October 28th 2015 marks the 39th anniversary of Máire Drumm, vice president of Sinn Féin, leader of women, leader of men, revolutionary, wife, mother and grandmother. We all know how Máire met her death, gunned down by cowardly pro-British elements as she lay in her hospital bed having been admitted for cataract surgery but it is much more important to remember how she lived, and oh, how she lived!
Máire was born Máire McAteer on 22nd October 1919 in the townland of Killeen in South Armagh, just past where the Carrickdale Hotel is now. She was a pupil of Our Lady’s school in Newry before going to Liverpool to look for work in 1939 then on to Dublin the following year where she worked as a shop assistant and it was at this time that she joined Sinn Féin.
Two years later, in 1942, Máire moved to Belfast where she became involved with the Camogie Association of Ireland. Although still in her early 20’s at the stage, she went on to become the Antrim Secretary and later the chairperson of the Ulster Council of the Camogie Association and All-Ireland Vice Chairperson. Máire had a great love for the Irish culture and was involved in the McAleer School of Irish Dancing, even going so far as to hold Irish classes for local people in her own home.
Máire also had a great empathy for the Prisoners of War and was greatly connected with the Green Cross and the National Graves Association. It’s just as well she was fond of POW’s because it was when she went to visit her former Camogie teacher in jail that she met the love of her life, IRA Volunteer Jimmy Drumm. Jimmy was in Crumlin Road Jail at that time and by co-incidence was having a visit with his mother as Máire came to visit her teacher and they met in the visiting room. Jimmy wasted no time and introduced himself and asked who she was there to see, then asked to have a visit arranged with her. They were engaged before Jimmy was released.
Máire and Jimmy were married in 1946 and settled in Andersonstown where they had five children. It must have been hard on Máire as Jimmy was interned again in 1957 – 1961 but that didn’t stop Máire in 1959 leading a protest to Crumlin Road Jail after the men’s letters and parcels were stopped. In those days they didn’t have crechés or playgroups to leave their babies so they were brought along in the prams, and it wasn’t the buggies you see today, it was the carriage type prams that must have been great for battering prison gates down because that is exactly what Máire and the other ladies did. The women charged the gates and although they were batoned by the prison staff, they got inside and delivered the letters and parcels.
The pogroms of 1969 were a testing time for everyone, not least the Drumm family. Máire was actively involved in trying to re-house those who had been burned from their homes because of loyalist intimation as the British B-Specials looked on.
Her eldest son Seamus tells of how there was a field across from their house in Andersonstown and it was filled with caravans and people who had nowhere else to go. He recalls how “they would come into the house to watch the TV so you could never get to watch what you want. You would go to the bathroom and there would be a queue of people that you didn’t recognise but that was normal in our house with my mother. She even had a rota system for the families to have a bath. In those days you didn’t have instant hot water so it was basically one family per night had baths”.
“If I ever dared to complain I would be told that at least we had a home and how lucky we were. My mother taught me and all of us the practice of being a socialist, not just the theory of it. Our house was an open house for those who needed it and I am very proud of my mother for that.”
During the Lower Falls Curfew in 1970 the prams were dug out again. Máire led the ‘pram invasion’ of women as they filled their prams with food and medical supplies and headed to the lower Falls picking up more and more women along the way. She defied the Brits and they pulled the barbed wire, that was imprisoning the community, apart with their bare hands and delivered the goods to those who were imprisoned in their homes by these foreign aggressors.
On 7th January 1973, Máire led 500 women and girls to the Busy Bee in Andersonstown in protest against the internment of Liz McKee who was the first female internee. At one stage during the internment campaign, Máire organised a plane of wives and mothers of internees to fly to England to protest outside Downing Street. Sure the English wouldn’t have known what hit them.
On 19th August 1975 her oration skills were evident as she addressed a mass anti-internment rally in Dunville Park saying “On 9th August 1971 and before it we had a Republican Army, and after the 9th August we had what was more important, we had a risen people. Faulkner with internment used it rather crudely, he grabbed everyone, opened Long Kesh and pushed them in. Cosgrave does it differently, he takes Republicans to court and locks them up…”
She went on to say “we want a just and lasting peace in this country. Hypocrites looking for peace, they want peace with surrender, peace at any cost. We want peace with justice, peace with freedom and justice must go hand in hand. When peace comes we will need everyone in this country. You all will have to work hard to build our new nation. Our shoulders will have to be to the wheel, you will have to do your best.”
Although that was said in 1975, it is still so true today. We are still fighting for that new Republic. A fair Ireland, one we will all be proud to live in. Equality for all its citizens.
A year later, Máire addressed a crowd of 18,000 who had marched in support of political status and remember, this was a year before political status was actually withdrawn so to gather that kind ofg support at that time was phenomenal. Máire said “we need your support, you have given your support taday for the retention of political status and we only wish the boys and girls in Jail could have seen the people coming down the Falls Road. This crowd was something we had only hoped for but it has surpassed our wildest expectations and hopes. You are the risen people and no government has been able to stop the march of a risen people.”
Máire was arrested after this speech but she was no stranger to arrest and detention. Sinn Féin, around the early 70’s, was being re-organised and Máire, who was emerging as a very gifted and natural leader and speaker was elected as vice-president and this identifies her as a leader through the press.
In February 1971, Maire was sentenced to 6 months for inciting people to join the IRA at a meeting in Turf Lodge the previous July.
When she was safely locked up, because they wouldn’t have dared otherwise, the British Government brought the same charges against her saying she promoted the objects of the IRA at a meeting in Derry. Máire addressed the crowd saying “the only movement which can organise and train you is the Republican Movement. Don’t shout ‘Up the IRA’, join the IRA. Stones are no good, bullets are better….stones are no good against the British army. Join the IRA and we will get you guns.”
The judge, who obviously was not a republican sympathiser, gave Máire another six months in jail!
In November 1972, Máire appeared at the Special Criminal Court in Dublin charged with inciting persons to possess arms at Navan and of being a member of the IRA. Refusing to recognise the court she said “As vice-president of Sinn Féin I will not insult the gallant boys and girls of Ireland who have given their lives in the past three years in defence of our people and for the enthronement of the Irish Republic, proclaimed in arms by Pearse and Connolly in 1916, by pleading at any court set up by the Quislings of a portioned assembly, who have already stated that they intend to harass the Sinn Féin movement and its members.”
She was sentenced to 22 days.
In August 1976 she was arrested at her home and charged with taking part in an anti-internment rally and declared that the previous Saturday’s British organised ‘peace’ rally was illegal. “The organisers could not have given the required statutory five days notice…that rally was motivated by the British Army. I don’t want a solicitor and I don’t want bail – I don’t recognise the court any more than I did last week, nor will I ever recognise it as long as Ireland remains divided. God save Ireland.”
The British had to admit the peace rally was in fact illegal and rather than arrest the organisers, they released Máire.
Through all these campaigns and periods of imprisonment, it’s important to remember that Máire was a mother to five children. She reared them, fed them, clothed them and did the ordinary things like getting them off to school and making them their dinner. They have their own personal fond memories of her that are separate from the public’s perception of this great woman. Her son Séamus tells of the time she took a cake up to Armagh Jail for her daughter’s 18th birthday which said “UTP” on it. We all know what that stands for but when she was challenged by the screws, Máire looked quite innocently at them and said it stood for Unity Through Peace. The cake got through much to the amusement of the women.
The last speech given by Máire was in her home area of South Armagh in September 1976.
“What is peace? The kind that the republican movement has been fighting for is peace.
Peace with justice. Peace that our people can live; peace that our people can work and have houses, and that our people can walk free through the streets of their own towns, their own cities and their own country. It will be the peace that will be restored to the nation after 800 years when for the last time British imperialism leaves our shore….”
Máire was then admitted to the Mater Hospital for her cataract surgery and while she was recovering, pro-British elements entered her room and murdered her as she lay defenceless. Máire was a huge threat to the British establishment and that’s why they killed her. She was years ahead of her time regarding women’s rights and the equality of women although she didn’t realise it, for Máire, the men were locked up so it was down to the women to carry on the struggle. She has inspired new generations of women as Constance Markievich did before her and Mairead Farrell has done after her.
Máire has now been dead for more years than her children had her alive with them. She is still a huge part of their lives as they pass her legacy on to their children, Máire’s grandchildren and now her great grandchildren.
Máire would have turned 94 years old last week and I have no doubt, she would have been still leading from the front being a thorn in the British side. I wonder did they think to decommission those prams…..they could be in a bunker somewhere, you never know!