By Peter McDermott
The death last month of a 22-year-old Irish woman working in Asia made headlines on both sides of the border, but the tragedy has also been the cause of heartbreak in a corner of Queens.
Donegal-born Derry resident Lisa Orsi contracted altitude sickness on a short trekking vacation with friends to a volcano in Indonesia. She never recovered after collapsing in her hotel room, and two weeks later was pronounced dead in a hospital in Singapore, where she’d been working as a physiotherapist. Her funeral took place in Derry on March 13 and the burial was in her maternal grandparents’ home village of Fanad, Co. Donegal.
She was recalled lovingly by a relative, Kathleen McNulty, long-time proprietor of the Irish Cottage, on 72nd Street, Forest Hills. The young Orsi and her friend Eve also from Donegal, worked in the Forest Hills bar-restaurant for the summer of 2013.
“They’d been friends since they were babies. They went everywhere together,” McNulty recalled. “And everybody here loved them. They are still talking about them.”
The young women, she added, enjoyed shopping in Austin Street in Forest Hills and in Manhattan, and socializing in Woodside.
Soon after her young cousin, who’d turned 21 in New York, went home to resume her studies in physiotherapy, McNulty bought her a plane ticket, treating her to a week’s holiday back in New York in the fall of 2013.
McNulty wasn’t surprised that the young woman was such good company and so beloved by Irish Cottage customers. On trips back to Donegal she’d seen her grow up as part of the extended McAteer family, which included her maternal grandparents Rosemary and John Orsi. “They were full of life,” she said. “Lisa was so like them. She was full of fun.”
“As you all know, Lisa has moved on, but not without leaving a massive footprint on all our lives,” said the family in a statement after her death. “Lisa loved life, she wanted to see what was round the next corner and, if there was someone standing round the corner, she would stop.”
Lisa Orsi, an enthusiastic Gaelic footballer, was the first ever Western organ donor in Singapore, the Belfast Telegraph reported. Nine of her organs were used in transplants.
Family members and friends, including a doctor, had flown out to Singapore to be at the gravely ill woman’s bedside. “Her father’s business had to close in Derry,” McNulty said of Dennis Orsi.
“I’d love to help the family,” she said, adding that she has hopes that Orsi’s friends, as well as Derry and Donegal people and women in the GAA, will organize a fundraiser in coming months.
McNulty was always close to her cousins the McAteers — Fr. Francis, Alice and Rosemary.
“I always stayed with Alice,” she said of trips home over the decades. “I’m glad she didn’t live to see this. She’d be heartbroken.”
Rosemary, who was somewhat younger than her siblings, married another local, John Orsi (like many in Donegal, they had close links to Scotland, which is where their Italian antecedent joins the family tree).
She remembers further back those halcyon days of summer of the 1950s before she emigrated. The late Fr. Francis played the accordion and they partied until dawn. “He was a great singer,” she said.
“No drinking or anything like that,” she remembered. “Tea and scones.”
McNulty was to spend a career, however, in the hospitality trade in Queens, after she’d raised her family.
Danny McNulty established the bar-restaurant back in 1960. He took a wrong turn one night out for a few drinks and got into a business discussion with a stranger. He told Kathleen: “I think I bought a bar last night.”
His friends questioned the wisdom of an Irish saloon in what was, and largely remains, a Jewish neighborhood. But Danny McNulty ran it for the 26 years until his death and it has continued to thrive with Kathleen McNulty at the helm in the 29 years since.
Part of the appeal has been the friendly Irish staff, she believes.
Jay Wanczyk, a resident of New Jersey, agrees. He happened upon the place on a visit to Austin Street and saw that it wasn’t “fake Irish.”
Wanczyk said: “I liked it and everyone there. It’s an extended family. That’s the type place it is.”
Of Orsi, he said. “I knew her only briefly, but will always remember what a wonderful loving person she was. Full of energy, the essence of life itself. And I remember that great goodbye hug that warms me to this day whenever I think of it.”
He added: “Her friends and I were heartbroken at this tragic news. And as one said, ‘God bless her family.’”
Current bartender Lisa Loughery, from Derry, remembered her friend as “always smiling, very outgoing.”
She recalled that during the vacation paid for by McNulty, she took a trip upstate with Orsi. An Irish Cottage regular, Pete, was the driver and Loughery’s boxer mix Ranger was with them, too. During their adventure they found the Bridge Creek Café, a pet-friendly place in New Paltz, N.Y., with outside seating. Loughery smiled at a happy memory – Ranger sitting with them, a napkin secured in his collar
And then, shaking her head, she thought of the other Lisa, climbing up the highest mountain in the region. “She had so much energy,” she said.
Traditional Music / By Daniel Neely
Two of the events that loom large on the traditional music calendar in the United States are on the horizon, Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann’s Mid-Atlantic Fleadh and its meeting of the North American Province. The former is one of two fleadhs in North America that decide who travels to Ireland to compete in the Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann (the “All-Ireland”) and the latter is a convening of all the Province’s officers to discuss the issues and ideas that affect and shape the organization. When held separately, both events attract throngs of people from all over, but this year, once again, they’re being held together in Parsippany, N.J. A robust turnout of the musically minded is anticipated and good craic is expected.
The Convention begins on Thursday, May 7, and the Fleadh competitions get underway on Friday, the 8th. Attendees can expect a wide range of events over the course of the weekend, including competitions; instrumental, singing, Irish language, set dance, ceili, and sean nós dance workshops; Ceilithe; Concerts; and a gala banquet. The festivities continue all weekend – morning, noon and night, all night – and will come to a close on Sunday the 10th.
The theme of year’s event will be Sligo, which is fitting as Sligo was where last year’s Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann was held and where it will once again be held in 2015. To commemorate this, the “Sligo Masters” documentary I reviewed back in February will be shown. In addition, the Sligo fiddle masters Michael Coleman, James Morrison, Paddy Killoran and James “Lad” O’Beirne will be inducted posthumously into the Mid-Atlantic Region’s Hall of Fame (www.cce-ma-hof.com).
Also being inducted to the Mid-Atlantic Region’s Hall of Fame will be banjo player Frankie McCormick and drummer Brendan Fahey. Originally from County Armagh, McCormack is a well-known teacher and is a member of the popular group Celtic Cross. He also has a long track record of service with Comhaltas. Fahey comes from Clare, Galway and Mayo stock, is the founder of the popular Ceol na gCroí Céilí Band and plays with other groups, including the Green Gates Céilí Band and the Doonbeg Society of New York). Induction is a great honor, and it will be nice to see this group join the long list of previous honorees.
Another of the weekend’s great highlights will be feature performances by the Moylurg Ceili Band from County Roscommon. The Moylurg earned senior All-Ireland champion honors at the historic Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann in Derry in 2013. The group’s members are Ronan Greene, Shane Meehan, Enda McGreevey (fiddles); Mick Mulvey, Aidan Shannon, Lorraine Sweeney (flutes); Breda Shannon (concertina); Brian Mostyn (accordian); Mick Blake (piano); and Damien McGuinness (drums). The group will play for the dances and select members will lead instrument workshops on the Friday. (Other workshop instructors include Eimear Arkins [singing], Maire ni Chatsaigh [harp], Mick Mulkerrin [set dance], and Shannon Dunne [sean nós dance].)
Readers should know that musicians from North America have represented admirably over the years with last year’s showing being especially memorable. Strong showings were given by Dylan Foley (1st, Fiddle, over 18), Patrick Hutchinson (1st, Uilleann Pipes Slow Airs, over 18), Molly O’Riordan (1st, Songs in English [Ladies], 15-18), Bridget O’Donnell (2nd place, Fiddle 12-15), Haley Richardson (2nd place, Fiddle Slow Airs, under 12), Jake James (2nd place, Fiddle Slow Airs 15-18), Annmarie Acosta (3rd place, Piano Accordion, over 18), Alex Weir (3rd place, Fiddle Slow Airs, 12-15), Kieran Flanagan (3rd place, accompaniment, 12-15), and Bram Pomplas (3rd place, Bodhrán, under 12) in the solo competitions. In the group competitions, Keegan Loesel, Haley Richardson, Alex Weir (3rd place, Trios, 12-15) distinguished themselves well.
Can’t make the Mid-Atlantic Fleadh but still want a chance to compete in Ireland? The Midwest Fleadh, which is the other All-Ireland qualifier, takes place in Cincinnati, from May 15-17. See midwestfleadh.org for details.
The 2015 Convention & Fleadh promises to be a great weekend of music, camaraderie, and spirit. Not to be missed! For information about competing in or simply attending the Fleadh, visit www.nyfleadh.com. For information about Comhaltas and the Mid-Atlantic Region, visit www.cce-ma.com.
By Christine Breen
Everybody’s life is a story.
Mine begins in New York but ends up in the West of Ireland in a place called Kiltumper, County Clare, named for a chieftain who is buried on the hilltop.
Being an Irish American was not an integral part of my identity as a child.
I was too busy being a kid in Westchester County with five younger siblings.
It wasn’t until I went to Ireland for the first time with my father and my grandmother, Kitty McTigue, that something in me was triggered, some Irish feeling.
It’s somewhat indefinable in words. Imagine a sweet scent that you follow even though you can’t name it. It’s like honeysuckle and mown-hay and turf smoke and wet, freshly dug earth.
My father’s parents were from County Clare, although they first met at a dance in New York City.
They’d left Ireland in their teens, in the 1910s, and lived the rest of their lives in Elmhurst.
Kitty was a beauty in her youth but what I remember about her was her tea-breath and fruit cake and black rosary beads twined around her freckled hands.
She sang Irish songs and taught me how to jig. My grandfather was a career soldier and survived WWI.
By the time I knew him Pop-Pop stayed mostly in the basement, smoking and reading newspapers. Sometimes we’d walk to the railroad tracks together. I don’t remember him speaking to me of Ireland but perhaps it was something in the way he held my hand that connected me to his birthplace.
The Irish feeling stayed with me. I took my junior year in college abroad in Dublin, studying with great Irish writers like Ben Kiely and Evan Boland and Mary Lavin.
Dublin of the mid ‘70s was a kind of magical place to an American college student. It was as oldie-worldy a place as I’d ever seen. Coal smoke on dark nights. The scent of the sea at Sandymount. Guinness. Irish music.
But after that green wonder year I came back to the U.S., graduated and worked in publishing in Boston and then New York City.
But being of a rather melancholic nature, probably a bit like my grandfather, I wasn’t happy working in the city and that Irish feeling was deep in me. I quit my job and enrolled in the University College, Dublin for a master’s degree in Anglo-Irish Literature.
There are things you do in life that you can’t quite explain. It’s like a whisper that speaks to an unconscious part of you. In UCD I met my Dublin-born husband, Niall Williams.
We met over his plate of chips and my yogurt and apple in UCD’s café. We fell in love, got our degrees, moved to New York, got married, and worked in New York City.
But within five years we knew we weren’t cut out for the life we were living. We wanted to write and to live a more creative life, and we wanted to start a family.
In 1985 we moved lock stock and barrel to an empty, stark-white, two-hundred-year old cottage — the one my grandfather Breen had left in 1910 — with my father’s blessings. (He had bought the cottage and its 60 acres a few years earlier).
Thirty years ago, on April 1st, we travelled west along the boreen that brings you into the townland of Kiltumper, and here we settled into our cottage, with no furniture and some long resident jackdaws in the chimney.
Since then we’ve written four non-fiction books about living in the West of Ireland, making a life from scratch in a 200 year old stone-walled cottage with a south facing, then neglected, garden.
The first, “O Come Ye Back to Ireland,” sold widely in the U.S. and recounted our challenges and struggles as we learned how to rear cows and calves, sow potatoes, cut turf, and survive the rain.
The second one, “When Summer’s in the Meadow,” continued our tales of Irish country living but with the added storyline of adopting our first child. She arrived as a 9-week-old gorgeous baby with blueberry-grey eyes at the end of June, 1987.
Our second child, a boy, also with beautiful blue eyes, arrived in June, 1991. We had a family, a home, a garden and were living on our wits and talent. It was for me as organic as life could be. And except for the rain, we all thrived. (The rain is a constant companion and I’ve yet to befriend it. But there is still time).
Curiously, as I return to New York for the publication of my debut novel, “Her Name is Rose,” I realize I am truly half Irish and half American, having lived an equal amount of time in both countries.
And I can say that Niall and I have achieved what we had set out to do, something that was not always easy, to live a creative life and rear a family in the West of Ireland.
He’s written stage plays and novels. (His most recent long-listed for the 2014 Man Booker Prize.) I trained as a homeopath, co-founded an artists’ co-op where I sold my paintings, became a gardener, wrote a travel memoir, and reared my children.
Our life is centered here, in this cottage where my grandfather was born, with its 12-foot wide, open hearth inside and its large south-facing garden outside.
The children attended a two-room schoolhouse with only six others in their class. During break times when the wind blew from the Northeast I could hear them in the schoolyard across the fields.
And now, with my daughter working for a high-end fashion company in New York, and my son finishing a master’s degree in law in London, it’s clear that the rural Irish upbringing they had has helped them flourish.
Ireland has been right for me. It’s been good for me. It has given me everything in a way, and in a way it adopted me.
From the moment our daughter came into our lives I knew I was always meant to be in Kiltumper. That’s how she found me. That’s how my son found me. That’s how this story went. They wouldn’t have found me in New York.
Being an adoptive mother is central to who I am. So when I finally got around to writing that novel I always dreamed of, the inspiration was quite simply: a mother’s love for her child and what she would do if anything unforeseen were to happen.
In “Her Name is Rose,” Iris Bowen, a gardener and a widow, is also an adoptive mother. When she gets a health scare, she honors the promise she made to her husband before he died: to find their daughter’s birth mother.
It’s a journey that takes her from the West of Ireland to Boston and back with unexpected results.
It is a story of facing your fears, of fate and luck, of mothers and daughters, and the invisible ties that bind two countries looking at each other across the Atlantic.
It is, naturally, a love story. An Irish-American love story.
As mine has been.
On Wednesday, April 22 at 7 p.m., Christine Breen will be reading from and discussing “Her Name is Rose” at Barnes & Noble on 82nd & Broadway in Manhattan. She will be joined by two very special musical guests, her sister in law, Carlene Carter, and Joseph Breen. All are welcome to attend. “Her Name is Rose” is published by St. Martin’s Press.
STACEY MCCARTHY PHOTOGRAPHY
By Peter McDermott
Pierce Turner will be joined by his former singing partner Larry Kirwan for one special number tomorrow night (Friday, April 17) at the Donaghy Theatre, Irish Arts Center in Manhattan.
Turner will also be on stage at the venue on Saturday night for a show he calls “Why use two words when 10 will do,” which is also the tentative title of a memoir he’s currently writing.
His story-telling will inevitably bring in the tale of two boys of Wexford who set out for fame and fortune in New York City in the 1970s. They evolved into the Major Thinkers and, among other achievements, came out with an album called “Absolutely and Completely.”
“It’s actually very emotional to finally sit and listen to the music of Turner & Kirwan of Wexford,” Kirwan told the Echo. “Pierce and I were total idealists. We only wrote and played whatever we thought was really good – no concessions to commerciality. That’s what makes some of these songs timeless.”
Kirwan added: “It will be a blast to be onstage at the Irish Arts Center Friday night revisiting the title track of our album, ‘Absolutely and Completely’.”
He has been busier than ever since the fall retirement of Black 47, the extremely popular band he’d fronted since its formation in 1989. Today, (Thursday, April 16), he will perform his one-man show “Foster in the Five Points,” Bergen Community College, Paramus, N.J. at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. (Tickets and information at tickets.bergen.edu.)
And next week, Kirwan will officially launch his “A History of Irish Music,” which promises to tell that extraordinary story “from Medieval Wexford to Midtown Manhattan.”
Meantime, Turner will be joined for this weekend’s shows by Fred Parcells, a Black 47 alumnus, and the singers of Avon Faire.
Turner will take the story from the time he was a Catholic schoolboy and classically-trained musician in Wexford Town to his New York adventures with Kirwan, which included being taken under the wing of folk giant Pete Seeger. When they branched out to separate careers, Turner worked with one of America’s leading composers, Philip Glass, who produced his first solo album. He has also shared the stage with Regina Spektor, Patti Smith, and Iggy Pop.
His music has won critical acclaim on both sides of the Atlantic, with for instance, New York Magazine calling him “one of this city’s great gems.”
For information about Larry Kirwan, go to www.black47.com. Pierce Turner’s website is www.pierceturner.com. For tickets to the Irish Arts Center shows: https://web.ovationtix.com/trs/pr/942466.
Brendan Goggins and Aaron Souza in Janice Young’s “Who Got the Girl,” which will be performed this week at the Poor Mouth Theatre Company as part of its 5th anniversary celebrations. PHOTO: LIZ GUARRACINO
By Peter McDermott
When passing An Beal Bocht Café in the Bronx one day towards the end of the last decade, the author Colin Broderick saw some redevelopment taking place. It appeared that a new room was being added. He called up his friend Don Creedon to suggest that it might be a good time and place to form a theater company.
“He didn’t have to ask me twice,” Creedon said in an interview last week.
They named it the Poor Mouth Theatre Company – drawing on the English title of the Irish-language classic by Flann O’Brien, which inspired the name of the café on West 238th Street. The founders will celebrate five years with a special five-play production this week.
Their plot didn’t come out of vacuum. The men had form, as a detective at Scotland Yard might say. But not as partners in crime; rather they had both been prominent in the artistic ferment experienced after large numbers of immigrant 20-somethings settled in the Bronx from the mid-1980s on.
“There was quite a scene there,” Creedon said.
Broderick had been a member of the Irish Bronx Theatre Company, founded by Dubliners Jimmy Smallhorne and the late Chris O’Neill, a familiar face from back home as Michael Riordan in TV’s “The Riordans.” Meanwhile, director, playwright and actor Creedon founded the Macalla Theatre Company.
The native of Clontarf in north Dublin, left a permanent and pensionable civil service job in 1985 to be an actor in New York.
“Like a lot of parents [would be], mine were ambivalent,” he said. “The idea was to get a good job — be a solicitor or a teacher or a civil servant.
“But parents also want their children to be happy and I was very unhappy,” said Creedon, who studied for two years at the Brendan Smith Academy of Acting in his native city.
The civil service employment rolls were increased to deal with youth joblessness, but the flip side of the policy allowed for extended leaves of absence. Creedon took three years, and never went back. He joked that he might yet turn up in Dublin to claim that pension.
In 1986, he got a “fairly small role” in the Irish Arts Center production of “The Tunnel,” which was written by Terry George, directed by Jim Sheridan and included Frank McCourt in the cast. “I was delighted to be working with that group of people,” he remembered.
“Frank was still a teacher,” Creedon said, adding that that hasn’t changed much for New York’s Irish actors.
“We all need our day jobs,” said the Dubliner, who is currently an executive assistant and has been involved with other types of office work such as desktop publishing.
Actors have traditionally been drawn to jobs that require competence, diligence and hard work, but that don’t overuse the creative or what Creedon called the “writing” side of the brain.
There is always the temptation in the profession, he said, to throw caution to the wind and concentrate wholly on getting acting jobs. But that, he said, can place an “unfair burden” on the artist that in the end compromises the work.
“I used to think that to be successful you had to achieve a lot of fame,” Creedon said. “But I’ve evolved. Success is continuing to work at things that really interest you and inspire you.
“I’ve come to respect people who pursue their own art and manage to survive,” he added.
Creedon praised the work of the well-established Irish Arts Center, the Irish Repertory Theatre and, the more recent addition, the Origin Theatre Company, but he believes there’s a need for a company that does more readings and development.
“With low overheads,” he said, “it’s possible to take risks.
“Sometimes you’ll say: ‘That wasn’t as good as I’d hoped.’ But that’s what a writer needs.
“It’s better than being in ‘development hell,’ where the playwright never finds out,” added Creedon, who lives in Dobbs Ferry, N.Y., with his partner Alison Choate, a graphic artist.
“New work, new plays,” are what interest Creedon. “Writing, rewriting and the reading process,” he said, “and then finally getting it to the stage.”
The Poor Mouth, these days, is close to doing a production a month and in celebration of that – and its five years — will stage five short works, on three occasions, this week, in a space that Creedon calls a “little piece of heaven.”
The Poor Mouth Theatre Company will stage its 5th anniversary production with 5 short plays tomorrow, Thursday night, at 8 p.m., on Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m., at An Beal Bocht Café, 445 West 238th St., Bronx, N.Y. The plays are: “Who Got The Girl,” by Janice Young; “The Blood Flow Thing,” by Seamus Scanlan; “The Disreputable” by Ron Young; “Moonlight Sonata” by Brona Crehan; and “Divine Intervention,” by Don Creedon.
1686 – Albany, New York is formally chartered as a municipality by Governor Thomas Dongan.
1864 – American Civil War: Battle of Atlanta – outside Atlanta, Georgia, Confederate General John Bell Hood leads an unsuccessful attack on Union troops under General William T. Sherman on Bald Hill.
1937 – New Deal: the United States Senate votes down President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s proposal to add more justices to the Supreme Court of the United States.
1942 – The United States government begins compulsory civilian gasoline rationing due to the wartime demands.
1942 – Holocaust: the systematic deportation of Jews from the Warsaw Ghetto begins.
1993 – Great Flood of 1993: levees near Kaskaskia, Illinois rupture, forcing the entire town to evacuate by barges operated by the Army Corps of Engineers.
2003 – Members of 101st Airborne of the United States, aided by Special Forces, attack a compound in Iraq, killing Saddam Hussein’s sons Uday and Qusay, along with Mustapha Hussein, Qusay’s 14-year old son, and a bodyguard.
2005 – Jean Charles de Menezes is killed by police as the hunt begins for the London Bombers responsible for the 7 July 2005 London bombings and the 21 July 2005 London bombings.
2011 – Norway is the victim of twin terror attacks, the first being a bomb blast which targeted government buildings in central Oslo, the second being a massacre at a youth camp on the island of Utøya.
1890 – Rose Kennedy, American philanthropist, wife of Joseph P. Kennedy, Sr.
1940 – Alex Trebek, Canadian-American game show host
1946 – Danny Glover, American actor
1832 – Napoleon II, French emperor.
1864 – James B. McPherson, American army general
1869 – John A. Roebling, German-American engineer, designed the Brooklyn Bridge
2008 – Estelle Getty, American actress
St. Mary Magdalene is considered by the Catholic, Orthodox, Anglican, and Lutheran churches to be a saint, with a feast day of July 22.
1848 – Women’s rights: a two-day Women’s Rights Convention opens in Seneca Falls, New York.
1903 – Maurice Garin wins the first Tour de France.
1997 – The Troubles: The Provisional Irish Republican Army resumes a ceasefire to end their 25-year campaign to end British rule in Northern Ireland.
1865 – Charles Horace Mayo, American surgeon, founder of the Mayo Clinic (d. 1939)
1947 – Brian May, English singer-songwriter, musician, producer, and author (Queen and Smile)
1974 – Malcolm O’Kelly, Irish rugby player
514 – Pope Symmachus
1692 – Sarah Good, American woman accused of witchcraft during the Salem witch trials (b. 1653)
1965 – Syngman Rhee, South Korean politician, 1st President of South Korea (b. 1875)
2009 – Frank McCourt, Irish-American writer (b. 1930)
2012 – Sylvia Woods, American businesswoman, co-founded Sylvia’s Restaurant of Harlem (b. 1926)
1969 – After a party on Chappaquiddick Island, Senator Ted Kennedy from Massachusetts drives an Oldsmobile off a bridge and his passenger, Mary Jo Kopechne, dies.
1895 – Machine Gun Kelly, American gangster
1918 – Nelson Mandela, President of South Africa
1950 – Richard Branson, English businessman, founded Virgin Group
1957 – Nick Faldo, English golfer
1892 – Thomas Cook, English travel agent, founded the Thomas Cook Group (b. 1808)
1954 – Machine Gun Kelly, American gangster (b. 1895)
- 1938 – Douglas Corrigan takes off from Brooklyn to fly the “wrong way” to Ireland and becomes known as “Wrong Way” Corrigan.
- 1955 – Disneyland is dedicated and opened by Walt Disney in Anaheim, California.
- 1996 – TWA Flight 800: Off the coast of Long Island, New York, a Paris-bound TWA Boeing 747 explodes, killing all 230 on board.
- 2005 – Geraldine Fitzgerald, Irish-American actress died (b. 1913)
1. Keep her job in the public service or a bank when she got married.
Female civil servants and other public servants (primary teachers from 1958 were excluded from the so-called “marriage bar”) had to resign from their jobs when they got married, on the grounds that they were occupying a job that should go to a man. Banks operated a similar policy.
How it changed
The marriage bar in the public service was removed in July 1973, on foot of the report of the first Commission on the Status of Women. In 1977, the Employment Equality Act prohibited discrimination on the grounds of gender or marital status in almost all areas of employment.
2. Sit on a jury
Under the 1927 Juries Act, members of juries had to be property owners and, in effect, male.
How it changed
Mairín de Burca and Mary Anderson challenged the Act and won their case in the Supreme Court in 1976. The old Act was repealed and citizens over 18 who are on the electoral register are eligible for juries.
3. Buy contraceptives
The 1935 Criminal Law Amendment Act banned the import, sale and distribution of contraceptives. Some women were able to get doctors to prescribe the Pill as a “cycle regulator” or to fit devices such as the cap. In 1969, the Fertility Guidance Clinic was established in Dublin and used a loophole in the law to give away the Pill for free. (It was thus not being sold.) Most rural and working class women had no access to contraceptives.
How it changed
The Commission on the Status of Women in 1972 delicately suggested that “parents have the right to regulate the number and spacing of their family” but stopped short of an open demand for contraception. The Rotunda Hospital, the Irish Family Planning Association and student unions began to distribute contraceptives. The law, however, changed very slowly. The McGee case of 1973 established a right to import contraceptives for personal use, but did not allow them to be sold. A Bill to allow for controlled access was defeated in 1974. In 1979, in an infamous “Irish solution to an Irish problem”, an Act was passed to allow doctors to prescribe contraceptives to married couples only. A 1985 Act allowed contraceptives to be sold to anyone over 18 but only in chemists. The IFPA and Virgin Megastore were prosecuted for selling condoms in 1991. Later that year, the sale of contraceptives was liberalized.
4. Drink a pint in a pub
In 1970, some pubs refused to allow women to enter at all, some allowed women only if accompanied by a man and very many refused to serve women pints of beer. Women who were accidentally served a pint would be instructed to pour it into two half-pint glasses.
How it changed
Women’s groups staged protests in the early 1970s. In one instance, Nell McCafferty led a group of 30 women who ordered, and were served, 30 brandies. They then ordered one pint of Guinness. When the pint was refused, they drank the brandies and refused to pay as their order was not served. In 2002, the Equal Status Act banned gender discrimination in the provision of goods and services. It defined discrimination as “less favourable treatment”. Service can be refused only if there is a reasonable risk of disorderly or criminal conduct.
5. Collect her children’s allowance
The 1944 legislation that introduced the payment of children’s allowances (now called child benefit) specified that they be paid to the father. The father could, if he chose, mandate his wife to collect the money, but she had no right to it.
How it changed
Responding to the report of the Commission on the Status of Women, the 1974 Social Welfare Act entitled mothers to collect the allowance.
6. Get a barring order against a violent partner
In 1970, a women who was hospitalised after a beating by her husband faced a choice of either returning home to her abuser or becoming homeless. Abusive spouses could not be ordered to stay away from the family home, leaving many women little choice but to seek refuge elsewhere.
How it changed
Women’s Aid campaigned for changes in the law, and in 1976 the Family Law Act, Ireland’s first legislation on domestic violence, enabled one spouse to seek a barring order against the other where the welfare or safety of a spouse or children was at risk. The orders were for three months and were poorly implemented. In 1981, protection orders were introduced and barring orders were increased up to 12 months.
7. Live securely in her family home
Under Irish law, a married woman had no right to a share in her family home, even if she was the breadwinner. Her husband could sell the home without her consent.
How it changed
Under the Family Home Protection Act of 1976, neither spouse can sell the family home without the written consent of the other.
8. Refuse to have sex with her husband
In 1970 the phrase “marital rape” was a contradiction in terms. A husband was assumed to have the right to have sex with his wife and consent was not, in the eyes of the law, an issue.
Women’s adultery was also specifically penalised in the civil law, the notorious tort of “criminal conversation” or “CrimCon”: a husband could legally sue another man for compensation for sleeping with his wife.
How it changed
The Council for the Status of Women urged the creation of a crime of marital rape. In 1979 the Minister for Justice Gerard Collins declined to introduce legislation to this effect. Even when new legislation on rape was introduced in 1981, the situation did not change. It was not until 1990 that marital rape was defined as a crime. The first trial, in 1992, collapsed within minutes. The first successful prosecution for marital rape was in 2002.
Crim Con was abolished by the Family Law Act (1981). The Act also, as a dubious quid pro quo, abolished the right to sue for “breach of promise” of marriage – an ancient provision that was occasionally used by jilted women, although it was in theory also available to men.
9. Choose her official place of domicile
Under Irish law, a married woman was deemed to have the same “domicile” as her husband. This meant that if her husband left her and moved to Australia, her legal domicile was deemed to be Australia. Women, who could not get a divorce in Ireland, could find themselves divorced in countries where their husbands were domiciled.
How it changed
Acting on a report from the Law Reform Commission, the Fine Gael junior minister for women’s affairs Nuala Fennell drove forward the Domicile and Recognition of Foreign Divorces Bill in 1985. It granted married women the right to an independent domicile.
10. Get the same rate for a job as a man
In 1970, almost all women were paid less than male colleagues doing the same job. In March 1970, the average hourly pay for women was five shillings, while that for men was over nine. In areas covered by a statutory minimum wage, the female rate was two-thirds that of men.
How it changed
Legislation on equal pay was introduced in 1974 and employment equality legislation followed in 1977, both as a result of European directives.