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Mary 


Interview with Mary Nelis


MN: I’m Mary Nelis. I’m a great-grandmother and I’m a grandmother, and of course I’m a mother. I’m a member of the Assembly, the new Northern Ireland Assembly, and I’m a City Councilor for Foyle.

MT: How long have you been in the City Council?

MN: Six years. Just went on my seventh year.

MT: And were you involved in formal politics before that point?

MN: No. Well, no and yes. I’ve always been involved in community politics, and I think it was a certain natural progression into party politics. So, I have been a member of Sinn Féin and I will have been involved in party politics since 1980. I didn’t go into the political arena, the electoral political arena, until 1993.

MT: What is the situation in terms of women at the electoral political level in Northern Ireland.

MN: Well, politics in Ireland as a whole, you know, has been male-dominated, and very patriarchal—it has tended to progress on an old boy network, the father-son inheritance, and that’s North and South. It’s not surprising if you look at the colonial history of the country, you know it was very much men who were in charge. That has changed considerably in the South of Ireland, but of course didn’t change because men suddenly discovered that half of the population were women, and that those women had a right to be involved in decision making. It changed because women made the demands for the change. In the North of Ireland, change has been slower I guess, because the conflict of the last 35 years has got in the way and women’s energies were taken up surviving, if you like, that conflict.

But I think at the same time, out of that conflict emerged a very strong group of women—myself, I would have come along that road. Because I think to a degree living in the North of Ireland in a society, first of all a society that was colonized but also a society where one’s religion or politics was influenced by their birth, women tended to be the non-persons. You know, you’ve often heard the expression that Northern Nationalists were second-class citizens, well I think that women were not citizens at all. Even though women, for instance in the city of Derry, where I lived, would have been the economic backbone, since most of the work available was for women. And yet they had no status; they had no influence in decision making; they didn’t have any rights. And our next loyalty was the Catholic Church, and I think the Catholic Church had a tremendous influence in keeping women in their place.

So you could say that the North of Ireland is not exactly friendly disposed towards giving women any sort of say. I think our roles were established at birth. We were to be the mothers, and the child-bearers, and that was it. And the supporters of our men. We were to be, on the one hand, Mary, the Virgin, and on the other, Eve. You know, the Seducer and the Producer, almost in that order. I followed that road, because I couldn’t see any other road for me to follow, and because we were very much under the control of men. My spiritual life was controlled by a man, with my Catholic upbringing, and by my father who was head of the household. I had a very passive mother. I think most women were quite passive to a degree. Men have argued that women were not passive at all, they really were in control, and that the man just pretended. But that’s not the way it was in my family. My father was very much in control. He was a very strong man and he dictated what happened, and my mother more or less spent her life nodding her head. She was a gentle, amazing, hard working woman. She had to work all her life to put the food on the table. She was certainly the economic backbone. My father was a teacher, but he couldn’t get work because teachers had to take an Oath of Allegiance [to the British Crown] and he was a Nationalist and would never do that. So my mother, like a lot of women in our city, provided the money to keep a roof over our head and food on the table.

I guess my father and all of us respected her, but that’s not quite what I believed a woman’s role should be. So, I followed the line. I went to work and I left school. I was a Catholic Nationalist, and secondary education was not going to be afforded to many of us, you know, unless we had the means, and we didn’t have the means for it in our family. I went to work like most women in this city in a shirt factory, making shirts for men, the labels of which read: "Made in England." And I worked with women, and forged great bonds with women in the shirt factories—amazing women, powerful women, great women. I look back, and we worked really hard, and we sweated. And well, I think that we kept the city alive for so many years. And then I got married. Marriage for me was an escape from the drudgery of the shirt factory. I did what everybody else did: I had loads of children—because contraception was not in our vocabulary, and even if it was, the Catholic Church wouldn’t have allowed it. So I went down the straight and narrow road. Sure a lot of women didn’t, but I did.

MT: And then something must have happened...

MN: While I was following the straight line, and I’m sure you understand this one, it wasn’t something that I adapted to easily. I just felt that this wasn’t what I wanted to do, or where I wanted to be. I wasn’t comfortable with it. My sisters would tell me: "It’s just because you’re such a stubborn person." I never would accept things as they were. It wasn’t comfortable, the straight line, and there were times, like in the shirt factory, when I organized a strike because women were treated unfairly. The managers in the shirt factory were Protestant and Unionist. The workforce was mainly catholic and Nationalist. There was one token Catholic manager in the factory whre I worked. He was employed to keep workers in line. So he came and tried to get us to go back to work. When we said no, he threatened me with my father. And my father, he wasn’t very happy—he knew I was doing things like this, but you know, you learn things.

Certainly, you learn that if you stick together as we women did, you can do all sorts of things. And then when I got married, I was married in the 50’s, and there was no place to live in this city. The housing situation was at a crisis. We had an epidemic of TB when TB was practically eradicated. Again I organized financial help for all these women workers who worked in the factory who had developed TB and had to be taken into hospital. They stayed in the hospital for a year, two years in some cases, depending on how advanced the TB was. I got involved in doing that, trying to help their families financially, and then I got married and found out that there was no place to live. We lived in a four-room house, two rooms downstairs and two rooms upstairs, with an outdoor toilet which was hilarious. You had to sit inside with an umbrella—if you were fortunate enough to possess one! We were all incredibly poor, everybody was in the same boat, but there were 13 of us living in that house. We used to take our meals sitting on each stair, because there was no room in the small kitchen. But our living conditions were quite good compared to some people’s, in the Bogside, where I lived, and in other areas. So I got involved in housing issues, asking, "Why are we living this way?" And why aren’t they building new houses? And then I found out about politics. I started this writing campaign and people began to sort of pay attention to it.

At the same time I was having all these children and that wasn’t easy either. No, because I didn’t even know how you have children or even where children came from, to be honest. So childbirth wasn’t the wonderful experience that it was supposed to be. I found it quite horrifying to be honest. There wasn’t the kind of support that you find these days. I hope there is a support for young mothers now. There wasn’t any support around when I was having children. Then eventually, I remember, getting a house and thinking it was great because I had an indoor toilet. But the house was in Creggan. That’s where Nationalists were more or less exported to. It was a housing estate on top of a mountain that later was described as being only suitable for sheep farming. But we were out of sight and out of mind for the local Unionist government. I found myself on the top of this hill with all these children, no schools, no shops, no roads, no lights, you know, it was just a house. But it was wonderful to have a house. But again, I remember a child died beside where we lived. It was November and we had no road. There was a heavy rain. We had to walk through the muck to the cemetery to bury this wee child. When I came back I was absolutely furious and I got out the pen and I wrote again and I went and got my father to type it up. And I went around to all these neighbors that I didn’t know, and I said, "Look we need to get a road." And they all signed it. And that began what I told you was my community politics. I wasn’t too sure what I was doing, just meeting needs. And from that we did organize ourselves in Creggan.

It was really a great time during the 60s. My husband was in England, like most men went to England, he went to find work. So we were all of us women. When I hear people using the term "single parents," I think: "We were all single parents." You know, we had all these children. On the street were I lived there was fifty houses and there were 300 children. We helped each other, you know, we swapped the maternity clothes. We helped out with the births. We did all that. We had a mid-wife. It was great. It was hilarious when I look back, but it was also very hard. We began to organize ourselves. We campaigned for street lighting. We campaigned for proper roads. We campaigned for facilities for the children. We went to the Bishop to see if we could get a nursery school for the children. He was really surprised. Because he was very... what’s the word for it? He didn’t come out to the people. We didn’t even know him. He was just a sort of autocratic figure, you know, behind this house, and he sort of looked down at us and was horrified that Catholic women should go out and leave their children to be minded by someone else. He hadn’t a notion. Here were women who were childbearing every year with no support, no nursery schools, husbands away in England. We had to walk up and down from Creggan, a big hill. I used to have one child in the pram, maybe 2 children sitting on top, or 2 holding on, pushing this pram. So, it was a hard life for a woman. And he was a man, a church leader at the time. You sort of think to yourself, "Well, leave him, we’ll sort this out ourselves."

Then we went to the mayor. He wasn’t any better than the bishop. These were all the power people in the city. He was, first of all, he was surprised that Catholic woman would actually come in. It was the first time I’d ever been in the Mayor's Chamber. He had to get a map of the city to find out where Creggan was. And then when we told him we were there because we wanted playgrounds for our children, he was absolutely astonished. And he threw the map across the floor and he was saying, "There’s a space there, there’s a space there," and we were looking but we said, "That’s not ours, you know we need proper playgrounds." And then he called the usher in and he threw us out. And that was the day, I thought: "These people are never going to give me anything. You’ve got to take it from them." And I still believe that today. Nobody’s going to hand it to you on a plate.

So, that’s grand because there again you learn, you get a wee bit stronger, and you lose that fear. I was always taught that I should look up at people—people who look down at you. Well that began to shift. And then during the 60s our residents’ group, the tenants’ associations, we got quite strong. We began to go on all sorts of issues. We had no notion what we were doing. We had no expertise, we had no money behind us. We just had each other, but we were learning. And then the politicians were saying, "Who’s that crowd up in Creggan? There’s that woman." I wrote an article about street lighting in which I compared Creggan Estate, and it was the truth, to something out of a Dickens novel—you know, it was so dark and dismal. And then they wanted to build more houses on the field. I started a campaign to preserve the field for the children’s playground. And the local papers picked that up, you know, because everybody was crying out for housing, and here’s a group of people trying to protect this field. And you know you learn that you can’t just have houses and nothing else. You can’t just move people into a place and make a concrete jungle. I don’t know if planners have learned anything since then.

We were always pregnant, us women, and we were always going around with petitions. They called us the "pregnant petitioners" because we were always saying, "Sign that," when we were 7 months pregnant. I can just imagine the men’s faces when we appeared at the doors, because we were having children every year. I had nine children in as many years. And then the bulldozers came to bulldoze the field, and we all went and sat in front of them and said, "This is the children’s field. So you’ll have to stop that." We prevented them, and we discovered too about planning. We discovered they ‘d got planning permission about 10 years previously and nobody even knew about it.

But I wouldn’t have called myself at that stage political in any way. I was just meeting needs, learning about things, working out my sense of anger, and my outrage. Trying to bring about change, and realizing that bringing about change was organizing with your neighbors and community. It wasn’t all nice and easy. A lot of neighbors said, "We’re not getting involved with you crowd, you’re crazy." But a lot of them did, you know. And then, the Housing Action Committee started, and that was great, because they began challenging the sectarianism and discrimination in housing.

And gradually all those groups came together in the Civil Rights Movement. It was a natural path for us to take. And the Civil Rights Movement was great. The Civil Rights Movement was looking for very simple reforms of this sectarian entity known as Northern Ireland—you know, the right to work, the right to a home, the right to a job. Because everything we did, we found out in later life, was all backed up by law—by the Special Powers Act. That very powerful legislation gave the Unionists, and the mayors, and the power men, the necessary legal back-up to keep people in their places, to be able to discriminate, to be able to remove your rights and your choices. The Civil Rights Movement challenged that and the state couldn’t cope with it. It was a nonviolent movement. We went on the street with our placards, and there were photographs all over the place of us all saying: "One Man, One Vote." We were looking for voting rights because we didn’t have voting rights—voting rights were arranged around a property headcount. If you had one piece of property, you had one vote; if you had three pieces of property, you had three votes. If you had no property, you had no votes. And that’s the way it was. And we women were going out: "One Man, One Vote." We still hadn’t got to a stage where we recognized our own rights as women. And then of course the state responded quite violently. Looking back in retrospect, I suppose it’s easy maybe to say we should’ve done things differently. But I don’t see how we could have.

MT: I think it’s interesting though the whole way that, at least from the reading I’ve been doing, that feminism and nationalism often get polarized in a way that I don’t actually buy into so much—because it in a way they can be really related to each other...

MN: Yeah, I think so, and you know, I think you learn somewhere along the road about your own rights. I mean it’s your rights all along. I sincerely hope that what we did was actually making it better for the next generation of women. That the next generation of women wouldn’t be coming along, looking up to men, saying, "Please, can we have a playground?" My daughter, she was born in ‘69, she’d never dream of that. She’d say, "Look, where’s the playground? Get it there for next week." So there is that sort of change. There’s changes in that generation.

My daughter laughs at me. She’s so assertive about things. She works with Cumamh and she makes choices about the number of children she wants to have. Also, she doesn’t do all the housework. We had no washing machines, we washed everything by hand. You know, I think I had seven children before I got my first washing machine. My husband helps out better than most men. Most of the men just sat back and were onlookers on all this. You know, onlookers on their wives’ and their children’s lives. My husband at least participated. Maybe it was because we had all sons and I only had one daughter. They were like his football team, all the boys.

MT: I can’t believe you didn’t consider yourself political—but isn’t that typical of women to not recognize—

MN: Yeah, and everything I was doing was probably highly political! Well, I was wondering why all the politicians were chasing after us at that stage!

Maybe we should have done things differently. But I think that was the only way we could do it—the only way we could put the issue of our rights, like equality to vote, on the table. The state, of course, responded quite violently. And the Civil Rights Movement degenerated into a very violent sort of confrontation with the state. And then the British army was sent in, as we thought at that stage, to protect us. Then we discovered of course, it was to protect the British government’s rights. But that changed things, it irrevocably changed me, changed everybody. When I look back at dividing lines and where things have changed in my life, it was the day that the British Army came on the streets.

Because then we lived not in a ghetto, but in a concentration camp, with check points in and out, and soldiers raiding our houses, and children who were growing up being arrested and taken into interrogation centers and picked up and shot dead. It was a war situation. People euphemistically describe it as "troubles." But it we were in a war. I can’t think of any other way to describe it. You know, if you’re living in a housing estate and the only way you can get in is through a check point with soldiers frisking you down, searching your shopping bags, and a guerrilla army is on the streets shooting at them, and they’re shooting back... And your children are going to school and getting smothered in CS gas and lying down vomiting in the streets—that’s how we lived for years. We never slept. It was really very difficult times and there’s nothing romantic or nice about it. You grow up the first time you see some 17 year old lying in the street and the blood running from his head. And you grow up when your door’s kicked in at 6 in the morning and your children are dragged out and taken away to Castlereagh. That was my life: three of my children ended up in prison for long, long periods. And two of them were in the H-Block protests. My life just turned upside down, overnight.

MT: What was your immediate response?

MN: Well, two things happened to me. The community politics went out the window, not because of the army—although the army was part of that. When the British army came on to the streets, there was a sort of a honeymoon period and they were negotiating with the Civil Rights Movement. The Civil Rights Movement was very male dominated, and the Citizens’ Action Committee was all men. The Citizens’ Action Committee actually was set up to find a role for the Catholic Church and the professional Catholic middle-class people in the city, because the Civil Rights Movement was a radical group and the church didn’t feel it had a powerful enough role there. So they set up this group called Citizens' Action Committee. Out of that came John Hume, a middle class Catholic politician, and all these other men, who were sort of dictating the pace of change—and the young people were certainly saying different. When the army came in, the army wanted to meet with all the community groups, to make their life, or their role in the community easier. And I just instinctively, without understanding, felt "no". I remember standing up at our committee meetings and saying, "Look we were not put into position by the people to take the British soldiers by hand up into our estates, we can’t do that." Our community groups divided down the middle on it. It was really sad.

And for the first time I sort of came to an understanding that what I had been doing over the years was not actually working with the people but for them, in a very elitist sense. That whatever power I was beginning to understand and learn about myself, I wasn’t sharing that power, I wasn’t empowering the rest of the community. I discovered that community groups, just like all other groups, can become an elite. So I left and resigned. And I became active in deposing the soldiers—and eventually, when one of my sons got arrested—

Now, in between, I decided that I would try and pick up an education that I never had. I left school when I was 14 and never had any education except at a primary school level. So I enrolled. I think I was the first woman in Creggan to ever enroll at the local university. And I loved it. It was just great to go back to school and learn. And then my son got killed. I found it really hard after he died. He wasn’t killed in the Troubles. He was killed in a very simple road accident. He was my eldest son. I found it very hard to concentrate after his death, and I think it was probably grieving. I didn’t recognize it as such then. I didn’t know what was wrong with me, and so I opted out of the course. But I had learned enough during that year to realize how good it was to acquire knowledge, if nothing else just for yourself. Then my son got arrested, my second son. That was really bad times, 1976, when the British government had decided to remove political recognition from prisoners. He went on a protest that was on in Long Kesh, and he was on it almost until 1981, till the Hunger Strike. And I did what I always did. I just felt, "This is not right."

So myself and two other women, we went and stood in front of the Bishop’s door naked, because that’s the way our sons were. We took off our clothes. We just stood outside the Bishop’s door with blankets draped around our shoulders, naked. The Bishop was furious. It was called the first "blanket protest," it was called. Some man came along with a camera and took photographs which appeared in all the papers. What we were trying to do was put the issue of the treatment of our husbands and sons in prisons on the agenda because there was a wall of silence. The church had thrown its lot in with the SDLP [Social Democratic and Labour Party, the centrist, middle-class Nationalist party] and the State, as the church does, to preserve the institution. And I left it. The entire family—I mean I was brought up very strict Catholic—we all left the church. We would have with nothing to do with them.

And we didn’t. I got involved then with all the other women and men and in Relatives’ Action Committee. That was different. That’s when you grew up. At least that’s when I grew up. You went on the streets and you’d be beat off them. You’d get arrested. We’d been driving all around Ireland in our bare feet and blankets. You learn about humility and you learn about decency, and you learn about good things, but you also learn about the hypocrisy of society. I remember we were standing outside a church, I think it was in Kilkenny, and the nuns came out with the children, and they saw us, and they put the children back in the church and closed the door. We were in Sligo, in the market square, and the only person who came over to us was an old traveling woman, who came over and put 10 pence into my hands. She thought we were destitute, she didn’t understand that it was a political protest. We went to Europe, we stood in the Champs Elysées, we went to the Hague, we went everywhere. We went to Amnesty International New York, to record what was happening in the prisons. And all the time that this was going on, I was coming into contact with Sinn Féin, who I didn’t have much regard for, to be honest, in those days, because I felt that they were very much the Catholic-green-right-wing, or whatever. But Sinn Féin was changing, too.

Then, of course, the Hunger Strike started and it was really hard for all of us. And when Bobby Sands died, it was like our own children died. And after the Hunger Strike ended, the prisoners were given their political recognition. I joined Sinn Féin and that’s where I’ve been since. I just moved in there quite easily. And there are a lot of women like myself. But Sinn Féin was a very male-dominated organization, so joining Sinn Féin wasn’t the panacea for your own liberation, your own freedom, your own recognition as women. We had to fight our way in Sinn Féin, and we’re still doing that. The decision-making is so entrenched among the male comrades, you know, that you have to remind them all the time: "Here we are boys, we have our rights."

M: What a story! I had a question, how did you get involved with politics? But it’s more like: How did politics get involved with you?!

MN: Something like that, yeah. Somebody said, when I said I left the church, they said: "Oh no, you didn’t leave the church. The church left you!" It’s probably true, the church did leave me. Of course they did, the church left us all. That group that we’d given our loyalty to just abandoned us when we didn’t tow the line. It was very isolating, because this is such a Catholic community, not so much now as it was then, because your whole life is organized around the church. And when you leave it, it’s so isolating and you become very marginalized in the community. But you realize after you leave it that you don’t really need men to establish a relationship with God, if you want to do that. It has nothing to do with your spirituality. It took me a while to realize what the church was about -- I felt bitter in the beginning and I don’t anymore. Church is about protecting the institution and that’s what it is. It will always be that. And that’s not to say that over the years I haven’t met amazing people within the church. I’m glad to say that at the launch of our last women’s policy document, there were nuns there, Catholic nuns who took our women’s policy document and read it. I think that’s an amazing step. Nuns have been really suppressed, as we were—but they’re beginning to move out there as well.

MT: I wonder about this time now, there’s such a window of possibility now that the new government is going to come into place, about women’s involvement in formal politics.

MN: At this point, women have come such a long way. But it is disappointing that in the last Assembly election, there were only 15 women elected, out of 108 [seats]. So politics is still not user-friendly, still not disposed toward women, and especially in the Unionist camp. Sinn Féin elected the largest number of women candidates because they have a policy about that. But in the Unionist community, as in the SDLP, women are still very much in the traditional role. Women who are elected into the Assembly don’t want to talk with us in Sinn Féin, don’t want to sit down and share. It causes us concern, because we have so much in common as women. I have so much in common with Joan Carson and Iris Robinson, and I believe, that if the Assembly did get up and get going, that we would have a tremendous input, because all the women who are elected are powerfully strong women—the Women’s Coalition, the women in our party, very strong women. I think that we would make great changes. And we want to make great changes. When the Assembly first met, when we got up to speak we were barked at, we were spat at, the men coughed, they laughed, this was all from the Unionist benches. Well, I got up one day and I said to the Speaker, I didn’t even bother addressing the men, I said to the Speaker, "You have a job to do and you’re not doing it. Your job is to keep order in this chamber."

I lifted the [
Good Friday] Agreement and I read it: "’Respect and equality...’ I didn’t come here to listen to a pack of corner boys trying to stop me from talking." And that put an end to spitting and hissing. But that’s the way we were treated by Unionists, and it wasn’t just Sinn Féin women, it was SDLP women as well. It was very sad to look at this bunch of men this way. So there’s a lot of work to be done in this community. This community is very sharply divided, not so much on the basis of religion, but on the basis of common decency and good sense and gender balance—that’s where the division is. Men still think that they are God’s gift to humanity. They do think that, that they’re the only people who should be in control. Ian Paisley actually shouted over to me, "Put her back to the kitchen!" And Gerry Adams got up and challenged him. But that’s where those people are at, and you can see the work that has to be done there. It’s not just about resolving the constitutional question, the political question. It’s about resolving this notion of the powerful men that I talked about. The power men in the church have been brought into line; the power men in politics haven’t—and that’s the work for the new Assembly and for this generation of women.

M: It’s a hard row to hoe.

MN: We do have a hard way to go. But, you know I think that, I look around me at the younger ones. Look at my daughter. Look at the way they’re organizing themselves and look at the things that they take for granted as a right. They’re not going to fight and argue, and look up and say, "Please, may I have...?" You know, they’re saying: "Look, there’s the legislation. There’s the statistics. Give us or we take it." And that’s the way they have to do it. So there are changes, a profound set of changes. And even the rednecks, like Paisley and them, they’re looking over their shoulder. And among the Unionist community, there’s a more progressive people, like the PUP [Progressive Unionist Party], they are working at the cold face. They are trying to bring women on board.

Sometimes I get a wee bit worried about the Women’s Coalition, who are always going on about "We have to have more women in here." Of course we have to have more women in here. The Women’s Coalition filled a vacuum that existed there. But we are in there as a right. We are not in there as a privilege. We have to get more women in here, not to balance the books or because it’ll look better, or because it will give the implication that we are working towards a gender balance. We should be in there as a right. There shouldn’t be any debate or dispute or argument about it. If society is going to be properly represented, then women must be in politics.

MT: I’m asking all the women in the documentary about their heroines.

MN: I’ve never even thought about heroines... [laughing]

MN: Are there any women who inspired you along the way?

MN: Oh sure, Bernadette Devlin would have been a great friend of mine, still is. And of course Nina Hutchinson. She’s dead now. I’ve lost a lot of my heroines. Nina Hutchinson was in England. She was an amazing woman in London who did all sorts of great things here.

Síle Humphreys, she was in Cuman na mBan. She was amazing. Years ago, she came up to Long Kesh to visit when my sons were in, herself and Eileen O’Brien who used to write for Irish Times, they came and stayed, and they caused havoc. They had to close down the prison. They actually caused a whole security alert. It was hilarious! And Síle went missing. And they closed the prison, and the bells were going, and there were soldiers all over the place, they were all looking for her. And where did we find her? We found her down lecturing all these prison officers about what they were doing and all, persecuting their own people, and they really were not British, they were Irish. And did they not realize how proud they should be. She was shaking her finger. She was great. And she was so self-sufficient. She was such an interesting, amazing woman. She lived by herself almost till she died, and when you went to her house to visit her she’d bake you these beautiful scones. She had a marvelous political intellect as well. A great woman.

MT: But you never read about her in the history books.

MN: Well, you see, I suppose she’s like a lot of other women. Apart from Bernadette, we don’t really write her-story. His-story gets written all the time. A woman who I’ve read about lately who was absolutely an amazing woman, too, was Mary Ann McCracken. She lived to be 100. The things she did in her life! And how hard it must have been for a woman then. So I was so pleased that someone actually wrote about her life.

During the Belfast Feile, Ruth Taillon had organized this woman’s thing, and that was a great afternoon, we had all these women, telling bits and pieces of things they had done. We should do it more often.

MT: Could you repeat—you had a great line earlier about what women were expected to be, and it was either Mary and/or Eve? How do you feel about being named Mary?

MN: You were expected to live up to this schizophrenic role—you know being the virgin, but producing all these children. That was the role models that we had as children.

But, I like Mary. I think it’s a lovely name, not because of its religious connotations. In Irish it is Muire or Máire. And it’s beautiful, you know the sound of it. And I think there are Marys all over the world in different languages. It’s a beautiful name to pronounce. Yeah, I am glad to be Mary. I wouldn’t want to be anything else.

MT: One last question, what are your hopes for the future, especially in terms of your political work, what do you hope to achieve?

MN: I really think that we are now post-British, post-Britain-in-Ireland. And I think that we have got to remove the borders, not just the physical landmarks, but the borders from our heads. I’d still like to be involved in empowering people, women. I am quite content to move over to the side and to let the younger generation get in there, because they’re very capable. And I think they’re quite confident as well. So I feel that despite the difficulties of living now in a land mass that has become like a global village, I think that women still have the capacity to change this world. I don’t think that’s an outlandish thing to say. And I really believe we need to do it. I don’t want to pass on to the younger generation a devastated planet, a planet where consumerism and greed is the hallmark of what you are. As a woman, be proud to be a woman and be proud of the ability to be part of creating a new world. I think we need to do that.

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