You might be forgiven for thinking that, having grown up in the north of Ireland during the 1980s, my childhood was awash with politics or proselytising mentors. But it was quite the opposite. The Troubles were not discussed at the table or at my school, in fact, my education in a small, provincial town was international and feminist, directed by a strong-minded nun. My English teachers had us discussing Brian Keenan and Nelson Mandela’s release from captivity, and at home we talked about what the presidents of Ireland, Mary Robinson and Mary McAleese were getting up to, as they each shook the nation of Ireland into the 21st century.
We could even “claim” Mary McAleese as one of our own, as she was born and lived in the Ardoyne area of Belfast, until she was forced to leave. In her book she writes about the moment she was offered a place to study law at university. Returning home from a celebratory meal, she finds British paramilitaries – representatives of law and order – on her street, looking on as local loyalists pointed out and set fire to Catholic homes.
“The Troubles should never have happened. But they did. Women should never have been second-class citizens in the eyes of Church or State. But they were.”
“That is the blighted hand we were dealt. Many worked to heal history and let a new future in. This is how I remember my part of the story.”
There are many narratives retelling Ireland’s navigation of the turn of the century, but few public figures are so well-placed as Mary McAleese to tell the story north and south of the border, from a woman’s perspective. Inspiring and highly recommended reading for anyone who wants an insight into Ireland’s recent history.
“Here’s the story“: A Memoir, Mary McAleese is published by Penguin. For a fascinating and superb interview with Mariam O’Callaghan on 27/09/2020, see the RTE website.
“Mary McAleese is not only one of the great public figures of our time. She has also lived a completely fascinating life,” added Brendan Barrington, editorial director of Penguin Ireland.