Featuring Lelia Doolan and Nell McCafferty
As a result of the pandemic, the relationship that intersects age, gender and public space has never been so fraught. The need to see, hear and prioritise older people has been rendered explicitly visible.
These women have been blazing trails for 50 years. They were moving mountains long before hashtags. They are the ‘difficult’ women, the brass necks, the sharp, the fearless: the mad, the bad and the dangerous.
Created by Emma O'Grady and produced by Up Up Up, with Copper Alley, in association with Dublin Fringe Festival and Age & Opportunity’s Bealtaine Festival, with support from Galway County Council and the Irish Women Lawyers Association along with the Community Knowledge Initiative, Institute for Lifecourse and Society and The Feminist Storytelling Network (NUI Galway) and 168 donors on GoFundMe
MBD was originally recorded in Aug/Sept 2020 and screened for free online as part of Dublin Fringe Festival and Age & Opportunity's Bealtaine Festival AT HOME.
Nell McCafferty was born in 1944 and grew up in the Bogside in Derry. She is a journalist, author and civil rights campaigner. She was involved in the civil rights movement of the 1960s in the North of Ireland. She is probably Ireland’s most well-known feminist and is a much-loved public figure. Her work and her voice has been crucial in creating the changes we have seen in Irish society over the last 50 years. In 1969 she began writing a column for the Irish Times called ‘In the Eyes of the Law’ and reported on events in the Bridewell courts in Dublin. She never named defendants but always named the judges. It was published 5 days a week and it ran for 8 years. She was a founding member of the Irish Women’s Liberation Movement in 1970. When the IWLM formed, the Marriage Bar was still in place meaning in many cases women had to leave their jobs after marriage, marital rape was not a crime, women were paid less than men for equal work, women had to ‘opt in’ to jury duty, women could not choose their own official place of domicile, women could not collect the children’s allowance, and homosexuality and divorce was illegal. Nell once talked about the time she bought a bed on hire purchase and had to get a man to sign for her. The Irish Women’s Liberation Movement manifesto Chains or Change was delivered to the people of Ireland on the 'Late Late Show'. Taoiseach Garret Fitzgerald left his home to go to RTÉ and intervene in the debate. This significant moment in Irish women’s history is unavailable to view because RTÉ wiped the tapes.
In May 1971 Nell travelled from Dublin to Belfast on the Contraceptive Train, and in protest against the law prohibiting the importation and sale of contraceptives in the Republic of Ireland they publically smuggled illegal contraceptive products across the border. Her 1981 book The Armagh Women was about thirty Republican women in Armagh jail who endured the dirty Protest for ten months. It sold well for 2 weeks and then was suddenly withdrawn because of a libel suit and the books were pulped. A number of copies were saved and illicitly sent to Canada from where they are still sold today. Among her many books and publications, her 1985 book A Woman to Blame: the Kerry babies case is seen as one of the most important critiques there is of how Irish society was at the time. It described the events surrounding the Kerry Babies’ case as “a model for Irish male attitudes to women”.
She was awarded a Jacob’s Award for her reports on the Italia 90 World Cup for the Pat Kenny show on RTE Radio 1. She stated in her autobiography the Jacob’s award was “the first and only one of my life. For football. For celebrating Irish men”. In her acceptance speech she said she “looked forward to an end to the broadcasting ban which kept Sinn Fein off the airwaves” She published her autobiography ‘Nell’ in 2004 and spoke directly for the first time about being a lesbian. It ends with the words “The best is yet to come. While we await that glorious day, the sensible response is to laugh and be a disorderly woman”.
Lelia Doolan was born in 1934. She is a film and theatre director, producer, journalist and activist. Her contribution to the artistic and cultural life of Ireland is nothing short of ground-breaking. In the 1960s, Archbishop John Charles McQuaid once referred to Lelia Doolan as ‘mad, bad and dangerous’. Lelia began working at RTÉ in the 1960s.
By age 27, she was directing The Riordans, and soon after founded 7 Days, the precursor to Prime Time. She co-authored a book Down and Be Counted following her resignation from RTE over their commercial policies. In 1971 she became the first female artistic director of the Abbey Theatre since Lady Gregory.
She has a PhD in Anthropology and also has qualifications in the Irish language, in science, and in Homeopathy. She established Ireland’s first course in Media Communications at Rathmines College (now DIT). Michael D Higgins appointed her chairperson of the Irish Film Board when it re-constituted in 1993.
She co-founded the Galway Film Fleadh and the Cinemobile. She was part of the Burren Acton Group against the building of an interpretive centre in Mullaghmore ending up in the High Court successfully preventing the build and resulting in fundamental change to Irish planning legislation. S
he has joined in the protests against the use of Shannon airport by US military, the Corrib Gas Pipe Line and lent her support to the equal marriage campaign and Repeal the 8th. M
ost recently, she was involved in the re-opening of Yeats’s Tower Thoor Ballylee and spearheaded the building of Galway’s art-house cinema the Picture Palace. 2011 saw the premiere of her critically-acclaimed and award-winning documentary about Bernadette McAliskey called Bernadette: Notes on a Political Journey.