Hester Dunn

Hester Dunn née Rogers (1940 - )

Hester Dunn was born into a Protestant family and brought up in a staunchly loyalist area in East Belfast, she was the eldest of seven children. She left school at the age of 14 and worked as a window dresser, for a while, she had a desire to work as a fashion designer but could not afford the money to pay for the training. In her spare time, she was a dancer and won trophies for competition dancing which was how she met her husband. She had four children a daughter and three sons. Her daughter was born in 1964, she went onto to be an actor, her second son was born in 1966, he became a landscape gardener; sadly, he died of cancer in 2009, another son was born in 1974, he became a lawyer and her youngest son born in 1978, who presently teaches in South Korea.

In 1964, she moved to live in Suffolk, an estate in West Belfast, surrounded by Catholic estates. She says at this time in her life beyond knowing who the Queen was and the Prime Minister she had no knowledge of politics whatsoever. It was here that she developed her interest in social and political issues through experiences within her own community this motivated her to become involved in politics. This was a time of unrest, army activity, riots and so on. As she became more politically active, she experienced intimidation from some people in the neighbouring community and also from the security forces.
Hester went to work for the Ulster Defence Association (UDA), in east Belfast, though she says she never actually joined them. She helped to encourage women to be interested she said there was not a UDA women’s unit as such even though it is reported to be the case. She carried out administration work in the public relations section of the UDA. For over 10 years, Hester contributed to the UDA's magazine Ulster and was encouraged by the leadership to write about women's issues.

She helped construct the Common Sense: Northern Ireland - An Agreed Process a document that was a power-sharing dialogue between loyalists and nationalists. She was a founder member of Justice for Lifers (a prison reform organisation). She left her work with the UDA following the death of John McMichael UDA commander and the resignation of Andy Tyrie.
Hester was an outspoken critic of the strip-searching of female prisoners in Armagh Prison; she wrote an article about this in the Ulster, July/August 1985 edition, entitled "Strip Searches". She denounced the practice, stating: "Strip searches in the 200-year-old Armagh Women's Prison are essential to security, say the authorities, but at what cost to the women prisoners? The cost as I see it is intimidation, degradation and the humiliation of women” Two months earlier she wrote an article "A woman's place in the Loyalist community" for the 27 May 1985 edition of Northern Ireland's Fortnight Magazine.
In a lengthy interview with Sally Belfrage, in 1987 Hester gives some background to her life and her interest in politics including the support for the civil right demands of which she said, “It did not enter my head that people didn’t have one-man-one vote! And when I found out I nearly went mad-WHAT? And there was a lot of arguing with my family: I was going to march”

In 1997, she deepened her interest in feminist politics when joined the Women’s Studies Certificate course in the Belfast Institute of Further and Higher Education (BIFHE). Together with Lynda Walker, she attended a women’s conference in Dublin where she met President Mary Robinson, Nell McCafferty and other feminists. The opportunity to study at Queens University was denied her when she was unable to get a loan because of her age. (LW)

Further Reading
Belfrage Sally (1987) The Crack: A Belfast Year. Andre Deutsch and
Field Day