Women in struggle
A monument commemorating women's contribution to the struggle for Irish freedom is to be erected in Belfast within a year. Designs for the monument and even the site have yet to be determined, but fundraising for the project will begin with a function at the Felons Club in West Belfast on 1 December.
The timing has particular significance for many of the women involved as it marks the twentieth anniversary, to the day, of the beginning of the 1980 hunger strikes in Armagh women's jail.
In the back kitchen of Mary McConville's home, three women sit around the table with cups of tea. The atmosphere is lighthearted and welcoming. All three are former Republican POWs and one a former hunger striker. ``The three Marys,'' one of the trio laughs.
Together with Geraldine Crawford and Margaret McClenaghan, the group has come togther to organise the function and photographic exhibition. ``But it's not just about ex POWs, it's to commemorate the hundreds of different ways women contributed and still contribute to the struggle,'' says Mary McGinn.
The organisers have already been very busy collecting photographs, memorabilia and craft work which reflects the important and diverse roles women have played in the liberation struggle.
``There are photographs of women engaging in all aspects of the struggle, from POWs to the Relatives Action Committees, from street protests to elections,'' says Mary McConville. And it's not just about women's contribution during the last 30 years.
``We're also acknowledging the contribution of women in the early half of the nineteenth century,'' says Mary Doyle, ``women political prisoners were engaged in hungerstrikes in the 20's and 40's.''
Mary Doyle was one of three women POWs in Armagh to hunger strike in 1980. The other two were Mairead Farrell, shot dead by the British SAS in Gibraltar in 1988, and Mairead Nugent.
``We didn't take the decision to go on hunger strike lightly,'' says Mary Doyle, ``at the time it was the only option open to us. The men in Long Kesh began a hunger strike on October 27 and in Armagh we began on December 1st.''
``Women have made an enormous but often unacknowledged contribution to the struggle, both inside the jails and outside, from a prison cell or a back kitchen women have organised, protested and campaigned,'' says Mary Doyle.
Addressing the function will be Sinn Fein Assembly member Mary Nelis. When her son was jailed and ``on the blanket'' in the late1970's Mary Nelis found herself at the forefront of the campaign in support of the prisoners' demands of political status.
``Mary Nelis' experience was typical of many families who found themselves catapulted into political protest in support of sons and daughters protesting in the jails,'' says Mary McGinn, ``for many it became a defining moment in their lives.''
``We decided to erect a monument to commemorate all women engaged in all aspects of the struggle,'' says Mary McGinn, ``we want something for our daughters and grandaughters, something which says women played their part and continue to play their part.''
The function is open to all, ``including our male comrades and friends,'' says Mary McGinn, `` and anyone with photographs which could be included in the exhibition should contact us as soon as possible.''