Last week, Mary Maher, a leading founding member of the Irish Women’s Liberation Movement, Irish Times editor, author, longtime socialist and labor activist, slipped away. As its co-founder MÃ¡irÃn de Burca said: âOne of the great feminist lights has died out. She was 81 years old.
knew Mary best in the heady days of the 1970s, when “Ireland found its soul.” Activism was everywhere.
MÃ¡irÃn de Burca, in prison for pushing Nixon, thought: we are fighting for everyone’s rights, so why don’t we fight for our own?
The American sisters had come to the same conclusion. Fed up with carrying guns, rolling joints and making tea for “the brothers”, they decided on a movement that would be their own. Second wave feminism is born
Brightly beautiful and intelligent Mary Maher, fresh from Chicago, was in the same frame of mind. When MÃ¡irÃn was released from prison, she, Mary, Mrs Gaj, Moira Woods and MÃ¡irÃn Johnston arranged to meet at Bewley’s. Around tea and sticky buns, the Women’s Movement – IWLM – was born.
Mary was then editor-in-chief of the new Women’s Page in the Irish time. Initially appalled at the idea, “the women’s pages are run by 45-year-old women wearing hats,” publisher Donal Foley persuaded her he wanted a page with “serious articles, scathing social attacks and a biting satire â.
Mary got stuck, putting together a brilliant team – Maeve Donnellan, Nell McCafferty, Renagh Holohan, Christina Murphy, Mary Cummins, Elgy Gillespie, Maeve Binchy. Everything was to be examined – homelessness, beatings on children in schools, unequal wages, contraception, the decades of dead hands of the Catholic Church.
The women’s pages in the Independent and the Irish press soon followed. They became the place where it all happened. Mary Kenny was pictured in front of a poster: “If it’s Tame, it’s not today.” It was fashionable.
The pages have also become vital for the women’s movement. Not only publishers – Mary Maher in the Irish time, Mary Kenny in the Irish press, and Mary McCutcheon in the Independent – good friends, all were members of the IWLM. We went out and made the news, and then we went back to our offices and wrote about it.
Within the IWLM, in addition to being âa bridge between the divisions,â a vital skill among a group of furiously dogged 20 and 30 year olds, Mary has been the main driving force behind our founding booklet. – Channels or change.
It was the first time since the creation of the state that the situation of women had been examined. It was terrible. Each category we looked at – education, job, marriage – women were systematically marginalized, underpaid, poorly educated. Our âbestâ option was to get married, often the only realistic one, on which you became a âpropertyâ or possession of your husband with his tractor / car / house.
And the marriage was precarious. If your man was fed up, he could split up and move to the UK, where he could get a divorce, get full custody of the children and the family home. All legally.
Girls were not learning math, certainly not higher math, so good jobs with money and security were closed to them. Accounting, engineering, science, medicine, veterinary medicine, airline pilots, police inspectors, bank managers, newspaper editors, composers, lawyers, not to mention judges, surgeons, technicians, senior officials – all closed to girls.
As for contraception, unless you live in Dublin and know a compassionate doctor, you might forget about it. We didn’t even dare to talk about abortion.
Mary contributed to a special section: 5 reasons to live in sin, his carefully modulated language masking the rage. Not getting married meant: 1) you kept your job, even though you had babies; 2) your income tax has not been consolidated with that of your husband, causing you to lose all your benefits; 3) you have kept your corporate identity, which means you can hire purchase, open a bank account, get credit; 4) if you are fed up with it, you can go away, whereas if you get married and leave, the husband has everything; 5) you must be an equal in a grown-up relationship, not an asset tied to her man.
Mary’s other key achievement in the movement was organizing the âContraception Trainâ to Belfast. Ironically, given its mission – go up north, buy contraceptives, bring them back and wave them at customs, daring them to stop us – Marie couldn’t go. She was pregnant and her waters broke on the morning of May 22 as the train exited Connolly station.
“The train” – a brilliant piece of direct action – was captured for television, thanks to Mary who made sure it took place on World Media Day.
Of course, given that this is Ireland, it will be another 22 years before full legal contraception is introduced, but “The Train” and Channels or change put feminism on the map. Everyone was talking about it. Including the bishops, who denounced us from the altar: Harridans. Prostitutes. Disgrace to femininity. Animals, etc
Unfortunately, after IWLM broke up, we went our separate ways.
Mary of course had other lives. She had her two babies, Maeve and NÃ³ra. Now grown up and with a lot of grandchildren. NÃon, Kit and Finn.
She stayed with the Irish time for 36 years, without ever wavering in its feminism.
She was the first woman to return to work after getting married. The first to benefit from paid maternity leave. The first to become the leader of the NUJ, insisting that âFather of the Chapelâ should be replaced by âMotherâ. As her longtime friend and colleague SÃ©amus Dooley said, she “shattered the glass ceiling of the Irish time chapel with a sharp blow of his stylus â.
She has also never wavered in her work for unions, working with the NUJ, Ictu, the Labor Appeals Tribunal and the Legal Aid Board.
She was also a brilliant singer, one of her favorites being the feminist anthem, Bread and Roses, âAs we walk, walk, in the beauty of the dayâ¦ For the people hear us singing: Bread and roses! Bread and roses!
His last years have not been easy. She had worked so hard. So much given. She was exhausted. The last time I saw her she was walking with her beloved sister Bonnie near Belgrave Square; frail and on crutches, she still had that characteristic piercing gaze, that awareness, that kindness.
Hoping that showers, showers and rose showers will follow her into the great beyond.
Rest in power, sister.