Margaret McCoubrey (1880-1956)
Margaret Mearns Morrisson was born on 5th January 1880 in Eldersley, near Glasgow. At the age of twelve, she began working in a men’s outfitter shop but qualified as a shorthand typist at the age of 16 when she attended night classes in business studies. She quickly advanced to become a private secretary before moving on to teach at Skerries Business Training College, where she was appointed deputy head mistress at just twenty-four years old.
In December 1905 she married John Taylor McCoubrey, an electrical engineer at Harland and Wolff on the Clyde. On John’s transfer to Belfast, the couple took up residence in 37 Candahar Street, where they had two children. Joining the Suffrage Movement in 1910, McCoubrey became an active militant, a friend of Hanna Sheehy Skeffington, a member of the Irish Women’s Suffrage Society and the Pankhurst’s Women’s Social and Political Union. She wrote frequently for the Irish Citizen and regularly spoke at open-air meetings. During the most militant period of suffrage activity in Belfast, during the early summer of 1914, the McCoubrey household was kept under police surveillance.
On the outbreak of war, and despite the ‘truce’ called by the WSPU with the government, McCoubrey persisted in the campaign to win the vote for women, setting up a branch of the Irish Women’s Franchise League in Belfast, which struggled to attract members. She was one of a delegation of seven women chosen to represent Ireland at the International Peace Meeting in The Hague in May 1915, but the proposed trip was thwarted by the government’s refusal to grant visas and the closing of North Sea shipping lanes. She was actively involved in the Glasgow-based Women’s Peace Crusade, although at least one attempt to hold a meeting in County Down appears to have been met with considerable hostility.
McCoubrey also served as the first woman on the Management Board of Belfast Co-Operative Society (1914-26) and was particularly active in the Women’s Guild and in the educational department where she taught for many years. She attended and spoke at meetings of the International Women’s Co-Operative Guild and arranged educational tours for cooperative members. She was for 36 years local editor of Belfast Wheatsheaf (later Home Magazine) and for an even longer period, she was the Irish correspondent for Co-Operative News and Scottish Co-Operator.
McCoubrey was an active member of the dynamic North Belfast branch of the early Northern Ireland Labour party, representing the Central branch of the Women’s Advisory Council (formally constituted in 1927). From 1929 she represented Ormeau Ward on Belfast City Council. In 1933 she moved to Carnlough, County Antrim, where, as House Secretary and Hostess, she ran Drumalla House as a non-profit-making base for members of the Belfast Girls’ Club Union to come on holiday. During her time there she facilitated a wide range of activities, providing meeting venues for a varied range of groups and organizations.
Following the deaths of her husband (1935) and son (1938), she went to live with her daughter’s family, now in Belfast. She died in hospital aged 76 on 11 April 1956 of post-operative complications following gallstone surgery.