Mairéad Farrell

Mairéad Farrell (3rd March 1957- 6th March 1988)

Mairéad Farrell, born in West Belfast and educated at Rathmore Grammar School, became politicised in the early 1970s. Witnessing the brutality of British forces in Northern Ireland, she joined cumann na gcailini, later the IRA, and on 5 April 1976, along with two other IRA volunteers, she attempted to plant a bomb at a Belfast Hotel. She received a fourteen-year prison sentence of which she served ten and a half years. In protest against the criminalisation of political prisoners, the women refused to carry out prison work or to acknowledge the authority of the prison staff. They created their own command structure with Mairéad as Commanding Officer, representing the IRA prisoners. Following a brutal attack by male warders brought from Long Kesh on 7 February 1980, the women were locked in their cells and denied access to the bathrooms. This lead to a no-wash protest lasting over a year. To coincide with the hunger strike in the men’s prison, the women resolved to embark on a hunger strike in their own right, despite discouragement from leadership. Mairéad, along with Mary Doyle and Mairéad Nugent, began their fast on 1 December 1980. It lasted nineteen days. Rightly or wrongly, Mairéad viewed all these protests, including later resistance against strip-searching, as part of the struggle for female emancipation.

In the 1981 general election in the Republic of Ireland, Mairéad was the only woman prisoner to stand as a candidate, securing 2,751 first preference votes in the constituency of Cork North Central.

Released from prison in October 1986, Mairéad enrolled for political science and economics at Queen's University Belfast, interests she had pursued with the Open University whilst still in prison. Prison had made Mairéad more firmly convinced of her goal of a socialist Irish republic and her understanding that both women’s equality and social equality were integral prerequisites for the true liberation of Ireland. “Everyone tells me I’m a feminist. All I know is that I’m just as good as others…and that especially means men. I am definitely a socialist and I’m definitely a Republican. I believe in a united socialist country…definitely socialist. Capitalism can offer our people nothing, and yet that’s the main interest of the British in Ireland.”

She continued to campaign on female prisoners’ issues, such as strip searching and insisted on gender equality in all aspects of her private and political life. She also continued to play an equal role in IRA operations, leading to her involvement in a mission in Gibraltar. Here, at the direction of a British Cabinet sub-committee, SAS soldiers murdered Mairéad, along with Dan McCann and Seán Savage on 6 March 1988. All three Irish were unarmed.

The “Gibraltar 3” relatives took a case to the European Court of Human Rights, which in 1995, found Britain guilty of unlawful killing. The Council of Europe, which oversees the court’s verdicts, never initiated sanctions against Britain, thus allowing British shoot-to-kill policy to continue in Ireland and elsewhere.

"I am oppressed as a woman, and I'm also oppressed as an Irish person. Everyone in this country is oppressed and yet we can only end our oppression as women if we end the oppression of our nation as a whole. But, I don't think that alone is enough. This isn't the first time that women have been seen as secondary, but women today have been through so much that they won't just let things be. I hope I'm still alive when the British are driven out. Then the struggle begins anew." (JF)