Miriam Daly, an Irish republican socialist and university lecturer, was assassinated by the loyalist Ulster Defence Association (UDA) in a killing which continues to provoke questions. Her body, bound and shot, was found by her nine-year-old daughter after she returned from school in Andersonstown, 39 years ago this week. In this interview, Anthony Neeson spoke to Jim Daly, her widower.
By a strange twist of fate, Jim Daly’s father fought on the anti-treaty side during the Civil War while his future wife Miriam’s father fought with the pro-treaty forces.
Miriam was born in the Curragh of Kildare in the Free State Army camp there while Jim was brought up in Cheshire in England – one of the many ironies of post-Civil War Ireland.
When Jim’s parents died he was brought back to South Armagh, where future SDLP deputy leader Seamus Mallon would be in his year at school. The party’s future leader, John Hume, was a year behind Jim at Maynooth College.
Miriam, on the other hand, grew up in Dublin and later went to UCD, where she would eventually lecture in Economic History. Fate was to bring them together and it came in the shape of Jim’s philosophy professor, who told him there was someone in Dublin he wanted him to meet.
“I’ve never forgotten that I was introduced to her as as saint,” says Jim, laughing at the memory. “She’s the only person I’ve ever been introduced to as a saint. At that time she was already married to Dr Joe Lee, but he died a couple of years later at the age of 37 of a heart attack. And so a couple of years later we were married. Miriam was seven years older than I.
“We were married in London and then I got a job at Queen’s University and Miriam got a job soon after at Queen’s, so we both came to Belfast in 1968 and moved into Stranmillis, when all hell broke loose.”
Miriam immediately immersed herself in the growing Civil Rights movement and was quickly recognised as a talented and passionate public speaker. “What she said was genuine and from the heart,” recalls Jim. “She could get a terrific emotional response because whatever she said she felt it herself. She was direct and honest and people responded to that.”
Miriam and Jim both became more involved in the political upheaval that was taking place throughout the north and particularly in Belfast, with Miriam contributing to the Republican News. Both joined Sinn Féin. “I would have been a Marxist and would read Marxist literature at that time, but although Miriam was a socialist she wouldn’t have got bogged down in Marxist philosophy. Marxists sometimes can’t see the wood for the trees because they’re looking at the big picture.
Miriam, on the other hand, could very much see the cement.”
In 1974 Jim and Miriam were forced out of Stranmillis and moved into Andersonstown. As Jim remembers, a number of people were getting burnt out at the time or were receiving bullets in the post, so they decided that they would be safer elsewhere and so left Stranmillis behind. After the murder of Seamus Costello, Miriam became chairperson of the IRSP at a time when that organisation was flourishing.
Then, as the prison protest in the H-Blocks and Armagh began to escalate Miriam was elected on to the National H-Block Committee at a time when other prominent republicans who were involved with the prisoners and their families were being targeted and murdered.
“We were always wary about our safety over in Queen’s because at that time the Holy Land was quite loyalist. But Miriam always said that if they were going to get us it would be here in Andytown, and she was right.” Jim was in Dublin attending a German language course on June 26, 1980, the day Miriam was murdered.
Earlier that morning he recalls a pleasant domestic phone call, revolving around their two 10-year-old twins, Marie and Donal. The People’s Democracy had already informed the pair that they were on a loyalist death list, so they had bought a new heavy mahogany front door and decided to keep the back door locked at all times.
Jim has played over the events of that terrible day many times in his head, but he can’t be sure what really happened.
“It appears that Miriam was sitting in the porch enjoying the warm sun and waiting for the kids to come home from school,” says Jim. “She must have left the door open when she went to the shop next door to get an apple tart and some cigarettes. When she came back they were waiting for her. That’s how she got caught.
“She was shot five times in the head, but they had kept her for a while before, tied her up and held her for some time, which is awful to think about. Then the kids came home and found her.”
Miriam Daly was 51 when she was murdered. Although the UFF claimed her murder, Jim still believes that there was higher involvement in her death. At the same time other leading H-Block campaigners such as John Turnly and Bernadette McAliskey were being targeted.
“She came very much to the notice of agencies that were poking their noses in here, for sure. That’s why she was targeted.
“She had a tremendous energy and never stopped. People called her in the middle of the night to come to an RUC station to help out, while relatives would phone her to find out where their loved ones were.
She never stopped. It was amazing how much dedication she had. She was always upbeat and confident and optimistic. If there is an opposite to demoralise, she moralised people.
“The RUC took away Miriam’s handbag, a large book we had with phone numbers and addresses in it and they took my photograph from an international driver’s licence.
There were five spent cartridges lying on the floor which they didn’t pick up. They were more interested in political witch-hunting than trying to find out who carried out this murder.”
Miriam Daly was buried in Swords, County Dublin. Jim says her death affected many people, and she is continually missed by her many friends and family, not least himself. “I think of her every hour, on the hour,” he says with quiet emotion in his voice. “The kids have grown up and are doing very well for themselves. We’re getting on...”