational success of people coming from a background of poverty or social inequality. When she was appointed by the Minister for Education to the first Board of the independent state agency, Quality and Qualifications Ireland (QQI), it was a prime mission of hers to get the agency to recognise community education as a formal type of higher education. This now has come to pass.


XVI, 182
ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2021 (June)
Feminism Imagination Sexual Difference
Oxford, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, New York, Wien, 2021. XVI, 182 pp., 2 fig. b/w.

Biographical notes

Katherine Zappone (Author) Anne Louise Gilligan (Author)

Dr Ann Louise Gilligan was appointed to the staff of St Patrick’s College, Drumcondra, Dublin, Ireland in 1976, and worked in the area of teacher education for over thirty years. She was Head of the Department of Religious Studies, St. Patrick’s College (1983-1989). She transferred to its Education department in 1990 where she established and directed its Educational Disadvantage Centre and lectured on philosophy of the imagination, difference and educational equality. She co-founded An Cosán, a community based lifelong learning centre in Tallaght, Dublin with Dr Katherine Zappone. She co-authored their memoirs, Our Lives Out Loud. Their public advocacy and legal case to have their Vancouver marriage recognised by Irish law was the catalyst for the passing of the referendum on marriage equality in 2015. After Ann Louise Gilligan’s death in June 2017, Dublin City University named a lecture theatre in its Institute of Education, St. Patrick’s Campus in her honour. Dr Katherine Zappone is a human rights advocate, educator, author and former Independent Minister for Children and Youth Affairs as well as Senator in Ireland. She served as Special Envoy on Ireland’s successful bid to secure a seat at the United Nation’s Security Council. She has taught ethics, feminist theory and human rights in Trinity College Dublin and throughout Europe, Australia, Canada and the United States. She is an International Expert on the Lancet Covid-19 Commission, and an international consultant to UN agencies. Ann Louise Gilligan is her late spouse and co-changemaker.


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